Eleanor of Aquitaine: Why we shouldn’t forget the medieval era when searching for our most powerful queens.

On the 9th September, Queen Elizabeth II surpassed Queen Victoria as the longest reigning British monarch. Journalists marked the event with comparisons between the two queens [1], whilst some historians chose to look back to the Tudor queens of England; Mary and Elizabeth [2]. Both Victoria and Elizabeth I expanded Britain’s oversea territories, were patrons of the arts, and successfully ruled without a husband over shadowing them. It is understandable such large characters dominate our historical view when we search for the strong female leaders of our past. However, our focus on these women, mean that powerful medieval queens often get forgotten. I am not attempting to say that they had any equal power to that of the more modern Queens – medieval queens were undeniably second to the king.

 

Dispelling a myth

Medieval queens were also not the weak and submissive figures they sometimes come across as. Such an image is often more down to literature than fact. In Beowulf, for example, most of the women are written as barely anything more than a sexual subordinate or “peace-weaver”, withdrawn from the male world of governing [3]. Yet this was not the case for most medieval queens. Whilst it is true they were often married off by their fathers or brothers to create political alliances, the woman did also have a say in her future husband. Some queens were the driving force behind their marriage. Matilda of Scotland, who married Henry I of England, initiated the proposal by writing letters directly to Henry expressing her interest in him [4]. Providing an heir, or indeed multiple possible heirs, was of course one of the main expectations. But this does not mean queens were expected to stay in the bedroom, and in fact their sexual relationship with the king was seen as a political threat by many chroniclers. Not only did sharing a bed with the king mean a queen had special access to him, but a threat to her sexual purity was a threat to the security of an heir. Let us also not forget, a mother also had a special influence over her children, so even when her husband died she still influenced kings until her own death [5].

The medieval era is awash in examples of strong and driven queens. Matilda “The Empress” started a civil war in order to obtain the throne she believed rightfully belonged to her, and her son Henry II; Isabella of France, wife of Edward II helped plan his removal and murder; and Elizabeth Woodville, widow and wife of Edward IV, exercised vast amounts of power to get her family into favourable positions in court. However, there is one medieval queen who comes as close to the type of queenship Elizabeth I exercised during her reign as possible. Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right after the death of her brother in 1130, Queen of France from 1137 – 1152, Queen of England 1154 – 1189, and mother of both Richard and John under who she enjoyed the privileges reserved for a kings wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of Britain’s most powerful queens.

 

 

 

eleanorisbaeEleanor and her husbands

Eleanor was betrothed to Louis VII when she was 13 years of age, and at 15 the pair married. By most accounts her first husband was besotted with his new queen, yet Eleanor was by similar reports constantly unhappy. Her unhappiness could have been down to any numerous reasons; she was constantly failing in her task to give Louis and France an heir to the throne, and when she did finally fall pregnant it was with a girl, Marie. Another reason may have been the crusades her husband took her on between 1147 – 9, which opened her eyes to a larger world and more potentials. Whichever the reason, for we can only speculate, it was Eleanor who is said to have first brought up the idea of divorce whilst on the tour of the east. By 1152, after the birth of yet another girl, the pair finally divorced. During her time with Louis, Eleanor exhibited very few royal powers. It was actually with their separation we see Eleanor emerge as the strong, determined woman history remembers her as [6].

Demanding Aquitaine back, Eleanor set about asserting her authority as duchess by issuing a serious of traditional charters securing religious rights for the abbeys of Saint – Jean de Montierneuf, Fontevraud and Saint – Maixent. Not only did this endear her to the church and people as a pious ruler, but by issuing the writs her father, grandfather and great-grandfather, she reiterated to many her hereditary and undeniable right to the land. What her charters as duchess of Aquitaine also show is the powerful lords who supported her, including Briand Chabot and Hervey le Panetier [7].

assholeWhen Eleanor married Henry her it looked as though her power was diminished; the lords who witnessed her charters soon bent the knee and paid homage to their new lord. Elizabeth Brown argues of the couple’s marriage was founded on a mutual love of power, and that Eleanor somehow hoped to dominate the man who was 9 years her junior. Their relationship produced 8 children, 7 of whom survived to adulthood, rebellions and finally resulted in Eleanor’s imprisonment at the hands of her husband. Whether Brown is right for the reasons of their union, the couple clearly fought for power constantly. From 1154 – 1163, Eleanor ruled as regent of England whilst Henry was securing his French lands, and from 1163 – 1168, she went back to rule Aquitaine. Henry’s reasoning here is unknown, but the coincidence of sending his domineering wife away at the same time his similarly power hungry mother died, suggests he wanted to rid himself of troublesome women. Whilst there is evidence Eleanor as regent witnessed and signed charters, it was a very limited and concerned mostly religious privileges. Ironically, in trying to free himself from Eleanor, by sending her to Aquitaine he gave her the freedom to exercise more power. Not only did the frequency of charters increase, but only 1/3rd of our surviving records show she even recognised Henry as lord. Furthermore, she appears to have held her own separate court, receiving honoured guests such as King Alphonso II of Aragon and King Sancho VI of Navarre, with whom she discussed wars and borders. By 1172 her writs addressed the people as “her followers” and she was undisputedly the ruler of Aquitaine, even when Richard was made duke.

 

eleanorMother of Kings

Even before Richard and John became kings, Eleanor was manipulating her children for her political needs. The rebellions fought between all four of her then living sons (Young Henry, Geoffrey of Brittany, Richard and John), against Henry II were all fought for autonomy in ruling pieces of Henry’s French lands. Whilst it is unsure whether Eleanor was the driving force behind the rebellions, the alignment of their interests and her encouragement of the situation was a constant thorn in Henry’s side.

Under Richard’s kingship, Eleanor again became regent of England and this time with more power. She released prisoners, settled disputes between religious figures and Richards magnates, and was present as great councils – including the discussion of Richard’s crusade. Eleanor’s biggest achievement as regent was her reaction to the threat of John usurping Richard as king. Not only did Eleanor, now of 70 years old, face her youngest son and stop him securing a French alliance with King Phillip, but made battle preparations by fortifying the beaches encase of a French invasion. As Ralph Turner comments in his article, her actions were very masculine in her military dealings with her sons. Her military prowess did not end with her England regency, for when John rose to take the throne she had a crucial part in defending castles and negotiating political alliances [8].

 

Lord and Lady

G. Richardson and G. O. Sayle in their The Governance of Medieval England rightly declare Eleanor was “cursed by fate in being born a woman” [9]. Whilst she did not obtain the luxury of ruling alone as Elizabeth I and Victoria did, Eleanor ruled for most of her life autonomously in all but name. The legends that now surround Eleanor about her sexual appetite and her ‘devils blood’ stem from the fear she created in contemporaries at just how much power she could and did exercise over the Angevin kings [10]. Eleanor, Queen of France, England and Duchess of Aquitaine, who wrote charters like any other male monarch, thought with starling military finesse and negotiated politics with kings of Europe in her own court, should definitely not be forgotten when discussing our most powerful female monarchs.

Originally posted on The York Historian

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Bibliography:

Websites:

  1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34112486
  2. http://www.historytoday.com/helen-castor/elizabeth-i-exception-rule

Books/Articles:

  1. Beowulf, translated by Chauncey Brewster Tinker, (Newson: Newburgh), 1902.
  2. Louis Huneycutt, “Alianora regina anglocum: Eleanor of Aquitaine and her Anglo-Norman predecessors as Queens of England”, Eleanor of Aquitaine Lord and Lady, ed. Bonnie Wheeler and John Parsons, (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke), 2002.
  3. Elizabeth Brown, “Eleanor of Aquitaine reconsidered”, Eleanor of Aquitaine Lord and Lady, ed. Bonnie Wheeler and John Parsons, (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke), 2002.
  4. Marie Hivergneaux, “Queen Eleanor and Aquitaine 1137 – 1189”, Eleanor of Aquitaine Lord and Lady, ed. Bonnie Wheeler and John Parsons, (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke), 2002.
  5. Ralph Turner, “Eleanor of Aquitaine in the governments of her sons Richard and John”, Eleanor of Aquitaine Lord and Lady, ed. Bonnie Wheeler and John Parsons, (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke), 2002.
  6. G. Richardson and G. O. Sayle, The Governance of Medieval England, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), 1963.
  7. Peggy McCracken, “Scandalizing desire: Eleanor of Aquitaine and the chroniclers”, Eleanor of Aquitaine Lord and Lady, ed. Bonnie Wheeler and John Parsons, (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke), 2002.

I Need a Hero: Why Medieval England Needed Robin Hood

A man in tights, a thief and a fox; Robin Hood has been presented in many different ways. To us, today, he is a legend who most will place within the reign of Richard the Lionheart and the evil King John, who fought the Sheriff of Nottingham and fell in love with the beautiful Maid Marian. However, the story has not always been the fairy tale we know it as today. The first mentions of the outlaw hero appear in the fourteenth century, when an outraged monk recorded several men repeatedly missing mass to listen to stories of Robin Hood and other outlaws such as William of Cloudesley, who was an English version of the famous Swedish archer William Tell. Whilst these stories were orally told and were told to a wide audience, from peasants to courtiers, work by Dobson has uncovered that the most popular audience for these stories was likely to be a middling class of townspeople. The main case for Dobson and other historians who support the claim rests on the word ‘yeoman’ which crops up repeatedly in the tales of outlaws. Yeomen were not only given important protection by outlaws and received help by them, but they themselves were a special type of yeoman; a forester. Why exactly did the middling rank of most societies suddenly find themselves in need of a hero who lived in the forest, robbed and murdered?

heroUnjust laws

By turning a criminal into a hero, what the audience does is condone their actions, even if they are questionable at times. For example, in the story of William of Cloudesley, the outlaws murder ‘thre hundred men and mo’ during their daring escape. Instead of the story being disapproving of their actions, the criminals are rewarded with not only a pardon from the king, but positions of power. What allows them to move from criminals to powerful men, is their outlaw status. People were most often punished with outlawry because of their failure to turn up to court. Failure to turn up to court was often a deliberate decision by the defendant because they believed the crime they were accused of was unjust or because they knew they would be unable to win their case. During the late fourteenth century, many had chosen the life of an outlaw over being imprisoned for breaking the Statute of Labourers which had tried to limit wages for the benefits of the elite. This feeling of dissatisfaction towards laws which were in place only for a privileged few comes across in Cloudesley’s story. Accused of killing a deer, instead of facing condemnation, he is lamented as a ‘false thefe’. Outlaws not only come across as victims because they are being hanged or imprisoned for a crime many saw as being unjust. Outlaws were seen as heroes because by denying the elite a chance to punish them for daring to step above their station, they undermined the unfair laws, and the elite’s control. By choosing the life of an outlaw they in the most powerful way showed their dissatisfaction with the law because they would rather live outside of society rather than live in an unjust society.

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Utopian Dreams

The new society the outlaws create for themselves is a wonderful fantasy that highlights their desires. Much like The Land of Cockaygne, and other utopian literature, the outlaws who live in th
e forest have an abundance of food ‘swannes and fessauntes they had full gode’. When this poem is recorded as becoming increasingly popular, the Black Death in England was at its peak. Food had been scarce before the plague had hit England, with a large boom in the human population and several bad harvest’s. Cities in particular were struggling to bring in enough food from the countryside to feed the population, and what little was brought in was being served to the rich for their extravagant banquets. The death of half the population did not ease the situation until a few years after the Black Death due to the fact that the disease also killed off farmers. Robin Hood’s land where food could be hunted, and shared with those who had nothing, was the wish of the hungry people. The forest itself was also a very familiar symbol in utopian literature of freedom and nostalgia. Other poems from the era which spoke of forests claimed they were peaceful and covered most of England. The forest was an escape for many of society – the wars, the plague, economic crisis. Having Robin Hood living in a forest society, the people are conjuring their dream society which is peaceful, full of food, but it is also just. The people Robin Hood judges at his table are all from the elite section of society; a knight, a sheriff and a monk. However, unlike the officials in the audience’s world who use the system to maintain the social hierarchy, Robin judges his guests on their crime and their crime alone; the Knight for example is actually helped by Robin. A fair justice system to these people was as important as food and peace.

picA corrupt elite

The portrayal of the officials in the outlaw hero stories shows a deep dissatisfaction with those who had the most contact with our middle class audience; clergy and sheriffs. In Robin Hood’s The Gest the corrupt Abbot of St Mary’s abbey is made a fool of by the Knight. Whilst the audience knew the Knight had the money to take back his lands, he begs for more time which the Abbot refuses. Turning then to the Sheriff for help, he finds him bribed by the Abbot. This story is a negative commentary on what was happening at the time. Sheriffs and other justice officials took many bribes during court proceedings that would guarantee whoever could pay more would get the outcome they desired. Just like in the story, the Knight who is meant to represent the poor at this stage, as that is what they believe him to be, the Justice does not care about a fair system so long as they profit from it. In Cloudesley’s story, the Sheriff is so concerned with punishing William for breaking an elite law that he sets fire to a house with innocent women and children in it. He appears barbaric and uncaring as long as he gets the outcome he wants, which in this case is William’s capture. Clearly the officials in these stories are the villains: corrupted, aggressive and selfish. This in itself is evidence that the stories were used to show the audience’s dissatisfaction with the elites they came in contact with. Furthermore, by casting them into the position of villains, they make the outlaws the heroes. As heroes their actions are all justified, even when Cloudesley and his companions kill all the officials of their town. Justified violence towards corrupt officials was seen during the Peasants Revolt when the Archbishop of Canterbury and Robert Hales were executed on Tower Hill, where traitors to the crown were sentenced. In a way, by having heroes celebrated in the outlaw stories for acts of violence against officials, the audience is also celebrating those who acted violently against similar figures during the Revolt. That violence was being celebrated even in the stories shows how deeply the people felt a dissatisfaction with the justice system.

We all love an underdog

Robin Hood was the first in a long tradition of people favouring the underdog, or criminal. Highwaymen, bandits and gangsters have joined the man in green tights as a stranger living outside of society in order to judge and correct it. Reflections of outlaw stories like this one provide us with a good insight into the problems in each outlaw hero’s society, and the desires of those reading their tales.

Originally posted on The York Historian

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Bibliography:

Primary Sources:

“Medieval Sourcebook: Anonimalle Chronicle: English Peasants revolt 1381”, Accessed 8/05/2015, http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/anon1381.asp.

Knight, Stephen Thomas, and Thomas H. Ohlgren, “A Gest of Robyn Hode.” In Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales. (Kalamazoo, Mich: Medieval Institute Publications), 1997.

Knight, Stephen Thomas, and Thomas H. Ohlgren, “Adam Bell, Clym of the Clough and William Cloudesley.” In Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales. (Kalamazoo, Mich: Medieval Institute Publications), 1997.

The Land of Cockaygne – Wessex Parallel Web Texts, Accessed 8/05/2015, http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~wpwt/trans/cockaygn/cockaygn.htm

Secondary Sources:

Dobson, R. B, The Peasants Revolt of 1381, (London: Macmillan), 1983.

Dobson, R. B. and J. Taylor, Rymes of Robin Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw, (Stroud: Sutton Publishing), 1925.

Musson, Anthony, Medieval Law in context: The growth of the legal consciousness from Magna Carta to the Peasants Revolt, (Manchester: Manchester University Press), 2001.

Pollard, A. J, “Idealising criminality: Robin Hood in the fifteenth century”, in Pragmatic utopias: ideals and communities, 1200-1630 ed. Rosemary Horrox, pp.156- 174, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2001.

Spraggs, Gillian, Outlaws and Highwaymen the cult of the robber in England from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, (London: Pimlico), 2001.

More than just a Mob: The Peasants Revolt

The Peasants Revolt took place from the 13th – 15th June 1381 when rebels stormed the city of London. The mobs attack as recorded by chroniclers was mindless and animalistic, targeting people, prisons and property [1]. The most horrific attacks recorded were those on John of Gaunt’s Savoy Palace [2], and the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury who was dragged from the Tower of London to be executed on Tower Hill [3]. The revolt was finally suppressed after the death of one of the rebel leaders, Wat Tyler, and Richard II promised no harm would come to the rebels if they went home. Despite the name given to the revolt, the majority of the mob were townspeople, the leaders often held official positions such as bailiffs, jurors and constables [4]. Looking at other writs, records and the laws before the Revolt it appears it was in part motivated by the justice system.

abchis723Access to the Justice System

The justice system is what people had to go through to deal with legal issues; from obtaining a lawyer to the judge’s final decision. When marching through London the rebels demanded the death of every lawyer and at times physically assaulted them [5]. These actions committed collectively by the mass suggest there was a wide range of resentment for the figures who were expected to bring justice to every person in society. If the rebel’s motive was a feeling the people who were meant to give justice were failing, it makes sense they marched to London to demand it from the king who was portrayed as the figurehead of justice. Overall, what is implied through their actions is that the justice system was not working for them. If it was not accessible to the lower classes it would be logical to assume to get justice was expensive or that it was hard to find a lawyer. However, after examining the systems structure, it becomes apparent it was easy to access. Lawyers frequently travelled the country so it would not be beyond the people’s power to ask for legal advice or find an attorney. In terms of cost large subsidies were made for those who begged poverty – some lawyers even accepted payment in material forms such as butter [6]. On the other hand in literature such as Piers Ploughman by William Langland [7] the feeling of a failing system comes across again. In Langland’s poem it is the judge who becomes corrupt by accepting Lady Meed’s bribe so the outcome is in her favour. Corruption of the judges through money was a problem that spanned most of the Middle Ages. It was not however, just a problem that concerned the lowest levels of society. Legislation was introduced in an attempt to stop corruption such as the 19 articles introduced in 1246 that focused on the punishment of sheriffs who tried to create lawsuits to better themselves, and officials who took bribes from both parties [8]. Given that the justice system was easy for every class to access and that the length of time corruption had been a problem, with many steps taken to limit how often it actually affected court proceedings, it seems doubtable it was the system of justice itself that had been the main motivation of the rebels in 1381.

peasants-revolt-wat-tylerUnjust legislation

It seems more probable that the revolt was linked to a change that had occurred closer to the date it took place. The Statute of Labourers was introduced in 1351 and sought during the turbulent times of the Black Death to regulate the increasing wages of labourers and punish those who tried to run from their masters. It was people prosecuted by laws like this one who were sprung from the prisons of London during the revolt. Robert Belling, a prisoner in Fleet prison was incarcerated for failing to pay an enfranchisement fine due to poverty [9]. Legislation such as this was clearly seen as unjust, not only from the fact the rebels released men accused of seeking a better wage, but also many who were accused of the crime fled to the forests and lived as an outlaw [10].  Living as an outlaw was seen by many as a protest against the law itself; if the law was not going to protect the people it was better to live outside of it [11]. Coupled with the hints from chroniclers, the ballads of such outlaw heroes like Robin Hood were being spread around this time; it also seems reasonable to assume those who stayed inside the law held sympathy with the men who chose such a life [12]. Whilst it could be argued that it was the judges and therefore the justice system itself that was corrupt, as was proven in the previous section, corruption of judges had been punished severely for years. If anything the amount of people brought to court for disobeying the law showed a continued efficiency with the system. By having an unfair law that oppressed the people, the justice system, as it was used to implement the law, by association became something that too was seen as unjust. It also explains why the rebels called not just for the death of lawyers but for the writers of law. Their targets too were not parish lawyers but the highest-ranking officials in government or in other words, the men who would have had a hand in making such laws. Given the timing of such laws which clearly aggravated the people combined with the type of target the rebels went after, it appears the rebels too were more motivated by what they felt were unfair and oppressive laws.

jean_froissart_chroniques_154v_12148_btv1b8438605hf336_cropA system for the rich

The Statue of Labourers limited not only people’s wages but also their right to move around, making them something akin to serfs. Considering only a minority of the rebels can be confirmed as being ‘serfs of blood’ [13], it seems likely that the rebels felt themselves being reduced to the status of serfs through the law and that this was their reason for their cry to end serfdom. For the men of Kent, a county which had no serfdom, they probably found the extortionate poll tax an oppressive measure of the rich to get richer. Under the laws implemented during the era preceding the revolt there was a crushing of the lower levels by the rich, caused in part by the increased opportunity for social mobility the Black Death had created. The motivation of fighting against oppressive measures also helps in part to explain those above peasant status who joined in in the rebellion. For example, in Cambridge it was the bourgeoisie who used the peasants in order to over throw the current ruling elites to establish themselves in a position of power [14]. Similarly in York, the rebellion that broke out close on the heels of the revolt in London, seemed to have been fuelled by a struggle for power between the council of the town and the merchants [15]. The case of York is particularly important as the city in the North, it was seen to represent nationwide concerns much like London did [16]. It therefore seems a little more than a coincidence that, whilst in London, it was the ‘peasants’ who tried to over throw those seeking to oppress the people, in York it was the merchant class who were feeling the pinch of the elitist circle prior to the peasants revolt. It would appear that the feeling the upper classes were over stepping their right to power by the ruthless crushing of all those under them was upsetting more than just the peasant class. For this reason it should be considered another of the motivations that drove the rebels to revolt in 1381.

Conclusion

The masses of men who stormed the city gates of London in the hot summer of 1381 were not an unintelligent mob of angry peasants. The controlled burning of legal documents in communal areas and the executions on tower hill showed conviction and carried a message. The justice system, which had been surprisingly accessible to all tiers of society, was becoming a tool for the elite to oppress the people. Whilst other factors such as the Hundred Years War and the Poll Tax also added to the passion of the Revolt and should not be ignored, the mobs actions indicate a strong grievance with the justice system that is often over looked when examining this event.

Originally posted on The York Historian

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Bibliography

  1. “The Rebels in London according to Anonimalle Chronicle” in The Peasants Revolt of 1381 2nd edition, RB Dobson, pp. 155 – 67 (Hampshire: The Macmillan Press), 1983.
  2. “The Rebels in London according to Henry Knighton” in The Peasants Revolt of 1381 2nd edition, RB Dobson, pp. 181-6 (Hampshire: The Macmillan Press), 1983.
  3. “The Rebels in London according to Thomas Walsingham” in The Peasants Revolt of 1381 2nd edition, RB Dobson, pp. 168 – 80 (Hampshire: The Macmillan Press), 1983.
  4. Christian Dyer, “Social and Economic background to the Revolt of 1381”, in The English Rising of 1381 ed. R.H. Hilton and T.H. Aston, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1984, p.15.
  5. “The Rebels in London according to Thomas Walsingham”, p. 177.
  6. Anthony Musson, Medieval Law in context: the growth of legal consciousness from Magna Carta to the Peasants Revolt, (Manchester: Manchester University Press), 2001, p. 165.
  7. William Langland, Piers the Ploughman, (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books), 1966.
  8. Dobson, The Peasants Revolt of 1381 2nd edition, (Hampshire: The Macmillan Press), 1983, p.74.
  9. John R. Ridge, Joaquin Murieta, (Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press), 2013, p. xx
  10. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, Rhymes of Robin Hood: An introduction to the English outlaw, Rev. ed. Stroud, (Gloucestershire: Sutton Pub), 1997, p.2.
  11. M. Ormrod, “The Peasants’ Revolt and the Government of England” in Journal of British Studies Vol. 29 pp. 1-30, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1990, p. 16.
  12. Christian Dyer, “Social and Economic background to the Revolt of 1381”, p.15.
  13. Rodney Hilton, Class conflict and the crisis of feudalism: Essays in Medieval Social History, (Kings Lynn, Biddles Ltd.), 1990, p. 144.
  14. Christian D. Liddy, “Urban Conflict in Late Fourteenth-Century England: The Case of York in 1380-1” in The English Historical Review 118, (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 2003, p. 6.
  15. Liddy, p.15.

Prague in a Weekend

Ever since reading Daughter of Smoke and Fire I have wanted to see the beautiful city of Prague, with its Gothic castle and medieval little streets. I had envisioned spending at least a week in the magical city – all reports I had ever come across suggested there was too much to simply see in a few days. However, when my other half surprised me with a weekend away in my fantasy city, I was determined to cram in as much as I possibly could. Firstly, rest assured any TripAdvisor reports or Top 100 things to do in Prague are a complete exaggeration. A weekend in Prague is definitely all you need unless you are planning to do excursions to the rest of the country (which I will probably come back and do in the future) – or you plan on doing a Museum crawl (because there are hundreds of them, including a Museum of Sex Toys). So if you find yourself with a weekend in Prague here is my recommended day plan:

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Day One – The Castle

The castle district dominates the city of Prague. With numerous beautiful sculpted gardens, narrow and winding historical streets, and the rather breath-taking Gothic cathedral, it can take most of the day to explore this sprawling hillside of history. It is where I would suggest spending your first full day in Prague. Getting there early is a must – the queue is absolutely ridiculous to get into the castle grounds (which is free but you get searched so it takes time). The views when waiting, as well as the numerous entertainers who tend to set up around the square are more than ample amusement for the roughly 30 minute wait to get inside. If you time it just right like we did, you will get to watch the changing of the guards from the queue line too.

IMG_0048.JPGOnce you are inside the grounds, there are numerous parts of the grounds just waiting to be discovered – some which are for free, and others cost a small sum of 300 crowns. If you are pressed for time, If you only do one thing inside the grounds it must be to visit the inside of the Cathedral. The absolutely stunning glass work casts the whole interior in beautiful rosy, orange, yellow and blue glows. It creates an effect very similar to that of staring at the surface of water when you sit on the bottle of pool, and it definitely just as serene.

IMG_0107.JPGIf you have, however, set aside the day for the castle then you can explore the other wonderful parts of the ground. Some of my favourites were the Old Royal Palace – most of which burnt down, but the ball room, some of the upper bedrooms and study rooms still exist; St George’s Chapel, which is a very well-preserved example of an older and more sedate church that exists in the grounds from the 1000s and has some very curious representations of mythical creatures; and the Alchemist Street, which used to be home to the old Apothecaries and Alchemists and hosts some very interesting exhibits on their lives today.

End the day by booking onto one of the dinner river cruises. I would recommend Prague Boats who give you two different dinner options – a buffet dinner cruise with live music, and a La Carte Menu which is for those of you who want to be a bit fancier with waiter service and jazz music. It was a really lovely end to our day at the castle – and we got to see the city by night.

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Day Two – Old Town and the Jewish Quarter

img_0272The second day, and probably the day you are leaving this wonderful city, is best spent in Old Town. Full of snaking medieval streets with curiously eastern styled houses which lean forward to create a welcoming amount of shade in the summer sun, Old Town is a medievalist dream come true. This is also the place to do your shopping, with vendors and shops down every nook and crannies. The main thing to take a look at here, other than the beautiful architecture (there are gremlins everywhere, have fun spotting them along your way), is the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town centre. The clock was first installed in 1410 and it is still one of the most precise time keeping pieces in the world – as well as the oldest. There is a small museum inside as well, but the beauty is just watching the clock chime on every hour.

Within the town centre there is always a show going on as well – most likely puppet shows as this is what the Czech Republic is renowned for.  So sit back with an ice cream and enjoy some afternoon entertainment.

img_0261There is also the Powder Tower, which is included in the price of the all-inclusive castle ticket. The Tower used to be one of the original city gates and is now home to an exhibition on the gates history. The Powder Tower however is not near the castle – it is actually all the way over in Old Town which is on the other side of the river so you may want to do this on the day of your castle visit too. If that’s the case it’ll give you a chance to walk across the Charles Bridge – one of the oldest medieval bridges lined with great historical and religious figures.

Continuing with your day in Old Town, walk up river to the Jewish Quarter and explore some more great architecture – like the Old Orchestra Hall or the Town Square with another beautiful Gothic church.

 

 

That concludes my suggested plan of action for a weekend in Prague. I hope you have as an amazing time as we did exploring this beautiful fantasy-esq city.

With Love, Prague xox

Leading Ladies: Why you should have a female protagonist and how to write one

Strong female role models are everywhere today. Beyonce, whether you love her or hate her, is a powerful and strong feminine icon in the music industry; J. K. Rowling is an amazing example of a female author whose books are as popular as LotR or Narnia; the Olympics, which are just drawing to an end for 2016, are also full of amazing, strong women who represent their countries. With the increasing amount of real world heroines for kids to look up to, attention has been drawn by a lot of writers and bookworms to the literary world, where the female role model is often hard to find. I don’t doubt the sudden increase in articles on Writer Unboxed and The Guardian is in part due to the celebration of our amazing real life women, and it has brought up an interesting point – why are we lacking female protagonists?

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n-WOMAN-MAN-YELLING-628x314Jo Eberhardt in her article points out that over 70% of the leads in films at the moment are male, and even when women take the center stage it is often men who still speak more than the women do. Is it just the men we should lump the blame with, can they simply not relate to women or do they just want to shut us up? Or are women the issue, are we not able to relate to the female role models authors are providing us with? One that springs to mind is Bridget Jones. I’m in no rush to get married and children are definitely off of the table for me, so I wouldn’t say I could relate, exactly, to Jones, but I do enjoy her stories and I can agree that the only men I need in my life are named Ben and Jerries. Maybe writers are just scared to write a female character – look at how long it’s taken for someone to step up and make a Wonder Woman movie. There is a lot of pressure in modern society to create the ‘perfect woman’.

My issue is often that women, when they are cast as the main character in a story, are in a story I’m not interested in. Romances aren’t really my thing, which is where women prominently feature as the lead figure. Even in fantasy literature, books where women are the main character tend to get twisted into a romance – ahem, Twilight. Even Hunger Games to an extent, whilst talking about really interesting and complex political issues, often gets over ridden by the love triangle rearing its ugly head every time the plot starts to get interesting.

34190df835ccf64480169e94c70e4022.jpgOne of my favourite books with a female lead is Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. When I say this in conversation people often sit up and go ‘Oh, I forgot it was a girl who was the main character in that’. I think it’s because the story is so damn interesting and so lovable we just stop focusing on the gender. It isn’t repeatedly shoved down the readers throat with references to love or with the conversation mostly being centered on sighing over hunky men. Don’t get me wrong, I can dig a steamy romance book every now and then, but I know when I need my fix and where to get them from (check out Nahlini Singh). But when I want an action or adventure story, where are my female characters? Where are my books on female dragon riders, or about Queen’s riding into battle to save a kingdom?

Why should I have a female lead?

Why not? Would be how I countered such a ridiculous question. Do you not think young girls want to be warriors and have a magical talking pet that takes them to another world, too? If you think your book ‘wouldn’t work’ if it was a woman instead of a man I think you need to take a deep hard look at yourself. I once had a friend that said ‘well if my lead was a woman she’d just fall in love and that would be that.’

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My simple response to that was – if you don’t want to write a romance don’t write a romance. Having a female lead does not equal a romance.

Perhaps it would be easier to explain my own reasoning for having a female lead:

mage-dragon-rider-knight.jpgBecause I’m a girl and I wanted to do everything my main protagonist, Scarlet, could do. Have wings, magical powers that could move mountains, AND be a fantastic warrior? Who wouldn’t want that, male or female? I was also always fed up with it being a guy who got to do the ‘fun stuff’. In games at school the girls always had to be the damsel in distress, or the princess, or some other ridiculous boring thing which meant having to give the boys a kiss at the end. I wanted to be the one pretending to fight dragons and walk over lava. Girls need to be told more from a young age that they can do those things, we shouldn’t have it forced on us from the get go we’re a simple love interest to be shouted over by men.

We need more leading ladies for the girls like me who dreamed of being a Dragon Rider, or a warrior, or the next Indiana Jones. We also need these stories so others stop associating leading ladies with romances. So we don’t even need to have this conversation. So we can end every book and have to consciously think to recall the gender of that character, because the book was so damn fantastic who cared.

How do I write a leading lady?

Number One: Focuse on the plot of your story first. Don’t think that you’re writing a female character, especially when you’re in the planning stages. Just think of totally amazing things which you want to happen and instead of writing ‘he’ add an extra letter to the beginning and write ‘she’. It should still work. It WILL still work. Get rid of any idea that it wouldn’t work right here, right now.

Number Two: Now we’ve got past the planning stage and the initial fear of writing about someone with a vagina, think about them as a person. This isn’t the 1800s – a woman’s only dream isn’t to fall in love and get married. Think about the strong women in the news we see, or the women in your life. What are your favourite traits in them? Is it their humour (dark, sarcastic), is it their ability to say ‘yes’ to everything no matter how crazy it is, is it how creative they are? Make a PERSON. Do not lose sight of this. Just because there is something different between the legs does not make them any less of a complex 3D character with hopes and dreams and characteristics – both good and bad.

header-power-girl.jpgNumber Three: Think about their appearance on your page. I don’t just mean how they look, but how you write their actions. Women in books tend to ‘pout’ a lot, or ‘sigh dreamily’, or ‘give a shy smile’. Screw that. Women snort when they laugh, they scrape their nails through dirt when they’re sitting in grass, and – cover your eyes those of a gentle spirit – they even fart. A warrior wouldn’t smile meekly, a warrior would lean against walls, or rest their hand on the hip of where their sword usually hangs, or wear a scowl, laugh loudly, joke, be scruffy and perhaps look as though they’ve been in a bit of a fight. It’s amazing how you can change a female character by simply changing an adjective or two from being a love-sick puppy to the saver of the world.

Number Four: Don’t forget they are a woman. There is a real risk to very blindly blunder into writing a female character as a man entirely, and you’ll get a lot of hate for that as much as you would writing another Bella Swan. Think of the problems a woman would face in your world. Maybe they wouldn’t face any problem? Matriarchies are probably in this category – when women rule it’s like a gender version of Noughts and Crosses. But if you are writing it based in this world for instance, think and RESEARCH the problems women face. It’s all very good a woman warrior sure, but unless your female species doesn’t carry the child (hey wouldn’t that be a fantastic idea) then they are going to have periods, they are going to face the pressure of carrying on a line (especially royals, even if they are the ruler), they are going to struggle at times. On this Earth, they are probably going to be harassed, and then there’s that fear of being attacked that looms over most girls heads as they walk home alone. None of this should scare you, it’s a person, there are risks to every person, and hopefully you do your research before writing a character. This is no different, if you’re writing a woman. Do a little research. Research. Research. Research.

Why-Joss-Whedon-Writes-Strong-Female-Characters.jpgNumber Five: Don’t be scared to write one. A lot of people hold back when writing about women, they stick to what has been given the nod of approval and stay in the safe end. But we don’t need safe, we need more. We need the female space cowboys and the female lion tamer. Gender should not put you off, and that is the best tip I can give to writing a strong female lead, otherwise there will always be something holding you – and your character – back from being the best they should and could be.

 

 

 

I hope that this has helped and given a lot of you courage to write some new and amazing female characters who take the center stage in books. As always, comments and questions are welcome.

Till next time, Ink-Slingers, keep writing!

 

The Deutsche Chronicles: A review of CTR

Travel writing has never really occurred to me, apart from in dreams of when I was a multi millionaire and didn’t have to worry about money. No way did I have the funds to go out on my own and build a portfolio without becoming part of the hive mind of 9 – 5 business people. So when I stumbled across CTR (City Travel Review), which is an amazing opportunity for young people who are on a gap year, or have just finished uni, or have quit their desk job to follow their dream. The scheme – which has won quite a few awards – allows you to be a travel writer for between 1 – 3 months at one of the cities they have on offer (Edinburgh, Berlin, London, Madrid, Lyon, Barcelona). The website looked great, but after much internet trolling the only other reference I could find to the scheme was on a blog a few years old. I’m not sure whether it just wasn’t explained very well in the blog, or whether it was simply out of date, but after reading it and experiencing it I was totally unprepared for it.

What do I do exactly…?

Now, this is a question my team and I were asking ourselves right up until we handed in our project. Your entire aim of the course is to produce a travel guide. You will be working in a small group – about half the size of the actual project group (10 max). When you have your first meeting you will meet the two editors who are your ‘guides’ along the way. They are there to listen in on your meetings, but mostly to provide feedback on your own personal writing style and to answer any questions. Or, if you really get off track with the project, bring you back to where you should be. The rest is entirely down to you.

There are three groups within your small team: layouters, editors and writers. Everyone is a writer, not everyone is a layouter or editor.

Layouters are theoretically meant to volunteer for the role, as editors are, but usually Lutz (who is the coordinator of the project) asks you to raise your hand if you’ve had experience in graphics design or layout before. In which case you’ll be put on that team. If there are left over spaces others will be asked to volunteer for the role. You will need to bring a laptop with you, it should be a very modern one as you will be asked to download a programme onto your laptop to do it. It’s a free trial you will get for a week (unless Lutz has taken to heart our complaining and finally brought one). It is a very stressful role, but you are in charge of the whole look of the final project. It’s demanding, and you need to work well with others. There are three positions for this group.

Editors nominate themselves for the role. Their function is to proofread the reviews sent in by writers, send back recommended changes and generally make sure the tone for the whole thing is coherent and doesn’t sound like it’s written by 10 different people. It’s difficult but it’s good fun. You’ll need to set deadlines for the rest of the group and most likely hound them for their reviews so they are on time. Within the editors group are two special roles. There is the Photo Editor, whose job it is to collect all the photos for the reviews and to select the best ones and tell writers to go out and take some more. The photo editor also works with the layouters to get any extra images they feel they need e.g. cover photos, headers, writers pictures. Then there is the Editor-in-Chief. I was very lucky and honoured to be given this position. This is the only position which is elected by the whole group out of the editors – or someone falls into the role. I kinda fell into it. This person needs to be extremely organised as you’re going to be coordinating with the writers, editors and layouters. You make the final calls when arguments start – and trust me they will. You also keep the meetings on track, check over all the other editors work to make sure they have done it right, and you will also probably be good with excel as you will need to keep track of who is writing what, who has handed in what, and whether it has been edited and is ready to be put into the magazine yet. It’s a hard job but very rewarding.

Writers are self explanatory really, but just to outline what a review should actually be might be helpful as we sure as hell didn’t know what to do. Each writer is expected to have written eight reviews by the end of the month (unless you are a layouter then you only have to do six). You can do more, but you can’t do less. You will be given the Essential Review list on your second week. These are places around the city they want you to include because a travel guide without them would be silly. These are mainly the historical places most of you will think are boring, but they include a few lakes and entertainment parks which are hot tourist places. Writers will divide this list up between them. We ended up with four essential reviews each that we had to do – some of us took on a few more because we already wanted to review those places (history nerd over here holla). You write between 150 – 200 words per review. The other four reviews are entirely up to you – you can do anything you want to.

Features: As well as writing reviews you will write features – there are ‘essential’ features. You don’t have to do them, but you will probably want to include them. It’s things like accommodation, transport, a survival guide, a brief history of the city. You’ll probably divide these up as well – two people tend to work on it together. Then there’s features you pick for yourself, if you want to write a features. Features are longer between 400 – 600 words and have a more personal tone to the more formal review structure. Your editors will talk to you more about it but they are a fun and different thing to do especially if you don’t have another position on the team.

Language Lessons: Alongside all of this you will be doing daily lessons in the language of the country you are in (Berlin, Barcelona, Lyon, Madrid). They don’t do lessons in English as they expect you all to know English in order to write the guide. They have beginner and experienced lessons, sometimes more groups if you are in a bigger group.

 

A typical day in the life of a writer ~

So know you know the basic structure and aim of the project, what does a typical day look like for you? Well, you’ll have a lesson in the morning – either a language lesson or a writing workshop. Then you get the afternoon off to go and do your reviews – whether it is writing them or going to visit the site. Mondays and Fridays you will have an excursion somewhere around the city which is paid for by the project. Weekends are free – the group tends to go out somewhere or do something, or use the time to visit another place they review. You will have to manage your own time, which is a crucial part of being a travel writer. Remember to balance fun with work – this is work experience after all.

 

Where will I be staying?

Accommodation is provided for in the cost. I don’t know what the flats look like in other cities, but in Berlin you will be staying on the East Side of the city in old Soviet Union flat blocks (seriously, if you visit the East Germany museum and see the old Soviet flats yours looks identical). It’s not the most glamorous of places, but it’s clean and comfortable and the ones in Berlin have balcony’s! They are two bedroom apartments but the bedrooms are twin rooms – this means you will be sharing a bedroom with somebody else unless you pay for a single room.

 

Admin things you should know.

Transport: You should know that you have to pay for your own transport to the country or city you will be writing in. On arrival at the station or airport, someone from the team will come and pick you up and take you to your accommodation. They will pay for this transport. On the way back however, you’re on your own. You will find that people from the group will leave around the same time as you from the same places so you can buddy up and head there together. It’ll get a little emotional on the goodbye!

Just a note – people tend to arrive mid morning/afternoon on the first day, and the leaving time is schedules for around 2pm. However, you can leave earlier and most of us did because we weren’t told by the organisers -derh-. At the end of the day go for the cheapest flights but thought I would give you a heads up.

Internet: Accommodation does NOT have internet at any of their locations apart from in the offices you have your lessons in. Even this is limited – it’s a little dongle and it’ll be used up pretty quickly with 20 + young adults hungry for contact with the outside world. You will need to get your own internet through your own dongle or otherwise for the accommodation. You will also become very familiar with the local internet cafes and libraries – trust me!

Guests: You’re not MEANT to have people over but your flatmates don’t usually mind and as long as nobody tells the landlord you’ll be fine. Nobody will ask really. They won’t have anywhere to sleep however, so you may need to get an airbed or something similar. Alternatively, I used my guests as a great opportunity to try out some hotels and air BnB places around the city for the guide.

 

Recommend it to a friend?

I most certainly would recommend it to a friend. It is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in a new culture – my German is so much better now than when I did it in high school. It is also a chance to experience working in a real life environment, on your own. It gives you a great independence boost, and great time management skills. My month on this project has been one of the best of my life – it truly is a fantastic opportunity to experience what life is like as a travel writer.

I hope that’s answered any of the main questions you’ve had – if you have more feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to reply. I have only been on the Berlin one so I can better answer those questions, but generic ones I can probably at least give you a good idea on how it’ll be.

With love, Berlin xox

The Deutsche Chronicles: Saying Goodbye

Leaving Berlin was one of the hardest things I have had to do in my life. I think that’s how I knew this city had become my home. Yes, I have a home in England that I live in, but Berlin is where my heart heaved a great sigh and felt at peace.

I felt more like a local in my last week in Berlin, which was probably not helped by the fact a lot of my friends and family came out to visit me in the last week so I turned into a personal tour guide. Below is my own personal recommended tour for those of you who want to see the key sites without paying for the tours offered.

My Top Tour:

Start in Alexanderplatz – Alexanderplatz is the capital of East Berlin – you will always be able to find Alexanderplatz no matter where you are in Berlin because this place is home to the TV Tower that is such an iconic piece of the Berlin skyline. Follow the green footprints in the square to Nikolaiviertel (which I discuss in my last Chronicle post). From the square you can get a bus (100,200) which will take you to outside the Berliner Dome – though you can just walk there too. It is then a straight walk down Berlin’s most famous street, Unten Den Linden (where you will pass embassy houses, old palaces and a statue of Frederick the Great), to the Brandenburg Gate. From there I would recommend going left which will take you to the famous Holocaust Memorial. If you cut through the beautiful stone towers to the other side, cross the road and cut through what looks like a car park for a residential area. It is exactly what it looks like, however under this car park is Hitlers Bunker where he and his wife took their own lives at the end of the war. Follow the road up and take the second left – down here is an amazing little ice cream parlour which serves the best sundaes in the city. Once you get to the end of the little street turn right and head up. At the first main junction you’ll get to the East Berlin Mural which was put up at the beginning of the Soviet occupation, depicting what people thought communism would mean. Mirrored on the floor is an image of the only protest that ever took place in East Berlin and the massacre of its people. Carry on up the same road and you’ll hit the Topography of Terror and a part of the wall. Cross the main road, go past the Trebbie museum and the odd hot air balloon that looks as though it is chanting for the world to die, and you’ll hit the famous Checkpoint Charlie, where for a couple of euros you can get a picture with some very attractive men in uniform. Just behind CC is an underground where you can pop back to the Brandenburg Gate stop and visit the Reichstag, Tiergarten and Victory Tower – which are all on the right hand side. You’ll find yourself back at the gate at the end of the day where you can hop on the underground again and pop over to Postdammer Platz where you can see the Sony Centre all lit up once it gets dark.

This is a very intense little day out but it is a good route to cram a lot in for free.

Other Recommended Spots

Sanssouci park New Palace.JPGJust outside of the energetic city of Berlin lays the tranquil gem Sanssouci Park, which offers a perfect escape for anyone wanting to get away from the usual hustle and bustle of city life. The park’s purpose has not changed since its creation in 1745 by Frederick II, who intended for the acres of gardens, fountains and decedent palaces to be a retreat from royal duties. Be transported back in time by strolling along the wide boulevards, sitting amongst the wild flowers, or enjoying a picnic on one of the many sculpted lawns, as Prussian Empresses and Emperors had once done.

The park is home to over six palaces, temples, and a gallery. Start with the gardens of Charlottenburg Schloss, done in the style of a Grecian vineyard, before proceeding forward in time to the quaint roman bath house just around the corner with its still functioning water features. The Chinese House is also worthy of a visit, carved from marble and adorned with gold statues, it is an architectural wonder and leaves you in easy walking distance of all the parks palaces.

Soviet War Memorial - statue of soldier and babyThen there’s the Soviet War Memorial. Built on top of the graves of over 7,000 Red Army soldiers who fought in the Battle of Berlin, the brutal granite statues and sculptured lawns are a heart breaking tribute to lost loved ones. This beautiful and emotional physical reminder of just what was lost during the Second World War was created by a team of architects, engineers and artists, including the famous Russian sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich.

The memorial consists of several statues of the men who died, gardens with well-kept flowers, and plaques containing the speech Stalin made after the war to praise the soldiers now buried here. The most domineering aspect of the memorial is the 12 meter tall statue of Vasily Chuikov who risked his life to save that of a young German child who had been abandoned during the Battle of Berlin.

 

I would also REALLY recommend checking out Mufasa Kebabs. I didn’t really believe the rumours that it was the best kebab in the world – especially when I saw the length of the queue (if I thought kebab shack queues were bad when you came out of the club in England I was wrong. I will never complain again, Oki’s). However, when we were passing one day and the queue was relatively short, my friend convinced me to try one and I have not been able to touch the slimy rubbish they serve us in our shops today. It’s like an explosion of tastes and sensations in your mouth (I never knew potato should go in a kebab but it definitely should).

I also managed to check out some of the other lakes Berlin has to offer. I’ve visited Mugglesee, which is by the far the largest lake in Berlin with its own beach and water sport area. You can’t actually see the other side of the lake from where you are standing, it’s so big. But there are pleasant – and cheap – little shops you would expect to find along the coastline around the edges of the lake. I also went to check out Wannsee which is not as clean as the other two lakes but is a lot quicker to get to, based right in the centre of the city. It also has this great fountain thing that you can swim out to in the middle, and you can dive off the edge of it. It’s great fun.

 

My Final Tips and Tricks of Berlin:

xapothekesign2.jpg.pagespeed.ic.9RofaOsXrdThis is more for those of you living out there for a longer period of time, or if you don’t plan on eating out every night and have the benefit of staying somewhere with a working kitchen, but when you go shopping it’s like it is over here in that they won’t give you a carrier bag. It’s just a helpful thing to know before heading into the shop. ALSO, shops close on a Sunday, and not all of them are open on a Saturday so make sure to check out the local stores information before heading down on a weekend. Another tip to know about shops is that in Germany they won’t sell you medication in a normal shop like they do in England – even paracetamol. You have to go to the pharmacy (which are called Apotheke). The good thing however is that the people who work there are trained to a doctor level, so if you are really ill out there flash your health card and they’ll help you out in diagnosing you and giving you what you need.

There are meet ups happening all the time in Berlin for people who are visiting, so if you are looking to get to know Berliners I would suggest popping along to one of these. If you search online you’ll find them, there are multiple companies and events and they’re all fantastic. We popped along to one of the regular meetings that happen at the Anti-War Cafe, and another language class which happens in a pub near Alexanderplatz. Both were great ways to learn German and to meet people from Berlin and others who were visiting. I would definitely recommend finding one for the time of your stay.

That’s it really, guys! I hope you’ve liked this mini travel writing series. My next post will be about the project itself for anyone who is interested in trying it out.

With love, Berlin.