8/2-8/7/16 Moscow, Russia

8/2/16 – We flew from Kiev to Minsk, Belarus to Moscow on Belavia Airlines. I wondered whether or not the national airlines of Belarus would be up to snuff. But it turned out to be fine and it gave me faith that the global airlines business must operate under pretty high standards, even under the longest running dictatorship and most corrupt regime in Europe. img_0901Moscow amazed us and it fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams to come here. Our funky apartment was three blocks from Red Square and located in a very fancy, upscale shopping area. We went to Red Square in the evening and got caught in torrential downpour. It only added to the surreal specialness of being there. This will be a fond, life-long memory.

8/3/16 – The Russian State/Lenin Library is the main library in Moscow and the national library of Russia. In the morning we walked over to it and I photographed the severe, Soviet-era exterior. While I was doing that Ellen wandered into the library and basically charmed her way into getting us an appointment to photograph inside the library this Friday. Amazing! Lightroom (DSC_9556.NEF and 3 others)We then met our friend Acia who I’ve been in touch with for several months. She is the sister of one of my Stanford students and I met her last Spring at Stanford. I told her we were coming to Moscow in the Summer and she did a huge amount of work arranging visits to some of the libraries of Moscow. We all went to the Russian State Youth Library which was housed in the Nosov Mansion. It is a music library and I made a great photo of a young guy practicing on an electric piano. dsc_9620dsc_9635dsc_9673dsc_9663We ended the day at the Chekov Library which is well run but struggles on its very tight budget. Chekov used to live in this building and I make my last image of the day of a room filled with books and a very large photograph of Chekov.dsc_9725

8/4/16 – We met the librarian Maria at the Nekrasov Library at noon. We spent the next few hours going on a tour of this new and attractive library. One of their collections included an amazing display of graphic arts labels, especially for chocolate bars and calendars. It included ones from pre-Soviet and Soviet times and was a fascinating history of early 20th century fantasies. dsc_9733Lightroom (DSC_9744.NEF and 2 others)dsc_9747dsc_9762dsc_9778dsc_9770At noon I gave a lecture again on my American Public Library project to a small group of librarians while Maria translated. Maria then guided us by street and subway to the American Embassy. I gave my last lecture of the trip there to another room full of mostly young Russians. It was one of the highlights of the trip and one of the great honors of my life. Before the lecture, our American Embassy contact Magia impressed us with her sharp analysis of Russian-American relations and also her great fear of a Donald Trump presidency. Like Ukraine, this is one of the front lines of a new Cold War between Russia and the West. Interestingly (and somewhat weirdly) my lecture felt like a small part of a “soft power” effort in that conflict.img_1012img_1021

8/5/16 – We spent several hours being escorted around the Russian State/Lenin Library by a young librarian named Dacia. We spent a good amount of time in the Book Museum which consisted of the highlights of their collections. It was a truly remarkable collection and I made the most of every minute I had there. We also photographed several large reading rooms. The grandest one by far was the main reading room which was not being used because it was under construction. It was a magnificent room and being empty gave it an ethereal quality that made for what I hope are some great photos. Looking down on the empty room was a giant mural painting of Lenin which also added to the strange quality. The librarian said they don’t know when the construction will be done because they have run out of funds. I finished by photographing the Grand Staircase and several of the guards. Thus concluded the photography for the 2016 Library Road Trip to Europe. A quick count showed I had photographed about 82 libraries throughout the trip.dsc_9827dsc_9830dsc_9841dsc_9912dsc_9926Lightroom (DSC_9949.NEF and 2 others)Lightroom (DSC_9976.NEF and 2 others)

8/6/16 – We had a farewell coffee with our friend Dacia and gave her a copy of The Public Library book. img_4640Walker and I played a quick game of ping pong under a statue of Lenin. img_1111Then we had a sad farewell to Walker as he took off for Finland , Belgium, Ireland and finally the US. img_4649Ellen and I collapsed into a short lived nap in our apartment which was interrupted by a loud rock concert outside our window and incessant construction noise. Later we had a wonderful dinner in an outdoor cafe on our street. img_4657We then did our final preparations for the big trip home. We will miss Moscow!

8/7/16 – We never slept this night. At midnight we took an hour long taxi ride to the airport. We tried to sleep a little at the airport but at 3:30 began the check-in and boarding process. img_4661After a 5 1/2 hour flight we were in Lisbon. We waited another 5 1/2 hours in a semi-conscience state in the Lisbon airport. img_4663Finally, after a 7 hour flight we arrive in Boston and I want to kiss the first American flag I see. We’re so glad to be home!img_4665

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7/29-8/1/16 Kiev, Ukraine

7/29/16 – This was the busiest day of the trip. It started at 8:30 AM meeting our guide Tatiana from the library. She is a unique character and she quickly became our friend through her charm, grace and intelligence. Ellen described her as being like a pixy. She took us to the great Medical Library and introduced us to Madam Raisa who founded the library in this old mansion in the 1960s. Like in Dnipro, we observed the ritual of tea, food and conversation before beginning our tour and photography of this fascinating old place. Lightroom (DSC_8839.NEF and 2 others)

Tatiana then shuffled us along like a mother hen to the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine. Here again we observed the rituals before being taken on an astonishing tour of one of the largest libraries in the world. Every department had laid out extensive displays of their collections. All the department heads gave well done presentations to us, some of them reading from typed pages. Ten people followed us including our translator, the head of the library and two photographers. This National Library lacked funds to provide air conditioning and humidity control which was obvious on this hot and humid day. But the staff that we met were overwhelmingly enthusiastic, very smart and proud to show us their incredible collection. The collections ranged from rare books and manuscripts; old rare newspapers; reading rooms; art library; rare wax audio recordings of early 20th century Jewish musicians, singers, poets and writers; and the music library. We even were given a short piano concert on a historically important piano.

I felt that we had just been given the richest and most amazing crash course in Ukrainian history and culture. The generosity of the people we met here so far knows no bounds. After a very short break I was escorted into a very hot and airless room to give my slide discussion on the American Public Library project to a packed house. Again, there were great questions and a real interest in American libraries. I think I was falling in love with Ukraine at this point. We then scrambled out the door and headed across town to my next lecture at the America House. This place is a part of the American Embassy and is used to show Ukrainians a positive side of American culture. It is now also in the center of the new Cold War between Putin’s Russia and the West. There were large images and quotes by Maya Angelou and Steve Jobs on the walls. Laptops were loaned out, books were available and all kinds of classes were taught including English language lessons. It was a very hip and inviting place. I again gave my slide lecture on American public libraries to a packed audience of interested Ukrainians. The lecture as simultaneously translated and then podcast to over 80 Ukrainian libraries throughout the country. I was exhausted but very happy after this very long and rewarding day.img_0657img_0662

 

7/30/16 – We came back to the America House in the morning so I could conduct a two-hour workshop/slide show on some historical but mostly contemporary American photographers. I had another good sized audience with occasional good questions. The workshop was followed by a reception for an exhibit of my American Public Library project. I had earlier sent them large digital files which they printed up (nicely), mounted them and hung them in their small galley. We made plans to travel the show throughout Ukraine.

I was really exhausted at this point but rallied enough to go out to dinner with a LensCulture photographer Misha and his fiancé. He had been doing a lot of photography in the war in eastern Ukraine. He spoke of how he was like a crazy child when he came back from the fighting and his fiancé agreed.img_4324

 

7/31/16 – This was our one day of rest in Kiev so, of course, we couldn’t just sit around our air conditioned apartment. We visited the ancient Kiev Pechersk Lavra monastery which is the center of the Kiev Rus people. Kiev was founded here and the Kievians like to point out that Moscow wasn’t founded until 500 years later. We found out later that this was also the center of the pro-separatists, pro-Russian people in Kiev. We visited the underground tunnels and tombs of the ancient monks as well as the fantastic cathedrals of the Orthodox Church.

Nearby is the huge Museum to the Ukrainian and Soviet part of WW II. Although massive in scale and impressive in detail it began to take on a predictable message. Both the monastery and Museum were important to see and helped explained the culture we are in. img_4413img_4428In the early evening Ellen and I walked from our apartment to a small branch library several blocks away that Walker had seen earlier. I only took the digital camera because,of the distance. It turned out to be an old, Soviet-era library with giant new apartments being built by oligarchs rising in the background. The light was perfect and the little details of monkeys and cosmonauts floating in space were enchanting.dsc_9160dsc_9237

 

8/1/16 – Tatiana was not through with us yet and today she took us back to a different building of the Vernadsky National Library. Here we saw massive a Soviet-era mural, an Iranian room, reading rooms and an impressive modern tapestry of Ukrainian history. One of the most interesting rooms was the map collection. The young librarian kept showing us endless amounts of priceless old maps and atlases. Again I felt like a kid in a candy store. During WW II the 80,000 items in this collection were shipped out of Kiev by train just before the Nazis invaded the city. It was taken to Kazakhstan and shipped back after the war. We were taken to a room full of gifts given to Ukrainian leaders from other world leaders, some of them very kitchy.

The most thoughtful gift of the entire trip was when Tatiana had us issued library cards from the Vernadsky National Library. In a trip filled with remarkable people Tatiana was one of the best. It was a sad farewell when we left. img_0850img_0898I decided to go back to our neighborhood branch library that I had photographed yesterday with my digital camera. I had brought both digital and film cameras as a experiment. It turned out that it was difficult to shoot both, especially on the second half of the trip. Many times we were rushed, or librarians were breathing down our necks, or the lighting was bad. Often, it was just easier and faster to only shoot digital. I was determined to go back to this fascinating neighborhood library and use some of the large amount of film that still had left. As I was happily photographing this same library in the same beautiful light a young, drunk Ukrainian guy came up to my face and started talking to me in an insistent way. I had two cameras, a large backpack and my tripod strapped around my shoulders while I was changing film and felt pretty vulnerable. When I backed up he followed closely in my face. He was missing one eye and his face was full of scars and scratches. I guessed he might have been a veteran from the war but he seemed pretty whacked out and dangerous now. I noticed a middle aged guy carrying groceries walking by so I jumped in back of him and he proceeded to have some kind of serious talk with this nutter in Ukrainian. We all eventually went our separate ways but I noticed the crazy guy putting the moves on other hapless people walking by the library. I was happy to get out of there in one piece.

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7/26-7/28/16 Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine

7/26/16 – We flew from Warsaw to Ukraine and entered a new world. It took me most of this Spring to learn how to pronounce the name of our new destination – Dnipropetrovsk. About a month ago this large eastern Ukrainian city changed its name to Dnipro to remove the Communist part of the name. During the Cold War this manufacturing city was a “secret city” that produced munitions and rockets for the wars in Korea and Vietnam. It is still a manufacturing city today with a large factory owned by an oligarch spewing a choking cloud of pollution that permeates the whole area.

It is a Russian speaking city that now heavily supports Ukraine in its war with the separatists in the far eastern province of Donbas. Dnipro is about a three hour drive to the front and we feel the presence of the war here. Walker’s contact named Dasha picked us up at the small Dnipro airport. She works for the on-line photography group LensCulture that Walker works for as well. Although she lives in the US now she is back here visiting her parents. img_0445After we settle into our strange hotel we eventually make our way over to the Soviet era Central City Library. I gave a lecture here to an airless, warm room that is packed with mostly young people. They seemed genuinely interested in American public libraries and ask lots of good questions at the end. One guy even gave me a bullet which he says is a “souvenir from the Donbas front”.

I was exhausted but went out to dinner in an American style, upscale shopping mall. This is the first time a shopping mall looked pretty good to me.

 

7/27/16 – Today is another busy day. We photographed four libraries starting with The Children’s Library. We were overwhelmed by the generosity of the people working here. We expected to spend only a short hour quickly photographing this place. The cultural differences started immediately with a long “tea time” where we were introduced to all the staff. We were given small gifts and lots of food and we quickly realized we needed to readjust our schedule. We were shown every aspect of this library by the enthusiastic staff. At the end Ellen was given a large collection of hand-made Ukrainian dolls produced by some of the librarians. We also saw the bottle cap donation bins to raise money for the veterans of the war. And, of course, before we left we had to take lots and lots of group portraits. dsc_8570dsc_8590dsc_8623dsc_8645We then did a short visit to the Science Library and then on to the New Library which was 30 years old. Inside was a young man giving a computer lesson to three older women. He was what is called an “internally displaced person” coming from war zone in the East. He taught himself English from computer games and Facebook. This neighborhood is a poor part of Dnirpo and contains many families displaced by the war or the Russian take over of the Crimea. It is also where many veterans and their families live.

After a long walk over rough streets in the heat and pollution we take a short break having lunch in an “authentic Ukrainian” restaurant. Our next stop is Dnipro’s Central City Library. We spend a long time talking with a young woman who is a psychologist for war veterans and their families. She is deeply grateful to the library because it is the only place in town available for free. dsc_8692The wonderful head of the library is Magda and she was a force of nature. She proceeds to take us on a tour of every aspect of this large four story library. This includes the art therapy area for returning and wounded vets from the war, art therapy area for children affected by the war, local arts and crafts, the music library, an IDPs photo exhibit, and a historical display on a famous Ukrainian woman writer who collaborated with the Nazis during WW II and wrote anti-Semitic articles.

We finished the day by Dasha taking us taking us to a cool, hipster restaurant and having one of the best meals of the trip.img_0512

 

7/29/16 – We basically spent most of the day getting organized and having Dasha drive us to the airport. On the way we stopped at a beautiful island/park overlooking the Dniper River. We visited an old Orthodox Church situated on top of an artificial waterfall. We also visited a large Soviet era monument. Dnipro will always be one of the most interesting places on this trip. It is rough and not beautiful. But in its grittiness it possesses a deep character that reminds me of places like Bakersfield, CA or Midland, TX.

We end the day in the very different city of Kiev, Ukraine. Here at the famous Maidan Square we see reminders of the war and making fun of Putin. img_4307img_4298img_4297

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7/23-7/25/16 Warsaw, Poland

7/23/16 – After a many hour drive to Warsaw we met two Polish women, Magda and Agnieszka who would be our guides for the next few days through the Warsaw library system. Magda has already done a huge amount of work on-line arranging contacts with various libraries in Poland and Ukraine and I felt deeply indebted to her. The first place that they took us is the Załuski Library. This old looking building was actually rebuilt after WW II along with rest of Warsaw. The Nazis completely destroyed the city near the end of the war after the Warsaw Uprising. In the desperate times after the war the citizens of Poland taxed themselves to rebuild their Capitol city. Great effort was made to rebuild the old core of the city exactly as it looked before the war. It was odd to be in what appeared to be an old European city that was built in the late 1940s and 50s. In this building I photographed a beautiful old spiral staircase that was the only remnant of the original building. Its survival was a miracle and my image of the staircase spoke to the resilient Polish spirit.dsc_8155

7/24/16 – Our apartment in Warsaw was in an old Soviet era high rise building. Staying there gave me a real appreciation of what life must have been like during the communist times. Being that this was Sunday no libraries were open today. However, I did photograph the exteriors of two branch libraries. Branch Library #48 was outside of the old city center. This more typical Warsaw neighborhood reflected a more utilitarian approach to post war architecture than the Old Town. Library #48 was housed in a downscale strip mall with giant Soviet style apartment blocks in the background. dsc_8226The second branch library was located in the center of the reconstructed Old Town. This area is a major tourist trap but the warm evening, the street musicians and the beautiful light all made it a delightful experience. I even incorporated the ice cream gobbling hoards of tourists into my photo of the branch library.dsc_8309

7/25/16 – Today was a very busy day. I photographed three libraries and gave my first lecture on the American Public Library project in Europe. My guide was young at the National Library of Poland and hadn’t quite made all the arrangements with security. Although I did make some photos here I also spent some time waiting for the guards to figure out what to do next. dsc_8395I then went to the Main Library of Warsaw to give my lecture. This was co-sponsored by the American Embassy and the capacity audience included several members from the Embassy including the American Ambassador. He brought along with him a young woman who worked for the White House in Washington as a program auditor for Embassies. As I was about to give my talk Walker told me “No pressure Dad!” I will be giving several more talks on this trip and it was nice to see this one go over so well. The Ambassador even wanted to consider having an exhibit in the new American Spaces facility on our Stockton Literacy project. img_0358img_0363We then ran off to the Narodowa Library which is a separate part of the National Library. Here I photographed another example of bibliocide showing a book partially destroyed during the war and now housed in a display case. dsc_8417Finally, we dashed off to the Warsaw University Library where we were given a tour and I photographed their impressive modern library in one of the best universities in Poland.dsc_8455

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7/19-7/22/16 Rzeszów, Zamość and Białowieza National Park

7/19/16 – My friend and Stanford University colleague Jason Francisco has spent a lot of time in southeastern Poland photographing traces of the Holocaust. In our research for this trip Walker and I had done a lot of research on former Jewish synagogues in this area that had now become libraries. Jason mentioned ones that we should see as well. Our first stop was in the tiny town of Niebylec. Their library contained some of the finest paintings we saw on the trip in any old former synagogue. This little building was a sacred space for the Jewish people of this region until they they were almost entirely wiped out by the Nazis. Being a library is, perhaps, a little like being a sacred space. But the books in the room could not replace the memories of the synagogue paintings that were still hauntingly displayed on the walls and ceiling. dsc_7827img_0175neibylec-021img_0189dsc_7883niebylec-panoWe traveled on to the small town of Strzyźów which also had a former synagogue which was now a library. Unlike our last library this one appeared to be rebuilt and appeared to be new. In restoring this building they had left remnants of the former synagogue. Ellen read in the guest book notes from people visiting from all over the world who were Jewish, or had families from here or just were interested in Holocaust history.

We spend the night in the medium sized city of Rzeszów.

 

7/20/16 – Today we visited synagogue-now-libraries in the small villages of Jośetówjosetow-029 and Tarnogrod. Jason had suggested Tarnogrod and it turned out to be almost as interesting as the one yesterday in Niebylec. The building was large and was definitely the original synagogue. Inside were haunting reminders of its original purpose with relevant exhibits on its Jewish past. tarnogrod-028Lightroom (DSC_7999.NEF and 3 others)It worked well as a library but also honored its Jewish and partisan fighter past during WW II. We began to realize that we were unwittingly following a pre-existing route of Jewish history in this area. Ellen even found a map of the route which included many of the places we were visiting in this region. We ended the day in the beautiful town of Zamość. Jason had said this town had a deep history which we discovered was also a dark history. Like many towns here all the Jews were killed during the war. The beautiful synagogue was briefly turned into a library after the Holocaust but later became a community center. It is now used by everyone but is occasionally still used by the small Jewish community as a place of prayer and remembrance. img_4160We had dinner off the beautiful town square while a kick-ass blues band played to a mostly empty outdoor square. We walked through the streets at dusk soaking up the history and impressions of this beautiful place with its troubled past. Again, the burden of the past felt close in Zamość.

 

7/21/16 – We felt we needed a break from the history of the Holocaust. So we spent most of the day driving to the largest stand of original forest left in Europe – The Białowieza National Park. Located in northeastern Poland this UNESCO World Heritage Site is also home to the last herd of European Bison. My impression was that the forests here seemed pretty tame compared to forests in the American West and we never did see any Bison. But it felt good to be away from the bustling European cities and we felt a long ways from the Holocaust.

 

7/22/16 – We started the day by walking through the beautiful forest. Although tame compared to American Western forests the solace of nature filled us with the kind of peace that we missed in the cities. Deep in the dark woods we came to a border. Poland’s border with Belarus is literally the end of one world (the European Union) and the beginning of another (Europe’s longest running dictatorship and close ally to Putin’s Russia). The threatening border signs felt like a splash of cold water in these peaceful woods. We turned away and walked back into Poland. We visited the Park Headquarters and learned that this land was preserved by being the hunting preserve for kings and czars. This was often the case in Europe and explained why the forests seemed so managed. Our last hike of the day was the best and the longest so far. We walked through a forest/bog that had elevated trails and long boardwalks over the marshy area. The forest here did not seem managed and we got more of a sense of this environment as a natural area rather than a human created one. The chaotic marshes in this area could not be farmed which helped preserve it. During WW II these marshes stretching into Belarus were a major hideout for the Partisans fighting the Nazis. I tried to imagine what life was like for them as we walked through these rough but beautiful woods. We hiked approximately 11 miles total for the day.

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7/16-7/18/16 Katowice, Auschwitz and Kraków, Poland

7/16/16 – Today was a day of visiting the old German section of Poland. After WW II the Soviets gobbled up big chunks of eastern Poland and the border of Poland shifted west. This part of Poland was part of Germany until 1945 when most of the German population was forced to move to Germany. Polish people living in Ukraine were relocated here. The Wałbrzych public library looked really sad on Google Street View. In reality it had been restored into a beautiful building with statues of buffed Greek gods wearing Polish scarves. The library in Kaminna-Gora was housed in a city center building that had a faded, grand facade which was covered in grime. kaminna-gora-026Surprisingly, our route through beautiful Polish country that eventually took us into the Czech Republic. The area reminded us of the movie Grand Budapest Hotel which wasn’t surprising since it was filmed nearby. The only library I photographed in the Czech Republic was in the little village of Broumov. This country has some of the highest percentage of libraries per capita in the world because of a law requiring every town and village, no matter the size, to have a library. Of course, it didn’t include funding and many of the Czech libraries have recently have consolidated or closed. Back in Poland I finished photographing libraries in the small towns of Otmuchów and Nysa. We ended the day in what we thought was going to be in an post-industrial hell hole. Instead, Katowice was a delight.

 

7/17/16 – Katowice has a regional population of over 2,700,000 (one of the largest in the EU) and is the biggest European city you have never heard of. It was an interesting combination of post-industrial grittiness in an up and coming city. I photographed three branch libraries that reflect that change. dsc_7566Clouds and rain have been our constant companion on the trip. We drive through the part of Poland that still has a large German population. One area was still bi-lingual with the road and town signs in Polish and German. In the small village of Wadowice we visit the home town of Pope John Paul II. Across the street from his childhood home was the public library. I photograph it under an umbrella in the pouring rain.

We next visit the prosperous town of Gliwice which was located in the same building as the Chicas Chicas strip club. dsc_7593Both were closed but I wondered about this weird juxtaposition. Probably the most difficult place for us to visit on this whole trip was the town of Oświęcim which in German was called Auschwitz. I was interested in seeing what a library would look like in a place that was the center of one of the largest crimes against humanity in the history of the world. Because it was Sunday it was closed. The library was very modern and the front was shaped like an open book facing the community. Across the street were multi-colored apartment blocks that were either from the Soviet era or were built after the end of communism. Next to the library was an extensive photo exhibition on panels documenting a recent March of the Living of young people and concentration camp survivors commemorating the liberation of the death camps such as Auschwitz. The best photo I made was when I was able to combine all three subjects showing the unspeakable Holocaust, the Soviet or post-Soviet reconstruction and the library. It shows the layers of recent history in this complex place.dsc_7639

 

7/18/16 – All three of us had a difficult time sleeping in our hotel located right across the street from the death camp. Walker and I kept hearing screams in our troubled sleep. It is not surprising since over 1.2 million people were murdered next door over 70 years ago. The ghosts of the Holocaust seemed very close. We went back to the Oświęcim public library in the morning to photograph the interior. The information told us that it was built like a shopping mall because that was what was most desired by the general public. The building was very open and did indeed feel like a shopping mall. It occurred to me that Oświęcim was struggling mightily to move from its past and this public library was one expression of that effort. The exhibit of the remembrance outside was put there by an outside group. Without it there was no hint of memory of the Holocaust in this library. I was surprised by this bit of historical amnesia for a local library. In my 18 year study of public libraries in the US I saw how libraries often were the repository of local civic memory. This library was an example of trying to forget the past even if it is staring you in the face. dsc_7719oswiecim-027We were happy to leave Oświęcim and head to the beautiful city of Kraków. This city was a gem that had not been destroyed during the war. Although overrun with tourists it possessed a great dignity and charm. We had tea in an amazing Jewish, hipster tea shop in the old Jewish Quarter. I finished the day photographing the Kraków library and Mediateka. The Mediateka was an old brick building with a separate glass facade and roof with beautiful flowing grass at the entrance. Looking through the glass walls we saw beautiful old Polish buildings. It served as a beautiful juxtaposition of the old and new Poland.dsc_7731

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7/8-7/15/16 Berlin to Wrocław, Poland

7/8/16 – We photographed three libraries in Berlin today. The Berliner Stadtsbibliothek was an artifact of the Cold War in east Berlin. It was fascinating to see a former Communist library in the modern hustle and bustle of contemporary Berlin. Our guide, Anna Jacobi, made the place come alive and gave us insights into life in Cold War East Berlin. The Library was part of that ideological struggle. The Amerika Memorial Library was build in 1954 and was the West Berlin expression of Cold War soft power. Before the Berlin Wall went up in 1961 people could travel between East and West Berlin. The Amerika Library was built with American funds and the name honors that gift. The library faced East Berlin and drew large amounts of East Berliners to read books that were not allowed in the Communist East. 80% of library users still use the Amerika library and the place was packed. Finally, Ellen, Walker, his friend Anita Wilcox and I visited the Babelplatz Memorial to Book Burning during the Nazi era. We arrived at dusk and look down into a subterranean lit room filled with empty white bookshelves. Like all good public art this helped us understand the insanity of that terrible time. The empty shelves show us the destruction of the commons which is still happening today. We walk into the night to the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial and the American Embassy. To our surprise I noticed inside an Embassy window was a statue of an upright bear dressed like the Statue of Liberty and draped in the Gay flag. It made us proud to be Americans.dsc_6455dsc_6599berlin-hdr2img_3902

 

7/9+7/10+7/11+7/12/16 – We actually took a few days to relax, be tourists and do chores. Templehof Field was transforming from a Nazi built airport (one of the largest construction projects in the world) to a massive park in the middle of Berlin. Ellen, Walker, Anita and I threw the frisbee, drank cold drinks on this hot day and generally marveled at it all. Later we went to a section of the Berlin Wall which included buildings from which people tried leap to their freedom over the Wall. Later still Ellen and I visited another section of the Wall with a photo show of huge photos from the Syrian war called War on the Wall. Amazingly, while admiring this photography I met the artist Kai Weidenhöfer who had done this fantastic project and found out more about his work.

 

7/13/16 – We took a beautiful train ride from Berlin to Poszan, Poland. We then rented a car and drove southwest to the small Polish town of Leszno. The library there was located in an old Jewish cemetery and the building used to be the mortuary. A huge collection of headstones, many with Hebrew inscriptions were neatly stacked up outside the library. The entire Jewish community here was wiped out by the Germans during WW II and the cemetery destroyed. The Holocaust in Poland became a little more real. We arrived that night in the surprising city of Wrocław.dsc_6780dsc_6786dsc_6885headstones-leszno-030

 

7/14/16 – We photographed three libraries in Wrocław. The Ossolineum was a former monastery and is a now a fantastic grand old library. We were given a long tour and I photographed many fascinating things including a book that a bullet had traveled through during WW I. The Wrocław Mediateka was housed in an old German coffee roastery but it was young, hip and a very friendly, inviting place. Finally, the Wrocław Public Library was located in a great old building off the main town square. It is made up of several libraries representing different parts of the world. We visited the American Corner and then visited the Korean Library, the German Library and the Children’s Library. Wrocław was gritty but filled with faded, glorious old buildings. After photographing throughout the rainy day we stumbled into a delightful vegetarian restaurant in the middle of a downpour.80% of the town was destroyed during the war and twenty five years after the Cold War this town seemed poised for a comeback.dsc_6912mediateka-wroclaw-panodsc_7102dsc_7153img_0031

 

7/15/16 – Wrocław is a 2016 European Capitol of Culture and was designated by UNESCO the 2016 World Literary City. It has more branch libraries than San Francisco (26 vs. 24) and has many thriving bookstores and literary events. I photograph a great old library in a former Masonic Hall in a town west of Wroclaw called Legnica. It was the Nazi headquarters during the War and later housed Russian occupation troops after it. We get taken on a tour of the library by the librarian and her translator. I then started photographing while Ellen chats up the librarian and Walker walks the streets of Legnica looking for food. dsc_7173dsc_7231dsc_7244dsc_7271dsc_7309

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7/3-7/7/16 Lübeck to Berlin, Germany

7/3/16 – The Stadtbibliothek Bremen used to be an old police office and jail. It’s massive walls were imposing and the entrance felt a little creepy. I imagined what it must have felt like to new prisoners during the Nazi era. Because the library was closed on this day we had the whole place to ourselves. Our guide, Lucia Weder, showed us all parts of the large library including the police office, the children’s library and boxes of books for refugees in camps. The books we see are in Persian and this library supports a large program for refugees. Several hours later we wind up in the large port city of Hamburg. Walker is the perfect tour guide and now he is in his element. We hopped on the subway and came out in an area dominated by large brick buildings. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and this 19th century area is one of the largest planned communities in the world. We have dinner at a German version of a dive pub that was dripping with atmosphere. The food was authentically German, heavy but good. We walked the streets of Hamburg celebrating our 33rd wedding anniversary.

 

7/4/16 – The Bücheshallen Zentralbibliothek in Hamburg was big and full of people. It contained a great music room, a wonderful display of photographic posters, a training session for refugee tutors and wild sculptures in front of the library. The Stadts-und-Universitatsbibliothek Hamburg Carl von Ossentzsky library was named after a dissent writer that was shot by the Nazis. Unfortunately, it is closed but I photographed the impressive exterior. That night we landed in the beautiful old town of Lübeck. This island city was the center of the medieval Hanseatic League that basically set business interests ahead of the church or royalty. It was its own city-state and was occupied separately by the Americans after WW II. We walked through the magical old city center in the evening. We have another hearty German meal in an outdoor cafe watching the inhabitant of this delightful city strolling by. We had a toast to the 4th of July and realized that we hadn’t met any Americans since Brussels.dsc_5901dsc_5946img_3764img_3780

 

7/5/16 – At the Bibliothek der Hansestadt Lübeck we met the head librarian Bernd Hatscher. He gave us a quick but fascinating tour of this library that was partly founded by Martin Luther whose portrait hung above the door. The old part was originally a monastery and after Napoleon invaded Lübeck he parked his army’s horses in the church. He then turned the rest of it into a library. Old medieval paintings on the ceiling had been painted over. The effort to recover them had only been partial because the library had run out of money. The librarian sadly explained that he had had to let go a large part of his staff because of budget cutbacks. Glass covered panels in the floor showed off the remnant original bricks. Altogether, a fascinating place. Walker wanted to take us to one of the poorest and most conservative part of Germany. I photographed the library in the tiny town of Grevesmühlen and then visited a even smaller village that Walker described as being neo-Nazi. It was unremarkable except for a weird mural on a wall. We then quickly dropped by the old northern German town of Rostock. I jumped out under darkening skies and photographed the beautiful exterior just before it started to rain (again). Finally, we arrive at the beautiful east German coastal resort town of Sassnitz where we spent two nights and one day “on holiday”.dsc_6034dsc_6086dsc_6150img_3816

 

7/6/16 – Resting! Actually, it rained hard most of the day. Coming from four years of drought in California it was delightful to see the rain outside while I was standing in the shower, we had breakfast in a coffee shop on the shore of the dark and stormy ocean. I could see the rain to continue to pour from my bed as I worked on old emails. It cleared later in the afternoon and Walker and I played frisbee near an old Soviet monument to the workers, the Russian soldiers freeing east Germany and Lenin. Weird! Then we went to a spectacular National Forest on this island of Ruegen where brilliant white cliffs went straight down into the sparkling turquoise Baltic Sea.

 

7/7/16 – The rain that had following us for the last three weeks finally stopped today. I quickly photographed the local library Stadtbibliothek Sassnitz. We then went to a strange relic of the Nazi era the Prora Documentation Center. It was originally built as part of Hitler’s Strength Through Joy program to buy off the German workers after the Nazis smashed organized labor in the 1930s. This area was to be a workers paradise resort by the sea. The few,crumbling buildings here were all,that were built as the war ended this fantasy. Finally we visited the Stadtbibliothek Hans Fallada in Griefswald. The beautiful building was built in the 1500s. The wonderful librarians were thrilled we were there and gave us a nice book of the city as a present. At the end of our long drive we entered the fabled city of Berlin.img_9876dsc_6232dsc_6215img_9886

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6/30-7/2/16 Duisburg to Hamburg

6/30/16 – Zentralbibliothek Duisburg is in a working class German city of around 500,000 in a metropolitan area of 18 million people. It is in the heart of the industrial Ruhr Valley area. The area was heavily bombed during WW II and the city consists of mostly post war buildings without the Old-World charm of many other German cities. It has a large immigrant community and here we are interested in how the public library is helping with that effort. We don’t have a personal contact in this library so we all turn on the charm to the receptionist who we later realize doesn’t speak English. Finally, the Librarian Mr. Holler takes us on on a delightful tour of all the floors of this big library. Later I photographed a man from Syria who is learning German. We communicate through Walker’s Waldorf School German and this man’s very broken German. Somehow it works and we get his permission to take his picture. It has rained every day since we have been in Europe and we drive on through the downpour to the beautiful Hartz Mountains. To relieve the long drive we pull off after the rain and Walker and I play a vigorous game of frisbee in a forest filled with witches and gnomes and old German fairytales. We finally arrive in the pretty little mountain town of Goslar. Walking the streets after dinner I realize we have stumbled into a German version of a Thomas Kincaid painting. Weirdly cute with tiny, twisty streets, little canals and beautiful gnome-like houses. I guess that this must be what Germans like to think of as a part of their essential character. Strangely, there is NOBODY on the streets. But as it is getting dark we turn a corner and stumble upon a large group of Muslims just as they ending their Ramadan fast. Very surreal. Ah, Europe!

 

7/1/16 – The front of the Goslar Public Library fits well into the surrounding streets. It is hundreds of years old and the essential German character of the building is part of this ancient small town. We hadn’t planned to visit the university town of Göttengen and again tried to charm another receptionist who didn’t speak English. The head librarian later introduced us to an older woman named Almut who is one of the main German language tutors in the library. Her stories were often inspiring and sometimes tragic. She told us of a man from Gabon who was one of three people who survived a refugee boat crossing of the Mediterranean. In her German class he was so proud to explain his knowledge of world geography. She and the library are on the front lines of the effort integrate the new migrants into Europe. After more rain and many more “klicks” we arrive in the east German town of Mülhausen. It’s library is housed in a 13th century church but unfortunately it was closed. After many tries I make a nice image of the exterior with giant cumulonimbus clouds bellowing above. Mülhausen seemed poor and eerily empty. Our final destination is the old royal town of Weimar. It used to be the Capitol of Germany during the disastrous Weimar Republic of the 1920s. Today it is filled with relics of its former glory days. The Duchess Anna Amalia Library is one of those beautiful relics. It’s Rococo Hall was amazing and over the top. It is filled with busts of the literary giants that once roamed here.

 

7/2/16 – We get up again at the ungodly hour of 6 AM to be able to photograph inside the Amalia Library’s Study Center by 8. None of us are early risers and much of this trip has been an exercise in sleep deprivation. In this case it is worth it and the Study Center is amazing. We head on to the hard scrabble town of Magdeburg in the former East Germany. This former industrial town is located in one of the poorest parts of Germany. It literally looks like some of the bombed out photos of Germany after WW II. To help create more use by the citizens the city decided to create an Open Air Library near the center of a neighborhood. It looked thoroughly abandoned, filled with graffiti and the trash barrels were overflowing with garbage and empty liquor bottles. It didn’t help that it was pouring rain. While Walker carefully held the umbrella over me I photographed this depressing place. This city really showed the gritty side of former East Germany and why it will take a long time for Germany to reunify. Bremen is located back in the former West Germany and the differences were striking. The Library was housed in a massive, former police station. As I photographed the exterior, exuberant waves of singing football fans walked by on their way to watching Germany play in the Euro Cup. Walker found an amazing old restaurant in the old part of Bremen where we celebrated Ellen’s 71st birthday.

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6/26-6/29/16 Antwerp to Amsterdam

6/26/16 – After the Jungle Library in Calais photographing The Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library in Antwerp was like entering a warm, beautiful dream. Hendrik Conscience was a famous Flemish writer who was one of the first to write and celebrate the Flemish language. This library is a good example of a 17th Century private library that later became open to the public. I keep being amazed by the beauty and tranquility of these kinds of places. I am impressed by the generous intellectual spirit of the Belgium 1%ers from this time period. Of course, much of the wealth from this era was built on slavery and colonialism. But today this library stands as a great, positive symbol of the Enlightenment. It contained an exhibit of sad letters and newspapers from Belgium soldiers separated from their families during WW I. We later arrive in the gritty industrial city of Rotterdam. It had been heavily damaged by the Germans during WW II and the architecture was mostly built quickly after the war. I photograph a branch library in the sprawling immigrant community of Luchtbal with its high rise apartment blocks and working class inhabitants. It felt vey different from Molenbeek.

 

6/27/16 – The library in suburban Spijkenisse outside of Rotterdam is called Book Mountain. Housed in a giant glass pyramid it is literally an astonishing mountain of books. The rain that has been following us throughout our travels in Europe pounded the glass and contributes to our feeling of coziness inside the pyramid of glass and books. The Bibliotheca Thysiana at the old University of Leiden is another example of the private library of a wealthy Dutchman Johannes Thysius later becoming a public library. Our guide, Professor Dr. Paul Hoftijzer generously gave us his time to make the place come alive. We felt that we were with a kindred soul. That night we arrived in Amsterdam. I’ve always felt that a secret part of me must be Dutch because I’ve always felt very comfortable with the Netherlanish people.

 

6/28/16 – The Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (OBA) is one of the great, modern big city libraries in Europe. There is so much to see on the seven floors of this library that I have to come back in the afternoon to finish up the work. I wind up being photographed and interviewed by the head librarian Astrid Vlug at the end of the day for their website.

 

6/29/16 – The Huis de Pinto house and library was founded by a wealthy 17th Century Jewish merchant during Holland’s first Golden Age. His family were Sephardic Jews who fled religious intolerance in Portugal and Spain and came to The Netherlands for freedom. Our guide explained that the house barely escaped demolition during a period of thoughtless redevelopment during the 1970s that destroyed large parts of Amsterdam. As in San Francisco it was only stopped by citizen activists. We then dash off to the nearby town of Haarlem to photograph an amazing library in the middle of a big old train station. Then we barely make it back in time for our next appointment in Amsterdam at the Ets Haim Library. It is 400 years old and is the oldest Jewish Library in the Netherlands. During WW II Amsterdam’s Jews were murdered by the Germans and the library’s contents were stolen by the Nazis and shipped to Frankfurt in Germany. Miraculously it survived the war and made its way back to Amsterdam. A Nazi shipping box was on permanent display.dsc_5096Lightroom (DSC_5172.NEF and 2 others)ets-haim-amsterdam-016dsc_5210

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