Gdańsk 1988 and 2015

Three sets of shots from trips to Gdansk (more properly, Gdańsk) in 1988 and 2015.

Looking down the Long Bridge from outside the Green Gate:

Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970 (1980):

Westerplatte Monument in memory of the Polish defenders (1966):

As we found out in Venice last year, these mock-ups are surprisingly difficult to do!

Our visit to Westerplatte took place on the 76th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 2 on 1 September, which was quite special. Likewise, and coincidentally, we visited the Solidarity Centre on the 35th anniversary of the signing of the Gdansk Agreement on 31 August. The new Polish president and his entourage, plus a large number of Solidarity veterans, were also in attendance. In the 2015 photo it’s the museum which takes the background – the trees are gone.

A prime tourist spot, the Long Bridge seems little changed from 1988 apart from the demise of the belching factory chimney. And Gdansk retains its special patina, even carried through on some new housing developments. Wonderful. What has changed though is the availability of vegetarian food. While in 1988 I existed on a diet of zapiekanka (Polish pizza), in 2015 there are two value for money chains: old school fill ’em up Green Way (great felalfel wraps) and the completely contemporary Bioway. Perhaps they could be persuaded to open in Copenhagen?

In some ways though Gdansk was reminiscent of Copenhagen, not least for its bonkers topography. A postcard I bought with a map of Danzig in 1900 shows the city hanging off the river Weichsel (aka Vistula), with Speicher Insel (Granary Island) sitting in the middle of the river Mottlau and Niederstadt, doubling for Christianshavn, to the east, the whole lot surrounded by graben (moats) and an impressive set of bastions.

North of the historic city centre the Vistula splits into two main branches, with the Martwa Wisła (dead Vistula) emptying into the Gdansk Bay at the Westerplatte Peninsula.

Three are the coasts which I like most in all of Europe: Golden Horn, Gulf of Triest, Bay of Gdansk.

(Alexander von Humboldt, Gdansk, 14 September 1840)

More Gdansk: museums and me, an excellent In Your Pocket and some nice writing: Sketches of Gdansk 2012 ( “impression of Gdansk: a complex, rich city filled with historical vicissitudes, and unexpected beauty”) and Marcel Krueger on Westerplatte.


Seven walks in Valby

Copenhagen”s 10 districts, with Valby in red (Wikimedia)

Update, January 2016: see for a mobile friendly version of the walks på dansk. A PDF is also available (although without maps). And most excitingly, a new route was announced on 22 January, a 7km grey route covering the area’s industrial sites, most of which are currently under redevelopment. Time to revisit and update Walking in Valby!

Valby (Wikipedia), one of 10 districts (map) making up the Copenhagen council area, is one of my favourite parts of the city. It’s got a no nonsense feel, unpretentious, diverse and full of undiscovered corners. It’s even got a hill, although at 31m Valby Bakke is maybe more of a hillock.

Located on the south western fringe of Copenhagen Valby has an air of isolation about it, separated from Frederiksberg to the north by a park and from Vesterbro to the east by a cemetery, with further parks to the west and south. Railway development has also left its mark, with a main line and a local line dividing the district into two with only one bridge across for buses and cars, and two more local lines creating further pockets of edgeland. Several areas of low density housing also contribute to a suburban feel.

This may however all be about to change, with the redevelopment of the Carlsberg brewery site, higher density housing under construction on a number of brownfield sites and the new Copenhagen-Ringsted railway line, due to open in 2018, cutting through the south of the district.

Valby shares a border with Hvidovre, my home council, to the west. The original village of Valby was even a part of the same parish until 1901, and the two areas are much the same size in terms of population, around 5oK. But with industrialisation starting rather earlier in Valby, and as part of Copenhagen rather than a separate council, it operates in a rather different climate.

On my walk from Frederiksberg to Valby last November I spotted a poster for ValbyRuter, a series of seven colour coded self guided walks. In December Valby Lokaludvalg (community council), announced that a new edition was being prepared, which hit the streets in January 2015.

ValbyRuter in Vigerslev branch library

ValbyRuter in Vigerslev branch library

This being a nice manageable translation project I got in touch with the council, who sent me six leaflets to scribble on. While the translation itself didn’t take too long, some added extras, not least visiting Valby’s farthest flung corners to take photos for storymaps, meant that two months elapsed, but we now have a finished product!

Walking in Valby is a 10 page GoogleDoc. As well as full details and an overview map for each walk there is a link to an interactive storymap for those not fortunate enough to live nearby.

For me the seven walks fall into two main categories, with two looking at historic Valby and four exploring some of the unique housing in mainly lesser known parts of the district, plus a final walk taking in Valby Park, Copenhagen’s biggest. Best discovery: the laundrette in Folehaven. Most surprising: old Vigerslev village, a seemingly unplanned jumble including a Bronze Age burial mound, just a stone’s throw from Hvidovre station.

Having originally planned to plot the routes on a Google map I gave this up, partly as far too fiddly without coordinates to hand, but also because step by step routes can be rather confining, making one a slave to the map rather than drifting and lingering. I don’t think my partner and I have ever managed to follow a route step by step, and not just because of uncooperative beagles.

For such a low word count the translation itself was unexpectedly tricky, starting with the issue of the byggeforeninger, small pockets of housing built around the turn of the 20th century. The literal translation is ‘building society’, but while the English equivalent may have started out in the same way, ie groups coming together to finance and build houses, today when UK building societies can barely be distinguished from banks this doesn’t work. After toying briefly with ‘housing association’, I settled on ‘cooperative building society’.

A further issue is the Danish usage of by and related, eg bydel. Can you really call a clutch of 80-odd houses, come in Den Hvide By, a ‘town’? The new area of Carlsberg Byen is usually translated as ‘city district’, which doesn’t work for me, but the alternatives (quarter, area, neighbourhood) can be equally clunky if not chosen with care.

I like Knight Lab’s storymap service but finding photos for the areas I haven’t systematically walked was a nice illustration of the contradictions in the social/visual turn. In addition to plain old copyright there are issues around privacy and data mining – it’s easy enough to snip from Google StreetView, but should you? And do you really need to contact third parties about using their photos if they seem blithely unaware of rights issues? I have added credits on any borrowed photos on my storymaps, but it’s a rather grey area.

Sources of information on Valby’s cultural history:

Updates: is now offering walks in the area, eg Valbys Hemmelige Havebyer, with walks usually offered as part of Valby Kulturdage; see also Vandringsløse Tidende

#byentalertildig: talking about apps in the city

Update, 2017: Social Media Week is back in independent guise as SMWi Copenhagen. Among the Instragrammers and brands we have Realdania on co-creation, with #some guru Jacob Bøtter (@boetter), Normann Sloth (@norm_sloth) and Per Sommer (@PerSommerDK), both of Realdania, plus Ole Jakobsen (DR), into storytelling and behind the Instagram campaign #DetSerDuikkeiByen. (Of more interest: the Underværker campaign.)  No coverage traced.

It’s Social Media Week in Copenhagen! This year Realdania (@Realdaniadk) has gone large, with ~25 sessions, their own hashtag (#smwjarmers) and a social wall, bringing together Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for the whole shebang.

On Monday they kicked off with Byen taler til dig: oplev byrum og arkitektur med din smartphone (#byentalertildig | Realdania), all about apps in the city. This would have had my name on it if it hadn’t happened at 09:30, but luckily the whole thing was streamed by Jyske Bank TV (@jyskebanktv; “a TV station with a bank attached”), followed in no short order by the recording.

Involved were @norm_sloth (Online Manager, Realdania; slides), @runehj (Comms/Marketing Manager, DAC; slides) and @jakobam (Greener Pastures; slides), facilitated by @missmunter (slides).

Realdania, it turns out, is a foundation supporting projects in the built environment. They have just? launched a project app with profiles of 500 of its 2.5K projects. Pins on a map, so not the most exciting app in the world, and while I can imagine using it to find interesting buildings to look at I’d like to be able to search the projects in other ways too, perhaps by keyword or theme. I’m still an information manager at heart!

In addition to basic points about finding a target group and use case, marketing etc, Normann stressed that an app starts with data (aka content) in the right form, and that this needs to be maintained if people are not to delete the app after a couple of uses. He also conceded that an app is not html, hence functionality is limited.

I’m pretty familiar with DAC’s apps, which started with its podwalks (English) dating from 2007 and podrides from 2009, initially available as sound files. A podwalks app (English) debuted in 2011 and a podruns app in 2013. These are not regularly updated, but are still downloaded.

Jakob of app builder Greener Pastures raised the question of whether new technology can create a better experience in the city, putting up a slide with a range of trends and use cases. There’s lots to discuss here, as well as issues around smart cities, which couldn’t really be addressed in a time limited session aimed at #some types. Again, he stressed that everything depends on content – for example, the current trend for overlays (ie holding up your phone and seeing what the view looked like before) depends on an appropriate archive photo being available. He also reiterated key messages around marketing and maintenance, plus the need to start simple with a clear user focus.


Thanks to all involved, and a shout out to Normann for introducing me to some new Danish apps, in particular Afveje, a blend of geocaching and experimental travel similar to the Dérive app. Time to revisit my apps links post of nearly 18 months ago, particularly as I’ve now actually tried some out!

The Water of Leith: a storymap

At the beginning of December I spent a weekend in Edinburgh, combining shopping for festive essentials with some heavy duty city walking. I’m now a tourist in what used to be my home town, although my Edinburgh, of the late 1970s and early 1980s, is still there too.

On the Sunday I walked a section of the Water of Leith, somewhere I had never really been before. Rather than a series of photos I’ve tried something different as a way of curating this walk, using Knight Lab’s Storymap JS. It’s a really easy to use tool, synching with Google Drive as a back-up. Among the maps on offer is Open Street Map, which shows the walkway perfectly, although it seems to pick the scale it fancies. The end result is attractive, with the drawback that it’s not possible to draw a route – and it doesn’t play with

Click on the image below to go to the interactive version of my My Water of Leith storymap.

WoL storymap

For more see the walkway and audio trail on the Water of Leith Conservation Trust (@wolct) website. If you are in Edinburgh you can pick up a free leaflet with a basic route map in the TIC at Waverley Bridge, but the £1 version, with text from a book now out of print, is well worth the investment.

Creating overlays with Aurasma: an Xmas project

Updates: Copenhagen got sliders! Københavns Statsarkiv has a set of photos comparing Copenhagen at around 1900 with today, while Time Travel Aarhus blends photos dating back to the late 19th or early 20th centurywith a new picture taken between 2013-14. Then there’s Edinburgh: then and now, where little seems to have changed other than the street furniture, and Moscow: ditto and account, plus the Barbican.

An alternative app is Layar, used here in Los Angeles. Plus Time Window Weimar, mapping the town’s history using augmented reality.

Interesting event at #beinghuman15: Expl[AR]ing humanities in Belfast, highlighting “new ways to think about the city, history and its gentrification”.

I discovered the Aurasma app via Tracey Benson (@bytetime), who uses it to create augmented reality walks revealing historic images by overlaying old and new photos of specific locations. Three of her walks are currently being exhibited as Finding ghosts (review) in Canberra, with one, Walking backwards to find the future, set in Dragør. See also Walks of absent memory in Dunedin.

The approach is similar to Guardian Cities’ Street View sleuth, which superimposes old images over Google Street View (see classic paintings | 18th century paintings | WW1WW2 | classic album covers | Ghosts of London’s Xmas), sliders showing development over time (London’s Olympic Park | Before and after the shard | Before and after the London riots), or plain old holding a postcard up to reality – all present a layered geographical narrative.

2014-10-03 13.34.46

Peggy Guggenheim on the balcony of her home on Venice’s Grand Canal – OK, it’s not as easy as it sounds!

Aurasma describes itself as the “world’s leading augmented reality app”, developed by old friends Autonomy.  It’s a bit difficult to get your head round – according to the site it uses image recognition technology to allow a smartphone’s camera to recognise real world images and overlay rich media (videos, webpages) on top of them, creating “an augmented world where every image, object and place has its own aura”. Basically, hold your phone up to a building (or just the image of it), wait for a few seconds and the linked content will float above (or cover) the image on your phone – try one out here, or see Tracey’s instructions for the Dragør auras (the historical images are also presented on a conventional tour page).

TBH I’m not sure Aurasma adds that much to simply displaying two photos side by side, although there is more you can do with it, and if presented as a component of a larger project, augmenting for example a guided walk, event or piece of writing, it may well be quite effective. I’ve several ideas, which I will out as my Xmas 2014 project. The tutorial for creating auras makes it look manageable once you get in the swing.

Tracey is also collaborating on the Long time, no see? project led by Linda Carroli, which combines an app, visualisation and series of events aimed at engaging walkers in their local community. See her posts on creating walks for the project. Might be worth a punt.

A final aspect of Tracey’s work which is of interest is that a number of her tours have been developed without ever being physically present in the place, opening up a range of experimental possibilities:

I was becoming a ‘remote’ tourist, discovering locations from afar and building a knowledge of a place, which may or may not have any truth ‘on the ground’.

Audio walks: Frederiksberg, Hanstholm and getting lost

A clutch of audio walks has come along of late. Three main types:

Falling more or less into the first category, I’ve just listened to a series of 10 audio files from Frederiksberg Stadsarkiv about the area during the First World War – see Syndikalister, kunstnere og gullaschbaroner (map). (Frederiksberg is an enclave with Copenhagen, a separate municipality, which means it does its own thing culturally.)

Part of the recent Golden Days Festival, the files are also available as an app, which does offer a map, but they work just as well as podcasts. At over eight minutes in some cases they might feel too long to listen to in situ, where there were also pictures and text on stands during the festival. Content heavy, I don’t feel I’ve retained much in the medium to long term, and I’m more likely to go back to the text versions which popped up on the blog.

Bill Aitchison highlights a feature of this sort of audio tour: “You look on the map, walk to number 1 then press play and listen. When that’s finished you look at the map, go to number 2, press play and so on.” More effective, although more onerous to create, are tours which offer directions and a commentary at the same time, “so that you walk with it and it talks to you throughout”.

An example of this type of audio walk is the Energy Walk at Hanstholm, a small town on the north west coast of Jutland with several claims to fame. As well as its fortress bunker, Europe’s biggest fortification from the Second World War, the town has the largest industrial harbour in Denmark, with ferries to the Faroes and Iceland, and is a centre for marine energy. Traces can be found in the area from both prehistoric times and the Vikings.

The Energy Walk, developed as part of the Alien Energy project (Facebook | fanzine) running at Copenhagen’s IT University under its Energy Futures banner, brings all this together. Launched on 6 September in Hanstholm – see the photos or listen to the audio (English and Danish) – until 1 November you can collect a digital walking stick at Færgegrillen in Hanstholm, should you be passing, and follow the walk that way, although it works fine as a podcast.

This one takes a more lyrical approach, with the English version narrated by ethnographer Laura Watts, who blogs at Sand14. I have to admit to finding it a tad tiresome in places, although traces have stayed with me.

Finally, coming up on Friday 3 October at 18:30 BST is Fracture Mob, an audio led flash mob by artist Jennie Savage, who is inviting people all over the world to get lost simultaneously:

This audio walk invites you to become lost in your familiar geography and the fictional sonic landscape of the audio guide, where you will encounter street markets, shopping malls, beaches and birdsong recorded in enigmatic locations. The artist’s instructions to walk are the same for us all, however each of us will interpret her directions, walk at a different pace, become lost in familiar territories and, of course, inhabit different landscapes.

The walk can be followed live on the day or downloaded as a 30 minute ambient soundscape in three flavours: wanderer, idler or drifter. Meet points have been set up at various locations, including Christianshavn metro. The walk was commissioned by Plymouth Arts Centre and coincides with the opening of the Walk On exhibition, still doing the rounds – hear Jennie talk about it and her other work on Talking Walking.

While I’m getting the intention behind all this, the performative aspect is troubling and when I’m walking I like to be in the moment, it’s kind of the point. But getting lost, or waylosing, is turning into one of those tropes – see the experimental travel tag. On the day I will be in Venice, however if you are tempted to participate do let me know how you get on. Update: Bill Aitchison on following the tour in Beijing, and hear Charlotte Spencer and friends describe Walking Stories, a similar performance undertaken by groups of 20 in a park.