News Archive 2012

Hopefully a year without major earthquakes

28 October 2012 - Back from a holiday in Germany

As usual there has been a long break since my last post. We had snow in June (see photos on my German page). I visited playful seal pups one kilometre off the coast at a waterfall near Kaikoura in June. We had the eruption of Mt. Tongariro which had been quiet for more than a century in August. A blueprint for the rebuild of Christchurch was presented in the same month.

Now I have just come back from a six-week holiday in Germany (a lot of photos on the Deutschland page) and walked around a central city block in Christchurch, only to be shocked at the design of a large and important building. The star architect firm Warren & Mahony has done it again: delivered a substandard wannabe modern building.

I cannot even see anything modern in it as it looks like a megasize corrugated-iron shed, just larger and shinier than the thousands of rusty look-alikes you find in the countryside and backyards. A huge cowshed in the middle of a city of the future!

It is even more laughable that this design failure has been created as the hub for the region's hi-tech entrepreneurs, they call the building the Sanctuary. It is the first stage of an ambitious project to create a world-class centre for innovation-based companies in Canterbury. They call it the Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus (EPIC). I call it an epic failure.

Jubilation about Lance Armstrong's exposure as a drug cheat and bully

Something else I wanted to say: I am more than pleased that Lance Armstrong has finally been exposed as the world's worst drug cheat, bully and scumbag. As you can imagine, I had to write a lot of stories about him when I reported from the Tour de France and Olympic Games. I surely had to acknowledge his success because I had no evidence that he was a cheat - but I never celebrated him because I did not trust him, never liked him because I knew that he was a bully and someone you better kept a distance to.

The only thing I always regretted a bit was that I could not take the opportunity to spike his muesli and fruit when I once stayed on the same floor in a hotel at the Tour de France, to end his career while he was still racing. But as you can imagine, I reported without drugs in my pockets ;-))) Finally now justice has been served. And the next person who should go is the severely hypocritical president of cycling's international federation UCI.

28 May 2012 - Protest against the celebration of vandalism

Several thousand people gathered at Cranmer Square on Saturday, 26 May, to protest against the demolition of Christ Church Cathedral in particular and the loss of heritage buildings in general. Former MP Jim Anderton (one of the chairmen of the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust) was a fantastic speaker on the issue, and we heard expert opinions: of one of the 100 engineers who say the Cathedral can be saved, of one of the stonemasons who would do the job of making the building safe stone by stone, of one restoration expert (Marcus Brandt) who has been working on such projects for 30 years.

Restoring the Cathedral does not mean that it would remain untouched and damaged parts would be replaced. Restoration includes taking down parts of the building and then restore it - just the way about every single building in Berlin has been reconstructed. Many New Zealand people look at Berlin and point at the damaged spire of Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche and the new modern nave where services are held, and say we should do the same in Christchurch.

The whole of Berlin is a reconstruction

Let's get real: Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche is a monument against the war. All other historical buildings in Berlin have been reconstructed. They look old but they are not. Look into travel guides and you will read everywhere: "... originally built in 1695, bombed and destroyed in the Second World War, reconstructed in 1963." Or 1975. Or whenever.

And sure, everyone remembers the reconstruction of Dresden's Frauenkirche which was reconstructed after the reunification of Germany. The entire city lay in rubble and was brought back to its pre-war glory as a baroque beauty. Everything is possible if there is a will. Only here in Zealand many people just don't get it - including the Prime Minister and the Earthquake Recovery Minister, as one Kiwi commentator put it in his comment in The Press. (No need for me to criticise New Zealanders ;-)

The rebuild of Dresden's Frauenkirche

You will not find any “historic” building in Dresden that would have survived the American and British bombs of 13 and 14 February 1945 which destroyed about 15 square kilometres of the inner city and killed up to 35,000 civilists. Only some few significant parts of buildings (like the Fürstenzug/Procession of the Sovereigns) survived the attacks of 1500 bombers which dropped half a million bombs over the city. It was pure destruction, with massive explosions and a fire storm that raged through the streets.

Frauenkirche had been the symbol of this insane war and the equally horrible bombings. They left it in disrepair, so nobody would forget. The ruin remained more or less untouched as a memorial against war and destruction – and partly, of course, because the GDR regime had no interest in building churches.

But after the reunification of Germany plans were developed to reconstruct the church. It took a lot of donations and eleven years to put up stone on stone again, following the original plans of the architect Georg Bähr, mostly using historic materials, like 8425 old limestone blocks, making up 45 per cent of the used materials. The pulpit includes even eighty per cent of its original materials.

They call this kind of building “archaeological reconstruction”. The total cost came to 182.6 million Euro. 60 years after its destruction the church was reopened on 30 October 2005. You just cannot visit Dresden without visiting Frauenkirche. It is now the overrun tourist attraction number one. The same would happen with a restored Cathedral in Christchurch. It would be a symbol of hope and new beginnings.

Why do New Zealanders travel and what is their culture?

New Zealanders travel to Europe to see the Gothic and Roman cathedrals, many hundred years old, with their own eyes, grand old buildings, lovingly restored and repaired. They wander through historic precints, on cobblestone streets, and enjoy the romantic half-timbered houses that line those streets.

Some New Zealanders complained that only Maori culture was represented at the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup last year. But tell me, what is New Zealand's "other" culture if we allow that the oldest buildings of our city are knocked down? Peter Jackson? Janet Frame? Rita Angus? Flight of the Conchords? Crowded House? What about architecture?

Some people like Press columnist Jane Bowron are even proud to demonstrate their ignorance, half-ridicule the people who fight for the Cathedral to be saved (she did not see "many people" when she cycled past Cranmer Square). They think you have to knock down the old when you make a new start. Where I come from we use the expression "small minds" for this way of thinking.

Kiwis prefer practicality over intellectual activity

Commentator Chris Trotter thinks that New Zealanders being pragmatic is the core of the problem. Knock it down and get on with it. To me they are the masters of interim and quick solutions, called "Kiwi ingenuity", which you can best see in many wobbly houses with hidden damage, not the masters of building for the future.

This character trait has it even made into Wikipedia where you can read: "New Zealanders do not have a particularly high regard for intellectual activity, particularly if it is more theoretical than practical. This is linked with the idea of 'kiwi ingenuity' (see above), which supposes that all problems are better solved by seeing what works than by applying a theory. I would add: they prefer short-sighted and cheap short-term solutions to thoughtful and surely more expensive - but long-lasting - planning with a vision.

A manipulative poll among misguided individuals

The Press commissioned a poll from a not very famous institute that asked 359 people (including 300 from Christchurch) if they wanted the Cathedral to be saved and published a huge article saying that 54 per cent of Cantabrians want the Cathedral to be demolished and only 42 per cent want it saved.

Now I have studied statistics and know how to manipulate opinion polls that bring exactly the result the client wants to achieve: just do not ask too many specific questions, leave away some options, keep the number of people polled low, do not mention the margin of error (+/- 5%). This leads me to the conclusion that the Press has an agenda, and the agenda is to bring the Cathedral down.

One important option in the poll that was left out was: "Should the Cathedral be de-constructed and then re-constructed?"

The bishop and CERA have achieved a lot with their scaremongering, planting fear into the people's minds by telling them over and over again in what bad a state the Cathedral is in. Still the international experts the church leaders refuse to consult insist the church can be saved in a safe way.

There were also options offered about the cost of a restoration ("It costs too much") because many Cantabrians believe they would have to pay for it. No need at all for it. There is insurance money and there are international donations which would cover the entire cost.

Nothing against a chocolate box church covered in Swiss cheese

Just to be clear: I have nothing at all against the soon-to-be-realised plan to build a colourful Toblerone box with a Swiss cheese fondue-coloured roof as the temporary Anglican Cathedral. It can add some quirkiness to the new Christchurch. It has nothing to do with hanging on to the old Cathedral.

Let's put it with David McPhail who was the MC last Saturday: We do not need more new carparks when there is nothing to look at. Because this is the emerging face of the new Christchurch: Wilson's Carparks on the sites of demolished heritage buildings. A carpark where once the proud Christ Church Cathedral stood. It would be a celebration of vandalism and Maori culture finally becoming the only culture New Zealand has to offer.

Even if some or even many people feel that a majority wants the Cathedral to be demolished, just let me say that a majority is not always right. Even if all people shared the same opinion they could all be wrong.

02 May 2012 - Architects to be afraid of

As architects have revealed their designs for the rebuild of Christchurch, let me just add some words to the discussion. I refer to the editorial in Saturday's Press (28 April) which is our local newspaper. The writer claimed no design style should be imposed or we would get a conformist uniformity, like in (beautiful!) Napier which was rebuilt in the then prevailing Art Déco style after the 1931 earthquake.

Napier's main streets might well have been built in one style but no-one who has ever been there can claim this is conformist uniformity. Every building looks totally different, different shapes, different colours, different decor, vibrant, playful, joyful, uplifting. Nothing of all this can be said of the proposed grey boxes suggested for Christchurch's central city. That is why the reaction of the people here is overwhelmingly negative - including mine which is as follows:

"The writer of Saturday’s editorial (28 April) about the negative reaction on the architectural designs of the new Christchurch is right in one thing: 'What we are getting are buildings designed in the style prevailing today in this country – a bit Modernist, Brutalist…' But the rebuild of Christchurch needs more than a reflection of the current fashion as the new buildings will not only fill gaps but line entire streets and squares.

By allowing all these similar-style and mostly uninspiring buildings side by side we will get exactly the result the writer says must not happen: we will get a CBD of conformist uniformity, just a little flasher and shinier than the Stalinist centres of the cities of Eastern Europe after World War II. You cannot call it diverse architecture if one of these big greyish boxes has incorporated a small yellow box and another one has blue and the next one green glass panes.

Surely design is and will always be a matter of taste. But steel, concrete and glass façades have nothing charming, nothing warm, nothing romantic – nothing for the soul. The art of designing a vibrant city is to combine old and modern, playful and practical, past, present and future. This is a huge challenge here as Christchurch has lost so much. Therefore it is even more important to save or rebuild as many heritage buildings as possible and not knock them down with nibblers, stone by stone, dust to dust. And it requires architects to dig deeper than just design what is fashionable at the moment."

23 April 2012 - World Heritage area under threat

I have just added a page to my stories about the fairytale claim of a "Green & Clean New Zealand". It is about a tunnel project in the really pristine World Heritage area of South Westland which would transform the peaceful village of Glenorchy at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu into a race-through place and the gravel roads to a place named Paradise into a bus highway. No cars, not even other bus companies would be allowed to use the tunnel which would halve travel time to Milford Sound. It would be the vandalism of some of New Zealand's most spectacular nature for the sake of one greedy company.

If you feel only half as strongly as I do about this project, please sign the petition against it. The people of Glenorchy have deserved to keep their paradise and Paradise as it is, and with them the people of New Zealand and all travellers of the world who have fallen in love with this area because it is as it is.

Read more on my Tunnel Vision Vandalism page.

16 April 2012

Citizens' opinion is not asked, just their money

The Anglican Church in Christchurch has announced today where the interim cathedral made ​​of cardboard and containers should be built, while the symbol of the second-largest city in New Zealand is being demolished against the will of the City Council and parts of the population. The building is only about 600 meters southeast of the heavily damaged Gothic tourist attraction that - according to the opinion of international experts - could be saved with recognised stabilisation and reconstruction methods.

Before the devastating earthquakes the open space at Latimer Square (corner of Madras and Hereford Streets) was home of the beautiful St. John's Church which has already been razed to the ground. On the empty lot on the other side of Madras Street once stood the so-called CTV building. It collapsed in the 22 February 2011 earthquake, 115 people were killed in this building alone.

Already in December, maybe even as early as November, the Toblerone-shaped cardboard box - about the size of the nave of the current Cathedral - is said to be ready for use, offering space for 700 people. The designer is Shigeru Ban from Japan who had already presented his design last August.

The 5.4 million NZ-dollar building will consist of cardboard tubes, wooden beams and steel girders. A café, a shop and the administrative offices of the Anglican Diocese will be housed in shipping containers around the A-frame church.

Bishop Victoria Matthews and her fellow Anglican leaders who got into the crossfire due to their refusal to consult with international experts described the futuristic new building as forward looking and a "sign of hope," particularly because it is next to the scene of the most terrible tragedy of the February earthquake.

But it will not be there for a really long time. The lifespan of the mega-Toblerone which will be protected against rain and snow by a yellow-ish plastic cover like a real Toblerone chocolate should be around 20 years. (A spokesman for the Cathedral said it will even be 50 years.) By that time there should be a new permanent Cathrdral in the city's central square - however that will look.

The craziest aspect of the story, however, is that the Anglican Diocese wants 240,000 NZ dollars from the ratepayers of Christchurch for running the cardboard box, just as was the case with the large and now damaged Cathedral, to be paid via grants from the City Council.

The Bishop and her fellow Anglican leaders ask this money from the same people they have given a sh** about when determining the future of Christ Church Cathedral without any consultation. This is the true Christian spirit in this city.

A draft of the Toblerone construction here:

03 April 2012

The demolition of the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral is a hotly discussed topic in our city - although personally I think the discussion is not passionate enough. Having no sense of history and history-related culture at all, many people just accept that the city's namesake will be gone and something new that "will not kill people" standing at the same site.

If you have seen some of the uninspiring shoebox-like steel and glass designs suggested for the future CBD there will not be many reasons to visit the new CBD at all. That's perhaps why the City Council is discussing plans to turn the one-way street system into two-way streets. The thought behind it is... that people will go shopping in the CBD if they have to drive slowly (and probably get stuck) on certain roads where we now have traffic flow, like on Barbadoes Street.

I will surely not waste time in the CBD if they demolish all neo-Gothic heritage buildings and replace them by cold and modern look-alike architecture. I think the most interesting cities are those where old and new are side by side, the romantic old buildings (that kill people when they are not reinforced properly) reflecte in the glass fronts of the new ones. Just something interesting. People will surely not flock into the CBD if they are forced into traffic jams. What absurd idea!

I would rather take a ring road further outside and can go to the big shopping malls if glass and steel is the future of Christchurch's inner city including the new Cathedral. My inner city destinations would be the Botanical Garden and Hagley Park, and Riccarton Park further west.

A loud voice in the fight for saving, reinforcing and rebuilding heritage buildings is the Wizard, Christchurch's living piece of art. He is eighty years old and as loud as ever. Amazing!

If you want to sign his and a heritage group's petition for saving Christchurch's historical building, where it is still possible, you can do it here:

Today I read an article in The Press which says that 70 churches and Christian organisations from Canterbury (which is our region) support bishop Victoria Matthews in her decision to demolish Christ Church cathedral. They say that "God's real Church is the people, and people matter more to God than any building".

I even agree with this. But another sentence is of concern to me. It says hat a "unified perspective of those who actually lead chuches and oversee church buildings" is needed. This may well be true. To me it just explains why the congregations are getting smaller and smaller. Because those who lead the churches do not really get it what the people want and need.

Let's put my thoughts about the demolition of Christ Church Cathedral here (thoughts after reading an article in The Press on 27 March 2012):

Hidden agenda and demolition by neglect

According to CERA’s demolition manager Warwick Isaacs knocking down the Anglican Cathedral is the only viable option. He says – as does bishop Victoria Matthews - every time he comes in “it is getting worse”, and that even small aftershocks are continuing to degrade the building.

The question is: why? Because the church’s owner has done next to nothing to stabilise the building since February 2011. It is similar to the deterioration of the brick wall along our property. Because AMI Insurance has not bothered to have a small crack repaired after the February earthquake, it has deteriorated in the following quakes and is now broken in several parts and a much bigger repair job will be needed – whenever this will be.

It is the same with houses that have only a few cracks. If you do nothing, one day they crumble and fall. Or look at hillside sections and houses sliding because the retaining walls have not been properly repaired or replaced.

Why would you not want to prop up unstable walls and instead watch them getting weaker by the day? And why does the Anglican Church only listen to local “experts” and not to international experts who have done such work over and over again? The restoration expert Marcus Brandt has given the only logical answer: because you do not want to get the result - which is saving, restoring and strengthening the Cathedral.

Leaving the building to the elements from above and below is like not giving a crutch to a man with a broken leg. The Wizard is dead-right that there must be a hidden agenda, and Marcus Brandt has revealed it in his brilliant piece in last Saturday’s Press.

Coming from the city with the world’s highest (Gothic) cathedral, I am shocked at how many people accept the unacceptable. Christ Church Cathedral is more than a building and the symbol of the city. It stands for Christchurch’s heritage and history, it holds the blood, sweat and tears of those who built and helped to build it.

It may not be spectacular in terms of international grandeur but even for someone like me who comes from a place where you find hundreds of much more spectacular Gothic churches, it is quite a pleasant building. In terms of historical value for New Zealand it is really old even if the “real” Gothic churches in Europe are 700 years older. It marks the start of neo-Gothic architecture in New Zealand and is irreplaceable, and therefore every effort should be made to restore it.

Here is the article by Marcus Brandt I refer to:

24 February 2012

Just coming back from a two-week trip to the south of New Zealand's South Island, including Stewart Island. It was probably the quietest travel I have ever been on, with all accommodation at remote places where you could hear nothing but the sounds of silence. It was amazing.

The trip started with me on a mission. Despite massive problems with my achilles tendon I participated in the New Zealand Masters Games in Dunedin - and won two gold medals in my age group, in discus and shot put.

I was happy when it was over because it was hard on my nerves, all the time thinking that I could injure my achilles tendon seriously.

Never in my life have I done such strange warm-ups, with nearly no running, just some hobbling, a bit of stretching and proper upper body warm-up.

Despite not having

Why Christ Church Cathedral could be (have been...) saved:

Petition to save heritage buildings in Christchurch:

An explanation for the strange way of thinking about the demolition of Christchurch Cathedral, written by New Zealand commentator Chris Trotter: "As the Cathedral fares, so fares Christchurch itself."

problems in the discus warm-up I did not dare to spin in the first three throws. But after having reached an acceptable result without spin I dared it in the last throw - and hit it against the cage ;-))) Sure, no practice. I regretted a bit that I had not tried it earlier because it was no problem on the foot.

However, after a rest my calves felt rather tense, so I just went to the massage. "Sports injury massage" sounded good ;-)) It was free ACC treatment LOL There were two guys attending one calf each, it worked miracles, and they put a pressure bandage on.

I had two great throws in the shot put warm-up when I did not throw full power. In the competition I wanted a little too much. It was not bad but not as good as before, and my achilles tendon got sore again. But I survived. Got some ice from the massage duo and advice on how to cure it and treat it and work out in the future according to the latest research.

The results could have been better but also worse, and given the circumstances I could be happy, and I am confident I have not done more damage, and I am pleased all the workouts have not been in vain.

More photos on the German page 05.02. Gold-Games

19 January 2012

No text yet, just adding some new pages.

You might have spotted one of them already. I am working on a photo documentary on a family of paradise ducklings that I have visited since early November 2011. Then I spotted 18 tiny, fluffy ducklings. Now they are huge and their number down to 11. They start arguing, growing up, some are brave enough to feed from my hand. My visits to their home on the banks of the river Avon are highlights for me, so much I do enjoy this extraordinary clutch which one day had a late arrival, or adopted member of the family.

You find the story by clicking on Paradise duck tales in the left sidebar.