London (England) is where I saw in 2018, and Brandenburg an der Havel (Brandenburg Germany) is where I saw it out. London, of course, is the capital city of the United Kingdom, while Brandenburg an der Havel was the Margraviate of Brandenburg in the Holy Roman Empire, a political focal point in the Kingdom of Prussia, and a hub for Soviet activities in East Germany during the Cold War. Although they are very different places, both have fascinating histories and have played pivotal roles in shaping not only their respective nations but also Europe. I have no hesitation in recommending both places to anyone who is interested in European history, particularly the history of Europe following the fall of the Roman Empire to more recent times.
In nine European countries I saw some amazing sites and museums during 2018. It would be dishonest to say there were not some disappointments, but even these did not detract from the many varied experiences I had. These are all written about on the relevant pages of this website. Here draw particular attention to specific highlights of my year exploring the archaeology and history of Europe. In effect then these are my recommendations for 2019.
Before I begin and in the spirit of transparency and full disclosure, I should point out that some of the trips I made in 2018 were sponsored by local organisations which promote tourism to that destination. Many more of my trips last year, however, were paid for by the income raised through this website. All opinions expressed in my reviews are entirely my own; I am not told what to write.
Interestingly, when praising a place I am often told that I get special treatment – especially when it is was a trip paid for by a tourism board or other such organisation.
Yes, this is happens on occasions. But rarely. Waiting two hours in the baking sun (there was no shade anywhere!) for someone to meet me at the ferry port is very definitely not my idea of special treatment. Paying guests arriving at the same ferry port as I did, had their transfers waiting for them before the ferry docked. One hotel I stayed at that was secured by the destination’s tourist office was decidedly uninterested in the fact that the air conditioning wasn’t working, telling me it was a four star hotel and that the hotel was full. These rare negative experiences aside, I do not let special treatment influence how I write about a destination. And neither does it impact on what I write. If I get taken to a site that is closed to the public – I don’t write about it. Our policy on Archaeology Travel is to only write about what everyone can participate in when visiting a place.
What follows then are my opinions about sites and museums I greatly enjoyed visiting in 2018.
Choosing one museum from the many I visited in 2018 has not been difficult. The Europäisches Hansemuseum was by far the most engaging experience I have had in museum in a long time. For some a topic such as the Hanseatic League might seem a bit heavy going for an entire museum. The manner and techniques in which the curators have chosen to draw the visitor into the displays is in my opinion exemplary.
During the Medieval period the northern German city of Lübeck was the capital of the Hanseatic League. This was a powerful trading confederation that stretched across northern Europe from Russia to the United Kingdom, with influence further south into mainland Europe. So it is quite apt a museum that focuses in detail on the League should be established in Lübeck. And the detail is comprehensive; it took me three hours to go through the entire sequence of exhibits. But not in the least bit boring.
What they do to pull visitors in is to get each person to register their interests at the beginning. You slip your ticket into a scanner and a screen takes you through a series of questions to determine your preferences (such as language and age) and interests (regions and socio-politics such as religion, economy, etc.). These are then recorded on your ticket. At various points throughout a very creative and innovative exhibition, you touch your ticket to a pad and the screens there give you more information based on the responses you gave at the start. For example, I chose London as a region of interest, so at each point where I touched my ticket the basic information of the displays was supplemented with information about London at that time – in English.
Perhaps this technique has been used elsewhere, but it is the first time I have encountered it. And I felt much more engaged; it is not a matter of following a set path through the museum reading from a standard set of information panels.
Besides the European Hansemuseum, Lübeck is a impressive city with stunning Brick Gothic architecture.
Staying on London for a few months gave me the opportunity to visit a number of places, including the recently opened Bloomberg SPACE with the reconstructed Roman mithraeum. I was so tantalised after my first visit that later the same day I booked to return the next day. The second visit was as sublime as the first, and getting behind the whole experience only enhanced my admiration for what has been achieved here.
From beneath the rubble of postwar London archaeologists uncovered the remains of a Roman temple where the cult of Mithras was practised. The temple was removed and reconstructed nearby so that building could continue. In 2010 Bloomberg started construction on its new European headquarters, and relocating and re-reconstructing the Mithraeum to its original location was a significant part of this award winning building project.
As with many Roman structures built upon in early Medieval times, there is not much left of the temple. With the second reconstruction visitors see the mithraeum as it was uncovered by archaeologists in 1954. The position is slightly altered from exact original position, to protect recently discovered features of the temple not seen during the 1954 excavations that are too fragile to put on display. A rather simple but ingenious special effect has been used to re-create some of the walls of the temple, without detracting from the archaeological remains themselves.
This use of a special effect is just one part of a creative multimedia experience at the Bloomberg SPACE. From the presentation at ground level of artefacts excavated from the site, to the descent down to the Roman levels, the attention throughout to detail is exemplary. I have always thought that the presentation of the meagre remains of Londinium’s amphitheatre was a stroke of genius. Now the presentation of Londinium’s mithraeum keeps that ‘genius’ in the city, but takes it to a whole new level.
Need more reasons to visit? First, it is free – but it is advisable to book advance online as they only allow a few people in at a time. And it gets busy. Second, everyone I have recommended this attraction to has been as taken by the whole experience as I was.