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10 reasons to like Austria – and 30 pictures

As the coronavirus crisis continues, I’m writing upbeat posts to celebrate countries I’ve lived in.

Here are ten reasons to like Austria, where I lived from 1984-87 and have again since 2016.  I’ve tried to pick some non-obvious things as well as favourites – comments welcome.  Here we go.

1.  Vienna has more flak towers than – I think – anywhere on earth.  Did you know that “flak”, as in a “flak jacket”, stands for Flug Abwehr Kanone or anti-aircraft gun?  They were built during the Second World War and mostly stand empty, although one is occupied by a climbing wall and an aquarium.

Flak tower in the Augarten, Vienna (all photos RP). Never again, indeed. (more…)

Ten reasons to like Lesotho

Let’s celebrate.  We’re going through a ghastly coronavirus crisis.  But we should not forget that the world is wonderful.  I thought I would write in praise of several countries I’ve lived in.

Here are ten things to like about Lesotho, where I lived from 1964-70.  We didn’t have digital cameras back then, so the following photos are a mixture of old slides digitised by my brother Stephen, and pictures from trips I made back to Lesotho in 1980, 1988 and 2011.

1.  Lesotho is a mountain kingdom with beautiful scenery.  These are “The Three Bushmen” at the Sehlabathebe National Park in the east of the country, viewed through a rock arch (photo: RP).

Three Bushmen and Rock Arch

2.  Lesotho has what is said to be the highest pub in Africa, at the 2,876m summit of the Sani Pass.

The Highest Pub in Africa


Ten reasons to like Turkey

Let’s celebrate.  We’re going through a ghastly coronavirus crisis.  But we should not forget that the world is wonderful.  I thought I would write in praise of several countries I’ve lived in.

Here are ten things to like about Turkey, where I lived from 2012-2016.

1.  Istanbul is one of the most ancient and spectacular cities on earth.  Here’s me by the Golden Horn.

2.  Turks are crazy about fresh fish.  Here’s a chap delivering some to a restaurant.


Coronavirus Vienna (with pictures)

When I lived in Istanbul from 2012-16, people often asked me whether I was concerned about terrorist attacks, crime or civil disturbance.

At the end of my walk on 29 March, with wild boar effigy

‘Of course I worry about them a bit,’ I would say.  ‘But the thing I worry about most is being knocked down by a taxi or motorcycle as I try to cross the street.’

Istanbul taxis are famed for their driving style

The same is true in Vienna, in the coronavirus pandemic.  I’m doing what I can to avoid catching the virus: working from home, observing the social distancing rules and so on. My fear is that, as I try to avoid other pedestrians on narrow pavements, or cross unusually empty streets, my concentration will slip and I’ll become a traffic accident. (more…)

From Herr to Maternity

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times, May 9, 2003

I’m picking up the kids from school here in Berlin when a teacher accosts me. “Started being a house-husband yet?” he says. “How do you like ironing all those shirts?”

“Pamela was never a housewife,” I say. Am I being too defensive?  “And she never ironed my shirts.”

“How about the vacuum-cleaning?” He has that look in his eye. Does not compute.

“Nope. Mostly, it’s looking after the kids. And I cook.”

“Why not get an au pair? Find yourself a job?”

“The whole point is that I’m with the children. So Pamela can go back to work knowing it’s me looking after them.”

Standing there in the corridor, with kids swarming around him like ants, the teacher shakes his head. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

In the garden in Berlin, 2003

What I’m doing is this: in October 2002 (more…)

Lunch in the Chernobyl canteen: 25 pictures

25 real pictures of Chernobyl – what the real reactor, and the nearby town of Pripyat, actually look like.

Exactly ten years ago, when I was living in Kyiv, I visited Chernobyl for the first time.  Following the HBO TV series “Chernobyl”, I thought people might be interested to see what the real place looked like.  Here are 25 of my pictures, with captions.

In 2009, 23 years after the catastrophe, the town of Chernobyl itself was still functioning – 4,000 people worked there.  The nearby town of Pripyat, a place of 50,000 souls where workers and families were evacuated the day after the explosion, generated the spookiest “ghost town” images.

Comments and shares welcome.

In 2009 there was a small but thriving tourist business taking visitors to Chernobyl from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, around two hours’ drive away.  To enter the area of Chernobyl and Pripyat you had to pass through a control point. (more…)

Writing tips: how to write great Nut-grafs & Cosmic Kickers part 3

Learning about nut-grafs and cosmic kickers is a helpful way to write better blogs and newspaper articles.

So you want to write a brilliant blog or newspaper article?  Help is at hand, in three easy stages.

First: decide your message, and make sure people want to read about it.  Part 1 of this series, 7 tips for writing the perfect article, explores how to ensure your piece will land well (links in bold italics are to other posts on this web-site).

Next: structure your article.  Part 2 of this series, Nut-grafs and Cosmic Kickers, sets out a simple 4-step template to write your piece – including how to get started.

What else?  Practice makes perfect.  Read pieces critically.  Understanding how others use these techniques will help you do the same.  Here, in Part 3 of the series, are two more worked examples.  I hope you find them helpful.  If you do, please feel free to re-post this series, or draw it to the attention of others.

Nut-grafs and cosmic kickers: two worked examples

The following article appeared in the Financial times of 22 October 2004.  It includes all the four elements – Lede, Nut-graf, Body and Cosmic Kicker – set out in Part 2 of this series.

Where even experts fear to tread


The Valluga II cable car above St. Anton is one of those boxy, old-fashioned affairs that sways from one mountain peak to another across a gulf of nothingness. At the entrance is a sign showing a pair of skis, crossed out. Next to it, to avoid any confusion, the words: NO SKIS.

“What’s that?” I ask Willi, a fellow skier with whom I am about to enter the six-person cabin.

“It’s OK,” he says. “It means no skis unless you have a guide.”


For skiers who have mastered the basics, the benefits of skiing with a guide are not always clear-cut.  Holidays are all about freedom to do what you want, when you want, and to escape the workplace hierarchy. So it seems perverse to yoke yourself to someone who’s going to tell you where to go and what to do when you get there, especially when you have to pay them handsomely for the privilege. But a good guide can raise the quality of a day’s skiing from enjoyable to sublime. That’s why, when I make my next annual pilgrimage to Lech, in the Arlberg region of western Austria, I’ll be joining Class 3A (or maybe 2B) for at least half my stay to be guided around a resort I already know intimately.

Looking up the hill after the passage of a 3A class in Lech, February 2019 (more…)

The best thing to do in Vienna on 1 November

“As night falls on All Hallows, the Zentralfriedhof is transformed into an ethereal wonderland. It seems every visitor throughout the day has lit a candle at a headstone. Kneeling black-clad women rake frozen earth around graves. Candlelight shimmers on stone angels’ wings. Visitors move toward the cemetery gates, their breath forming clouds .”

A stone cherub lit by a candle on 1 November 1986

The central cemetery in Vienna is worth a visit at any time of year.  The old Jewish cemetery, its overgrown state controversial, is symbolic and evocative (you may see deer there, or other wildlife).   (more…)

The Overton window and social media manipulation

What is the Overton window?  It’s a useful concept for political analysis which can illustrate some Orwellian tendencies in our society.

I first came across the term in a piece by John Lanchester in the London Review of Books in July 2016.

He described it as “a term… meaning the acceptable range of political thought in a culture at a given moment… [which] can be moved.”

Lanchester said that ideas can start far outside the political mainstream yet later come to seem acceptable.  He cited Brexit as an example: considered eccentric in 1997, yet enjoying large-scale support in a referendum by 2016.

George Orwell

Lanchester’s article, by the way, like many LRB pieces, is improbably long: set aside a bit of time if you want to read it.

A recent piece at the splendid “Flip Chart Fairy Tales” blog (recommended: often a source of illuminating graphs, charts and views) entitled “Breaking the Overton Window“, also noted how opinions can change.  The author argues that for politicians and commentators the Overton Window has moved over recent decades towards libertarian, right-wing policies which do not obviously overlap with established political parties. By contrast, the views of voters have moved in the opposite direction, towards more authoritarian and left-wing ideas – likewise not corresponding clearly to existing parties.  This tendency, he argues, a) is a move away from traditional “left-wing” and “right-wing” categorisations; and b) should lead politicians to shift towards those authoritative and left wing policies if they are not to leave voters alienated from politics.

What has this got to do with social media, and why does the Overton window matter? (more…)

Things are getting better. Not worse.

It is human nature to be more interested in bad news than good.  So that is what the media give you.  Don’t be misled into thinking the world is worse than it really is.

‘I saw this terrible news today.’  My friend, a sensible person, is distressed.  ‘A terrorist group is breeding babies to be brought up as fresh soldiers for their cause.  How can we resist such fanaticism?’

‘Don’t worry,’ I say.  ‘It’s probably a mix of propaganda and sensationalism.’

I’ve written before about how the Internet is filled with misleading nonsense (“a vortex of vacuity; a crisis of kaka; a whirlwind of piss-poor polarisation”) in my blog The Internet.  7 reasons why it will destroy civilisation.

Lesotho: one of the most beautiful countries on earth has a low life expectancy – Photo RP

I’ve also written about the elegant Tuchman’s Law (hit the link for the full article), which says: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold (more…)

What is Cambridge Analytica? Pretty scary.

A couple of years ago, we first learned how big data could influence politics.  The way in which we can be influenced by social media is fairly scary…

What if the team supporting a political campaign had information about the opinions, preferences and voting intentions of every individual in a country, and could tailor their campaigning precisely to each voter?

They have it already.

The Vice News article “The Data That Turned the World Upside Down” is the second scariest thing I’ve seen for ages.

It analyses how the harmless-sounding British company Cambridge Analytica uses information gathered from social media – all your “likes”; which shows you watch on TV; every quiz you ever did on Facebook; what you click on; what you buy; what you drive – in fact the whole of so-called “big data” – to build up a picture on you more detailed than anything George Orwell could have imagined.

If the Thought Police in 1984 had had big data, they wouldn’t have needed Room 101.  They would have known everything already.

As others have observed, Orwell got total surveillance right.  What he didn’t anticipate was people voluntarily putting on line all the information about themselves a potential authoritarian state could ever need.


You need to smartphone detox. 11 free ways you can help yourself

‘It’s relentless,’ the god-like figure says to me.  ‘From 7 a.m. things are coming in.  All day – even when I’m in meetings, mealtimes.  Until late at night.  It’s the 24-hour news cycle.’

I’m talking to a top figure in an elite organisation: someone I respect and trust.

In fact, this person is almost a household name.  Most people would see him or her as someone who has risen to the top through an awesome combination of intellect, charm and hard work.  Yet this person is struggling to cope with information coming in on one device – a Blackberry.

What chance do the rest of us have?  You may be addicted to multiple devices.

When Blackberrys were first introduced, people called them Crackberrys.  No wonder.  Ten years later, our smartphones are one hundred times more addictive – an addiction as strong as alcohol or gambling, as the video below (watch it later!) points out.

What can you do? (more…)

Paris, the Internet, and the FT

A piece in the “Financial Times” discussing terrorist attacks in Paris asks troubling questions about the role of the Internet in polarising opinion.

My recent blog “The Internet. 7 reasons why it will destroy civilisation” set out troubling facts about this most wonderful of inventions.

One of my concerns was that:

“the Internet polarises opinion.  Imagine a billion people in a desert, shouting.  Who can shout loudest?  The best way to attract online attention is to be shocking and extreme.  Slag someone off.  Be outrageous.  You know that famous, reasonable, internet commentary site?  No?  That’s because there isn’t one.  You can’t be reasonable and famous on-line.”

So I was interested to see this weekend in The Financial Times a piece by Simon Kuper, “Paris attacks: Notes from a wounded city” (NB if you don’t have a subscription to the FT, you can sign up to read the piece – and several more every month – free).


Kuper’s piece is characteristically thoughtful. I like his resistance to simplifying everything – particularly anything as tragic as the Paris attacks. But I was most struck by his comment that in the world of punditry and politics, “the people with the clearest messages win“.

Thus, Kuper suggests, if you want to look at the world in a more nuanced way – he quotes a man who asked of the 13 November events “with what perception must I perceive this?” – you are unlikely to be invited onto TV to pontificate about how we should react.

What people want is certainty; and that is what pundits offer.

That is often the equivalent of shouting loudest. But it is not always the best way to approach important issues.

Do check out Simon Kuper’s piece, and my earlier blog.

Writing tips: writing the perfect article: Nut-grafs & Cosmic Kickers

The standard ingredients of instrumental lede, nut-graf, body and kicker, or cosmic kicker, provide a great framework for writing blogs, articles or other factual reports. 

A writer stares at a blank page, sweating.  How to get started?  If only there were a simple guide somewhere to writing articles for the Internet, newspapers or magazines!

So you want to write the perfect article? Welcome. I’ll tell you how.

The essential starting point is that you must have a clear central message What are you trying to say?  What’s your point? Clarity on this makes everything that follows much easier.

Start by reading part 1 of this series “7 tips for writing the perfect article” (links in bold italics are to other posts of mine on this website).  It shows how to decide on your message and make sure what you are writing is relevant.  Later, in part 3, How to write great Nut-grafs & Cosmic Kickers, you can see two worked examples based on the model set out below.

Once you are clear on what you want to say, it’s time to get started.  “The best way to start work is to start work”.  Structure is everything.

Many journalists use a simple template.  There are lots of ways of doing this; but the following, based on advice from a US journalist friend, has worked well for me in numerous feature articles during my time as a freelance journalist.  A worked example is at the end of this blog.


For more writing tips, follow this blog (hit the blue “click here” button top right) 

Your article should consist of the following elements. I’ve set them out in the order in which they will appear (more…)

7 tips for writing the perfect article (part 1 of 3)

How to start a blog?  Let’s say you want to write a non-fiction piece for publication as a blog, newspaper article or in other media. Where to start?  Here are seven top writing tips.

1.  What is your message? A clear message is the most important – and difficult – element of writing a blog or writing an article.  If you don’t know what your message is or why you’re communicating it this way, stop right now.  The good news? Once you’ve decided your key message, the article is already half-written. Check out this piece, where the message is “if you’re going ski-ing a ski-guide may help you have more fun“. That message must be newsworthy and interesting – are you or the editor confident people will want to read it?

2.  How to decide on your message. So what is “newsworthy and interesting”? Two possibilities:

i)  a news peg. Something has happened out in the world. People want to know about it. You’re going to tell them. It could be an anniversary, a local or national event, or a personal angle on something people know about. My piece about Berlin traffic-light men, for example, reports on how images designed for East Berlin began to spread into West Berlin in 2005.

ii)  a news line. Maybe you have something to say which is newsworthy. Invented something new? Got an announcement to make? Published your new book? Developed a miracle diet? If it’s of wide interest, (more…)

The Berlin Wall: my part in its downfall

Istanbul is possibly the most historic living city in the world.  But other cities have extraordinary histories, too.

25 years ago, the Berlin Wall came down.  I was living in London at the time, and was as surprised as anyone.  I thought: “should I travel to Berlin?  This looks like history.”  But I made a mistake, and decided I was too busy at work.  I’ve been regretting that decision ever since.

Later on, however, I was lucky enough to live and work in Berlin for seven years, from 1999 to 2006.  During that time I came to know and love this terrific city, with all its confusion, vibrancy and troubling, sometimes dark, history – it’s one of my favourite places on earth.


Getting to know Berlin included walking the entire 166km length of the “anti-fascist protection wall” with some friends, in ten instalments.  I wrote a newspaper article about walking the wall, for the Financial Times, in 2003.   It’s a lyrical piece, focusing on “my three favourite spots where you can best appreciate the wall that isn’t there“.  It includes the following:

Tourist: Where’s the wall?

Guide: Here. (more…)

Why Barcelona is like Istanbul – in a bad way

I read with interest this week a fine article in the New York Times by Raphael Minder.  Minder mourned the disappearance, through rent increases, of the traditional shops which made the Gothic quarter of Barcelona unique.


Traditional kebab vendors on Istiklal Street in Istanbul. Photo: Robert Pimm

I visited Barcelona in 2006 and wrote my own piece on this subject for the Financial Times, entitled “When tourist reinvention spins out of control“.

I wrote then:

It may be that filling the alleyways of the Gothic quarter with branches of Dunkin’ Donuts, Foot Locker and the Hard Rock Café is the easiest way to separate visitors from their money.  But the day these come to predominate over older shops and restaurants with names such as El Ingenio, Gran Cuchilleria and La Fuente Xarcuteria, Barcelona will come another step closer to being like everywhere else.

The decline of the most wonderful places on earth in the face of globalisation and mass tourism has long been (more…)

Can hosting a World Cup boost a country’s image?

Staging sporting events for economic gain or political purposes rarely works.

In the wake of Germany’s brilliant triumph in the 2014 World Cup, it’s worth casting an eye over my 2006 piece, written on the eve of the World Cup final in Berlin that year.  I wrote then that: “The only reliable way to wow a global sports audience is with – wait for it – outstanding sporting achievement”.


Who will we remember most in 5 years’ time?  Brazil, for hosting the tournament?  Or Germany for winning it?   Thoughts welcome.

I took the picture, by the way, in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, built for the 1936 Games and restored for the 2006 World Cup final.

And I should add, as always, that the sub-editors write the headlines – not the journalists!

P.S. you can sample more fresh, original writing on this site via my 5 pleasure paths.  If you enjoy it please follow me on Facebook.  Or you can join my mailing list.

History in the Tropics: The island of St Helena

The Island of Saint Helena, Napoleon’s last home, remains a starkly remote isle of unique inhabitants.

By Robert Pimm, Globe Correspondent

Boston Globe, September 2 2007

SAINT HELENA – Lot’s Wife stands near the Gates of Chaos, gazing over the South Atlantic. The rusty cannons lining the beach were left behind by the English after they recaptured the island from the Dutch in 1673. There’s a group photo, then we surge up the hill, led by “Buffalo,” who came in first last year. Ahead of us lies the volcanic column that is Lot, about a mile up the valley from his wife; the Diana’s Peak National Park; and, eight miles distant, the island’s capital, Jamestown. The Saint Helena Nature Conservation Group is off on its annual sponsored walk.

The island of Saint Helena, midway between Africa and South America, offers a stimulating mix of the familiar and the exotic. Lush pastures top sheer volcanic cliffs. English pubs serve local prickly pear spirit. Giant tortoises wander the garden of the governor’s Georgian mansion. Tropical flowers surround Napoleon’s tomb. And now the only way to visit one of the world’s most isolated inhabited islands is on the last working oceangoing Royal Mail Ship.


Arriving on St Helena on the RMS St Helena – Photo Robert Pimm

The voyage on the RMS Saint Helena takes three to five days, sailing from Ascension Island to the north or from Cape Town or Walvis Bay, Namibia, to the southeast. (Saint Helena, Ascension Island, and the island group of Tristan da Cunha make up this British Overseas Territory.) The ship is staffed mainly by Saints, as the people of Saint Helena call themselves, and acts as a gentle introduction to the island’s way of life.

“I enjoyed the trip,” says Tina DuPlessis of Swellendam, South Africa. “There’s absolutely no chance of getting stressed.” Beef tea is served every morning at 10:30. Organized entertainment includes deck quoits, fancy dress parties, and quizzes. A daily newsletter announces the day’s activities (“Join Peter Steyn to learn about the history and people of Tristan da Cunha”) and gives guidance on what to wear (“Rig of the Day: The Captain and Officers will wear White Uniform during the day and Mess Dress in the Evening”).


The Vienna Central Cemetery: When hush, crowds descend

Where is the Vienna Central Cemetery, who is buried there and when should you visit?  Prepare yourself for a Viennese gem.


By Robert Pimm, Globe Correspondent

Boston Globe, September 3 2006

VIENNA — Beethoven is buried here. So are Brahms and Schubert, the Strausses and Schönberg. Key scenes from “The Third Man” were shot here. But composers and movie classics aren’t the only reasons to visit the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) in Vienna.


The grave of Johann Strauss in the Zentralfriedhof – Photo Robert Pimm

To experience the full glory of Vienna’s great necropolis, come at dusk on 1 November. On All Hallows, so many Viennese come to pay their respects that the city schedules extra public transportation. But don’t worry, the place won’t be crowded. The 3 million people buried in 495 acres here since the cemetery opened its gates in 1874 outnumber the present population of Vienna 2 to 1 .

As night falls on All Hallows, the Zentralfriedhof is transformed into an ethereal wonderland. It seems every visitor throughout the day has lit a candle at a headstone. Kneeling black-clad women rake frozen earth around graves. Candlelight shimmers on stone angels’ wings. Visitors move toward the cemetery gates, their breath forming clouds .

It’s the combination of mass happening and individual emotion that makes All Hallows at the Zentralfriedhof so moving. In the night, a sea of lifetimes laps around you. Stop for a moment. See the glimmer of a lantern reflected in a black marble gravestone. Listen. Beyond a hedge, the sound of feet shuffling on gravel tells the story of one more visitor heading home through the darkness.

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La Sagrada Familia: A temple to faith, time, and resolve

La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is perhaps the most impressive contemporary building on earth.

By Robert Pimm, Globe Correspondent

Boston Globe, June 25 2006

As you climb higher, the smell of welding fades. The stairs are vertiginous: voids reveal a thousand ways to tumble to the ground. Barcelona is a city of vistas. But the view from the summit of La Sagrada Família is incomparable.


The Sagrada Familia in 2004 – Photo Robert Pimm

“The tree outside my workshop, this is my master,” said Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), the church’s Catalan architect. Today, the warped-Gothic fantasy he began in 1884 is barely half-finished. Swarming with artisans, it seems almost to grow as you watch: as big as a mountain, yet as organic and airy as a sea shell , a colossal, exuberant explosion of color and form. Everywhere stone drips, pinnacles soar, mosaics glisten, and tantalizing balconies jut from the verticals.

Best of all, the filigree towers are riddled with staircases. From soaring buttress-bridges you can watch workers on the roof, gaze at the Mediterranean city below, or admire architectural features invisible from the ground: frogs, salamanders, shellfish, snakes, and a cedar tree packed with giant white marble doves.

Asked why there was so much detail so high up, Gaudí replied, “The angels will see it.”

When they finish Sagrada Família — possibly in 2026 — its highest tower will rise 560 feet. My advice is, visit now. Then you can tell your children you saw one of the wonders of the world under construction.


P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, feel free to friend me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see the “click here” blue button).  Check out the range of writing on this site via the sitemap and guide.

The Cologne Carnival: A flaming end to Carnival and winter’s woes

The Cologne Carnival is an extraordinary mix of ancient ritual and modern debauchery.

By Robert Pimm, Globe Correspondent

Boston Globe, February 5 2006


Carnival crowds are colourful and well-wrapped – Photo RP

COLOGNE, Germany — At midnight the first figure is dragged out. It’s a man in blue overalls, his glistening pink features frozen in surprise.

”There he is!” someone shouts. ”Kill him!”

Four men haul the figure onto their shoulders and begin pushing through the crowd to a background of ominous drumming. Ahead, a stage has been set for a trial: The judge waits in a top hat, his face a mask of white, a tear dripping from one eye. An incinerator stands ready. A macabre miscarriage of justice seems to loom.

But wait. The drummers are dressed as chickens. The crowd is thick with clowns in orange wigs. And when the victim’s shoes fall off, we see his feet are made of straw. The good news is, no people will be burned tonight. The bad news is, things are not looking rosy for our straw friend. Welcome to the Nubbelverbrennung (burning of the Nubbel), the last, wild night of the Cologne Carnival.

Carnival in Germany has its origins in pagan rituals to drive out the winter. Over the intervening 2,000 years, things have become less secular, and more organized. Carnival has come to represent a final burst of excess before Lent, which this year begins March 1.


New Zealand at a crossroads: how not to develop tourism?

Is New Zealand killing the goose that laid the golden egg with over-enthusiastic development of tourist infrastructure?  Is Queenstown “a seething mass of cars and people, topped off by a cacophony of helicopters”?

By Robert Pimm, Globe Correspondent

Boston Globe, November 7 2004

WANAKA, New Zealand — Lewis Verduyn gestures with an oar. “To pick tea from a tea tree,” he says, “take the older growth, not the tips. You don’t want to damage the bush.”

We fan out across the riverbank and gingerly begin to gather the dark green leaves. Verduyn moors the raft, then heats river water in his Volcano, a hollow flask filled with burning twigs. For a few blissful moments, the only sounds are the crackle of the fire and the rushing of the great, green, glacier-fueled Upper Clutha River.


Much of New Zealand remains spectacular – here near Mt Cook (Photo: Robert Pimm)

We hear the jet-boat before we see it. A growl swells to a roar as the yellow and purple monster bursts around a bend in the river. We stare as the boat flashes past. How can they see anything at that speed? Then we’re alone again.

My children, Owen, 11, and Anna, 9, watch Verduyn, a wiry outdoor type with a wry sense of humor, as he whirls a pail of tea around his head.

“It must be seven times, for flavor,” he says. “We have a strainer, because even in the wilderness, you can still be sophisticated.”

We savor the refreshing brew, and our idyll is restored. Almost. Because if Verduyn and his bittersweet tea show why New Zealand is a must-see for ecotourists, that jet-boat is a symbol of how everything could turn sour.

Tourism in New Zealand is booming. In the last six years, international visitor numbers have risen 41 percent. But that success poses challenges for a country whose unique selling proposition in the global tourism market is spectacular, unspoiled nature. We found New Zealand’s outdoor activities and wildlife outstanding, but under pressure.


Im Dienst Ihrer Majestät: eine Sekretärin wird Vizekonsulin

Die Diplomatin Trudy Curry ist Vizekonsulin an der Britischen Botschaft in Berlin. Jetzt geht sie nach Beirut. Begonnen hat sie ihre Karriere als Sekretärin im Foreign Office Von Robert Pimm

Die Welt, July 17, 2004

Ich war sehr gern Sekretärin”, sagt Trudy Curry. “Man ist immer mittendrin. Aber die Art und Weise, wie man im Foreign Office arbeitete, änderte sich. Auf einmal hatte jeder einen Computer auf dem Schreibtisch. Mir war klar, dass Änderungen auf uns zukamen.”

Arbeitgeber und Arbeitnehmer müssen flexibler sein – so lautet ein Schlachtruf der Wirtschaftsreform. Für das britische Außenministerium hat das zur Folge, dass Mitarbeiter, die als Bürokräfte oder Sekretärinnen angestellt werden, in die Diplomatenlaufbahn übernommen werden können. Wie aber fühlt man sich, wenn man diesen Sprung geschafft hat?

Trudy Curry wuchs in einem Dorf in Südwestengland auf und ging nach der Mittleren Reife von der Schule ab. Vom Foreign Office, dem britischen Außenministerium, erfuhr sie zum ersten Mal, als sie einen einjährigen Kurs für Sekretärinnen in Exeter absolvierte und den Vortrag einer Berufsberaterin hörte. “Sie schilderte uns das Leben im Ausland als sehr interessant”, sagt Trudy Curry. “Über Botschaften wusste ich damals nur, dass sie Briten im Ausland halfen, wenn sie in Not waren.”

1975 begann sie beim Foreign Office. “Ich wurde zu zwei Vorstellungsgesprächen und einem Test in Steno und Maschineschreiben eingeladen. Man interessierte sich für meine Qualifikationen, aber vor allem für meine Einstellung: wie ich auf verschiedene Situationen reagieren würde, wie ich es fände, im Ausland zu leben. Es war ein ziemlicher Schock, als ich die Stelle bekam: Ich war 17 und noch nie von zu Hause weg gewesen.”


Berlin’s 1936 Olympic Village: Nice buildings, shame about the events

How to visit the 1936 Berlin Olympic Village, where Jesse Owen lived in Nazi Germany.

No matter how much hosts of global spectaculars try to engineer greatness, it’s sporting brilliance that counts, says Robert Pimm.


Olympic Stadium, Berlin – Photo: Robert Pimm

Financial Times, July 8 2006

The house where Jesse Owens slept still stands, its faded walls fringed with lush, uncut grass. Klaus, our guide, shows us a restored bedroom with a photo of the great athlete. Yet, the parkland outside, once landscaped and stocked with native German flora and fauna, ran wild long ago. The artificial lake is dry. The café that overlooked it has vanished, along with 120 of the 140 accommodation buildings. In their place loom abandoned Soviet-era apartment blocks, empty windows yawning.


Barcelona: When tourist reinvention spins out of control

For Barcelona, how many tourists is too many?  

Barcelona’s success in turning itself from a little-known industrial port to an international mecca is beginning to backfire, writes Robert Pimm

Financial Times, April 29 2006

The narrow alleyways of the Gothic quarter lie at the heart of Barcelona’s old city. As the afternoon sun begins to sink, shutters rise, noise levels pick up and enticing smells waft between the ancient buildings.

But not everyone is here to soak up Catalan culture. Outside a brace of Irish pubs in the Carrer de Ferran, signs advertise “Live Premier League Action”. Round the corner in the picturesque Carrer de la Boqueria, boards outside the Travel Bar promise “More drunken adventures at 9.30: 4 Bars & one club” and “Tonight: 2 pints or 2 cocktails €6, extra sexy bar staff”.

The Sacrada Familia – a world-class reason to visit Barcelona – Photo RP

The trouble with Barcelona is that it offers too much for too many people. In the 1980s, the city was synonymous with sophisticated urban living and Mediterranean flair. The 1992 Olympics brought a rash of mixed-quality regeneration and a PR bonanza. Now the budget airlines boom has made Barcelona accessible to a global pool of potential visitors. The question is how many tourists a city of 1.5m can absorb before the culture that people come for is diluted beyond recognition.


Charmed by the no-frills alternative: why cheap hotels are best

Sometimes, somewhere “cheap and cheerful” can give you a better holiday experience than a costlier alternative.

Sometimes no stars and no fuss make for a more comfortable and relaxed stay, writes Robert Pimm

Financial Times, January 21 2006


Lech, Austria – Photo: Robert Pimm

Nick sips the wine and wrinkles his nose. “It’s corked,” he says.

“No it isn’t,” the waiter says.

Our children watch, fascinated. “I’d like a different bottle,” Nick says.

“That will taste the same.”

“Only if it’s corked, too.”

The waiter sighs. Then he picks the bottle up and leaves without a word.


Night trains: Rattle and roll to the Alps

A night train in Europe can be a great adventure – but may also have hidden dangers.

Night trains are great for kids, says Robert Pimm.  Adults may find them a little less glamorous

Financial Times, August 20 2005

It’s awkward, leaving your children unattended in a night train compartment after lights-out. But sometimes you have no choice. I’m gone only a few moments. When I return, a man is there, taking off his coat. The light is blazing.


Lech, Austria – Photo Robert Pimm

“Sorry,” I say, “we’ve booked this whole compartment.”

“No.” The man and his suitcases seem to fill the space between the bunks. “I am here too. Look. Here is my ticket.”



Some of the first heated ski-lifts in the world were installed in the resort of Lech, Austria.

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times Magazine, March 19 2005

Going up is as good as going down on the slopes this year, as skiers warm to the pleasures of the world’s first heated chair-lifts

It’s -20 deg C and the wind is howling when I first feel the heat. So do my fellow passengers.

“Mmm,” says Maya from Leipzig. “That’s pure pleasure.”

“Comfort,” says her friend, Erika.

“All we need now is coffee and cakes,” says Ilse from the Black Forest.

Silence falls on the chair-lift as dry heat warms our nether regions, rising through our ski suits from the padded seats beneath us.

You don’t have to be too strident a critic of consumerism to view some innovations with scepticism. Nowhere is this truer than on the pistes, where new skis, gadgets and must-have accessories appear more regularly than (more…)

How to choose a children’s ski school: From tears to triumph

Choosing the right children’s ski school is vital for family holidays, says Robert Pimm

Financial Times, February 19 2005

It’s Day One at the Lech ski school and I’ve never seen so many children crying. In the hubbub, mobile phones ring, helmets are tightened and farewells are made as parents prepare to off-load their offspring and start their own pilgrimage to the pistes.


Getting ready for the day’s ski-ing – Photo Robert Pimm

The head of the children’s ski school, wearing a white cowboy hat, is besieged by adults demanding to know which class their children should ski in. Amid the tumult, a well-groomed Englishman is kneeling in the snow, holding his tiny son by both shoulders. “I don’t want to go to ski school,” the boy says. “I’m cold.” “You’ll enjoy it.” “No I won’t.” The man climbs to his feet and looks down. “I’m afraid, darling, you simply must.”



How the Ampelmännchen (little traffic light men) of East Berlin took West Berlin by storm.

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times Magazine, 29 January 2005

A tribe of extremely small men from the east has taken German by storm.  These communist-era poster boys have found fame at last.

On January 5 this year, at the corner of Zeppelin Street in the quiet Berlin suburb of Spandau, a little green man made his biggest step yet in an irresistible, yet curiously congenial advance.

“He’s brighter,” says Eva Maria Kohrt. “Cuter. Funnier. He shows you when you can go.”

“He’s more colourful,” says Sandra Rieger. “Better for kids – especially at night.”


This Ampelmännchen is on my mouse mat at work – Photo Robert Pimm

“It’s great, the way he’s stepping out, with his hat,” says Claudia Schroder. “But he does look very… eastern.”

That’s about to change. Since 1989 (more…)

The joy of roaming the English countryside

You can enjoy a walking holiday in England more than any long-haul destination.

Robert Pimm hits the footpath and discovers timeless, unspoiled beauty over each worn stile

Financial Times, January 29 2005

The ruins of the priory are spectacular. Sharp-edged stonework soars from pastures perforated by ancient tombs. We climb alongside the river Wharfe, the warm wood of the stiles and kissing-gates worn smooth by countless hands. Beech and ash cast dappled shadows across the chocolate-coloured water. Beneath the trees, the boulders by the river are grey and cool. Beyond, the stone of the farm buildings climbing the dales on either side glows in the sunlight.


On “Conistone Pie”, Dales Way – Photo RP

By the time we reach Burnsall village and relax in the sophisticated haven of the Glebe Barn bed and breakfast, we’ve walked our first 14 miles, deep into the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Another 67 miles of pleasure lie ahead.


Wildlife in New Zealand: ‘The penguin’s distressed. We’d better go.’

New Zealand offers a huge variety of spectacular wildlife.

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times, November 20 2004

I’ve never been attacked by a penguin before.  It’s scarier than you’d think.  Close up, the yellow eyes, red beak and ear-piercing shriek are more dramatic than anything in Jurassic Park.  Now I know why the Maori call the yellow-eyed penguin Hoiho, or “noise shouter”.

“She’s distressed,” says Tricia, our guide.  “We’d better go.”

New Zealand is full of magnificent scenery – but I didn’t get any good Penguin shots – Photo RP

We turn to leave the hide.  Everyone’s glaring at the photographer whose noisy auto-rewind spooked the penguin’s chick.  He doesn’t notice.  He’s too busy grinning at the thought of the images he’s just captured.


Sole mates: Strolz ski boots

Strolz foam fitting ski boots from Lech in Austria. 

They may be pricey, but Robert Pimm finds some boots were just made for skiing.

Financial Times, October 23 2004

In the basement of Sporthaus Strolz, a man and a woman stand at a bar in a state of immobility, their feet are clamped into ski-boots filled with slow-setting liquid foam.

“How much longer will this take?” the man growls at a waiter.

“About ten minutes longer.”

“Bring me another schnapps.”

The family-owned firm of Strolz, based in the Austrian resort of Lech, is famed for its custom-made ski boots.  But are they’re also known for a hefty price-tag and a foaming process for which you have to stand still for 30-60 minutes.


Where even experts fear to tread: Ski-ing with a guide

Think you can ski and don’t need a guide?  Think again.

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times, October 22 2004

The Valluga II cable car above St. Anton is one of those boxy, old-fashioned affairs that sways from one mountain peak to another across a gulf of nothingness. At the entrance is a sign showing a pair of skis, crossed out. Next to it, to avoid any confusion, the words: NO SKIS.

“What’s that?” I ask Willi, a fellow skier with whom I am about to enter the six-person cabin.

Descending the Valluga II – Photo Robert Pimm

“It’s OK,” he says. “It means no skis unless you have a guide.”

For skiers who have mastered the basics, the benefits of skiing with a guide are not always clear-cut. (more…)

Balmy breezes and beach bars in Berlin – and open air cinemas

Berlin has a surprising number of excellent beach bars and open-air cinemas which combine to offer an awesome summer experience.

By Robert Pimm

Financial times, August 31 2004

The moon above the palm trees is bright tonight.  The air is balmy but the fine, white sand is cool between our toes.  We sip cocktails and watch pleasure boats float by.

There’s a buzz around the bar, music and laughter and the chink of iced drinks.  But here at the far end of the beach, among the intimate encampments of blue- and green-striped deck-chairs, the night is dark and calm.

Berlin is surrounded by water – here the Teltow Canal. Photo – Robert Pimm

Welcome to Berlin, summer 2004.  Tourist cities are a problem in high summer.  It’s so hot and sticky that locals, and most tourists with any sense, head off to the beach.  Berlin is different, in that much of the city actually is a beach.

That’s why the Berlin Tourist Board’s new campaign to persuade visitors that the months of July and August are the perfect time to visit Germany’s reunited capital is less daft than it sounds.


We’ll all soon beg to fly business: the perils of long-haul

How rubber chicken, narrow seats, lousy in-flight entertainment and limitless alcohol are an airline plot to force us to upgrade to business on long-haul.

Financial Times, 10 July 2004

 It’s 4 a.m. over the Indian Ocean.  Should I say something?  I don’t like to cause a scene.  But the platitudes are driving me insane.

“Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity,” the passenger behind me roars.  “That’s what we used to say.”

“War is always causing suffering,” the Norwegian teenager replies.  He’s standing in the gangway.  His interlocutor, a German filled with drink, is in the seat behind mine.

“Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity!  Ha!”

Sometimes, flying is comfortable.  Photo – Robert Pimm

That’s it.  I turn around and ask the German, in the most non-confrontational language I can muster, if he could possibly keep the noise down.

“What’s wrong with you?” the peacenik rages.  “Are you a policeman?  Do you want an argument?  Do you want me as an enemy?  If so, you are making a dangerous mistake.”


Bangkok with children: Enough Buddhas for today

Should you visit Bangkok with children?  Why visiting Thailand with your kids offers joy and challenges.  Bangkok is “a pleasure and a pain”.

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times, April 30 2004

At the Thonburi Snake Farm, dusty display cases stand derelict. Half the exhibits (“banded krait, poisonous”) seem to have escaped. Beneath a canopy, a small audience, dulled by heat, watches a bare-footed handler torment two cobras until they strike at him; then he grabs one by the head, forces its fangs through a plastic membrane, and milky venom pours into a jar.

Owen with python at the snake farm

Next on is a copperhead racer: a big, fast-moving, brown-and-black-striped snake. The handler goads it until it leaps over the low barrier that separates the snakepit from the audience. Children scream and scatter. “I forgot to tell you,” the compere says; “this one is not poisonous.”


When dinner becomes the last supper: German waiters

An ironic take on German waiters, from 2004

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times, March 27 2004

Friends from Paris, Madrid or New York often ask me: “Why are German waiters so brilliant?” It’s hard to explain such an obvious fact of life.  Why do fish swim?  But with every visitor asking me the same question I decided to try and list the reasons why German waiters are the best.

Many parts of Berlin are pretty cool – Photo RP

Reason 1: they don’t crowd you.  Don’t you hate it when you enter a restaurant and a maitre d’ comes fussing up to steer you into a table?  No risk in Germany.  In the best establishments you can stand around enjoying the entrance area indefinitely while the waiters keep out of your way.  If you sit down at a table, they won’t thrust menus at you and offer you drinks.  Instead, they’ll  busy themselves with tasks elsewhere for as long as it takes you to make yourself comfortable.   Usually, longer.


Lech: Austrian idyll far from the well-worn pistes

Robert Pimm on the unspoilt charm of Lech am Arlberg.

Financial Times, March 26 2004

There is something about a charabanc that yells “holiday!” And the views from the big yellow bus are breathtaking: as we climb through the cosy resort of Stuben, the hairpins and avalanche tunnels of the road to Lech come into view, burrowing up through ice-capped cliffs.


Lech is seriously scenic – picture Robert Pimm

The gradient of the road and the number of skiers clambering aboard fuel the familiar mix of dread and anticipation that for me marks the start of every ski adventure. “Soon we’ll be skiing,” says Owen, aged 11. “I can’t wait.” It’s his fifth visit to Lech. “I’m glad we took the bus, not a taxi,” says Anna, nine, also on her fifth visit. “It’s a tradition.”

Tradition and return visits are what Lech is all about. An astonishing (more…)

Rag’n’bones to riches: Mary’s 80th Birthday

An East End heroine’s 80th Birthday celebration.

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times, February 7 2004

Graham’s a cockney from central casting.  He holds the microphone almost touching his lips, like a night-club singer.

“It took ’em 35 years to build St Paul’s,” he says as our boat swirls down the Thames towards Greenwich.  “Reckon it was the same bloke what’s doing my kitchen.”

Mary’s four daughters all smile, but Mary’s not listening.  She’s watching her grand-children craning over the metal railings, a chill breeze flattening their hair.

We’re taking in a cross-section of London, old and new, to celebrate Mary’s 80th birthday.  That’s a private capsule at the London Eye, a boat down the river, then lunch at Godard’s Pie House in Greenwich.

Mary Major in 2005 – Photo RP

Mary’s an old and new Londoner herself.  Her dad was a rag-and-bone man in Highbury: (more…)

A tale of two all-in resorts: Club Med vs Aldiana

Comparing a French and a German holiday resort brought surprising results.  Testing national stereotypes to destruction.

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times, December 12 2003

Anna and Owen think Mini Club Med is brilliant.

“I don’t think anyone in the world could be busier than we were today,” says Anna, aged eight. “But the 14 July party was useless. They kept playing all these French songs, we had to guess the title. We didn’t know any of them.” Owen, aged 10, adds: “Then they played the first verse, and you had to sing the rest. In French.”

I ask what those children did who don’t speak French.

“They left,” he says.

Cleopatra arrives at the Club Med 14 July pageant – Photo RP

Two holidays: one French, one German, both all-inclusive, both child-friendly – and this summer our (very British) family planned to test national stereotypes to destruction by taking both. (more…)

Lundy: Island with well-hidden treasures

Why, after travelling across the globe, I always return to Lundy Island, north of Devon.

By Robert Pimm

Financial times, September 5, 2003

Amid the cliffs that form the west coast of Lundy Island, the Battery clings to a rock ledge. The squat granite gun-house is roofless now; the gunners who once fired blanks to warn ships off the rocks in fog left a century ago. Two rusting 18-pound cannons stare out to sea. I find Alice and Tilly, 14, from Winchester, face down on the ledge, their heads over thin air. They’re watching Atlantic waves smash into the island. “Lundy’s my favourite place in the whole wide world,” Alice says. “I’ve been here six times.” Where else has she been? “Hong Kong. Thailand. Borneo. Lundy’s better. It’s so fresh and clean, away from everything. Last year, we went swimming off a boat with the seals. They came right up to me.” It’s Tilly’s first visit. “I haven’t seen much yet. The smugglers’ cave. The lighthouse. But I love it already.”

Sunset on Lundy Island – Photo Robert Pimm


Berlin: finding Where the wall came down

Exploring where the Berlin Wall used to be is evocative and fun.

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times, August 8, 2003

I’m out on a launch in the Havel, the ribbon of lakes that bounds Berlin to the west, with Erika and Juergen. Juergen’s a retired fireman, he’s been messing about in boats for years.

“In the old days there was an imaginary line down the middle of the water,” Juergen says. “If you sailed across it the East German police would arrest you and impound your boat.”


Berlin Wall running through Potsdamer Platz, 1980 – Photo Robert Pimm

All around us, pleasure craft bob in a bowl of blue and green. (more…)

Behind every great woman… when men play second fiddle

Being the husband or partner of a famous or successful woman can pose some unexpected challenges – mostly from other men.

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times, August 1 2003

Make a list of some of the husbands of famous and successful women. Guy Ritchie. Prince Philip. Gordon Roddick. Sam Mendes. Bill Clinton. The late Denis Thatcher.

Should we feel sorry for them?

Surely not. All are or were high-achieving alpha-males, loaded with power or wealth or both. Suitable objects for envy, rather than pity.

So why did Denis Thatcher once describe himself as the most “shadowy husband of all time”?

With my children baking flapjacks in 2003 (c) Stefan Boness/Ipon,

Roles apart

The idea that there’s something awkward, quaint or just plain weird about a man who’s not the dominant partner in a marriage is surprisingly tenacious. Former Foreign Secretary Lord Owen described Sir Denis’s role as consort to prime minister Margaret Thatcher as “a selfless, difficult role for a man”. It’s an adage in Hollywood that celebrity marriages only work when the husband is more famous than the wife.


Robert Pimm Journalism index


This is a selection of my journalism.  Because most of my FT articles from 2003-2006 are now archived, I have reproduced them here. For other newspapers, there are still some live links.  NB the titles were inserted by the sub-editors.

– 1 August 2003, Financial Times, “Behind every great woman…” (the challenges of being a male partner of a famous or successful woman)

– 8 August 2003, Financial Times, “Where the wall came down” (a walk around the Berlin Wall)

– 6 September 2003, Financial Times, “Island with well-hidden treasures” (Lundy Island)

– 13 December 2003, Financial Times, “A tale of two all-in resorts” (German vs French holiday resorts)

– 7 February 2004, Financial Times, “Rag’n’bones to riches” (birthday of Mary, an 80 year-old from Arsenal)

– 27 March 2004, Financial Times, “Austrian idyll far from the well-worn pistes” (why the Austrian resort of Lech is wonderful)

– 27 March 2004, Financial Times, “When dinner becomes the last supper” (the joys of German waiters)

– 30 April 2004, Financial Times, “Enough Buddhas for today” (Bangkok)

– 10 July 2004, Financial Times, “We’ll soon all beg to fly business” (how airlines plan to make us upgrade)

– 17 July 2004, Die Welt, “Im Dienst Ihrer Majestät” (women’s diplomatic careers)

– 31 August 2004, Financial Times, Balmy breezes and beach bars in Berlin

– 23 October 2004, Financial Times, “Where even experts fear to tread” (guided ski-ing in Austria)

– 23 October 2004, Financial Times, “Sole mates” (Strolz ski boots)

– 7 November 2004, Boston Globe, “New Zealand at a crossroads” (NZ tourism)

– 20 November 2004, Financial Times, “The Penguin’s Distressed. We’d Better Go” (NZ eco-tourism)

– 29 January 2005, Financial Times, “The Joy of Roaming the English Countryside” (long-distance footpaths)

– 29 January 2005, Financial Times Magazine, “All the Rage in Berlin” (Little Traffic Light Men)

– 19 February 2005, Financial Times, “From Tears to Triumph” (Lech ski school)

– 19 March 2005, Financial Times Magazine, “All the Rage in Lech, Austria” (heated ski lift seats)

– 20 August 2005, Financial Times, “Rattle and Roll to the Alps” (night ski-trains)

– 21 January 2006, Financial Times, “Charmed By the No-Frills Alternative” (basic Austrian country hotels)

– 5 February 2006, Boston Globe, “A flaming end to Carnival and winter’s woes (Cologne Carnival)

– 24 April 2006, Financial Times, “When Tourist Reinvention Spins Out of Control” (the over-development of Barcelona)

– 25 June 2006, Boston Globe, “A Temple to Faith, Time and Resolve” (Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia)

– 8 July 2006, Financial Times, “Nice Buildings, Shame About the Events” (Can hosting sporting events give you good PR?)

– 3 September 2006, Boston Globe, “When hush, crowds descend” (Vienna Zentralfriedhof)

– 2 September 2007, Boston Globe, “History in the Tropics” (St Helena)


StH long
Anyone who can identify the buildings in both pix on this page – let me know.  

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