Meet our Herne Bay local who initiated and directed the award winning restoration of the historic Kaiserbahnhof (Kaiser’s Railway Station) in Halbe, Germany.
While on a summer cycling tour in Germany, Peter Macky came across a derelict railway station in Halbe, about an hour’s drive south of Berlin.
The building had been abandoned for decades but Peter immediately saw its potential. He fell in love with it, purchased the property and spent the next 10 years researching and restoring the building, completing the project with an elegantly written and illustrated book. Today it is still a working railway station on Berlin’s commuter line, but the historic building (1865) is no longer the station house. Now restored to its former glory, its plaster interiors and handsome exterior brickwork glow with pride of place in the town. The beautifully refurbished public spaces are available for community use, celebrations, concerts, weddings or exhibitions. There’s to be a café alongside the central hall, and on an upper floor Peter has created
a modest apartment for his own use when he’s in town.
So who is the man behind the project? Well, Peter’s been a Herne Bay local for more than 40 years now and is a past chairman of the Ponsonby United Rugby League Club. He grew up in Auckland with the all the freedom and benefits afforded by a supportive family life and private school education. He took full advantage of the educational, sporting and cultural opportunities open to him in swimming, cross-country running, athletics and hockey and he sang too, in school and university choirs. He even sang over two seasons with the Bach Choir while living in London, after graduating from the University of Auckland Law School. It was a stimulating environment in which family and school values combined to reinforce high expectations of academic excellence, achievement and success in life.
Unsurprisingly then, Peter went on to forge a successful career as a lawyer, all the while enjoying sport and the arts in equal measure. However, I got the distinct impression when talking to him about his life and projects, that he takes none of it for granted. On the contrary, Peter seems genuinely surprised and humbled over and over again by the enormous generosity that seems to come his way from colleagues and strangers out of the blue, or in response to his efforts and community work in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. He doesn’t focus on those who have been negative or unhelpful, a characteristic that undoubtedly strengthens his adventurous spirit. He talks about the real joy that comes from finding a sense of purpose through public-spirited or philanthropic action. Whether it’s his work on the Kaiserbahnhof restoration or his work with organisations such as Civic Trust Auckland or Auckland Theatre Company, fundraising or advising, it all gives his life a sense of purpose beyond personal satisfaction. He remarks on how wonderful it is to meet new people in these contexts, to forge new adventures and learn new skills. Now isn’t that what a happy retired life should feel like. Good on you Peter!
It’s fascinating how random moments can intersect in life to propel an individual in an unexpected direction. In Peter’s case, having travelled extensively for work and pleasure, he discovered that he liked living in Berlin. It became his second home, a place where he felt comfortable and discovered a love of cycling. He and his partner, Yuri Opeshko, established the company Easy Cycling Tours as much for their own benefit as for the business side of it and that’s how he discovered the abandoned railway station. He was leading a cycle tour in the area and his life turned instantly into a restoration project. Five years he thought, but that would never do as it turned out, not for a perfectionist, a stickler for historic authenticity, accuracy and detail. Patience, along with vision, was required to ride out the ebb and flow of a complicated project. To give one example, Erich Pätschke was the only bricklayer in Halbe who knew how to restore nineteenth century brickwork. Peter knew Erich’s role was crucial, and persuaded him out of retirement to repair and restore the building, knowing full well that he could work away at his own pace and look to extend his career by many years.
Most of us are reluctant to go out on a limb or start something new because we feel ill equipped or unskilled. Peter’s philosophy is to be simply adventurous, as he has been in every project he has taken on, be it fundraising, restoration, historical research or writing a book. With more than a hint of a traditional Kiwi “can do” attitude, he believes that it’s the doing that counts. He acknowledges that he has learned much from just trying to do whatever needed to be done. Let’s call this the exhilaration of courage, of putting yourself on the line. Peter would assure you that out of that commitment comes the joy of achieving - not always exactly what you set out to achieve, but something anyway. You can have an adventurous life simply by embracing uncertainty and doing things despite outcomes being unpredictable.
In the words of T. S. Eliot, “only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” I think Peter Macky would agree with that. (ALEXA LAWRENCE)
Peter Macky’s book is available at The Women’s Bookshop on Ponsonby Road, and at Novel on Jervois Road.
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