An ode to metal and mayhem on Black Sabbath Bridge.
The 2022 Commonwealth Games host city, Birmingham both embraces and transcends its gritty industrial heritage. Home to 1.1 million people, the city boasts 56 km of pre-1900s canals and modern landmarks like the Library of Birmingham. Laurence Broderick’s bronze bull statue outside the Bullring shopping centre captures the civic spirit.
The big interlacing rings adorning the surreal, 2013-built library celebrate Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, which manufactures more than 40 percent of the U.K.’s baubles.
On a walking tour, I learn a few quirky historical facts about the quarter’s Dickensian red-brick and terracotta buildings. Workers were once forbidden to wear turned-up trousers or Brylcreem in their hair to avoid gold being smuggled out. The neighbourhood is also famous for producing British military medals and pen nibs.
I’m also surprised and delighted to discover Birmingham’s rich musical legacy. I shop for old-school CDs at a 25,000-square-foot HMV, Europe’s most extensive entertainment store. At The Colmore, I grab a “Brummie” pizza, topped with chicken tikka and cilantro, to fuel up for a van tour with Jez Collins, founder of the Birmingham Music Archive.
“This is a strange city, neither north nor south,” he says. “It’s unique because of the diverse post-war communities who came here and rebuilt it.”
Collins regales me with stories about early Led Zeppelin shows and Pink Floyd recordings as we pass the sites of fabled clubs like Mother’s. Near Villa Park, the Premier League’s Aston Villa football club stadium, we pause to view Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne’s humble, terraced childhood home.
Of course, it’s not all rock and metal here. Another highlight is the city-meets-jungle mural featuring British reggae pioneers Steel Pulse. The tour is a culture connoisseur’s delight from Soho Road’s bhangra scene to Digbeth’s backstreet graffiti. It builds up my appetite to taste Birmingham’s acclaimed Indian food.
Downtown, I stroll across the 2019-christened Black Sabbath Bridge to Pushkar. I devour Khara Masala Ka Gosht (spicy lamb with onions, peppers and tomatoes) and delicious sides of creamy black lentils and Pulao rice at this elegant, award-winning restaurant.
Sipping my Pushkar Breeze mocktail with white peach, watermelon and pineapple, I make a mental note to sample Balti—a distinctive local curry created by newcomers in the 1970s—on my next visit.