Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

To Whom It May Concern


As I have an appointment at the the RHS Chelsea Flower Show,

Britta Huegel

I will not be able to read posts or make comments for a while, sorry! 

Britta Huegel (photo), suitcase V&A

PS: The flat is under the vigilant watch of husband :-) 



Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Planning ahead!

Britta Huegel


As I am going to London next week, today I will only give you a part of the hilarious "The Diary Of A Provincial Lady" by E.M.Delafield -  (another part on Sunday) - to show you my mood and my amusement of watching myself...

July 17th. - Robert sees me off by early train for London, after scrambled and agitating departure, exclusively concerned with frantic endeavours to induce suitcase to shut. This is at last accomplished, but leaves me with conviction that it will be at least equally difficult to induce it to open again. (...)
Arrive at station too early - as usual - and fill in time by asking Robert if he will telegraph if anything happens to the children, as I could be back again in twenty-four hours. He only enquires in return whether I have my passport? Am perfectly aware that passport is in my small purple dressing-case, where I put it a week ago, and have looked at it two or three times every day ever since - last time just before leaving my room forty-five minutes ago. Am nevertheless mysteriously impelled to open hand-bag, take out key, unlock small purple dressing-case, and verify presence of passport all over again.
(Query: Is not behaviour of this kind well known in therapeutic circles as symptomatic of mental derangement? Vague but disquieting association here with singular behaviour of Dr. Johnson in London streets - but too painful to be pursued to a finish).
Arrival of train, and I say good-bye to Robert, and madly enquire if he would rather I gave up going at all? He rightly ignores this altogether.
(Query: Would not extremely distressing situation arise if similar impulsive offer were one day to be accepted? This gives rise to unavoidable speculation in regard to sincerity of such offers, and here again, issue too painful to be frankly faced, and am obliged to shelve train of thought altogether.)
(...)

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Nocturnal Thoughts on Nostalgia

Britta Huegel


This term husband is giving his students a lecture on "Nostalgia" (come to think of it: it is a seminar, and the students are very young). So at home we discuss the phenomenon and I learn that the philosopher Arnold Gehlen said: "Only the acquisition, not the possessing is pleasure-oriented." (I disagree). Gehlen also speaks of boredom, tedium, inebriation, of consumer's happiness and the happiness of adventure, of Freud, Schopenhauer and Marcuse. He says that in the present exists no possibility of happiness. (I protest) He says that's why, to be happy, people develope images of happiness in the future - an utopia. But when this Utopia is realised - asks Gehlen - what shall we do then to escape boredom? "But when the phantasy of happiness radiates backwards, then we finally reach nostalgia."
Aha. I cannot find out if Gehlen thinks that nostalgia is a good thing, or if he is only describing different ways to (in his belief non-existent) happiness.
I have been quite a while on this beautiful planet, but I am not old enough for nostalgia and hope I will never be - so boring, dreaming only of past times glory. Don't get me wrong: I love history - personal and mankind's history - what I do not like is that sour "Formerly everything was better" (I can remember very well that it seldom was).
I think there are two kinds of nostalgia: I know a lot of people advancing in age who see their life as a series of losses - though they have had a very good life. Of cause they are right: everything has an end one day. A wonderful lover leaves, a dear friend goes away, a sister behaves very strangely - that's awful. But they only look back, and dream, and complain, and don't see what is now good, because in their eyes everything is getting downhill.
Then there is nostalgia when people are grateful for what they have been given at their time being, but accept (teeth-gnashingly) that nothing is forever, and are glad about that encounter or experience - this form of nostalgia leaves you energy to concentrate on what's still good around you. I refuse to cry (too long) about the cookie I've eaten. It was delicious - so what?
I think Mr. Gehlen needs not to struggle with utopia - the present is the only way to happiness I can imagine.
Though of course I am a long way from the Famous Wise One who hangs on a cliff - a tiger above him, a panther beneath him in the canyon - he sees that delicious strawberry growing on that rock he is hanging on with one hand - and, being a Taoist, he picks it and enjoy it with all his senses.


Thursday, 9 May 2013

Nobody was hurt

Britta Huegel

"Yes - go and make a plan, 
be a bright chap, 
and then make yet another plan, 
both won't work."

said Bertolt Brecht in the Threepenny Opera.
My plan was taking a little stroll to the Charlottenburger Schloss - our Ascension Day was windy, but mostly sunny. And then I saw it: ten minutes ago that tree had crashed down - wrecking two parked cars, but hurting nobody.
So easily plans can be changed. (Note to self: Always leave the house ten minutes later).
I never forget how silly I thought a woman in a TV-show in Baden-Württemberg, who proudly showed her flat to the reporters: "Look here - I thought of everything. The whole flat is disabled-adapted - for the days when I am old." That woman was not a day older than 29 - (it is a long while ago that I saw it - so I could not anticipate the hilarious scene in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", where a couple in England visits such a flat for old people, and the manager proudly shows the emergency button and a handrail on one wall to get there - "Why not put it diagonally through the whole room, if I fall down on the other side?" asks sarcastically the unnerved and still healthy potential buyer.)
No, really: the over-cautiousness is shere fright, the attempt to control everything, so that life might go on forever. But Life is a gloriuos mess. Planning is good - but as Tove Jansson's Snufkin says so wonderful:
"Nothing is stable and sure, nothing is ever really finished or say irrevocable. That is reassuring, isn't it?"

The (Prussian?) gardeners who planted the borders in front of the Schloss might have been afraid (or compulsively orderly) too: 

Britta Huegel


Monday, 6 May 2013

Scene of the Crime



Thank you for all those interesting tips you gave me on my last post! They will be the "free skating" in London, being in the same category as the special highlight, the Chelsea Flower Show with my German friend Anne, and maybe dropping in at the AGM of the E.F.Benson-Society in Grosvenor Chapel. 
And then there is work to do - as you might guess from the picture above. 


To find my way I pinned down how I will get to Canary Wharf, or Old Bailey (though I have been there before), to Charterhouse Square, and.. and.. and... 
If I get lost sometimes I will ask him: 



PS: If anybody is interested why I included a cookbook (use the magnifying-glass!) - it is written by George Baker - whom you might know as "Inspector Wexford". All the other beautiful regions of England and Scotland (I've already met Ian Rankin) and Wales, Yorkshire, Northumberland etc are still waiting for research. 
As the Hemuls in Tove Janson's Moomin Books remark so wisely: 
"But you can have no more fun as you create on your own." 
I'm sure I will. 


Saturday, 4 May 2013

Travel nerves



Husband has developed an early warning system concerning my rising nervousness before travels.
I can hide it, but I cannot erase it. It is in my genes.
Which is especially funny as my late father, whom I miss so much, has not only seen most parts of the world, but also took us as children to many countries in Europe (with a VW and a tent, and the car packed as only a man from the marine can pack - my sister and I sat on the back seat on four sleeping bags, and when we finally reached our destination, in the early years my father built (!) a bench from wood for us to sit on - bringing with us the round camping table he had fitted exactly over the spare wheel of the VW (in front).


As I was the eldest and there were no sons, I was trained to take it all without batting my long eyelashes - so nobody who will err with me through the woods (in summer) will die of famine.
My father's family, the practical ones with the joie de vivre: restless. The names of my mother's family I can effortless trace back to the 16th century - they had always stayed in the 'Altes Land' near Hamburg - which tells everything.
Do not misunderstand me: I love to be in foreign countries - and, as I told you, I try every year a form of 'survival training' that makes some of my women friends shudder, (though my male friends get that cryptical glint in their eyes). For a whole month I stay on my own in an English or Scottish town or city where I know nobody - and till now I always managed very well.
I like to be in new surroundings - but I hate travelling. No, that's not right. I even like travelling: I hate catching the train. Flying is another cup of tea: I utterly LOVE to start and land - and as I go now by air I can be quite serene.  IF there weren't the question of clothes.
Husband smiles when he sees me puzzling over 'the perfect wardrobe', studying the blog 'The Vivienne Files' and drawing combinations of trousers, skirts and shoes (you always need at least 3 pairs - ballerinas, kitten heels (nowadays - a curtsy to age)  and loafers for trousers) I don't want to take too much luggage (though I always do - but I get better every time), I downsize, but then in June in England it can be cold (in Edinburgh two years ago people were wearing their winter coats, no joke), or rainy, or - as I experienced it as a student: there comes a heat wave. I like to be prepared! (Though nowadays there is always the possibility to buy something one has forgotten at Zara or H&M).
As you cannot help me with the weather forecast you can do me another favour, please: if you have special tips what I MUST see/eat/test in London, please tell me! Thank you!



Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Coffee & Culture

Britta Huegel


When you are walking through the oldest part of Berlin, Friedrichswerder, which was built at the end of the 17th century, you might need a rest from looking at the (still to be rebuilt) Stadtschloss, the Berlin Mint or the Bauakademie.
Can you imagine that - when you only want a cup of coffee - you have to pass a security control first? 'Put your jacket and the handbag into the basin, please', says the friendly security guard of the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, then you walk through the scanner.
Yes - EVERYBODY has entry to the Atrium of the former Reichsbank. A fine Light Court with a historical panorama view through 30 x 20 metres glass wall - kept by a wire rope anchorage construction. Beautiful: the glass ribbons of the American artist James Carpenter, which change colour by light. The Old (1934) and the New Building (1999) of the Federal Foreign Office are impressing (you can see it as a whole only on a special visitor's day). The Old Building served as the Reichsbank from 1934 to 1938. In 1959 the Socialist Unity Party of the GDR chose it at their headquarters. The New Building was designed by the architects Thomas Müller and Ivan Reimann - with a stunning transparent facade of glass and travertine stone, three inner courts (sorry, you can only visit the first - and its 'garden' with citrus trees, mimosa and jasmine is very easy to take in).
Inside the Atrium at the left you find the Coffee Shop. While you drink your coffee you can look at the Friedrichwerder Church (built 1824 - 1830 under Karl Friedrich Schinkel) or the Bauakademie (from 1905 - they are restaurating it - you see only a Potemkin facade):



Even if you are not that interested in the building: the coffee is worth it!
("We use real milk with 3,5 % fat for the foam, not that thin UHT milk", the barista proudly tells me).  You can try this at home.