Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Saturday, 27 July 2013


Britta Hill

I am almost well again, though still a bit unusually silent. And when I speak, my voice gives Zarah Leander. 
I love the heat wave we have at the moment - today Berlin simmers in 34°C, tomorrow they predict 38°C. I can enjoy it because I don't have to leave the house (though I do). 
I slept for almost two days in fever, and then had to rest a while in bed, and thus had lots of time to look at my long white curtains of white Swiss muslin swaying in the soft breeze; the vine on the balcony behind them printing hushed grey patterns onto them - beautiful! And while I looked long and dreamily I found out the secret of the long, long summers I spent as a child. 
It was the bulk of time we had - time in which we hadn't much to do. Not much distraction, not much choice, time was very uniform, and so it stretched. 
In the book "Endangered Pleasures" Barbara Holland starts her essay "Spending the Summer" with: 

'I am the resident curator in a small but eloquent museum of the way people used to spend the summer up until, to pick a rough date, 1981.' (...) 'Exhibits include parts of a croquet set, a first-edition Scrabble, the hook in the porch ceiling that used to hold a swing, half-a-dozen decks of cards and a sack of poker chips, three badminton rackets, (...), the complete work of Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, and Charles Schulz, (...) a tin box of dried-up watercolours (...) 
People, even friends and relations who once spent large chunks of their summer here, gaze around in awe. "We must have been bored to death, they say. "I can't believe we stayed here for weeks and weeks. I'd go crazy here in three days." 

Nowadays, Holland says, most people make weekend-trips, not long holidays. But: 

 "Weekending degrades the whole concept of summer. Weekends we can take in any season, summer needs time. (...)
Slow the pulse. Summer is cumulative and needs to pile up, attain a certain mass, at which point the days stop being days and melt together to become a place, a self-contained, motionless country wholly set apart from time and containing within its boundaries all summers past and future. "

She gives quite a few good reasons for the change - and I agree with her analysis that society demands that "now our small available free time should be spent in the most strenuous possible activity (...) We're not sloshing aimlessly around in the swimming pool just because it's cool and pleasant; we're swimming laps, counting as we turn."

I don't, these days. Don't watch TV, don't party, read a bit, take a nap, look at my veiled windows, listen to the birds, water my plants. 

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Note to garden lovers:

Revised post: " At the Wayside" on

Monday, 22 July 2013

Feverish Swan Walk, SW 3

Britta Hill

The last two days I slept and slept, due to my feverish swan-throat, and in my dreams I walked about the Albert Bridge a hundred times (now you know where I lost the 1000 grams of precious Me :-)
When you walk on after leaving the bridge you come to Swan Walk - and that gave me the idea to pin your attention to Sue's exquisite blog - you'll see (and hear) what I mean.
Though: 'Invective against swans' I am not:

Britta Hill

and I would spread my wings to fly as quick as I can to this house, would they offer it to me...

Britta Hill

Sunday, 21 July 2013

These boots will nNOT walk for a few days!

Well, the shoes with the little wings on it have to wait a while - I am ill!
For over 7 years I didn't even have had a cold, though - or: because - I rode almost every day with the tube, that toughens your immune system.
But now, suddenly - whamm! - I have a laryngitis that makes me ask for forgiving of all those people when I thought: "You make a big fuss about a sore throat." I am really quite tough in enduring pain - after my Cesarian the nurse scolded me: "You don't have to give the hero-mother here, not taking any painkiller." I squeaked: "But I will breast-feed!" (which I did), and then came Dr. M.-M., luring me: "I'll give you something very, very special - very, very exquisite." (I was a bit disappointed when it only made me see vast fields of red poppies then, so realistic my mind seems to be even when caught in the soft clutches of opium - sorry, but I did NOT find the gist of a breathtaking novel.
So: I was raised the Prussian style: "Don't make a fuss!"
And I am not old enough (and hopefully will never be) to indulge into the meticulous vivid graphic nasty details of illnesses a lot of people gleefully try to outdo each other with.
But believe me: on Monday I was felled like a German oak - though that image is wrong: when yesterday fever started I lost 1 kg weight over night - now I am more like Kate Moss - 59 kg for 1.78m is not what I would call obese - so: I was felled like a birch. Can't speek. (Very unusual for Hans). I try not to swallow (that works longer as one thinks!)
In short: I feel like I imagine I will feel when I'm 107 years old, my mood corresponds nicely to that dire state, and languidly I fall on the sofa when I moved from the bed 'to get a little exercise'.
What were always the encouringing words of my father?
"Ill weed grow apace" (in Germany we say: "Weeds don't perish")
A Quantum of Solace, that is.


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

My Website

Britta Hill

"You've got legs", said 'my' soldier from the Royal Hospital Chelsea when we had changed Email-addresses and he looked my website up on his smartphone. 
"You bet", I answered, "otherwise I wouldn't stand here in front of you."  
But over the last year I came to a decision: there is a bit much of "legs" on my website, though, as my temporary model jobs, they sometimes convince TV people that they can 'show' me. The last time they took test shots was a few weeks before my stay in London this year - which then got in each other's way, and I've still not decided whether that was luck or misfortune: I would have been the moderator of a mild form of "I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!" - only applied to 'men that can't get moved to fulfill their household tasks'. Of course they had difficulties to find those men (willing to show up) - but they got loads and loads of letters from complaining wives, mothers and girl-friends... That sort of show will pick extreme characters - and to convince those to work would have been my part, together with household-education in practical form, plus evaluation of their progress. When I close my eyes and see a real slob like Onslow in 'Keeping Up Appearances', it makes my 'loss' easier. 
If you want a glimpse of my website as it is now, look at under my real name, Brigitta Hügel: 
I think the headlines are not really user-friendly, the list of the books I wrote or translated is not complete or not wholly translated for the English site. In the new version I will exclude my old (private) blogs from Hamburg and Berlin. The photos are mostly two, three years old, with the new one from April 2012 when the translation of the Leon bakery book appeared. The address in the end is an old one, for good reasons. 
But the main motive is: I want the site more austere. 
We'll start the change in August, so I am still interested in good ideas, and thankful for suggestions!  

Monday, 15 July 2013

Blue Gardens

Britta Hill

The only delphinium which won out against the slugs this year - and there weren't that many -  is of a pushy sky blue. I would call it neon-blue if it exists as a plant colour. Or glazed-tiles-swimming pool-blue. It is not disturbing, but it looks artificial.
"The world is getting bluer every day" is the headline of one chapter in Karl Foerster's book "The Gardens' Blue Treasures", and he is right: the domineering colour among pink and violet-blue now is blue: the delphiniums, the many sorts of bellflowers: clump-forming Campanula 'Jewel', the vigorous Campanula portenschlagiana or the rampant, spreading Campanula porscharskyana, the balloon flower Platycodon grandiflorus, and the big peach leaved bellflower Campanula persicifolia. Add blue lobelias, the last of the blue irises, blue lupinescornflowersflax and pale blue Veronica gentianoides. At the wall of the house Clematis x jackmanii starts to open the first four leaved flowers, velvety dark blue. As I planned it climbed into the vine and replaces the annual morning glory, although substitute would be the wrong word: it is something so quite different: deep dark night-velvet versus tender moon shimmering light.

Britta Hill

Of course my garden is not an ocean of blue - that I would think too monochrome. (I am also not really in love with 'white gardens' - I liked the one in Sissinghurst very much but would never try to imitate it - even if I could, which I can't).
Delphinium is praised by Karl Foerster most profusely, and he was most famous as a breeder.
And he was a linguistic bard - the German words he invented for his failed experiments of breeding are highly amusing: there are the Straw Fire sorts, the Sun Wrinklers, the Gap Panicles, the Frost-Endangered, the Leaf Invalids, the Ugly Witherers, the Scrooges, the Highwaymen (lying in ambush), the Miller Lads (suffering from powdry blight) and the Candle Flexers. My tile blue delphinium evidently belongs to the highwaymen: it got laid by the rain, and only the lupines on the other side of the path give it a little footing.
I love the enthusiasm and powerful eloquence of Karl Foerster, although when he gets into ecstasy he sometimes overshoots the mark. So he seriously suggests "pure blue animals for the garden".
"The peacock is a surprising garden jewel", he harps. That may be so, but when I was in England, I thought its voice even more surprising, very very loud and not that melodious to my ears. That is not mentioned by Karl...
But he alludes that a peacock sometimes bites into the skirts of the ladies, and thus he advises terminatory: "Who acquires a peacock shall demand a philogynist."
My profound experience tells me: A man who is vain like a peacock seldom is a philogynist - more often this seems to be an oxymoron, a contradiction in itself...

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Abundance, Chaos and Being able to let go

Abundance, chaos and being able to let go  (July 2010, revised) 

For a lenient gardener like me it is not easy to decide when abundance changes into disorder or chaos. You know that moment when a strawberry suddenly becomes too dark-red, tastes musty and almost bitter?
My garden seems to have reached this point: everything overflows, it becomes too much. The plants begin to shove each other away. Start to strangle themselves. So I grasp my garden scissors and thin out the jungle. Old man's beard simply does not belong into my wrought-iron rose obelisk. And the wild dog rose neither - her sister may stay in the juniper hedge, but in the obelisk she shall not tread on the silky robes of the more elegant rose Ladies.
How come that for 16 yearsI  believed that Vita Sackville-West, in whose garden many plants foam over the borders, was a person who wasn't fussy in the garden? I thought I was a lenient soulmate when I removed the ground elder not instantly. To my surprise I now have to read in "Even More for Your Garden" (1958) that she liked the ground under her plants "flawlessly neat and clean". I almost felt fooled when I read: "To sum up, what have I said? That I like a tidy garden innocent of ugly or invasive weeds." 
                                                Where is my hoe?? Out into the garden, where the ground is still a little bit wet!! Murmuring "neat and tidy" under my breath like a mantra - and the ground elder stares at me in dread...
Conclusion: in the garden I have a problem with 'letting go', as the Buddhists say: I part only reluctantly. But it is necessary. Sometimes the same applies to human beings. Sometimes you have to liberate yourself from a very needy person, who never understands your (more or less) clear hints for a decent breathing space: that person entwines around you more and more, strangles you with pessimism and hysteria - a field bindweed of the worst sort. But when you feel that it threatens to kill your roots you finally have to be able to cut yourself free.
Then you'll flourish, bear buds and blossoms and feel overwhelmingly full of energy again.