Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Saturday, 21 February 2015

"The Kennedys - Timeles Fashion Icons" in the KaDeWe

©Brigitta Huegel


You see it at one glimpse: These are The Kennedys
We have an exhibtion now in Berlin's KaDeWe (= Kaufhaus des Westens, founded in 1902, with 60.000 square meters shop floor the biggest department store in Continental Europe. And just around our corner...). 
No political themes are touched - but that would be unfair to expect from an exhibition with the title "THE KENNEDYS. Timeless Fashion Icons." 
"The Kennedys" here are just the couple John F. and Jackie Kennedy (though the exhibition organizers sometimes quite surprisingly talk of "Jackie O."). NOT surprising for the KaDeWe: the subject is Fashion. Huge grey moveable walls in the entrance hall form an open cube, in which the new Armani collection is sold. 
On the enclosure walls the black-and-white photos are presented (the original photos are in the private 'Museum The Kennedys' - surprise again: I did not know that Berlin has such a museum). 
The legends under the photos are beautiful, but not easy to read, they glitter golden at knee's-height, so you have to do a bit of aerobics and take-off your sunglasses... (though, if you don't want to be outraged by the many comma faults: keep them on...)  
What do you think of when you hear "Jackie O."? 
I think: Pillbox hat, huge dark sunglasses, A-line - in one word: elegance. 
Some facts are quite interesting - for example I did not know that John F. wore - different from other chief of states - single-breasted suits, his suit jackets were without a vent, had small soft shoulders and were strongly tapered/waisted. Also new for me: he wore silk ties in "American stripe-direction" (my strange translation) - they go from below right to above left - contrary to the British style, where the aristocrats wore ties with stripes from below left to right above and sneered at the copycats from America - till those changed their design in the Twenties.. 
Jackie loved Givenchy, Chanel, Dior (he invented the A-line) - but, after Pat Nixon said in 1960 
"I like American designers, I think they are the best in the world", Jackie switched to Oleg Cassini - an American, because she wanted to please the American voters. 
And her 3 strings of pearl were made of glass - 6mm and 8mm in diameter - the wealthy society then loved those pearls, easier to buy and more even than real ones.  
Both Kennedys loved the Ivy League style when in private - when Jackie met John the first time she had short cropped hair - "the Italian cut" - but the voters and the press preferred the "Bouffant" (which in the Fifties originally was designed to counteract the huge petticoats). 
And she had to wear a hat - thus she needled the pillbox-hat on her hair - because John hated hats. Which infuriated (and finally ruined) the American hat industry - they slid into a sales crisis (which Jackie should heal...) 

So: if you are near the KaDeWe - have a look! 

©Brigitta Huegel






Monday, 16 February 2015

My German Blog

©Brigitta Huegel

Dear You, 
sorry, I was a bit lazy in the last weeks. Not really lazy - I had a lot of other things to do - but even my best friends in "the real world" had to wait for my (long) e-mails. 
Now the first thing I've written is a post - in German. I had almost forgotten that I have a German blog - www.berlinzumdritten.blogspot.com - but I remembered it two days ago when I had a really charming experience while wandering through Berlin. And suddenly I knew that there exists a word for the way I discover cities and towns: "flanieren" - it might be translated as "to stroll about" or "amble along". And that word I chose as title for my German blog.  
Oh - translations: I saw what Google offers you when you choose "translation" for my German blog - oh my... Better to do it myself (roughly). 
I wrote: 
(...)
'Today the sun is shining, though still a little bit timid, and in the afternoon I sit on my balcony, in one hand a mug of tea, in the other a book by Franz Hessel, written in 1929: "Spazieren in Berlin: Ein Lehrbuch der Kunst in Berlin spazieren zu gehen', ("Strolling about Berlin: A Guide (or textbook) to Learn the Art of Strolling About Berlin") - the title was changed in 1984 to "Ein Flaneur in Berlin". 
My balcony is already planted with early flowering plants: tiny daffodils, a few yellow pansies, and topiary rosemary, thyme, laurel and sage (on little trunks). These little trees led to a discussion with an interesting (unacquainted) woman, who was torn between gardener's greed ("they are dead cheap") and prudence ("it is still too early"). She decided upon reason. 
I don't want to be reasonable anymore. At least not with tiny things - and often also not with big ones. 
"Strolling about" also doesn't follow reason. 
It is what I do for years: in London, where I don't give a damn about beautifully bound city guidebooks; in Edinburgh where I fell in love with the city while I drifted around; in Hastings, washed up like Robinson Crusoe, and where everybody asked: "Why Hastings?" 
If you do 'flanieren', there is no "Why?
One just meanders along. 


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Lost in a Cloud...

©Brigitta Huegel

Dear You, 
"It's a sign!" a friend of mine said, "a sign for something new and utterly adventurous that will happen!"
Well - one might see it like this, though I'm not that far advanced in Positive Thinking - will need still two more days at least to see the silver lining on the horizon, where maybe (maybe - well, they are talking of a cloud, aren't they?) all my telephone numbers are feeling free, absolutely free to dance a dance of joy... incognito...
A few days ago my Galaxy SIII smartphone was conking out. Of course it is a shere coincidence that the contract with O2 ended two months before that... and The Youth (I'm speaking of my son) said: "What's the matter? Two years and two months - that's a good result!"
"Oh aye" I answered, seizing the opportunity to drizzle a bit of Detective Superintendend Andy Daziel's Yorkshire utterances into the conversation. See, I'm still Old School (at least in the section durability of consumer goods - hahaha: there still exists the synonym "durables", if I am not erring.... hear my bitter laugh from Berlin...).
Of course it is absolutely my fault that I did not save toutes les telephone numbers by copying them into - another - cloud.. And all my SMSs are lost!!! And it is very, very disturbing that I cannot find the address-book that I have ... somewhere...
At least I kept my mobile-number. But - new smartphone in hand - I pondered by whom the SMS was that I had got (without a name at the end!) -- a very interesting text, but I know two persons who might have been the sender - and one of them I do not want to encourage - so I answered very neutrally back --- ending with the hilarious question "Who are you?" (True story!).  
(Well, it was the right person - at the moment I am grateful even for little favours).
After rummaging through a few drawers I found an older address-book from Hamburg.
It contains about two-thirds of my numbers.
I had to calm down and remind myself that normally I act on a maxim: when someone calls me on the phone and I do not want to be disturbed at that moment, I think: "If it is important, the person will call again."
Up till now they do.
Or, as an old count I know said so derisively to a host who interrupted a conversation with him to hurry to the telephone that rang: "You let yourself being rung?" (Oh - that's a horrible translation - the meaning was: like a salesperson the host ran to get his orders).
Very Old School, that count - but it has a ring to it... 

PS: And why is the new vocable I just learned in my Italian class haunting me? It is the wonderful word the Italians use for "scrambled eggs": uovo strapazzato - stressed eggs. I mean...eh... it's only the word "strapazzato" that seems so appropriate now -- and the saying: There is no use to cry about broken eggs - oh no: that goes: No use to cry about spilt milk. 
Ah - whatsoever... I think I'll make a pan of scrambled eggs.... 



Sunday, 18 January 2015

“I have patience in all things – as far as the antechamber.” Gustave Flaubert

©Brigitta Huegel
“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time” Lewis Carroll  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass 

Dear You, 
sometimes I have to remind myself that I have been a gardener.
Created and maintained a big garden in Hildesheim for 19 years, and a small one in Hamburg for two years.
So I am used to rhythm, used to the abundance of summer and the scarcity of winter.
But in a big city it is easy to forget to listen to the fainter sounds, or to rest your eyes by looking at a grey sky with its hundreds of nuances (or only one). Not easy to stop running around and just sit down - trying, at least for a short time, to do nothing.
Berlin emits the Winter-Blah. Cloaked itself into a grey shroud, sacrificed its last jewels, a chain of has-been Christmas trees, that filled the streets and alleys like a far stretched green band of wounded nature, to the busy binmen.
It is cold outside, but it is not "the real winter" with its vibrant blue sky that makes you giggle and fills your lungs with fresh air and then, coming back from a walk through the countryside with glowing cheeks and frozen fingers you tuck in a warm apple pie where the apples melt in your mouth, the velvety fragrance of cinnamon wafts into your nose, and you start to sip from a hot mug of tea - and I feed you tea and oranges, that came all the way from China - and then you sit content in a huge armchair and read your dear Pushkin or just dream a bit before a crackling fire in a fireplace (that I don't have).
No - lets face it bravely: the party is over.
Good!- time for a rest. Time to set one's things in order. Make plans. Order the tiny bags of seeds for the coming year:  this ones will - hopefully - bloom into a slender campanile in Italy, these will disseminate in abundance like a chain of Brandenburger villages, with endless fields of yellow rapeseed, and if you are lucky some tiny plants of friendship and love will grow up into solid trees, but that, dear heart, will take some time...
As everything has its time, we know that. We just have to hold ourselves back not to scratch away the earth that protects what is growing in secrecy underneath - just trust, it is there, growing stronger every day.
In the meantime: slow down a bit. Accept a - seemingly - plateau.
And look: though the black silhouette of the tree in front of the balcony still hums a monotone winter song, the sky wears a dashy pale pink today.
And that has its beauty too. 



Sunday, 11 January 2015

Multitasking - as they say a woman can...

©photoBrigitta Huegel


Dear You,
the above photo shows you a (once) glazed tile on which I drew a picture decades ago that I had spotted in a Cosmopolitan - oh yes, now you know what you might have always suspected: I was an avid reader of Cosmo (British edition) - and it might have shaped my superficial view on life, career and men. (I bought their Cosmo books for Alpha Women, sniggered through Tom Crabtree's wonderful psycholigical insights; and met my dearest friend Stephen Russell (Barefoot Doctor) in real life - the Urban Warrior, who still visits me in Berlin.
Nowadays I don't read Cosmo anymore - more precise: I don't read women's magazines anymore - too much to do.
So much, that today I wanted to test a quality they say women are good at: multitasking.
My dear Tamagotchi Exprelia (you remember her? Let me assure you: first impressions are very often very right: the exclusive coffee machine is the most demanding and outright brazen thing I own - but her coffee is very good, so I try to come even with her. In Berlin we have horrible calcareous water, and though I always use a Brita filter, the machine insists on being decalcified after less than a month (!!! and it does not - as they pretend in the 82 !!! pages of the user manual they hide on a DVD while innocently (though with a faintly noticeable sardonic smile around their lips) handing out to the naive buyer - me - a little leaflet to read, - pretending ultra simplicity and pure convenience, har, har, har... - oh, I lose the thread (but never, as husband sometimes remarks a bit reproachfully: the point of my crusade) -- SO: decalcifying does NOT take the pretended 35 minutes, but 55 minutes (of your life)!
In which you have to be THERE (because T. gives you a hundred and one little orders, and like a little cat that is wrongly handled it pisses on the floor if you don't dance around her...)
Ah - come to think of it: I might write a backup-book - "Coffee-Meditations for the Modern Woman - How to be fully in the Here and Now" (As I said: you HAVE to be HERE). Might even sell it to dear Cosmo.
So multitasking I took out the wonderful cookbook "Plenty" by Yotam Ottolenghi and prepared inbetween "Roasted Parsnips with sweet potatoes" (yummy! - which takes an hour to roast in the oven). AND multitasked the fridge (taking part in The Kitchn's January Cure Apartmenttherapy - which told us followers to clean the kitchen deeply on this Saturday/Sunday, AND in between I memorized my Italian vocabulary and grammar, AND put down a few hints for some questions a journalist asked me to answer.
In the end I and everything was finished.
I have to confess: from now on I take again the male viewpoint and stick to it - "One thing at a time."
Mindful.
Of course.

PS: Son lectured me on never to personalize THINGS - makes you prone to subtile assaults - and as I follow his advices almost blindly, you won't hear of my Tamagotchi coffee machine again.
(Am too busy for games like that, have to... oh! ...it bellows:  "Fill up the water tank!" Sorry... 


http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/a-better-kitchen-by-sunday-evening-the-january-cure-assignment-6-214535?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=tk



Thursday, 8 January 2015

One Riddle Solved! (Spit Chewing gum can look lovely!)

©Brigitta Huegel



Dear You, 
you know by now that I have an eye for little things - and being (part-)eidetic, I do not forget pictures (nor faces, even when they have aged during years-long absence).   
So when I spent a few weeks in London in August 2014, I walked over the Millenium Bridge,  and run with the hustling stream of visitors. Then I stopped, several times, seeing tiny drawings at my feet (or under the feet of others - people just don't look), very colourful and a bit naive, like little graffiti. Of course I took photographs (not that easy - I could not get sharper ones), and when I tried to find out what they are, no one could tell me (might have asked the wrong people in Tate Modern?) 
Now I think the riddle is solved: I looked into facebook today and saw a photo in The Londonist and thought: that must be him - the creator of these tiny images! 
Artist Ben Wilson draws his miniatures on chewing gum that other people carelessly spit out on the pavement - and in a BBC interview (at the end of my letter) I found this sentence most impressing: "Not making to many judgments - just seeing what we can make out of it". (OWTTE)

http://cdn.londonist.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Chewing-gum.jpg

Here is the link to the BBC film: 
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-11677462

So I am content that I stayed on facebook (though I drastically reduced the time I spend there to 10 minutes a day). 
And happy to have one answer (of many) solved. 

Yours 
Britta 


Saturday, 3 January 2015

An Obi and Japanese New Year Felicitations

©Brigitta Huegel

Dear You,

Times of year -

"On the first day of the year, the sky is gloriously fresh and spring mists hang in the air. It's quite special and delightful the way people everywhere have taken particular care over their clothing and makeup, and go about exchanging New Year felicitations." 

So writes Sei Shonagon in "The Pillow Book" at the Height of the Heian period (794 - 1186). Heian means 'peace and tranquility'. Sei Shonagun - born around 966 - became a gentlewoman for service of court to the Empress Teishi in spring 993, when she was in her late twenties, ten years older than the Empress.
I took the book, a Penguin Classics translated by Meredith McKinney, up again after I looked at my lovely birthday present: an old obi - the long sash for traditional kimonos.
It is 30cm (12 in) wide and about 4 metres (13ft) long (I hung it double on the wall).
I found it at an very interesting vintage shop in Berlin (address at the end of the post), and for a while I couldn't decide whether I wanted this one or another. The owner gave me 3 days to think about it - but when I came back (to buy both), she said: "I'm sorry - one is sold." I asked breathlessly: "Which one?" - for at that moment I knew exactly which one I wanted - and, good luck: it was still there!
(Insight: This is an excellent method when you can't decide: ask yourself which of the two alternatives you would choose in a second - and how would you feel if it were gone?)
The obi became part of traditional clothing in the Edo period (1600-1868); in the Meiji era (1868-1912) the textile industry witnessed a revolution with the advent of electric weaving looms from the West. Modern Japanese women don't wear obis any more, so the industry declined, and old obis became rare - vintage maru obis being the most valuable "as the patina of the gold thread resembles that of of an old tapestry". (http://www.wafuku.co.uk/kimonoinfo11.htm) 
Husband was very happy to have a birthday present that pleased me so well. I own two old kimonos (yes... one is pink - to be more accurate: rose petal coloured) and they are very, very long. I mean: I am 1.78m = 5.839 feet - so how could a tiny little Japanese woman wear them? Of course with an obi. And than husband and I philosophised on the way women were seen at that time: almost immobilized by the dress (silk is heavy), those Getas (high shoes), and a face powdered to a mask, laquered hair: beautiful and doll-like. But never underestimate women: the Pillow book of Sei Shonagon shows us that she observed a lot, had an opinion of her own, and was really interesting in her thoughts.
(Insight: Fascinating thoughts can be hidden behind a painted face - so don't judge a book by its cover).
When husband described my decoration intention for hanging up the obi, he said to our son -
Yes, yes!: the biggest birthday surprise for me! Son&DiL came to visit us on their way back from Prague: the best birthday present at all! -
"Britta wants to hint at a the impression of a Himmelbett, a word she only can say in English: a four-poster bed." (Not true: of course I know Himmelbett - but it is not exactly the same).


©Brigitta Huegel

When you start to look up things - the history of kimonos, of obis etc. - you soon get carried away and ramble on - so I became interested in the meaning of the peacocks. In Buddhism the peacock is a symbol of wisdom, and they are compared to bodhisattvas because they can swallow poisonous plants without being hurt - as a bodhisattva can take the toxin of human emotions while still attaining Enlightenment.
'In Japan the peacock (Kujaku) is the emblem of love, compassionate watchfulness, nurturing and kind-heartedness.'
Both explanations please me.
A Happy New Year to you, my blogger friends! 
 Britta 


PS: The wonderful little vintage shop in Berlin-Charlottenburg is called "Be A Diva", and you find kimonos, selected vintage and jewellery, and its owner, Michèle Orlia, is a well-known film-make-up artist (http://www.michele-orlia.de/