Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Sunday, 29 November 2015

First Sunday in Advent

©Brigitta Huegel

Dear You, 
Yesterday I succumbed at the last minute - I bought an Adventskranz. 
It was rainy and dark, and actually I wanted to buy a pot of Helleborus niger, Christmas roses, though against my better judgement: they grew formidable in my garden-flowerbeds, but on the balcony they always were a disappointment, ever.
But then the price was very high and the quality low, so I abstained and, maybe as a "displacement activity" (as birds do when they don't get what they want - then they do "Now for Something Completely Different"), I bought the Advent wreath.
In former times - when we still lived in Hildesheim and our son was a schoolboy - I often wreathed myself - I loved the smell, hated the sticky resin and pricked fingers, and believed that it was fresher than the bought ones. (Though that was easy - bought ones shed their needles when you look at them. I think that nimble Chinese hands wreathe them in mid-July).
Last year I had bought a brass candlestand with four tealight holders and a smart little modern brass Christmas tree in the middle. That should be enough, I thought. For the heart (= Kitsch) my Christmas cup and a little musical clock should do.
I thought.
Long ago I had decided against a fake wreath - though, for the first time in my life this year I saw some utterly convincing ones. If I want a wreath - and not for religious but only decorative reasons - I want the full monty, meaning: especially the smell.
On the balcony, a long fake fir garland beautifies the balcony trellis - together with little lights - and even I, being VERY scrupulous about form and colour, cannot tell the difference till I touch it.  
                  The "real" Advent wreath shed spitefully a few needles onto our doormat when I brought it in. And as soon as the mist of the rainy dark night had evaporated from its needles, it looked instantly like all the other disappointments of the years before.
I thought about principles.
Will I "preserve" them? As 'preserve' in marmelade?
Or will I shed them on the floor, like needles, next year?
Ad-vent of total liberation?

Now light your first candle, become tranquil, nibble a few almonds and inhale the nice smell of fir needles.
I wish all of you a festive and contemplative season! Britta  XXX 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Bonds On The Shelf

©Brigitta Huegel

Dear You, 
I'm quite proud of the double meaning I put into my title.
"Sitting on the shelf" was a horror vision for girls in former times (though I found out in career advising that even the tough modern ones are still afraid of it - and "bonds" and the stock market seems to many of them more dangerous than an adventurous Bond).
Up till now I have seen very few Bond films. I saw some with Roger Moore (because I adore Roger Moore), and I saw all films with Daniel Craig, because I'm besotted with him.
But as "I don't want to die dumb", I bought now The Complete Bond Box - 23 DVDs (and one empty box for "Spectre", which I have already watched in cinema).
And - being an orderly person - I started with "Dr. No" from 1962, the very first Bond film, starring Sean Connery.
Surprise: I liked it immensely!
And he was a big surprise to me, too: an utterly beautiful man (in my eyes).
Wiki affirms that my innate tape measure was right: Sean Connery is tall - me, being 1.78m, learned quickly to estimate height (I'm also able to fortell with certainty which tiny man will ask me for a dance - there is one kind full of good self-esteem - a lot of them live in Bavaria or in Russia - who take a tall woman into their arms and proudly announce: "All mine!")
Back to Sean Connery: he is 1.86m. Beautiful hairstyle - almost like the heroes of the Fifties - and if there was a toupet, as rumour goes, be it on the head or on the chest, I don't care. Today young men shave off every single body hair meticulously, everywhere - which, of course, I only know by hearsay :-)
What I noticed:
this first Bond-film showed the same frugality as the Fifties were famous for (think of wineglasses with 0,1 litre, think of strawberry punch and small flats) - and Ian Fleming wrote the novel in 1958:
- Bond has only his Beretta - which he has to hand over to M for a Walther PKK - and he has his muscles and his brain. No technical gimmicks from Q. Bond cuts a reed for Honey Rider and himself, to be able to breath under water, when the guards come with dogs.
- The story: simple.
- The Bad Guy, Dr. No,: simple.
- The people of Jamaica: still very naive - to believe in that misterious "dragon" on Dr. No's island you must be able to speak Pidgin English, too.
- The Bond Girl - Ursula Andress - so coy!
Though even she succumbs to James Bond's charme --- and who wouldn't?

PS: Can you imagine that I know a person who was caddie for Ian Fleming? My friend David, a Chelsea Pensioner, told me about his first "job" as a schoolboy  - and Mr. Fleming later gave him a watch as a present!
PPS: the photo I took in the London exposition (2014):

©Brigitta Huegel

Saturday, 21 November 2015

"Your mother called it "doing the pressing,"

©Brigitta Huegel

November - for me - is the excellent month for tidying up, organize, and re-decorate.
For tidying I learned a very good technique from my young friend in Hamburg (he got it from his Serbian grandmother): "If you go from one room to another, always take one thing with you that belongs there!" 
Sounds easy? Then how comes that my drawing box is on the long dining table? Of course: yesterday I scribbled a bit, and then I looked TV, and then it was late...
And yesterdays papers on the floor beside the sofa? Ah, yes, I wanted to cut out an article I might write a blog about (on the day that will never come).
And so on, and so on.
I am now old enough to accept a wisdom of my mother: If the homefront-task does not melt away and will not become less tomorrow - DO IT NOW.
So very often I do that now. BUT: there is one thing I really hate doing. Although I wrote a whole chapter in my book about it, and know how to do it: I hate ironing. Looking the dire consequences right into the eye - look at the advertisement above and imagine the deplorable way your clothes will look if you don't!
Procrastinating I wait for the second load of washing ("Then I will do it all in one go"), and wait for a dull TV-film (but that I silence - and if it is good I cannot watch TV at the same time).
"All Gaul is under Roman control, except for one small village of indomitable Gauls that still holds out against the Romans." 

PS: The title is from the Poem: Ironing After Midnight" by Marsha Truman Cooper

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Ranting and Raving, fottuto!

©Brigitta Huegel

It is very early in the morning. And very, very stormy.
I hear the ceaseless screeching of rakes outside: two men in orange are trying to catch the autumnal leaves - and we have a lot of them in (very) green Berlin.
"Hohoho!" cries the wind, preparing for Christmas. He thinks it very funny (sorry - as always I take "it" personally), he blows forcefully into the little heap of yellow leaves one man had - screech! screech! - scraped together. "Hohoho! Catch me if you can!"
They can't. But they try on and on.
Why do I tell you this?

At the moment, I'm deeply annoyed with my teaching book for learning Italian.
(Did you know that the Italian word "noioso" means "boring"? See it in 'annoyed'???)
It is NOT that la bella lingua bores me. Oh no.
I am a diligent pupil.
I take notes - every day! - when I do my compiti (every day!), my (volontary) homework.
Friday: 8:30 - 10:30:15.
Saturday: 9:30 - 11:00
Sunday: 8 30 - 9:15 (+ 15 minutes)
And so on, and so on...
Till now I had two (rather expensive) semester-classes by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura Berlino. I paid for the third - it started when I went for a week to Rome.
BUT there I got a sort of shock - what I understood I had known before I entered the first classe.
My textbook calls itself proudly "Chiaro!" meaning: "Clear" - hahaha.
I thought. Pondered. Decided - in absolute clearness - to repeat the second class.
Decided not to blame me (I am a quick me-blamer, but also a quick learner, even at my age :-)
Decided to blame that daft textbook, written by absolute nutters. Greedy nutters (in this aspect they are very "Chiaro". I got that insight when I bought the extra "Neue Power-Grammatik", the extra "Neue Übungsbuch", the extra "Power Wortschatz" and the extra "Große Übungsgrammatik" - all by Hueber-Verlag, all at least 15 Euro or more -- and learned by myself - it all became a little bit more "chiaro").
In classe, the main aim is to speak. From the very first day. That is fine with me, though I loathe exercises that ask: "Guess what this might mean. Write it down. Then: discuss it with your neighbour. Then we will snigger at you: hahaha - you got the plural WRONG! (Of course we didn't tell you anything about the plural - we thought: even singular might overexert your little brain - that's why we also don't tell you l'articolo neither, hahaha. Yes, you are right: it is VERY important, l'articolo - without knowing it grammar is like skiing on thinnest ice - you look like a mangling fool, haha - what, by the way, you are, in our opinion..)
If you think that I exaggerate - what do you think of these (true!!!) first vocables in Lesson 7 (mind: we didn't learn many words to help us in ordinary life - la vita quotidina:
lo sci estivo = summer ski (haha: I even don't do it in winter!)
la buca = here (how I hate that, here means: ONLY here, normally something else, haha): hole
l'alpinismo = mountaineering (OK - when I visit son&DIL in Allgäu, I will look up to them and cry: "Attenzione! Mountaineer carefully, please" - while, at the same time, rummaging desperately through my brain, I look for the word "hear" ("sentire/ascoltare" - thank you, deit.dic.cce).
l'equitazione = equestrian sports. (Good for England, I know, but before knowing that I want to be able to say "bevanda" - drink).
il parapendo = also a very valuable word - if I, one day in the future, want to start paragliding. Who knows? I might! (Really!) While I will abstain from "la pesca sportiva", sport fishing, definitely.
But: if I do my summer ski and fall into a hole, maybe I'll do sport fishing there, hoping a paraglider comes and rescues me...
Silly, silly, silly! 
I think one has to learn grammar (they think they overextert us with that, too), vocabulary, reading and writing. And of course start to speak.
For that they also gave us CDs - I would like to include a passage here, but I will protect your ears, the howling wind is enough rumore: the speaker tries to IMPRESS us poor pupils
, by speaking as quick as he can, so quick that he absorbs part of the words.
Mind: I have been in Rome, and yes: they speak very quick, BUT not as quick as the speaker on our CD, hahaha...
See why I howl with the wind?
Seee why I screech???

Friday, 30 October 2015

How to Stay Slim on a Full English Breakfast

©Brigitta Huegel

Dear You, 
what do you think: will this title allure masses to my blog and thus raise my Stats?
My waist survived not only many Full English Breakfasts, but also a lot of tests of hoppy, fruity craft beers and loads of fish and chips too.
The secret? The godsent antidote?
That was our friend Mark Hanna. May I quote:

"Mark Hanna is co-author of our cruise cookbook, Greens and Grains on the Deep Blue Sea, and head chef for Holistic Holiday at Sea (...). Mark began his education in macrobiotics in 1978, and started cooking throughout North America at macrobiotic centers and summer camps, yoga retreats, Buddhist retreats, and natural food restaurants and cafés. During that time, he developed a creative approach to the normally austere macrobiotic cuisine. In addition to serving as the head chef on Holistic Holiday at Sea cruises, Mark travels throughout the world, cooking for events of all sizes."

Mark cooked for hundreds of people on cruises, so our narrowboat's tiny kitchen (which here looks tall - a well-known phenomen to all those who ever booked a hotel-room) - was no problem for him at all.

©Brigitta Huegel

He was helped by Christian, who had learned from Mark to cook the macrobiotic way - and their dishes were so utterly delicious that we all - all the men & I - never missed meat or cream or whatsoever then.
We lived on a 2:1 - diet: 2 parts full English, one part macrobiotic.
So I think The Secret is alternation:
Matti sat in a fish and chips restaurant with a plate filled with half of the allowed fishing quota of the North Sea - in batter - saying: "This is what I call a correct portion!" - but then, another day, we all enjoyed our greens and miso and tofu (dressed up as meat. That is one thing I cannot understand about vegans: why do they try to form deceiving sausages, shrimps or burgers from tofu? Why not just call it 'honest tofu'?)
Well - I'm no vegan. Though I almost (!) became one when in Beamish I met this utterly friendly pig -
©Brigitta Huegel

He leaned over the garden gate in quite an elegant way, swaggering a little bit on his tiny feet, blinking blue eyes under blonde eyelashes benevolently and trying to make friends with us - an effort which toppled him almost over that garden gate...
Back to diet-secrets: you can get away in life with quite a lot, I think - as long as you a) enjoy it with all your heart (and stomach); b) know your own limit c) enjoy change and d) do it in style.
Style for fish & chips you see on the first photo of this post - taken in Beamish, the exciting open-air museum.
At the end of a long walk through pictorial English history (and a side trip into the sweet shop)

©Brigitta Huegel

©Brigitta Huegel

I entered the museal fish and chip restaurant - on my own, my friends sat outside on the green, testing another fruity hop brew.
Inside a young lad asked what he could give me, and I said: "Nothing , thank you - I just want to look at your wonderful Art Deco fish and chip machine."
"Oh, but you MUST try them!" he cried out, "I'll bring you some for free!"
A deep voice from an elderly colleague came out of a corner "THAT  you have to accept - THAT he is not doing for everyone, love!" 
So I tested them - wonderful!
And we started to talk shop, about those fascinating Art Deco machines, and the very crisp chips:
"They remind me of some chips I got in Hastings", I said, "and their secret was the special fat they used... let me think: lard, it was." 
"Yes yes, he cried, "that's what I use here too!!!"  
So: choose quality. Don't overdo it. And enjoy.

PS: Next post I'll try to start from the beginning of our narrowboat trip :-)

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Brigitta Huegel

Dear You, 
inspired by Rosemary's blog "Where Five Valleys Meet"  and the first of her gorgeous photographs I 'republish' a little story from my garden blog "Britta's Gardening in High Heels". (The next post will be on the narrowboat).

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I sit in our garden in Hildesheim with a cup of tea and enjoy the sparkle and twinkle on the silky threads of the spiderwebs, glistening against the sunlight. When the air moves, silver and gold flash up.
Horizontal nets are spanned in the big box ball standing beside the rose arch, looking like miniature versions of the Olympic stadium in Munich
Delicate silver gossamer, elfine trampolines. 
They are better visible than the golden spider-webs that hang between the rose-twigs. 
When in the morning hundreds of dew drops hang inside them, drawing the spider threads down like heavy jewellery and throwing out sparks in the sun, they could jauntily take part in any contest of jewellers.
Yes: Today I’m having Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
For that breakfast the spider is waiting, too, though for her a less sparkling day would promise more booty. 
Nothing is so finely spun/ it will come up into the sunlight” wrote Theodor Fontane in “Under the Pear Tree”. 
But sometimes The Good needs a lot of time to triumph, and before the victims have discovered the gossamer it is too late for some of them: the sticky threads attach themselves around delicate wings, and by attempting to flee in panic they only entangle themselves deeper, till finally the Master of the Web puts an end to it all.
Then we have to grab the last relic of resource, then we ask for the word “Existence”, I hear from the terrace of my neighbour, the philosopher, who apparently is dictating an essay, just as I indulge in profound reflections upon Elusiveness and Beauty. 
The spider and I are eavesdropping - mesmerized.
“ We can turn towards the entities, die Wesenheiten, the things that ARE”, he continues, and the spider hopefully picks up knife and fork, “but then we have a problem.” 
Confused the spider drops its cutlery, because till now it didn’t have one.
How do we ascertain wether the entities are real or not?
This, my good man, the spider giggles, is very easy indeed. And bites into that, what still Is - but will have Been very soon.
The nature of Being”, “the Concrete”, “the Abstract”, all these words flutter airily past my ears, lightweight as spider threads. 
A little bit sticks, but you cannot grasp it… 

Friday, 23 October 2015

Do not block!

Brigitta Huegel

Dear You, 
I must have got that wrong.
Saw this 'Writing on the Wall' on our narrow boat trip, when we travelled for one week on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, and then drove with a van up to Newcastle, Durham and Edinburgh.
"Do not block" - today. when I sifted the 1235 photos from our lovely, lovely tour I saw my mistake:
error - so I am allowed to blog on!
I am also very thankful to Susan who writes the blog "Southern Fascination" - she shook me up by a recent comment, asking: "So, Dear Britta, has the traveler made it home? You are missed."
That touched me. I thought of an well-known Zen-story, where a learned man travelled a long way to meet a Zen-priest, to learn even more about Zen. You know what follows: the monk pours tea into the cup of the guest, and pours and pours. "But can't you see that the cup is overflowing!" cries out the guest. "I know", answers the monk, "so is your mind - you have to empty it first to be able to receive more."
And boy: my mind was overflowing with impressions. The chip card of my camera was more carefree - almost 3000 photos it filed without grumbling - having accompanied me
- two weeks through England & Scotland
- followed by a wonderful week with friends in the Imperial Spa Bansin at the Baltic Sea, and then
- in an impressive week at Rome, together with husband.
So: my cup was more than full. Full with the lovliest Darjeeling, to stay in the picture, but nevertheless: overflowing.

But you know me: I never am quiet for long, and I am a roly-poly doll (no, I didn't gain weight - though the many "FullEnglish breakfasts" tried their best,

Brigitta Huegel

as tried the many, many pubs with their special craft beers - our navigator Matti is a specialist for these arty beers, and finds always the right smashing pubs:

Brigitta Huegel

Brigitta Huegel

and then a London friend, an editor of a big newspaper, joined us (among other lovely people) - and he was a beer expert too; he had written a blog on craft beer with a title like "Through the Year with 365 different craft beers" -- well, and then imagine me (if I drink beer at all, on a hot summer day, it must be a wheat beer):
I will be remembered as the Little Red Rooster - oh no, sorry, I was the only little hen of that party, who always chirped "Only half a pint, please", while the male world bravely tested the hoppy, fruity goods,
But we tested the spirits of culture too -- and enjoyed a lovely landscape (and astonishing good weather), we made music, and visited really impressing cities -
and I promise: I will show you a glimpse of that - pint by pint bit by bit in my next post.
And I will try to dive deeply into your blogs again - of course with better results than the poor guy who one early foggy morning fell into the canal just in front of our narrow boat - nothing happened to him, the canal was shallow, but police and ambulance came nevertheless and helped him - though we had already given him a blanket and the very British panacea, the universal remedy:
a mug of strong, sweet hot tea.