Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Birds and blossoms


photo: Britta Hügel

December 2nd --- Since three days (and nights) it is very cold in Berlin. My rose geraniums (Pelargonium odoratissimum) still bravely defy the cold - but I have to think about my oleander:  I have enough space, but all rooms are heated, and in winter the plants want it cold. The cellar is no alternative - in Berlin we have long-distance heating - and the pipes run through the cellars - good for furniture that you want to store there - but, as it is warm, it's No country for Old Geraniums. 
And I have to think about the birds too. They are regulars for water - the sparrows, blackbirds, a pair of jays, (the magpies do not come). The doves and hoodiecrows I shoo away- especially since I know the Latin name of the hoodies: Corvus corone cornix (Apples autocorrection turns that foresightful into "corona"..)
I love the tits (birds) - and for all of the above mentioned (and sometimes a squirrel) I put out grains etc to feed them. 
Sparrows are the typical birds for Berlin: cheeky, bragging and in loud huge groups. They go to MacDonals and eat French fries, they sit on coffeetables and pick at your cake, if you don't watch out - and when I read in a photo-book that is impossible to take a picture of a sparrow I went out and proved the opposite. 

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

"Rest You Merry" by Charlotte MacLeod


photo by Britta Hügel 

Chapter 1

"PETER SHANDY, YOU'RE IMPOSSIBLE!", sputtered his best friend's wife. "How do you expect me to run the Illumination if everybody doesn't cooperate?" 

     "I'm sure you'll do a masterful job as always, Jemima. Isn't that Hannah Cadwall across the way ringing your doorbell?" 

     With a finesse born of much practice, Professor Shandy backed Mrs. Ames off his front step and shut the door. This was the seventy-third time in eighteen years she'd nagged him about decorating his house. He'd kept count. Shandy had a passion for counting. He would have counted the spots on an attacking leopard, and he was beginning to think a leopard might be a welcome change. 

     Every yuletide season since he'd come to teach at Balaclava Agricultural College, he'd been besieged by Jemima and her cohorts. Their plaint was ever the same: 

     "We have a tradition to maintain." 

(.....................................................................................)  ....something snapped.  (...) 

On the morning of December 22 two men drove up to the brick house in a large truck. The professor met them at the door.

     "Did you bring everything, gentlemen?" 

     "The whole works. Boy, you folks up here sure take Christmas to heart!" 

     "We have a tradition to maintain", said Shandy. 

"You may as well start on the spruce trees." 

     All morning the workmen toiled. Expressions of amazed delight appeared on the faces of neighbors and students. As the day wore on and the men kept at it, the amazement remained but the delight faded. 

     It was dark before the men got through. Peter Shandy walked them out to the truck. He was wearing his overcoat, hat, and galoshes, and carrying a valise. 

     "Everything in good order, gentlemen? Lights timed to flash on and off at six-second intervals?" Amplifiers turned up to full volume? Steel-cased switch boxes provided with sturdy locks? Very well, then, lets's flip the power and be off. I'm going to impose on you for a lift to Boston, if I may. I have an urgent appointment there." 

Every year I read this very funny Christmas-detective novel (it appeared in 1978 - if I'd count the way  Professor Shandy does that would be....?...times...) 

The photo above I took yesterday evening - in Berlin they start their Illumination tradition too! 

(I have typed the whole text by hand - hope there are no typos) 

Monday, 30 November 2020

Contact Restrictions of a Special Sort


30th November --- The supermarkets silently have raised the sum you can spend with a credit card without using your PIN - (45 Euro now). Till The Plague Germany was the country of cash - the Flying Dutchman always aghast, because in the Netherlands you even pay for five bonbons with your card (Memo to myself: should avoid self-censorship by turning harmless use of "five acid drops" to even more harmless "bonbons" - fearing unwelcome associations .. the Netherlands with their free grass politic...) If you pay cash in NL and the sum is "0.36 Euro" they round up to 40 cents (the Dutch always were great merchants!)
In Germany you had to spend hours in the queue before the till because a person tried to hand over the exact sum of money - "Wait!", fumble, fumble, "I think I have it exactly fitting..." fumble, fumble, then, after felt ten minutes: "Oh no, doesn't match!" and uttering a little (lonely) pearl of laughter hands over a 10-Euro note. Now Grim Covid educates the Germans moneywise... 

See that little wallet-safe above? I bought it for my credit cards, but didn't use it - until some weeks ago Francine and I sat at Ishin, the Japanese restaurant. The waitress took my credit card - and stopped midway: "What? I did not even put it on the cash-reader - and yet it has already deducted the sum!" 
Oh! - I became quiet...thought... I mean: I live in Berlin... to avoid a shit-storm I want to phrase it politically correct: we have a very mixed public... thimblerigger playing their criminal games on the Ku'damm, though it is legally forbidden ("C'mon", laughs permissive Berlin - "that is piffle, look at our clans which work in other dimensions, think of the recent Great Treasure-Robbery in Dresden...) 
But "Many a little makes a mickle" (or as we Germans say: "Small livestock also make dung-shit"). 
The thimbleriggers do not care about contact restriction, they search contact -"Oh, sorry!" - having this little cash reader in their pocket which can work without the contact of a card - hoho. 
From that day of satori, Enlightenment, I use my beautiful Wedgwood-blue security cardholder - you bet!



Sunday, 29 November 2020

How to Stay Supple Through Pre-Christmas Season


29th November --- Got this funny drawing per WhatsApp. (Query: Why? Is it tongue in cheek - or just funny? Muse on humour as a funny thing...)

Translation (utterly superfluous for Yoga-afficionados): Die Tanne = the fir; Der Braten = the roast; Die Waage = the scales; Die Kerze = the candle. 

Take out my appointment book and write: "Cancel Fitness-Studio", though I would love to be there, being unsporting since February. Before work-out with weight 3 times a week. Now my muscles try to impersonate a jellyfish (Memo to myself: Try not to overdramatise - at least I do around 10.000 steps a day. With FFP2 as an extra-weight). 

So:                        Happy Supple First Sunday in Advent! 

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Let There be Light - but not too much, please.


photo by Britta, chandelier 10 times brighter 

November 28th ---
All morning busy. My "Good-man-for-the-house" (have to remind me to become more careful with language: first I wrote "I was busy with" - which might be a quite harmless half-sentence, but as today I made a big blunder (in German language!) my confidence is shaken. 

I said to him: "First we'll have to have a test-run in the bedroom" - thinking  of my beautiful net curtain and KNOWING that I spoke of them before - but of course he grasped the chance for a wicked manly laugh.

So: he is an all-round talent and helps me with those things I myself do not dare to tackle - which are not many, but I my rooms are about 4m high and there is no one around to pick me up IF... I learned - late in life, but better now than never - to require help if I need it. (Memory to myself: The art is to have the insight that I need it - I am still a bit megalomanic). 

But a very high ladder intimidates me. 

It was the third time he moved up to change the chandelier bulbs - they were still too glaring, they bit into the eyes - 18 bulbs gave me the brightness I missed before - but their intensity was too much... 

Now it is better, but still not good - so a moment ago I ordered via Amazon chandelier bulbs that I can dim. I did not know that they exist - I mean those you can work with a remote control - because before I had looked at the fine stucco on the ceiling and thought: I do not want a cable above! 

Ha - now I am wiser - and he likes to come - even if it means to climb the ladder the forth time. 

Friday, 27 November 2020

Finger exercises 2: Eating at Home


photo Britta Hügel

26th November --- Wonderful lunch with my friend Francine. Wednesday "in normal times" is the day we meet at a restaurant - often at the excellent and very reasonable priced Japanese restaurant "Ishin" (sporting the secret charme of a disinfected third class waiting room), and on special occasions we book a table ("YES - for only two persons...Yes.. and please in the rear of the restaurant, we don't want to sit in that draught of the entrance door") "Colette" of Tim Raue: a celebrity cook who makes it possible for ordinary mortals to pay his bill by offering "business-lunch". (Business-lunch exists on an exceptional broad scale in Berlin). 

Cannot suppress the feeling of sadness that so many restaurants will be forced to close forever now - so very, very unfair, because they did so much to keep us safe - bought expensive air cleaners, put distance between the tables thus reducing the number of (paying) guests to half, the waiters, almost fainting, had to wear masks all day long, collected lists with names and address of the guests (among them an astonishingly plenty of Smiths and Joneses), and, and, and - yet nothing helped. 

Yes, government will support them - they talk about an 'anticipated payment' of 10.000 Euro - but that is the crux: politicians talk and promise, while administration is busy to create application forms in an even more cryptic language. 

Well, we mustn't forget: the legal profession has to live too. 

And, as the proprietor of more than one posh restaurant in Berlin yesterday on TV said: 10.000 Euro will be just  enough to pay his 80 employees for one (!) day.

Yesterday, when Angela Merkel gave us new orders how to live till Christmas and New Year,  I saw on TV Tim Mälzer (another famous German cook, the forename Tim must be a guarantee for gourmet success ) - he resembles a bear, and that fine figure of a man, always an optimist and a doer - struggled to gain his composure, chin quavering, eyes filling with tears - he left the discussion forum for a break - men still don't cry -- though we all did cry with him.  

Well, Francine and I, accepting the inevitable of restaurants closed, rushed instead to Butter-Lindner at the Wittenberg Platz - an exquisite delicatessen - because we wanted to celebrate the now so rare occasion when we can meet each other. 

Then back to my apartment - I give it three stars: very good ambience, lovely food. No draught.  

We dined and then chatted till 7 o'clock pm (meeting at 13:15). 

Not to be able to hug each other when we parted is absolutely sad. 

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Finger Exercises 1: Sleep

November  25th. --- Wake up very early this morning - a quarter past 5. Why? I think, staring into the dark sky of Berlin, no star to be be seen today - Why?  

I might sleep as long as I want to, because a week ago I took my heart into both hands, or better: one, because in the other hand I carried the dustbin on my way down to the cellar where the 6 big dustbins for the whole house stand (the two for plastic constantly overflowing). 

In the courtyard a week ago I had heard steps behind me - AND THOSE STEPS I KNOW! 

The Flying Dutchman calls the owner of these steps "Pantoffeli". The Dutch have the tendency to make everything small and harmless by adding the syllable "-je" to it (a diminutive as "- let" in English) - and the Dutch use it in abundance, living in a small-sized country. 

Pantoffel might be translated to "clogs" in English (though I remember the old English word "pantofle") 

I say Hi and try to put some warmth into my eyes. In daytime neighbour is unremarkable, but at night he turns into a monster - murders my sleep with wooden clogs in the apartment over my head.  

Stomp! Stomp! Stomp! I sit bolt-upright in my bed. Every night, at least two times, at least since a year - yet I cannot get used to it.  At three o'clock it's prostate-time: Stomp! Stomp! Stomp! For me the perfect moment to send out Red-golden Love to all Beings in the World - yet that often fails because I am at the same time busy with incarnating a pressure cooker before explosion. 

To cut a long story short: I spoke to him. 

Very very friendly (as no-one loves to be rebuked). Not his fault, oh no, I say - of course he is a free man who can do as he wants - and nothing to complain about clogs in broad daylight (which is almost the truth), but at night... could he be so kind and spare a HSP like me, a fragile little woman (here I try to hunch my 1.78m  a bit) that stomping at night? Entirely my fault, I repeat, and the fault of a typical Berlin pre-WWII-residential building with beautiful parquet (Query: do I overdo it and sound like Hyacinth Bucket?), and  could he kindly change his clomps to bedroom slippers at night? 

He smiles benignantly at me. Had I but spoken up earlier! he says. I button my lips, because three years ago I had - which gave me more than one year of undisturbed sleep, then he must have discovered his favourite Pantoffel again ... 

And away he walks, rattling with his knight's armour ... can I trust my eyes: is he emanating a weak aureole of Red-golden light?   

Whatever: it worked!!! I can sleep through till 5 or 6 o'clock, undisturbed at eleven, midnight and three o'clock in the morning! Bliss!!!