Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

In Detention

Last night I had a dream. 
Fräulein Dr. M., my teacher at the Barkhof, a Gymnasium (= academic highschool) in Bremen, visited me. 
Fräulein Dr. M.'s teaching subjects were German and English, and she always has been one of my role models. She was a Lady. Elegant. Kind, but stern. Sophisticated. (She did her Ph.D. in a time when most women weren't even allowed to do their A levels. And paid a price: she wasn't married. Everybody had to call her "Fräulein", a grown-up woman, fortyish. With the arrogance of youth we thought she was "past it" - though we noticed that men adored her. But she kept her private life ladylike to herself. Married later.) 
So, what was she doing at my bedside, sitting  there upright in her absolutely charming cherry red lady's suit? (That dark red suit was one reason why I admired her: it was très chic, it was vivid, not those drab black and grey clothes the other teachers wore. Yes - I was superficial with 16 -- come to think of it: still am). 
"Britta", she said, "your blog..." (in dreams you seldom wonder). 
"Yes?", I said warily.  
"It's off the point", she said. "Look at your heading: If not now, then when? Then look at your last post." 
"I know", I said sulkily, "I wanted to say that when the sun shines but you are too lazy because it is cold outside...
"Then say what you mean, for heavens sake! Why did you choose that title, by the way?
"Well, I saw so many women giving up because they get older. I wanted to encourage them to accept their age but in spite of it spring into action, make the most of it." 
Fräulein Dr. M. looked deeply amused. "You? You speak of accepting one's age - and never tell anybody how old you are? May I remind you of the incident at ..." 
"No", I interrupted hastily, "don't. Admitted: I am not happy with that title.
"Ah", said Fräulein Dr. M. "Why?"
"It sounds so - desperate. Like those awful new-age sayings - written in lipstick on a mirror - "Today is the last day of your life" - I always feel as if a gun is pointed at my back. I am a quite happy person, I don't want to be reminded every day of my mortality." 
"Ah", said Fräulein Dr. M. again, rising. "My dear: you are in detention. I give you two hours to think about what you want. Meaning: Keep the header - or toss it away. But stick to the point".  

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Delights of Winter

Winter has us in its frosty grip. 
So it is very tempting to sit at home, drink a café au lait and read a book - preferably written by myself - this is a diary from 1989 - a time that seems so far away as summer...  

Well, before I wax sentimental, I fetch my warmest coat and out we go!   

The water of the Spree, which you see above, moves only sluggishly, and the lake of Schloss Charlottenburg is frozen and covered with snow. 

Time to hurry back for a bit of culture: an exhibition about the painter Walter Leistikow - called "The World demands Grunewald of me".  
Nice, though only a few pictures are really showing the Grunewald. 
But that's OK - today he could hand the Grunewald to me on a silver platter  -  I'd prefer a cappuccino in my favourite café... 

Saturday, 19 January 2013

"Too much of a good thing can be wonderful"

As you all know through my (more or less late) blogs - 'You are Witty and Pretty', 'Britta's Happiness of the Day' and 'Gardening in High Heels' - I am not always dishing out light fare.
So - this blog will be substantial, nourishing and yet: sublime.
I'm talking of - yeah, you've guessed it by now: CHOCOLATE.
Last week I emerged from the bottom of my MSP (Monumental Secret Project). (For that moment) I just had enough. So out I went. Took the underground to Gendarmenmarkt. Looked into the shopwindows of  . Another woman did the same - we grinned at each other, and went inside, talked a bit about fashion. She was from London. And then we looked into the shopwindows again. From inside out.

I am not sure whether you can see on the pictures that here the Gedächtniskirche and the Brandenburger Tor are made entirely from chocolate (and cookies).  Absurd. Monumental. Kitschig.
Like two schoolchildren we looked at each other again, and giggled in helpless mirth. " Eat Art!" I breathed. "Wohahah!", she roared. "Epoch-Making!" .
Before studying at the university in Mainz, after my A-levels in Bremen, I worked for two months in the Hachez chocolate factory in Bremen.
Though normally I chirp in with  Mae West's saying  "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful", I didn't after being allowed to eat as much chocolate as we wanted. After three days we didn't want any more...
Being quick with my hands I was soon allowed to work by the piece (literally: we had to fill boxes of chocolates - every woman at the production line had a special section of the box). Piece work brought more money. And interesting insights into real life. I learned:
1. Age is relative. Being almost 18 was here extremely old - the co-workers were my age, but had left school long ago and  looked at me pityingly as if I were a 'box of chocolate on a shelf' (not married yet!).
2. I learned that "Non vitae, sed scholae discimus" (Seneca - and no: I didn't quote it wrong!) is utterly true - you might also say: a pinch of experience is worth a peck of theory. Fifty Shades of Whatsoever is an innocent Sunday School book - compared to the graphical visual way those girls depicted their Secret Lives on every Monday morning at work.
3. A pearl of wisdom for life: Things in a different box with different print (and price) are not always different - believe me, dear brand-buyer. From that time on I do - with only a few exceptions :-) - the double-blind-test.
4. If you love something dearly - like chocolate - after a short alienation you will like it again. I do!
Though: in modertion. Because: "Too much of a good thing can be ..."

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Desperate times call for desperate measures?

Near our house in Hildesheim we had a Waldorf-Kindergarten. The little children, hand in hand, walked through the park, summer, autumn, winter, spring: always with little caps on their heads. 
When I spoke with a kindergartner, she told me: 
"They wear them to collect their thoughts under their caps.
Since that day we have a family saying if somebody is really absentminded: "You should put your Waldorf-cap on." 
Now I needed one. Had read Tom Stephenson's post, "Through a Glass, Darkly" - and thought: what does it remind me of? It was a bit different - what was it?
The title fascinated singers like the Eurythmics, filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman, authors as Gaardner - and you find not only one title in each category, but lots. 
But I was searching for something else - and you know, maybe, how bothersome it is (dear Georgie of E.F.B. would have called it 'taresome'), when you pick your brain for a name, or a title - it is like an earworm (don't play Rihanna's "Shine bright like a Diamond" for me - I'll go crazy!). 
But I knew it was music. And suddenly I had it. Speeded to husbands recordplayer - yes, he owns one, new - and rummaged through his records - and there it was: 
                                      "THROUGH THE PAST; DARKLY"  

Now I am content. Can put my cap into the wardrobe. Come to think of it: it is freezingly cold outside - I shall keep it. For a day when I feel very self-confident, because even in Berlin you get attention with that hat. Though: Berlin Fashion Week starts in January, and then everything goes. I shall leave it on a hanger, humming "Shine bright like a diamond, shine bright..."
Oops - seems the needle got caught in the record groove...

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Back to normal

On Three Kings' Day we had our wedding anniversary. Beautiful, though I had the feeling of living in an endless succession of feasts: Christmas, my birthday, New Year's Eve, wedding anniversary. 
Now every-day-life has us back. 

The Christmas tree had to go: Berlin's binmen are stern about that: on Monday, the day after Three Kings' Day, the Christmas tree has to be out - otherwise they won't collect it and then it might happen as in Heinrich Böll's short story: 'Nicht nur zur Weihnachtszeit' - ("Not only on Christmas' Days") - a satire on Christmas harmony, where a very obstinate little Aunt Milla always gets a screaming fit when anybody tries to touch the Christmas tree to bring it away. All relatives give in and sing every evening of the year with her, 

And on top of the Christmas tree hung a silvery cladded angel with red cheeks, who moved his lips and whispered 'PEACE'."                 

Husband took the tree when it was undecorated, schlepped it to the balcony (as you know we live on the second floor and the flats are high) - he imitated the Swedish shout "Knut!!!" - and down it went, unto the lawn, and then he had to run down and climb over the fence and pick it up, needles and all, and bring it to the curb. 
Now we can quote Rainer Maria Rilke: 

"One feels the splendour of a new page, 
on which yet everything is possible to come."                      (rough translation by me) 

Saturday, 5 January 2013

My new Kindle

So now I have a Kindle. 

"Once you've used it for a couple of weeks, I'd *love* to read about your experience with the Kindle. You're such a sensual / careful customer-that-surrounds-herself-with-tasteful-things... Let us know if you enjoy ebooks - or if too much is lost." 

This was written by a Facebook friend, a young promising author, who is the most avid reader I know, (and of course I utterly savoured that beautiful compliment).   
It is not my first try with a Kindle, I love new technical gimmicks - coming from a family where my parents were the first in the street who had a telephone, a TV set, (neighbours visited for football in black-and-white), they had a washing machine ("Idleness!" the other good housewives cried), owned that first VW-Beetle with the split rear window and a blinker that was a little orange finger that came out on the side of the car when you wanted to turn right or left. I could write on and on (my parents had very little money, my mother, being of lower nobility, had married a man untitled and without money - but they had brains and spunk and knew how to save and then spend that in a good way, and they were open-minded - the first in our street to give their girls a higher education instead of a dowry. "Academic highschool? Then university? For a girl??" the neighbours asked increduously, and added "Such a waste!"). 
But I wanted to tell you of my Kindle. The very first one that Amazon offered, some time ago, I sent back - it looked shabby, felt bad in my hand and had a stubborn way to decide instead of me - breaking up chapters, scripture etc. 
Son advised me (of course I was opting for a Kindle Fire) to take the simplest version, not even that with "Inner light" (I have that myself - no: I don't like to stare into strong light). I communicated with Amazon before the purchase: it is not possible for a German Kindle-owner to buy e-books on Oh... But there is - Husband told me - the Project Gutenberg - and here I get all my English treasures for free: Robinson Crusoe and Pamela and Tristram Shandy and Elizabeth's German Garden and, and, and (interesting though that I do not get Winnie-The-Pooh). 
I like my Kindle
- it is really a lightweight - and abstaining from buying a leather wrapper (though I liked the pink - but it would have added 127 gram) and taking a beautiful silk book wrapper I already owned instead (30 gram) it is well protected
- I had no difficulties in getting it going and to use it (I hate manuals - and I didn't need one - though I discovered a book - for free - that wants to give me 88 tips to use the Kindle's full potential). 
- Another friend on Facebook, a young promising poet, posted that Amazon gave you each day a book for free on seven days in January. Ha, I used it. So they hooked me. And I found at least a lot of modern English books here too. And am very proud that I found out all by myself how to download the Gutenberg Project. 
- I took it with me on the flight to Munich. And - though writing a blog - I enjoy my privacy: I don't like people to know what I read.  
- I read more. Definitely. I now have downloaded 41 books - and I am a quick reader. 
- I LOVE the possibility to change the scripture, or enlarge it when my eyes are tired from computer working in the evening (some pocket books like my tomes of Trollope have really tiny letters). 
- I can get rid of some books (people in our house are very quick at picking up used books we all put into the entrance hall) that I know I will only read once ('How To'-literature, or some silly books that earned their money by making me laugh out loud) and so I will gain open place in my bookshelves, because:  
- a Kindle is not rival for beautiful books, children's books,  illustrated books, or books with beautiful photos 
- and strange: I become even more attached to those books in paper that I really love - I won't give them up!