Britta's Letters from her life divided between city-life in German's capital Berlin and life in a Bavarian village

Saturday 30 March 2013

Biedermeier Currant Bread

You need an iron constitution to get over so many festivities as in the last four months. So: Happy Easter! 
When I came back from a wonderful weekend in Munich (happy that each time the flights were only one hour late because of the snow), I had to enter the place where in ye olde days a woman had her place: the kitchen.  
Son & DiL had hinted politely but firm that they were longing for the annual "Biedermeier Korinthenbrot" - a speciality that it is so called because it is modest (not too much sugar, not too many currants - though I throw a few more into it :-) and aromatic (by vanilla sugar and  lemon peel, but - you guess it already: not too much). 
The bread as such does not look modest: it is enormous, shockingly voluptuous (no, I didn't mean volumnious, which it is too) : 

I always cut it in two parts - and half of it goes to Munich. 
But I have to plan like a Prussian: on Good Friday (almost) nobody is working. 
And the post nowadays is not as reliable as it - once upon a time - had been. So: if I take the risk and send the Easter-Bread on Thursday it might happen that it will not arrive on Saturday - and then - oops - they will get an After-Easter-Bread; because Sunday and Monday (almost) nobody is working. 
(Crumbly dry cake reminds me of of a typical story fabricated by my sweet grandma - the working(wo)man - : with the best intentions she sent my father a parcel with home-baked cake from Göttingen, Germany, in war-time, to Madagascar, his first POW-station before England. It took some time... :-).  
So I baked on Wednesday. Packed it. Paid extra postage to be sure that it will arrive in time. 
And - after a few difficulties too laborious to tell (here I cut the story, not only the bread) it arrived in good condition.   

Happy Easter! 

Thursday 28 March 2013

Happy Easter!

"It is winter proper; the cold weather, such as it is, has come to stay. I bloom indoors in the winter like forced forsythia; I come in to come out..." 
Annie Dillard 

Friday 22 March 2013

You can keep your hat on!

Tomorrow I'll fly to Munich - to visit Son and lovely Daughter-in-Law. 
AND to go to Ina Böckler. 
Ina Böckler is one of the few Grande Dames of milliners in Germany. She made hats for the stars and starlets. And one for me. 
It looks much prettier as in the photo above (and I hope me too - I pout - not very becoming at all, not becoming for the chin). 
But I had a reason. 
There are times when one should try to conform oneself a tiny weeny little bit to one's age. No danger that I will exaggerate that (if - then more into the other direction:-). 
Above I am in the pouts because Son had used an example that convinced even me: 
"Mama", he said, "per se it is a lovely hat. But if I drive a Pontiac Firebird (which he did at that time - the apple never fells far from the tree) I do not paint it pink as an extra." 
Home truth. Now - I think very highly of his advice. So I put the hat in its beautiful blue hatbox. Away. Grinding my teeth. 
And then last summer in Munich I saw that Ina Böckler's hat-atelier was sold to a new milliner. And they do alterations. So yesterday I telephoned. 
And will bring her the hat to change the pink fox ("We'll make a nice collar of it!" she chirped) for a silver-grey fox (my idea). 
I'm really curious if it will work out. 
But I "see it"
And to be forearmed I will read a book on the flight which arrived yesterday: 
"Going Gray. How To Embrace Your Authentic Self With Grace And Style" by Anne Kreamer. 
Ha - never any problem with that. 
So: the fox will be silver - but the remainder of the hat will stay -

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Franz Theodor Türcke - and a bit of luck

I cannot remember the subject :-) , but a few weeks ago I read on someone's blog the comment: "If you have seen one, you have seen them all" - and I thought: "Oh no, you are absolutely wrong - and either you don't have any experience at all but want to appear blasé - or you are going through the world with eyes closed.
I don't appreciate the one or the other. 
If you open your eyes - and, even better: your heart - you see that the world offers a gorgeous orchestra of choices of apparently (!) the same thing. 
Now people are whining about the snow. 
OK - I would prefer spring too - but: "It is as it is." So on Sunday I put on warm clothes and went outside into frost and snow. And found at a Berlin flea market a little picture which I liked. 
"Many people have looked at it but put it back", said the man behind the table. 
"Maybe because of the subject", I said, "nobody wants a picture with snow now." 
But as I liked it, I asked "How much?", and the sum was so small that you wouldn't have got half a ticket to the Astor Lounge cinema. 
I bought it (and felt a bit silly), because it looked simple, naive, childlike - but I liked the atmosphere. 
A signature was scribbled with pencil beneath it (same writing as the words "Original Drawing") - that was beautiful, but almost unreadable. 
At home I looked with a magnifying glass - I am good at deciphering (and have a sort of eidetic memory) - and after a while I found out: the signature was F. Türcke
The Internet informed me: Born 1877 in Dresden, deceased in Berlin 1957. A landcape painter who studied at the Berlin KA at Eugen Bracht
Pictures (mostly oil) of him were sold at Christie's, Burchard Galleries Inc, and there are a lot of Americans who collect him. An auction house in Dresden offers to take anything of him to sell it. 
I don't know whether that includes a little drawing like the one I have found. And I will not sell it. 
I just want to look at it and feel happy because I like it - and had my eyes open. 

Friday 15 March 2013

Spring clean - but the full monty!

Britta Huegel

In our family we have a special expression for that feeling of being stuck: we call it "to be on a plateau". There are many occassions when one might feel this way: in parenting, in a new city, at your working place... Nothing moves, the air is leaden, something has to change, definitely...

When I feel stuck - and at the moment I do - the first thing I do (after sulking - contemplating to jack it all in - then thinking hard) is: creating order. 
When I am speaking of spring cleaning (the full monty) I am not speaking of household alone. 
As you know I have written a book about That - solely addressing young men, whispering into their ears the secrets of How to Do It). 

No, when I say: the full monty I mean spring-cleaning for home, body, mind and soul. (Not that I do it necessarily in this order). 

Today I stared at the snow on my balcony - ugh! - and howled at the pale sickle moon at night. And then I had enough. 
Enough, Enough, Enough!       Clapboard the third: Action! 

1.) I went to my smashing Turkish hairdresser at the Alexanderplatz (only very young people there, all in black leather, tattoos and interesting haircuts) - and his knowing hands shampooed and massaged and then that wizard took his scissors and performed magic. 
Never change a haircut when angry or sad, said wise Sophia Loren; and I didn't change it utterly (and as all my hairdressers before, especially the maestros, he flatly refused to dye). But I was very content with the result - thank you, Süley!  

2.) I telephoned and now it is official: after the trip to the Chelsea Flower Show I will stay for almost a month in London. I'm looking forward to that (and how I prepare I will tell you soon). 

3) I briefly thought about using house-cleaning method no. 3 from my book - the "Elizabeth-Taylor's-Who-Is-Afraid-of-Virginia-Woolf-emergency-cleaning", but rejected it - no, I wanted real spring cleaning (the rays of the March sun are merciless, on windows and face). 
So I chose method no.5: I pretended to hire myself. (It helps definitely to watch before the DVD with Lucy Eyelesbarrow (Jill Meager), that paragon of household efficiency  in 4.50 from Paddington (with Jane Hickson in Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, of course!)
When I hire myself I work like an employee - I take a timer after binding my pinny (by the way - did you notice how wide awake a lot of men become when you casually mention your interest in aprons? Really interesting subject, it seems. Try it!)  - well, and then I work, with elbow grease- and when the timer says "pling" I stop. Unbind my apron, leave the house and return tomorrow - at the appointed hour. 
See you! 

Sunday 10 March 2013

Blue Suede Shoes

Britta Huegel

So it's SNOW again. 
They told me so on the radio, yesterday morning, but I wouldn't listen. 
Put on my Blue Suede Shoes (they are black and really cute boots, made for showing-off, not walking through slush). 
Well, He that will not hear must feel
Which I did. 
Though: I don't need much time to adjust. Put my face up to the endless grey sky and love to look into that swirl of snowflakes. Thick, feathery ones, dancing before the eyes, caressing my face, melting oh so softly. 
I went to meet three "old girls" from my school in Bremen, here, in Berlin. One of them is my friend since school days - the other two I hadn't seen for umpteenth years. 
How come, that all of a sudden, these school pals discover the urgent need to meet each other? They hunt through Facebook, search Stayfriends and  whatsoever. 
Before: nada. Once in all that time (exactly: one year after leaving school) we had met. Then never again. 
(Except the 4 real good friends whom I see every year several times, and write, and telephone). 
Class reunions make me think of Franz Joseph Degenhard's song, "Old friends" (here is a very rough translation by me): 

"Sometimes you meet in your home town
somebody who - long time ago - has made baloney with you, 
now he stands still and asks: 
"Have you still...? Are you still...? Do you still remember...?" and "Do you still do...?" 
And though nobody wants it you are suddenly silent. 
Suddenly Time grins between you two, he's laughing out of embarrassment ... 
You count all the years and look for your own true history in the face of the other - 
and you can't find it.

Well, yesterday it was only a 'mini-reunion', and it was nice. 
Nobody stepped on anybody's suede shoes. Only the snow. 
And in October I will see them all again, in Bremen then. 

Wednesday 6 March 2013

The Busy Bees of Berlin

This photo I took last year - sitting on our balcony, watching with all my peace of mind the BBBs (busy Berlin Bees).
As I told you then in my blog 'Gardening in High Heels', a huge lot of hobby beekeepers in Berlin put the beehives on the roofs of hotels or museums, on the Berlin Dome or the house of representatives. You can buy (expensive) Berlin honey - and the bees thrive, because here in town the trees are not sprayed with insecticides, and the air in the city is warmer.
In Germany, I read, there are 94.000 beekeepers with 750.000 bee colonies.
I have a deep affection for bees, because my grandfather H.v.K. (the eccentric one) was a hobby beekeeper. As a child I followed him when he - all in white with his big hat with the net over it, and the enormous pipe in his mouth - attended to the bees. The honey he collected was wonderful - and when sometimes I trod on a bee and cried with pain he consoled me with the promise that by that I would never get rheumatism.
Today my doctor, who had tested my blood to see whether I am allergic to gnats, told me: "No, everything is fine. BUT - they found out you are highly allergic to bees." She recommended an emergency kit - and eventually desensitisation. (When I learned that for this I would have to stay 6 (!!) full night&days in the hospital Charité - and yesterday I read the article in the Guardian how to reach old age, wisely recommending "Stay away from hospitals" - I said "Thank you, but thank you no.").
Now: I am not (utterly) unreasonable: I will buy that kit. Put it into my bag.
But when today - of course it had to be today - the first bee of the year came to my balcony, I said: "Hi, friend, I'm not afraid." I know that bees - other than wasp, which I am not allergic to - only sting when irritated. (OK - one might sit on one and she will find that somewhat irritating).
Taking a spoon full of delicious honey I consider buying a blue balloon instead.

"If you have a blue balloon, they (the bees) might think you were only part of the sky (...)." 
"Wouldn't they notice you underneath the balloon?" you asked. 
"They might or they might not," said Winnie-the-Pooh. "You never can tell with bees." 

Saturday 2 March 2013

I am a Mymla!

I do hope for your very own good that you know the Moomin books of Tove Jansson.  
"What?", I hear you say, "Moomins? Aren't they children books?
Yes and no. 
They are the best guide to know people (Tove never drew a character only in black or white). I am convinced everyone of you knows a few Hemulen: 

 "..a great lot of enormous, rollicking, talkative hemulens who went about slapping each other's backs and bursting into gigantic laughs."  "(...) and in their spare time they blew the trombone or threw the hammer, told funny stories and frightened people generally. But they did it all with the best of intentions." 

I am a mymble. A Little My. My mother must have known that from the beginning, look at my hair. 

So Maman did everything to train and tame me. 
But though I became a Lady, I'm a wild one, always preferring Snufkins to Moomintrolls :-)  

"Yes, Moomintroll, always waiting and longing. Moomintroll who sat at home, who waited for him and admired him, and who always told him: Of course you have to feel free. Naturally you must go away. I do understand that you have to be alone at times. 
And all the times his eyes were black with disappointment and no one could help it.  

I was lucky: husband is a hybrid of both, romantic in a very male way. 
I really adored Moomin Mother - that selfless, warm, utterly unselfish broad-hipped creature with the homely apron and always a handbag at her side. But try as I might: I was not her. (And so much homeliness seems to have driven Moomin Papa into this obscure adventure with the Hattifnatts...) 

So: Do you know which of the many little characters of Tove Jansson you are? (Very unlikely that it is "that one, who is living under the sink"). 
Who is fetching his trombone?