Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin
Sunday, 28 April 2013
Looking a bit tired at the moment?
Some of the culprits for what is commonly called 'springtime lethargy' might be our feathered friends: at 4:18 dear robin starts its song, followed at 4:28 by the blackbird, at 4:33 the wren adds its lovely tunes, 4:38 the great tit joins in, then at 4:58 the chiffchaff, and 5:04 the trillions of sparrows we have in Berlin, (and what they chirp I don't call song).
Our sociocritical poet Bertolt Brecht, "poor B.B.", expressed it in his inimitable unfriendly way:
"By morning in the grey dawn the firs piss, and their vermins, the birds, start to scream..."
Old sourpuss - I prefer those noisy concerts to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring!
Talking of birds: yesterday a biologist might have described the look that husband and I exchanged in the underground with the reaction of male sparrows when they have to listen to the songs of their competitors: tartish. Our amygdala was tortured by two women (each with a child) who discussed the interesting details of a friend - "and then he said..." "and I said: What???"
They sat far apart, so they had to shout very loudly - which didn't disturb them a jota, but the rest of the compartment looked pained (except those lucky ones with headphones on).
Did you know that sparrows or blackbirds that live in cities trill their songs much louder than their country relatives? Most people think that they thus try to outdo the noise of cities - but Danish biologists found out that city architecture matters too: high houses reflect sounds in a different way, so they calculate the echo of buildings. And weather is important: the more it changes between damp and dry the more complex the sound sequence. They say. In Maryland researchers listened over thirty years to the songs of sparrows (oh my God - what a (wild)life!) and found out that only the melody in the beginning of their songs remained the same over time - the middle part changed drastically, the trill at the end became shorter and shorter by time.
The sparrow-girls throw their little hearts to the boys with the most variations -
"O fortune, fortune! all men call thee fickle" (Juliet in Capulet's orchard).
Tuesday, 23 April 2013
I can't believe it - this photo was taken by a friend of mine in the Botanical Garden in Berlin - exactly two weeks ago!!
You see: there I am still wearing a thick coat (Alpaka - for those who might be on the way to catch their spray cans to protest against fur!) - and the huge model of a magnolia is artistically made from paper.
Now another artist - Spring himself - is at work. It's Real Life now, flowery scents lure and awake the senses, cool silken petals from blossoms touch gently the skin, sunbeams tease, off with that coat, no need to hold back - no glass pane between me and Life -
Here my rough translation of Eduard Mörike's famous spring poem, written in 1892 (in German, "spring" is male)
It Is Spring
Spring lets his blue ribbon
Flutter through the air again,
Sweet, well-remembered scents
Touch light and hazily the ground.
Already sweet violets are dreaming,
Soon they will come.
Listen - from far away the faint sound of a harp!
Spring - yes, it is you!
I hear you coming.
Monday, 22 April 2013
"A yew hedge, bought entire from a neighboring farm, and transplanted with solid lumps of earth and indignant snails around its roots, separated the small oblong of garden from the road, and cast monstrous shadows of the shapes into which it was cut, across the little lawn inside. Here, as was only right and proper, there was not a flower to be found save such as were mentioned in the plays of Shakespeare; indeed it was called Shakespeare's garden, and the bed that ran below the windows of the dining room was Ophelia's border, for it consisted solely of those flowers which that distraught maiden distributed to her friends when she should have been in a lunatic asylum. Mrs. Lucas often reflected how lucky it was that such institutions were unknown in Elizabeth's day, or that if known, Shakespeare artistically ignored their existence. Pansies, naturally, formed the chief decoration - though there were some very flourishing plants of rue. Mrs Lucas always wore a little bunch of them when in flower, to inspire her thoughts, and found them wonderfully efficacious. Round the sundial, which was set in the middle of one of the squares of grass between which a path of broken paving stone led to the front door, was a circular border, now, in July, sadly vacant, for it harbored only the spring flowers enumerated by Perdita. But the first day every year when Perdita's border put forth its earliest blossom was a delicious anniversary, and the news of it spread like wildfire through Mrs. Lucas' kingdom, and her subjects were very joyful, and came to salute the violet or daffodil, or whatever it was."
Sunday, 21 April 2013
Thursday and Friday I made a trip to Hildesheim for cultural reasons.
Husband exploited the situation to
Now, that most of the thousands of husband's books (no exaggeration!) are brought to a special very big room in the attic, I was asked to sort my books out, too. To our Berlin flat, husband and I brought only a small part of books from Hildesheim.
But even that is too much. Soon, when you'll visit in Berlin an Oxfam Bookshop you might be surprised of the rows and rows of well assorted English literature. Some in leather and gold, some just Penguins. Most of them in very tiny print - and almost every one of them read by me. But it has come the time that I know (and admit ) that I will not read them again. Good bye, "Pamela - Or Virtue Rewarded" - thank you Mr. Richardson, I think I have been the only student at the University of Mainz who read all four of those very big tomes - and enjoyed it! - but I think I don't have time enough to repeat that.
I'll keep the books I read again and again, but: Good bye, Mr. Trollope (except Barchester Tower), and to most of Mr. Thackeray - ("The History of Henry Esmond", which I translated for a German publisher I will keep, though I will not read that again either). 'Beowulf' I will keep, and Mr. Jonson, and I love 'Tristram Shandy', but I give away Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress' - though I keep "Mrs. Fytton's Country Life" by Mavis Cheek, hahaha, even if you cry "Don't, Mr. Disraeli!"
See: now I follow only my own enigmatic judgement, no need to impress anybody, and I do as I please.
PS: I did what you should NEVER do when trying to get rid of books - I thumbed through Pamela - my William Heineman edition from 1902 has nice reproductions of 'rare contemporary drawings and with plates for the text' - and then I started to read - and ... I like it... will keep those... (but I am hell-bent not to thumb through Trollope)
Tuesday, 16 April 2013
When you are in Berlin at the Potsdamer Platz, not everybody knows that you have to walk only a few steps to find the impressing museum, the Martin-Gropius-Bau. The building was erected in 1877 as an Arts and Crafts Museum. Since 1981, when the ruin had been restaurated, you can not only see exhibitions of photography and art, but also admire the building with its high atrium.
Yesterday (they are open on Monday) I went to see the Collection Bayer (from the chemical and pharmaceutical international concern). The paintings, normally hanging in the offices of their (important, I guess) employees are now "out of office", because the concern is celebrating its 150 years company anniversary. In 1909 Carl Duisberg asked Max Liebermann to paint a portrait of him, which was the foundation. At first the concern bought paintings to educate their employees - now they own over 2000 works of art.
It is the first time that 240 of their works of art are presented to the public. And the names of the artists are exquisite: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Max Pechstein, Emil Nolde,Max Beckmann, Lyonel Feininger, Georges Braques, Pablo Picasso, Joan Mirós, Gerhard Richter, Sam Francis, Andy Warhol - to name a few.
The exhibition is divided into four parts: German Expressionism, École Paris, After-War-and Informal Art, and American modern art. I liked a drawing of David Hockney, "Rapunzel" very much, and of course Emil Nolde's paintings. As nobody is allowed to photograph, you have to put up with the poster, sorry.
Monday, 15 April 2013
Fancy an educated guess who wrote this in 1892?
April 14. Spent the whole of the afternoon in the garden, having this morning picked up at a bookstall for fivepence a capital little book, in good condition, on Gardening. I procured and sowed some half-hardy annuals in what I fancy will be a warm, sunny border. I thought of a joke, and called out Carrie. Carrie came out rather testy, I thought. I said: 'I have just discovered I have a lodging-house.' She replied: 'How do you mean?' I said: 'Look at the boarders.' Carrie said: 'Is that all you wanted me for?' I said: 'Any other time you would have laughed at my little pleasantry.' Carrie said: 'Certainly - at any other time, but not when I'm busy in the house.'
Saturday, 13 April 2013
We all know that hackneyed old Zen-phrase: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."
Well - I changed that a bit: often when I need something I find it among the things that are already there.
As in this case.
Suddenly I decided that I need a standing desk. Had worked so much at my computer, sitting hours and hours at my desk.
So I looked up catalogues, internet and whatsoever - and what I saw I didn't like. And I wasn't that sure either whether I would really use it - had never had one - and thought: I don't pay 400 Euro for a whim of mine (I know me by now) - and then it might be useless...
And suddenly I "saw" it. In my mind. A flashback.
When we moved into our flat in Berlin, somewhere a wooden fire screen stood in a corner - and as I only love things that are either beautiful or practical - most happily both - it went down into the cellar because I wasn't sure of either.
But guess: it has the absolute right height for me! Couldn't be more perfect! And, as you see, there was a place for it.
So you see this woman now, switching back and forth between sitting, standing, tickling the keys of my laptop.
I'm still not sure about "beautiful", but "practical" it is.
PS: A little appendix: "And after some days my back is better now - after schlepping that thing up", said husband. "In your post you might get the impression that that thing flew up but itself. You have omitted that part." Well - now you know the whole truth. Thank you, Hans!
Monday, 8 April 2013
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that you are happier when you feel grateful.
I found out that I feel even happier when I express my gratitude.
It is so easy to overlook the many incidents one can be grateful for - sometimes on a single day I feel that I get more 'presents' without a special occasion than I got as a child on a birthday!
We all have a lot to do - so we might overlook the things we can be grateful for.
- That's why I have a diary into which I write almost every day at least five things that made me happy and thankful - you will have read about doing that in many books on Happiness. Just try to do it!
- And I invented for myself a sketch-book into which I draw one of those lucky reminders. It is not important whether I draw them artistical or not - it is the time I spend really looking at a thing. It is so easy to grab an item one got as a 'gift' - and then, like an overeater, swallow greedily the next.
When I draw the lines of a cup of coffee, or a blossom of a magnolia, I look intensely, and thus value what is before me more than by just mumbling: "Oh, great, thank you - what next?"
By the way: Only a few people know the Art of Saying Thank You. I remember those young people who did after advising - by e-mail, letter, telephone-call - better than those who intended to, but forgot. And though I work for all of them correctly, as I remember those others who said 'Thank you!" better I might sometimes find an extra for them weeks later.
So: if your professor took the time to read your paper very carefully/ or your dentist gave you quickly an appointment/ or your haircutter did a special job - though they all get paid for it, it doesn't harm to acknowledge your gratitude by saying 'Thank you' (when you mean it).
Thursday, 4 April 2013
When I look back over the last two years, I get the impression of a constant battle.
Nothing to do with our move to Berlin: that was my idea, my wish - (even a prediction: as a teenager I wrote into my diary "Berlin is the town I want to grow old in.") It was the right move.
No, I fight on another field. And though there are 'host of heaven' with me - I am part of the Baby Boomer Generation - it is a lonely fight. The inevitable fight: growing old.
At first I did the obvious: I closed my eyes.
"Not me!" I thought, seeing that I do very well in comparison. (Comparison is a vice in the books of the Wise!). And a lot of people, among them beautiful men, say gently: "But you don't look old!" Thank you.
But: It's Lombard Street to a China Orange. A look on my birth certificate...
What is worse than a number: to go through the world with closed eyes is really stressful.
I never photoshopped or botoxed or had a nip and tug, never, and I never will. But I do quite a lot to keep my
I will talk about that in posts following this. (Not Elvis, but half of the 'blog members' have left the building by now :-)
But first I will do the most important thing: accept and admit it: Ageing.
Of course I do it in the wayward Taoists way: by embracing the enemy. Trying to foresee the blows and thus avoid them as good as I can.
All that in order to thrive, not just survive - balanced in the very midst of events.
Let softness be my motto.
Tuesday, 2 April 2013
I might have told you: I am a collector - with my camera. I collect sun dials, balconies, shop window dummies, beautiful cars -- to name a few --- AND photos from impressing undergrounds.
The first year in Berlin it was a bit difficult for husband: I always jumped up and down and cried: "Wait! Wait just a minute! I have to .. click...click..."
It is so utterly fascinating that they are so very, very different! As a true collector knows: one becomes boring offering too many snapshots -- so here only a few...