Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Saturday, 26 March 2022



This morning my little breakfast table is surrounded by the sweet deep dark scent of violets. 

Back from Berlin I found them yesterday on a long walk - which cleared my head, and the violets soothed my heart - and I plucked a few, though all my long life I was told not to do so - and yes, that is right, but to be happy you sometimes have to break a few rules. 

Violets in perfume became rare - for years I chased them on many perfume counters, "Not a chance! Though you might find them in France". (The special one by Serge Luten is only sold in France, many of his others everywhere). 

But I am very perseverant and finally found two perfumes: the German one by "Frau Toni", made in Berlin - No. 37 "Veilchen" - which in the Twenties (of last century) was the favourite scent of Marlene Dietrich - and "Paris Balenciaga" (though Balenciaga was founded in San Sebastian they reside in Paris). This one is lighter, I wear it often, while I keep "Veilchen" for the evening. 

In Germany schoolchildren had friendship books - everyone in your class scribbled in a little verse or proverbial wisdom - and very popular was:  

 "Be like the violet in the moss,  - modest, demure and pure - and not like the proud rose - wich always wants to be adored."    

WELL - even then Yours Truly was tall, didn't want to be modest or pure, and my favourite flower is - the rose. 

And being till today very much interested in botany, I soon found out that this "friendship book wisdom" is a truism, false - based on an ideal without a glimpse at reality: violets in the garden or in nature are NOT modest - they invade quick, quicker than the troops of General Lee they dash through your garden. 

But they give you their beautiful scent. 


  1. Your parents and teachers were correct... it is wrong to pluck other peoples' flowers without their permission. So here is my compromise.

    I have plenty of gorgeous green leaves in my own garden which go into a long vase every Friday night. This is the only formal sit-down meal for all the family, with linen table clothes etc. On top of the green leaves I add two stalks of (borrowed) coloured flowers. Not orchids or roses ... just violets or lavender or daisies.

  2. Oh Helen, you got me wrong:
    I did not pluck them from someone else's garden (that I would call "stealing") - no, I found them in free nature in front of a wild hedge! :-)
    When I had my big garden in Hildesheim I was always reluctant to pluck flowers from there - they live so much longer in a border.

    Your formal sit-down meal for the whole family sounds lovely - I love rituals in any form, and gathering around a table is great. Your flower decoration sounds beautiful!
    I always have some flowers in my sitting room: most often bought, sometimes found in the wild (!) meadow, sometimes a present. A room with flowers is a room with light.

  3. I have a violet on my window sill at this very moment. I have been smelling the sweet violets this week and plucked one gently for my sill. I do this every year. It reminds me of my childhood and I bring it indoors for memories of my mother. When the violets come out I always think she has come to see me, she loved violets so much so I take one indoors. xx

  4. Wow, that is romantic, Rachel! To have the plant so near is lovely, and yes: we often remember a person we loved by a special scent. This is why I try not to change a perfume too often: I hope that the grandchildren will remember me by a whiff of "Roma" or Balenciaga. Or violets in garden or at a hedge.
    Such a poetic feeling that your mother has come to visit you! XXX

  5. I am in Missouri,and the beautiful violets that come up all over in our front yard have no scent at all. They look just like the ones I see pictured on anything about scented violets.

    I have loved the scent of lilies of the valley, and violet cologne (not mixed together) my entire life. For years as a teenager and adult I wore a fragrance called Muguet de Bois by Coty it smelled just like lilies of the valley. They quit making it, I don't know why. There are other brands of lily of the valley cologne that come from England, and they are pretty good , but not the same as Muguet du Bois.

    I also used to like violet cologne, but I am not sure if they make it now. Avon used to make single flower scents that were very good and smelled just like the flower, but now days many manufacturers add some other scent or musk or vanilla or I don't know what and it completely overwhelms the floral scent.
    I used to get violet cologne made by a company in England, and I now can't remember the name of, but the little bottles it came in were so cute. It was a well known English cologne company.

    Now I am in the mood to try to find my favorite floral colognes for sale online and start wearing them again. I am retired now so don't use cologne or much makeup like I did when I used to work, only tinted lipbalm now. I don't know why the natural single floral scents have become so rare. Maybe because children don't have memories of being outdoors in their mother's or neighbor's flower gardens, so they don't have those wonderful floral scent memories. The very old neighbor man next door to my mom and dad's house used to always hand me a little bouquet of lilies of the valley over the fence and tell me to "go take them to my mom so she can put them in water for me". They smelled so good, I can almost smell them now as I think about those little bouquets. Happy springtime!

    1. Dear Susie,

      the violets you mention above which do not smell are known in Germany too - we call them here "dog-violets" (why?)

      Flowers that do not scent (as for example many modern sweet peas) are such a disappointment.

      Lilies of the valley are marvellous - again the French are the only ones I know who preserve that scent in a perfume in pure form.

      Have you ever contacted Coty to ask why they do not produce your perfume anymore?

      In Germany (and maybe whole Europe) we had that problem with the first version of "Zen" by Shiseido. They changed it, and when I asked why, they tell you it is changed to the European taste. (Same with cosmetics).

      I understand fully that you long for your Muguet du bois - I am longing for a perfume of my youth "Fruit vert".

      Single (or more) real flower scents are very expensive to make - nowadays they make most often artificial scents - the effect: it smells on every woman's skin the same - while "real" perfumes smell different on different women.

      Annick Goutal is a producer of "real" perfumes.

      I wonder if the little bottles from England you speak of are made by Crabtree & Evelyn?
      The British sometimes have fantastic flower scents (sweet peas, lily of the valley, etc).

      I wear scent every day - it lifts my mood (so first of all I do it for me). Though I use them lightly - I hate it when I enter an elevator and the heavy perfume of someone hangs around though she is long gone. And if one visits someone who is sick, I knew hospitals which - understandable! - ask people to come without being perfumed.

      I think it wonderful that your very old neighbour gave you a little bouquet of lilies of the valley - and a scent of them when you smell it now awakes memories of times long ago - as Rachel above told.

      I wish you luck with your online-research!

    2. We also call the variety that does not smell "dog-violet".

    3. Thank you, I find that very interesting, Rachel - I wonder why the word "dog"?

      Oh - Wikipedia tells me a bit: first: the Latin name is viola canina - which explains why different countries translate it the same way (but not, WHY they are called that way --- mmm - there is the Dog-rose too, rosa canina..

      Funny: there is also a mountain dogviolet . Haha.
      And Schultz's violet is extinct in Germany. :-)

    4. Yves Rocher do a nice lily of the valley scent. It's a mail order company. There is a Canadian centre for distribution, so you don't have to wait for it to cross the ocean.

    5. That will be a good tip for Susie, thank you!

  6. Violets used to grow prolifically but now seem entirely gone. I miss them. Your post inspires me to research a re-introduction of violets. I picture a violet garden either in my woodlands or possibly nearer the house. I also love perfume and a scent for day as well as evening is a must.

    1. Dear Susan, why have they vanished? Interesting question - maybe the soil changed? Or the climate?
      I love your idea to re-introduce them to your woodlands - they like a mixture of sun and half-shade. The time they flower is not that long - but worth to have them.
      The favourite violet in my garden was Viola odorata "K├Ânigin Charlotte" (Queen Charlotte - do not know whether they sell it outside Germany?)
      Near to your house must be beautiful - it gives you the possibility to smell it more often.
      And yes - perfume is such a wonderful way to make one happy.

  7. My mother loved violets and they became ground cover among all her bulbs and roses over the many, many years she lived in one home.

    1. Dear Joanne, that is what I meant when I said it is not "modest". Though utterly lovely. And strong.

  8. We, too, have scentless native violets so I've never smelt a real violet before. I'm curious to know how both your posy and your perfumes do smell. I'm imagining, if I know you well enough, it must be rather sophisticated but all that springs to mind, and thank you for the memory jolt with this lovely epistle, is the cloying scent from a teeny little bottle of purple-coloured violet perfume I carefully chose with saved coins for my mother on a birthday, possibly, when I was about seven or eight. The lady in the pharmacy assured me she would adore it but, curiously, it sat unused on her dressing table, save for when I'd poke about and take the lid off and inhale deeply the sweet purpleness. Delicious!! A sensory overload for about fifty 1970s' cents!! Oh, and I think I had purple violet-scented writing paper as a kid, too :)

    1. Dear Pip, the Balenciaga Paris I would call sophisticated, even the flacon and package - and the violet in it is not dominant.
      The Frau Toni-Perfume is - well, look at Marlene Dietrich...then you get an impression - it will be noticed and is not modest :-)
      I am convinced that you have a great Botanical Garden in your city - when it is spring in your country I think that they will have some violetsthat smell? Odorata?
      I love your mothers wonderful way to value your present, which you so thoughtfully chose - she puts it on her dressing table, and so shows she is thankful and esteems it and your love you expressed - she didn't use it - but gives you the joy to smell it.
      I am surprised myself that I adore violet perfume - I am a blonde woman, and do not wear velvet, and am not very curvy - so normally I would expect it for more exotic women, type Elizabeth Taylor maybe.
      But then: Marlene Dietrich was blonde too, and not the little-woman-type - thus maybe we are choosing the unexpected, the little surprise - or do have a soft spot in us? :-)
      As to your purple violet-scented writing paper: I remember that too - letters with a fragrance (if necessary, sprayed on the letter - though sometimes the perfume then made little spots...)

  9. I too love violets Britta - they are one of mother natures free gifts. We have them in variouis corners of our garden, even in our lawns, but we didn't invite them, they just arrived of their own free will.
    The Old Apothecary Shop in Matlock, Derbyshire, sell Devon Violet Perfume made in Babbacombe, Devon. I have no idea what it is like but it is not expensive - there is a tiny bottle that only costs £3.50. It can be found online.

  10. Dear Rosemary, it is so beautiful when flowers visit us on their own - a surprise and a gift; and I love them too when the sit in a lawn and smell oh so lovely.
    (On the hilly lawn of son's garden there are a wild lot, but only dog violets, no smell at all).
    I will look the Derbyshire shop up - I am also searching for a soap that my friend Anne brought from GB with her - Sweet Peas - very intensive (but maybe Crabtree & Evelyn, come to think of it). I will definitely try the Devonshire violet, thank you!

  11. I love violets Britta. Years ago, the greengrocer used to sell bunches of violets ( and snowdrops ) wrapped in a large leaf …. they were the prettiest posies and I always bought them …. So much prettier than a big bunch of flowers.
    There used to be a website called First Impressions that sold violet, bluebell and rose perfume but the have gone now. XXXX

    1. Dear Jackie, little bunches of flowers are really romantic - and adorable in a small vase - and yes: in Berlin in front of the underground sometimes sit old women who sell posies - lilies of the valley, I remember, and I too buy them every time.
      The website you mention - First impressions - sounds so interesting - why do you think they have gone? In time of the pandemic I would have thought that people yearn for a gift from nature? XXXX