Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Friday, 2 May 2014

'Operation Bumblebee'

Britta Huegel

When I read the last post of Tom Stephenson about bumblebees, I remembered the story about the theft of a complete garden in England.
A man was moving within Bristol, and when later his wife drove to their old home, the 300 square meter garden was gone.
"Shrubs, trees, fieldstone terrace, flowers, borders, the pseudo-antique sun dial, benches, garden table (together with chairs), (...) wishing well, Italian platters, (...) garden fence, (...) all of it gone." As well as trees as tall as a man and two fishponds (with 17 kois).
In England "Garden-crimes" are no longer rare. One million gardens get plundered per planting-season, and the damage runs up to 105 million Pounds Sterling, say the insurance companies. Per year!
The police started the "Operation Bumblebee" - though the fast-seller was the bumlebee-coloured brochure, the thefts go on.
The more I read, the more alarmed I got. (Smiley, smiley!!) Could that happen to us too?
Mostly I would miss Vita Sackville's beautiful bench, the expensive basalt paving stones on which it stands, though the shimmering quartz square stones weren't cheap either. And the plants? Well - the rhododendrons are quite big, the virburnum, the Alpine azalea, the many, many box hedges, the roses, the rose arches and the rose obelisk, and the great perennials...  Gulp - that will amount to quite a sum. How lucky that no insurance agent is near - at the moment I might make an easy victim :-). Garden-household insurance. Everything insured except the the mouseprint - which of course would exclude everything, except the ground elder, the hazel bushes and the elder - and those not even thieves would want to steal.
I remember my neighbour from Kalenberger Moat. Two years ago she stood aghast in her front garden. She had planted twelve expensive precious roses, all along the house. And suddenly, one morning, they had vanished. Thieves had come under the screen of night, had digged out all the roses, put them on a hanger and disappeared , never to be seen again.
The chef of "Gardening Which?" let conceptualise an exemplary burglar-proof garden, "Safe Heaven" (or was it haven?). With hidden infrared-transmitters, bevelled pickets, and blackthorn, holly and berberies - all very defensive.
I ponder over my garden: seen under this aspect Vita's wild rose hedge is at least a success. To surmount the devil sheet might be difficult. Spiky roses all side long to the neighbour at the right. At left spiky common juniper - and how good that I never got a grip on the blackberries behind!
And the old wrought iron fence in the frontgarden has dangerous spikes. Now I understand why there are these ugly shards of glass on the corner wall - maybe in 1902 there was another person afraid for his hostas and his distinguished lilacs?
White gravel I have spread bewteen the box hedges (though there is always a little less for scrunching after each weeding). The only weak point is the garden entrance behind the house. But even at this entrance Husband and Son always complain about the deep-hanging roses on the rose arch. Now I have a new argument: it is part of my "Operation Bumblebee". The bumblebees and the bees have already understood that and mutter and buzz tantalizingly in the blossoms. And the blackbirds wear little caps and feel like Deputy Sheriffs.
"Colin Warburton, Bristol's John Lackland, has only a scornful snorting for these 'plant protection products'." "It's no use as long as nobody intervenes", he says. His neighbours had watched the repotting action as cool as a cucumber - assuming that it was part of the move." (Zeit-Magazin)
In my garden they wouldn't even be able to see anything, the neighbours...

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

There it is in black and white

Britta Huegel

Seems I get a bit springtime lethargy, or having so many things to do that unnerve me, like getting the spring-summer wardrobe out of their boxes and put the winter wardrobe into boxes - and decide what is really needless or unbecoming and thus has to go. (I have too many clothes and too many shoes - but they all keep so well, are often really nice and timeless) - but being a woman I sometimes want diversification!
But at least I learned from last year's fault: then I bought a lovely white jacket (in springtime I suddenly develop a crush on White), and when I opened the boxes I found three more lovely white jackets - surprise, surprise...
I just read Elaine's post on Bramble Rambles - she finding a box full of old letters - and suddenly I remembered a very funny accidental meeting with a - let's call him 'a good friend' - a flame from my schooltime, he being a student then.
He became a quite famous TV show moderator (come to think of it: most of my flames became quite famous), and I met him by accident in another town at least a decade later, I having my then five-year old son with me.
The OF (Old Flame) and I recognized each other instantly (on my side not so remarkable, as I could see him over the years on the telly, being glad that Life had parted our ways), and we chatted for a while. Then son joined into the conversation.
"I know who you are", he said to OF.
The famous moderator smiled flattered and cajoled.
"You know me through television?" he asked.
"No. I know you from Mom's diaries", was the answer.
I seldom saw the expression "He got white like a sheet" so exquisitely put into close-up picture...

PS: Of course I only randomly told son that I knew the Famous-One - but it makes me think hard about what to do with my about 158 diaries I have in many boxes ...

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

My beautiful red Fiat 500

Britta Huegel

Dear You, 
I have to tell you about my new car (well: I should write 'new', because it is used; never in my life I bought a new car - and I have bought a lot).
You might remember my jeremiad about the perfect old black Jaguar Daimler Double Six - with cream white leather seats, a lot of blinking chrome, a perfect condition, and a perfectly sensible price - being my dream car for oh so long - and then the desaster when I looked into the rear-vision mirror and saw - nothing, behind the window a void - though I felt there was quite a lot there...
Son encouraged me by sending links for MiniCoopers (which I drove by BMW's car-sharing here in Berlin), and then Son wrote: Why not a Fiat 500? 
He sent me a link - and the car was perfect! The owner: an absolutely neat holder of a neat car - and the car being equipped with the special interior-version: not, as most have, grey interior - no, no: red and white, even the seats: red seat, (which are comfortable, even for Husband, who is 1.98m tall), and white round headrests. (I'm not that curious to find out whether the eight airbags are matching).
The number plate (which one keeps in Berlin after buying a used car) is a bit special: "B - TT 6606".
"I would change that", said an acquaintance.
I won't. Why should I?
The old version of this car, the Fiat Nuovo, built in 1957, was tenderly called "Topolino - little mouse" by the Italians. The Germans called them "Knutschkugel - canoodle-ball". Being used to names, this car, the Fiat 500 is the very first of about 12 very different cars I owned, that cried for a name.
I call him "Knut". Like: knuddelig, meaning cuddly.
(He first insisted to be called 'Cnut' - him being a bit on the eccentric side concerning appearances - to put it mildly). Our quarter is very much sought after by gay people - and Knut feels evidently drawn to them, and vice versa, but, as I have many friends among them, Knut accepts me too.
Yesterday you could see me with a car - beautiful, beautiful Ferrari red - filled up with palm tree, flowers and an aspidistra.
And that's our motto of the day:
"Knut - Keep the aspidistra flying!"
"Aye-aye, sir!"  (I told you...)

Britta Huegel

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

I promised you...

Britta Huegel show you how the alteration of my hat (the pink one with pink fur) worked out.
Now that I read that Susan of "Southern Fascinations" still has tornadoes, and see on the header of Joanne's 'Cup on the Bus' that icicles still hang in Canada, I take my last chance to present it (though my friend Anne took me very much from the front - the fine pink cloche is not to be seen, only a small brim).
You might remember that I thought the old version was "Too much pink". Following my own subtle fine logics, after the alteration I bought a pink coat to counter the silver-grey, hahaha.
             It is my stratagem to counteract the doom-prognosis : "From a certain age on you are invisible." I am not. At least my coat is definitely not.
What looks here a bit like winter-fat is the result of a silver feather down-jacket under the coat over a dashy grey felt-jacket over a pullover - you get the message: it was a very, very Siberian-cold day in Berlin.
I could hardly move - and if I had been the sprayer of that cozy entrance of a house in Kreuzberg, I would hardly have been able to do a runner. Life is so interesting between all fronts: the wild Kreuzberg inhabitants might take me for a Member of The Gentrification Gang. The Anti-Fur-Fighters might use their little cans to spray on me - pink again :-)

Britta Huegel

Let's talk about the weather instead, to be on the safe side: Now we have had some beautiful spring days, warm, though today suddenly we had it cold again.

PS: (I think they call this phenomenon April)

Monday, 7 April 2014

Sweet Violets and Perfume

Britta Huegel

Dear You,
you know that I love perfumes.
But I had to abandon 'Balenciaga Paris' for a while, because my nose became 'blind' to the fragrance. After being wrapped up some time in 'Shalimar', I could change back - the old wisdom that a little distance to something you love often works wonders was valid here too. (Don't let go - just loosen your grip! Don't try too hard - be patient, be self-sufficient - or, more my style: love yourself, then you will be able to love others for what they are, not out of need. End of Britta's Readers Digest).
           Somewhere I read: "Balenciaga Paris wears like a minimalist's veil". It smells of violets (without being sweet, romantic or old-fashioned - Charlotte Gainsbourgh fronted it, and she stands for urban). It is the perfume where I got the most feedback and praise from men: "What is it? You smell so good!" 
I love violets. So I tried to find the pure version, just as a room perfume. (Looking for a reason to speak of 'my boudoir').
At the stall of the perfumer Jo Malone, the saleswoman said: "I don't have violets. May I offer you bluebells?" I stared at her. We talked. And so I found out that this very young woman never ever in her whole life had smelled the fragrance of a living sweet violet. (It made me think of those poor children who believe that milk comes in beverage cartons from lilac Milka cows).
There are not many perfumes with violets on the market. They offered 'Violets de Toulouse' on the Internet. But I didn't want a mixture, so I contacted my lovely old-fashioned Zieten-apothecary (here I always feel I'm stepping back into another century - old wooden shelves and cabinets and brown glass-bottles that cry 'Drink me! Drink me!" - they sell Chinese medicine and homeopathic drugs too, you get the picture). Yes - they would order violet fragrance for me. The pharmacist read: "Petals of violets". I asked: "Excuse me - are you sure these are the petals of the blossom?" "Yes". 
OK. Next day I went there by underground, happy. I was less so when I opened the little bottle at home. It smelled like - hay. It was the juice from the green leaves. "Oh, I'm sorry", chirped the pharmacist, "bring it back. I will order something else - a violet oil."
Underground again. Disappointment at home - which I almost had expected, because it was too cheap to be the real thing. (I didn't telephone - I just throw it away - it smelled like candy floss).
The next day I passed a very nice little perfume-and-soap-shop. Went in. Talked with the young man about the impossibility to get violet-perfume these days. "Wow", he said, "you are ahead of fashion". (Modest as a violet I thought: I know - often I comb shops for clothes that will come three years later). "They created 'Viola' in 2013', and next year", he said, "sweet violets will be the craze." "Ah", I said, "but I want them now." 
(I'm not always a pure Taoist).
He thought for a long while, and than he made a telephone call to an Italian perfumer, L'Erbolario.
So, with a bit of luck, I might have found it. I will know it next week.

PS: If you want to read more about the sweet violet (and less about me :-), look at soon.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Pride Comes Before a Fall

Britta Huegel
Dear You, 
"A beautiful leg can't be disfigured by anything", said my posh orthopaedist, as he almost tenderly put a black mobile leg brace around my left ankle.
I am very thankful to him: he gave me an instant appointment, managed to get an appointment at the MRT-center the same day - and supported not only my ankle but also my moral.
"If you are lucky, only the front ligament is slightly torn. If not, you need surgery."
"I feel that it is only slightly torn," I chirped - not my usual pitch, but I was in pain.
And I was right - Lucky Me!
What had happened? Well - it wasn't "pride", it was haughty impatience. It was the first time that I went jogging+walking in my new Nike shoes. Pink. Sold to me in the new Nike shop that has opened on the Tauentzien-Kudamm in Berlin. I told the guy what I wanted them for. They were not cheap. I was no beginner at jogging. But he convinced me of the merits of the 'new technology', when I asked whether they weren't a bit "soft".
So out I went - with my new Nike+Fuel-Band on my wrist (I'll tell you about that in another post). I just reached the first corner of our street, waited because a cyclist neared from the left. He was a bit slow - so I gave him a (nice) little Royal wave of the hand, meaning: "Hurry up, slug." Then I tripped - over the extremely high kerb (I know that one - but I was distracted, and the new shoes gave no support).
Landed on all fours. (Six, to be precise: my knees got their bump too). Being trained, I fell quite well, and my gloves protected my hands.
But I have to say: I never had that feeling before: I was literally swept off my feet - at the angle of 90 degrees, or so it felt. Swoosh!!! 
The cyclist stopped, came back. "Everything OK?" It wasn't - but I would not tell Him (IF I finally managed to ever get up). "Everything OK?" he repeated doubtfully, when I said 'yes', but needed some time to get up. Then I walked - hahaha: euphemism, I hobbled back to our house. Felt like being 14 again (partly at least) - the burning on my knee was a well known though long forgotten pain: I have grown up very quickly, and being long and slim I often hit the ground then. I hit it so often that till today I have an inclusion of a itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny little piece of cinder from the Messegelände in Bremen (fair grounds) under one knee.
Back to 2014: in front of our house I stopped. Stood. Thought. Thought of two friends who had accidents with their ankles a few years ago. And still labour at them.
I listened into my body. In my head wailed Tom Petty: "No, I won't back down." And so I moved on. The first two streets were - well - painful, but I had the feeling that something began to assort itself. Well - I'm tough. I did my tour. A bit slow, of course, and a bit pale maybe, and freezing more than the temperature would indicate. Shock.
At home I wiped away the (not so much) blood on my knee. Kept moving, alternating with putting the leg up. In the morning: a very fat cute foot. And a visit to my cute orthopaedist...
What I thought really funny - and I told him, ("As long as you can laugh", he said) - was, that at the moment after the MRT-diagnosis - front ligament only slightly torn - keep your leg restful - cool it - get lymph drainage - use Mobilate gel and the leg brace - my fuel-band started to blink:
"Go, Britta, Go!" it glared.
I did - and it gets better every day.

Britta Huegel

PS: And I am oh so glad that we visited Son and Daughter-in-Love in Munich before my accident. We are so happy: both have had got their doctorate in Law - and to celebrate that occasion I could still wear High Heels. Bliss!

PPS: Nike will kindly take the shoes back tomorrow and select other ones for me.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

"Methought I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more!" Macbeth

                                                                    'The Princess and the Pea'  by son, aged 5 

Dear You, 
I consider buying one of the new Sleep-Tracking Apps - you know I'm easily fascinated by new technical gimmicks. I tend to "Jawbones" by Nike, which is also a fitness tracker band.
What held me back was:
a) my vanity aesthetic sense - they hadn't the turquois band I want, only drab ol' gray ones.
b) my various experiences of not being that talented in programming high-tech computer devices (though I can still charm a young salesperson to do that for me - the only difficulty is (look at point a): I won't tell my age :-)
c) and: the experts are not very convinced that they work. If you impersonate a 'William Styron' and just lie still and stare into the starry, starry night, the app thinks you sleep, because you don't move.
Do I need a 'Jawbone'?
A few years ago this question would have been met with polite disinterest. I went to bed and slept like a baby. Come to think of it: like a stone - I remember that a new born baby wakes up every four hours.
Nowadays I still have the very fine hearing of a fostress - in Germany we have the expression 'Ammenschlaf', sleep of the fostress, meaning: you wake up to every light disquieting sound. That is a good thing when you have to look after a baby or little child - but it is absolutely unnecessary in a person whose child has just reached the ripe age of 30 and lives in Munich.
I am overhypersensitive (look at the picture above), but I am clever (Yin and Yang...):
- when at 4 o'clock in the morning the central heating rushes into being, I successfully mesmerized myself to change it into 'white noise' - thus I learned to ignore it (after I listened to a real 'White Noise'-CD on Amazon - I knew that that sound would keep me wide awake because it sounds like our central heating...)
- I eat the recommended banana in the evening (and run an extra mile in the morning)
- I drink a mug of hot milk with honey
- I tried lavender oil, but I can't stand the smell
- being old-fashioned I never in my life used medication, (though Evelyn Waugh's mixture of "bromide and crème de menthe" sounds interesting) and will not start now; I believe that the body will fetch up in sleep some day (even if in form of a nap).
AND: why should I doze myself off when the reason is definitely extrinsic, not intrinsic?
Our old neighbour living above our heads has a bad hip now and thus leans on a thumpy stick and his orthopaedic shoe sounds on the wooden floors like a horseshoe - and he has to go to the loo at least three times during the night, and then his not-elf-like wife gets up to rush to the far away kitchen with a fit of the most evil smoker's cough I ever heard? And one of them snores - oh yes, you can hear that... But these are all things you reasonably can't complain about. Our huge flats are constructed in a way that you can run around in circles - and they do: in none of all the rooms on the 180 square metres is a corner which they don't stomp through at night.
None. But I would feel silly to ask them to use a special trail at night...
Husband sleeps sound and well. His hearing isn't quite as good as it was. (Yin and Yang again :-)
I believe Russell Sanna, the executive director of the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine who says: "The reality of sleep is often at variance with the perception of sleep", meaning, one overestimates the time you lie wide awake at night. 
But please don't tell me that in the morning! 
I can prove my sleepless time by the pages I read of the very -- soporific tome of household-wisdom, "Home Comforts" by Cheryl Mendelson. It has 884 pages in very small print, and very detailed descriptions about Ironing Temperatures, Spills and Stains, Fabrics That Work and other delightful profound topics - I admit to feel a bit drowsy now when I write them down...
I try to work hard to change the stomping into 'white noise', and suppress my urge to rush and administer first aid help for a suffocating smoker... but till I reached that stage, I'll read on. Oh, interesting: the chapter on "Poisons, Hazardous Substances and Proper Disposal of Hazardous Household Wastes"...