Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Lost in a Cloud...

©Brigitta Huegel

Dear You, 
"It's a sign!" a friend of mine said, "a sign for something new and utterly adventurous that will happen!"
Well - one might see it like this, though I'm not that far advanced in Positive Thinking - will need still two more days at least to see the silver lining on the horizon, where maybe (maybe - well, they are talking of a cloud, aren't they?) all my telephone numbers are feeling free, absolutely free to dance a dance of joy... incognito...
A few days ago my Galaxy SIII smartphone was conking out. Of course it is a shere coincidence that the contract with O2 ended two months before that... and The Youth (I'm speaking of my son) said: "What's the matter? Two years and two months - that's a good result!"
"Oh aye" I answered, seizing the opportunity to drizzle a bit of Detective Superintendend Andy Daziel's Yorkshire utterances into the conversation. See, I'm still Old School (at least in the section durability of consumer goods - hahaha: there still exists the synonym "durables", if I am not erring.... hear my bitter laugh from Berlin...).
Of course it is absolutely my fault that I did not save toutes les telephone numbers by copying them into - another - cloud.. And all my SMSs are lost!!! And it is very, very disturbing that I cannot find the address-book that I have ... somewhere...
At least I kept my mobile-number. But - new smartphone in hand - I pondered by whom the SMS was that I had got (without a name at the end!) -- a very interesting text, but I know two persons who might have been the sender - and one of them I do not want to encourage - so I answered very neutrally back --- ending with the hilarious question "Who are you?" (True story!).  
(Well, it was the right person - at the moment I am grateful even for little favours).
After rummaging through a few drawers I found an older address-book from Hamburg.
It contains about two-thirds of my numbers.
I had to calm down and remind myself that normally I act on a maxim: when someone calls me on the phone and I do not want to be disturbed at that moment, I think: "If it is important, the person will call again."
Up till now they do.
Or, as an old count I know said so derisively to a host who interrupted a conversation with him to hurry to the telephone that rang: "You let yourself being rung?" (Oh - that's a horrible translation - the meaning was: like a salesperson the host ran to get his orders).
Very Old School, that count - but it has a ring to it... 

PS: And why is the new vocable I just learned in my Italian class haunting me? It is the wonderful word the Italians use for "scrambled eggs": uovo strapazzato - stressed eggs. I it's only the word "strapazzato" that seems so appropriate now -- and the saying: There is no use to cry about broken eggs - oh no: that goes: No use to cry about spilt milk. 
Ah - whatsoever... I think I'll make a pan of scrambled eggs.... 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

“I have patience in all things – as far as the antechamber.” Gustave Flaubert

©Brigitta Huegel
“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time” Lewis Carroll  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass 

Dear You, 
sometimes I have to remind myself that I have been a gardener.
Created and maintained a big garden in Hildesheim for 19 years, and a small one in Hamburg for two years.
So I am used to rhythm, used to the abundance of summer and the scarcity of winter.
But in a big city it is easy to forget to listen to the fainter sounds, or to rest your eyes by looking at a grey sky with its hundreds of nuances (or only one). Not easy to stop running around and just sit down - trying, at least for a short time, to do nothing.
Berlin emits the Winter-Blah. Cloaked itself into a grey shroud, sacrificed its last jewels, a chain of has-been Christmas trees, that filled the streets and alleys like a far stretched green band of wounded nature, to the busy binmen.
It is cold outside, but it is not "the real winter" with its vibrant blue sky that makes you giggle and fills your lungs with fresh air and then, coming back from a walk through the countryside with glowing cheeks and frozen fingers you tuck in a warm apple pie where the apples melt in your mouth, the velvety fragrance of cinnamon wafts into your nose, and you start to sip from a hot mug of tea - and I feed you tea and oranges, that came all the way from China - and then you sit content in a huge armchair and read your dear Pushkin or just dream a bit before a crackling fire in a fireplace (that I don't have).
No - lets face it bravely: the party is over.
Good!- time for a rest. Time to set one's things in order. Make plans. Order the tiny bags of seeds for the coming year:  this ones will - hopefully - bloom into a slender campanile in Italy, these will disseminate in abundance like a chain of Brandenburger villages, with endless fields of yellow rapeseed, and if you are lucky some tiny plants of friendship and love will grow up into solid trees, but that, dear heart, will take some time...
As everything has its time, we know that. We just have to hold ourselves back not to scratch away the earth that protects what is growing in secrecy underneath - just trust, it is there, growing stronger every day.
In the meantime: slow down a bit. Accept a - seemingly - plateau.
And look: though the black silhouette of the tree in front of the balcony still hums a monotone winter song, the sky wears a dashy pale pink today.
And that has its beauty too. 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Multitasking - as they say a woman can...

©photoBrigitta Huegel

Dear You,
the above photo shows you a (once) glazed tile on which I drew a picture decades ago that I had spotted in a Cosmopolitan - oh yes, now you know what you might have always suspected: I was an avid reader of Cosmo (British edition) - and it might have shaped my superficial view on life, career and men. (I bought their Cosmo books for Alpha Women, sniggered through Tom Crabtree's wonderful psycholigical insights; and met my dearest friend Stephen Russell (Barefoot Doctor) in real life - the Urban Warrior, who still visits me in Berlin.
Nowadays I don't read Cosmo anymore - more precise: I don't read women's magazines anymore - too much to do.
So much, that today I wanted to test a quality they say women are good at: multitasking.
My dear Tamagotchi Exprelia (you remember her? Let me assure you: first impressions are very often very right: the exclusive coffee machine is the most demanding and outright brazen thing I own - but her coffee is very good, so I try to come even with her. In Berlin we have horrible calcareous water, and though I always use a Brita filter, the machine insists on being decalcified after less than a month (!!! and it does not - as they pretend in the 82 !!! pages of the user manual they hide on a DVD while innocently (though with a faintly noticeable sardonic smile around their lips) handing out to the naive buyer - me - a little leaflet to read, - pretending ultra simplicity and pure convenience, har, har, har... - oh, I lose the thread (but never, as husband sometimes remarks a bit reproachfully: the point of my crusade) -- SO: decalcifying does NOT take the pretended 35 minutes, but 55 minutes (of your life)!
In which you have to be THERE (because T. gives you a hundred and one little orders, and like a little cat that is wrongly handled it pisses on the floor if you don't dance around her...)
Ah - come to think of it: I might write a backup-book - "Coffee-Meditations for the Modern Woman - How to be fully in the Here and Now" (As I said: you HAVE to be HERE). Might even sell it to dear Cosmo.
So multitasking I took out the wonderful cookbook "Plenty" by Yotam Ottolenghi and prepared inbetween "Roasted Parsnips with sweet potatoes" (yummy! - which takes an hour to roast in the oven). AND multitasked the fridge (taking part in The Kitchn's January Cure Apartmenttherapy - which told us followers to clean the kitchen deeply on this Saturday/Sunday, AND in between I memorized my Italian vocabulary and grammar, AND put down a few hints for some questions a journalist asked me to answer.
In the end I and everything was finished.
I have to confess: from now on I take again the male viewpoint and stick to it - "One thing at a time."
Of course.

PS: Son lectured me on never to personalize THINGS - makes you prone to subtile assaults - and as I follow his advices almost blindly, you won't hear of my Tamagotchi coffee machine again.
(Am too busy for games like that, have to... oh! bellows:  "Fill up the water tank!" Sorry...

Thursday, 8 January 2015

One Riddle Solved! (Spit Chewing gum can look lovely!)

©Brigitta Huegel

Dear You, 
you know by now that I have an eye for little things - and being (part-)eidetic, I do not forget pictures (nor faces, even when they have aged during years-long absence).   
So when I spent a few weeks in London in August 2014, I walked over the Millenium Bridge,  and run with the hustling stream of visitors. Then I stopped, several times, seeing tiny drawings at my feet (or under the feet of others - people just don't look), very colourful and a bit naive, like little graffiti. Of course I took photographs (not that easy - I could not get sharper ones), and when I tried to find out what they are, no one could tell me (might have asked the wrong people in Tate Modern?) 
Now I think the riddle is solved: I looked into facebook today and saw a photo in The Londonist and thought: that must be him - the creator of these tiny images! 
Artist Ben Wilson draws his miniatures on chewing gum that other people carelessly spit out on the pavement - and in a BBC interview (at the end of my letter) I found this sentence most impressing: "Not making to many judgments - just seeing what we can make out of it". (OWTTE)

Here is the link to the BBC film:

So I am content that I stayed on facebook (though I drastically reduced the time I spend there to 10 minutes a day). 
And happy to have one answer (of many) solved. 


Saturday, 3 January 2015

An Obi and Japanese New Year Felicitations

©Brigitta Huegel

Dear You,

Times of year -

"On the first day of the year, the sky is gloriously fresh and spring mists hang in the air. It's quite special and delightful the way people everywhere have taken particular care over their clothing and makeup, and go about exchanging New Year felicitations." 

So writes Sei Shonagon in "The Pillow Book" at the Height of the Heian period (794 - 1186). Heian means 'peace and tranquility'. Sei Shonagun - born around 966 - became a gentlewoman for service of court to the Empress Teishi in spring 993, when she was in her late twenties, ten years older than the Empress.
I took the book, a Penguin Classics translated by Meredith McKinney, up again after I looked at my lovely birthday present: an old obi - the long sash for traditional kimonos.
It is 30cm (12 in) wide and about 4 metres (13ft) long (I hung it double on the wall).
I found it at an very interesting vintage shop in Berlin (address at the end of the post), and for a while I couldn't decide whether I wanted this one or another. The owner gave me 3 days to think about it - but when I came back (to buy both), she said: "I'm sorry - one is sold." I asked breathlessly: "Which one?" - for at that moment I knew exactly which one I wanted - and, good luck: it was still there!
(Insight: This is an excellent method when you can't decide: ask yourself which of the two alternatives you would choose in a second - and how would you feel if it were gone?)
The obi became part of traditional clothing in the Edo period (1600-1868); in the Meiji era (1868-1912) the textile industry witnessed a revolution with the advent of electric weaving looms from the West. Modern Japanese women don't wear obis any more, so the industry declined, and old obis became rare - vintage maru obis being the most valuable "as the patina of the gold thread resembles that of of an old tapestry". ( 
Husband was very happy to have a birthday present that pleased me so well. I own two old kimonos (yes... one is pink - to be more accurate: rose petal coloured) and they are very, very long. I mean: I am 1.78m = 5.839 feet - so how could a tiny little Japanese woman wear them? Of course with an obi. And than husband and I philosophised on the way women were seen at that time: almost immobilized by the dress (silk is heavy), those Getas (high shoes), and a face powdered to a mask, laquered hair: beautiful and doll-like. But never underestimate women: the Pillow book of Sei Shonagon shows us that she observed a lot, had an opinion of her own, and was really interesting in her thoughts.
(Insight: Fascinating thoughts can be hidden behind a painted face - so don't judge a book by its cover).
When husband described my decoration intention for hanging up the obi, he said to our son -
Yes, yes!: the biggest birthday surprise for me! Son&DiL came to visit us on their way back from Prague: the best birthday present at all! -
"Britta wants to hint at a the impression of a Himmelbett, a word she only can say in English: a four-poster bed." (Not true: of course I know Himmelbett - but it is not exactly the same).

©Brigitta Huegel

When you start to look up things - the history of kimonos, of obis etc. - you soon get carried away and ramble on - so I became interested in the meaning of the peacocks. In Buddhism the peacock is a symbol of wisdom, and they are compared to bodhisattvas because they can swallow poisonous plants without being hurt - as a bodhisattva can take the toxin of human emotions while still attaining Enlightenment.
'In Japan the peacock (Kujaku) is the emblem of love, compassionate watchfulness, nurturing and kind-heartedness.'
Both explanations please me.
A Happy New Year to you, my blogger friends! 

PS: The wonderful little vintage shop in Berlin-Charlottenburg is called "Be A Diva", and you find kimonos, selected vintage and jewellery, and its owner, Michèle Orlia, is a well-known film-make-up artist (

Monday, 29 December 2014

Today Is My Birthday (Again)

©Brigitta Huegel

I should come to my senses. (Comment: I learned a long time ago that I might replace the word "should" by "will" - (or more often: will not).
I am. All senses. Enjoying and revelling in them, I mean.
But being finally ready to tell anybody my age? No: I keep my mouth firmly shut.
("Why, for heaven's sake?" you might mutter, "It's not that interesting").
Why indeed?
My mother (as Shirley Conran said: "A mother's place is in the wrong") had a very problematic attitude concerning old people - coming from a family of (minor) aristocrats, marrying a man from the working class she might have had her reasons. I loved my charming, lively grandmother (the one with the red blood). So I grew up in ambiguity. The old people were "Them" - a class of their own, born that way. But my grandma was not old in my eyes. And although I knew I would grow old one day,  in my heart I didn't believe it. (Most people don't for their own person: a research statistic shows that the typical woman feels about 18 years younger than she is).
From very early years on I started to collect what I could find about getting older - especially older women as role models. With fourteen I told my astonished girlfriends  "I look forward to being thirty - then I will be able to wear big hats". It is a metaphor, of course (and I pushed the line of years a bit further) for growing up. I envy the fashion of my mother: it allowed women to grow up proudly, and the advertising motto of „Baldessarini – separates the men from the boys“
should/must be coined for women into "separates the women from the girls".
I am glad that fashion this year started to become a bit more grown-up too:

©Brigitta Huegel

But I look into the media, and what do I see? Scorn of older people, amost hate. And it seems to me that the last taboo beside death is (sex and) old age. A society that defines itself mainly through images is shocked. I really considered founding a group "Anti-Discrimination of Older People" - but I didn't because I do not want to get angry all the time - so unbecoming... So I keep the topic private. (Very :-)
From my Prussian mother I learned to love discipline and 'attitude, poise' (the German word is "Haltung", the English pendant might be "stiff upper lip"). I sincerely and deeply feel with everybody who suffers from pain, and I listen with compassion - but I get unnerved when someone is going on and on about trifles, and many women, growing older, do complain about a lot. (Interesting: those who have really reasons to complain about something as a "new" knee or gastrectomy: they do not complain, they are so brave!)
So it is not a surprise that you find me very often among young(er) people. I love laughter more than champagne. (Come to think of it: give me all three - it's my birthday!)
Though - if they are too young - sometimes I get a bit - bored is the wrong word - languid?
I enjoy the company of my contemporaries very, very much - I see beauty in silver hair and wrinkles of laughter around the eyes; I love wisdom and humour, courage and experience in every form - a life well lived. "Seperates the men from the boys"... :-)

©Brigitta Huegel

(A morsel of wisdom in between: the most important aim is that you nourish them (and of course yourself!) well: body, soul and wit).

©Brigitta Huegel

"How Not to Look Old" is the title of a book by middle-aged Charla Krupp (hahaha - I use the word "middle-aged"in the pejorative way, out of sheer spite :-), who dishes out all the old chestnuts that are not true ("Don't wear colours, don't wear too much eye-make-up, don't wear silk stockings" - and always the verdict: " makes you look OLD!" Message: "Buy a burka - then you are no longer a rival to us")
My dear: I do as I please.
I don't botox, I don't use fillers or plastic surgery, I don't colour my hair, and I don't diet.. All that is not a question of morale for me - everybody has to find out her own way of what works for her: to feel good in your skin (and soul) is what counts, and this is my way.
I do it without the witch doctors. I eat well and healthy, I do a lot of moving, in body AND brain. I am curious. Am really interested in people and life.
And I feel very, very fine.
But I won't tell you my age.... in the good company of Oscar Wilde:

One should never trust a woman who tells one her real age. A woman who would tell one that would tell one anything.”

I won't.        As I told you:  I do as I please.             And this is one of the gifts of getting older. 

Friday, 26 December 2014

Joanne Noragon's beautiful handwoven Etsy Scarves

©Brigitta Huegel

©Brigitta Huegel

This was a very special Christmas gift to myself:
as soon as I saw that Joanne Noragon had opened up her virtual Etsy Shop, I not only liked that on Facebook, but, of course, ordered the only

                    PINK SCARF                                       

instantly. (Sorry Mise, I was quicker!)
It arrived in due time from America, much earlier than I had expected.
And it is oh so beautiful!
And oh so soft and warm - I LOVE IT! 
It has character, is individual, handmade and of visible quality. Already two unacquainted women in Berlin asked me where I had bought it, and I happily gave them the link:

If you look into that shop, you have to hold yourself back not to snatch a lot more of her beautiful creations! Joanne is a very industrious woman, with many years of weaving knowledge, and you can find the history of that on her blog "Cup on the Bus".

For me the most astonishing thing is that something so beautiful materialized "out of the air": I know Joanne only via the Internet -

but now the link between imagination and touch is there -
something for the senses -

thank you, Joanne!

PS: I add another photo taken by daylight, because above the lamp-light changed the colour of the scarf very much. Since a few years we have an (awful) law in Germany that forbids selling the oldfashioned lightbulbs - instead we have to buy energy-saving bulbs (which kill especially red colours - and people, if they fall down on the ground and break - no joke: they are highly poisonous and can contaminate a whole room). Now the politicians simply want to sneak out of their responsibilty (and the light industry will be even happier than now: another change, more money!) - and we get the better LEDs, not as cold blue-lighted as before (when I bought a LED- lamp at Ikea, I asked for a second bulb - "Oh no, we don't sell them - when this bulb dies after twenty years, you have to buy a new lamp!" Insanity - but eco-friendly (they told us that about the poisonous too).