Every Castle Should Have A Moat

Some days ago, or weeks rather, on one of these greyish autumn weekends, I visited a castle nearby in the beautiful region of Münsterland, a castle not so much known for its architectural significance, although having been around since the 11th century, the “new” main house with its splendid black and white shutters was built from 1540 to 1545, and not a single one of its many stones has ever crumbled, it’s only known for one of its residents, Baroness Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, a well known German author from the early 1800s. On January 12th, 1797, Burg Hülshoff was her place of birth, just imagine, at that time, in the late 1700s, the castle had already been over six hundred years old. Six hundred! The Frankfurt apartment my parents lived in when I was born, was merely 80 years old at that time and was already considered Altbau, meaning old architecture. I’m a sucker for tradition, as you might guess… Anyway, besides all this history and ancient glory, besides the little neo-Gothic chapel added in 1880, just imagine having your very own chapel to pray in, just like the marchioness of Brideshead in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, what struck me most was the moat the castle is surrounded by. All that peace and quiet, protected by ever so tranquil a moat. Not even the ducks that are to be spotted here and there dare to make any noise. I really need one, too.

As good as it gets.

I really wanted to show you Berlin on a sunny day, alas, Berlin and I weren’t blessed with a blue sky. So, once again, I give you Berlin on a cloudy day. That way, at least, the elegant greys and beiges of the town are pointedly marked and wonderfully emphasised. Enjoy!

Castles in the air.

I guess, when you’re a king, you won’t ever have to built a single castle in the air, instead you might even built them out of thin air. Just for fun, for a laugh, ha-ha-ha. To be fair, Frederick the Great built some of them, like the Neue Palais, for other reasons, for real statesmanly reasons like entertaining other kings or have a ball with diplomats, ambassadors, and such, but Sans Souci, he did built for nothing but pleasure. In winter, the joyfulness of it all might be less visible, but the architectural finesse of the ensemble is to be experienced at its very best.

Royal Wrappings.

In the 1700s, when Frederick the Great was in charge of Prussia, chinoiserie was in style. And so he had his splendid little tea house outside Potsdam’s Sans Souci palace built à la chinoise, in rigourous splendour as well as in rational opulence; he was into arts, but he was also a very Prussian Prussian. He lived in the age of showing off, but he also knew that a crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in. The golden statues of romanticized Chinese noblemen having tea outside the little pavilion are part of the showing off side of things and therefore purely ornamental, and as such they require even more attention than any other tea guest, no matter how high their level of maintenance might be. In winter, they get all wrapped up, to protect them from the cold, from the ice and snow of the severe winters in Eastern Germany.

A town by a river, full of salt and music.

The old GDR, and I’m giving my age away by saying so, has so many beautiful spots to visit. East Germany is full of historic places yet to be discovered and I’m way behind. I haven’t really used these last 29 years since the Wiedervereinigung all too wisely for a German who considers himself into art, history and architecture, I must say. Please don’t tell anybody. Anyway, Halle on Saale in Saxony-Anhalt, much more known for being Georg Friedrich Händel’s place of birth than its history as a salt-harvesting city since at least the Bronze Age, has a lot to offer. I visited only for a day, but hell, it was worth it. It’s only one hour by train from Berlin, and close enough to Thuringia to have some great Thüringer Klöße on the menu, the best dumplings you’ve ever had, so I’ll be back soon, I guess…

A summer’s day in Berlin.

I can’t remember a day with temperatures below 30 degrees Celsius, these last weeks. Actually, 34 degrees now seem quite agreable to me, it only starts to get really painfully hot once 38 degrees are reached, when the city is running a high fever so to speak, but when it’s still below body temperature, it’s no big deal, wear thin linen shorts—linen is such a smart invention, who ever came up with it deserves a medal, or two—and never leave the shade. But once you do, because let’s face it, everybody has to leave one’s comfort zone every once in a while, make it worth your while—just walk slowly and go see some great places. Berlin’s Mitte is not only any hipster’s natural habitat but has also some very nice places to offer, a little bit out of this world, an air of serene tranquility you won’t find everywhere, least of all on the Champs Elysées.

Summer in the city.

In any city, summer is strenuous, public transportation resembles sauna with a dress code, the air gets saturated with pollution and the wrong kind of perfume, you feel like signing any petition that wants to ban these repugnant heavy oriental colognes for men, unless you’re on a diet, then any repulsion is convenient, anything that keeps you from eating, you might want to sign anyway, think of the others that want to enjoy their ice cream cones, all kind of tourists ask for directions, nice and off-putting ones, and while they’re heading for a drink, enviously you sent the nice ones to a nice place, you have to face another meeting in a tie. Escape, I say! To Zurich! That’s the only town where heat is enjoyable, it’s got everything you need, lots of shady places, a lake to jump into, and a fresh breeze from the Alps. Besides—I have no scientific explanation though—nowhere will you find a bluer sky. That photo you see above, it’s not photoshopped, really, it isn’t! I cross my heart! It’s just that blue. Absurdly blue, actually. So blue, it makes me just blue to write about it.

The hidden splendour of Hamburg.

I lived in Hamburg for 16 years, but I think I was not a very good citizen. On none of these 5,840 days I felt like entering my town’s town hall. Not for one second. Yesterday, however, when visiting Hamburg for a day, I felt like it. Don’t ask me why, I couldn’t tell. Maybe my dark ages came to an end and I am now open for all kind of experiences. Anyway, I should have come sooner, it’s really quite nice. If they served coffee, I’d be there all the time…

A glorious day in Hamburg.

The weather was fine when I arrived, and it stayed fine all day—as Hamburg is as much known for its exaggerated supply of rain as Seattle, that was not a given, but it did. Lucky me! So I walked a lot, visited familiar places, found some of them changed, some for the better, some for the worse, and had a lot of iced americanos, including my very last one; you see, after posting my cup on Instagram, a friend of mine commented just two words: no plastic. And right she was. It’s amazing how one can support people cleansing the ocean from plastic, blame everybody else for our planet’s decay, and still sip coffee with a plastic straw from a plastic cup. I learned my lesson though, deeply ashamed of myself. And instead of showing off my mind’s double standards, I give you Hamburg’s natural beauty. Enjoy!

A different kind of shopping experience.

The Galaries Lafayette in Paris are worth a visit even when you’re not interested in their goods as the mere architecture of this holy grail of shopping is amazing, Belle Époque splendour of the finest sort—the cupola alone is a sight and made into a very bad movie with Romy Schneider and Michel Ronet which I implore you to never watch, but I digress. The Galeries Lafayette in Berlin, however, are not, not even when you’re interested in any of their goods. And if I hadn’t needed Choderlos de Laclos’ Liaisons Dangereuses La Pléiade edition from its French book section so very badly, I never would have made into that area of Berlin. On my way back home, waiting for traffic to give me a slight chance to cross the street, I glanced to the right, up Behrenstraße, a street of no particular interest, not like Französische Straße, the street I had crossed just before with Berlin’s most prestigious restaurant, the Borchardt, you find yourself dining with Angela Merkel there, but I digress again, anyway, at the end of Behrenstraße, you see a wonderful cathedral from 1773 that looks like a giant pudding, at least to me, a German pudding, some kind of vanilla flavoured panna cotta, not to be confused with anything English like black pudding, can’t stand that one, however traditional, anyway, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral is a gorgeous church, beautifully restored, and once you stand in front of it, and the Hotel de Rome just next to it, every bit as prestigious as Borchardt’s, you suddenly are surrounded by historic grandeur, Berlin’s great palaces of wisdom and entertainment, Humboldt University, its Faculty of Law, and the Staatsoper, the oldest of Berlin’s three opera houses. And truth be told, in the end, I was quite happy with my trip to the Galeries Lafayette.