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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.