Have yourself a vapid little Christmas.

They’re everywhere, the KaDeWe in Berlin is filled with these little Santa Claus martians, some kind of old school futuristic kitsch, post-midcentury monsters making it to the homes of metrosexual hipsters, giving me the creeps in any of their various colourings, I want to get away, make it to the fifth floor, to get my favourite cake from Lenôtre, but I’m mesmerized, their shiny empty faces seem to captivate us, we’re spellbound by some vapid features, purposeless design, free of any expression, faces void of character and emotion, insignificance galore, like the people from these TV shows in “Fahrenheit 451”, pointless triviality starting at €39,90, so that everybody can have one, but why would anyone want one? Why? And why do I want one? Why?

Hamburg coffee splendour.

One day in Hamburg, I couldn’t wait for lunchbreak, couldn’t wait to leave my desk at DDB Hamburg, that is Doyle Dane Bernbach, the agency famous for their work for Volkswagen’s beetle in the 1960s, Lemon, they shouted, Think Small, they advised, and by this they made it to eternity, advertising as it should be, whereas I, well, I hope it wasn’t too bad what I did on this day in 2012, anyway, I digress, I couldn’t wait to leave my desk, a desk with a fabulous view on Hamburg’s Speicherstadt and the Elbphilharmonie that was still being constructed, splendid architecture by Herzog & de Meuron consuming 866 million euros, but I digress again, anyway, I couldn’t wait to get the cup I had fallen in love with the other day, after hours of course, leaving me to wait for it a most inappropriately long amount of time, like Prince Bolkonsky had to wait for Natasha, a day or a year, where’s the difference, my Meissen coffee cup was even more alluring than Tolstoy’s Natasha, it had a green dragon on it, green being a favourite colour of mine, spitting little orange flames, embodying riches, chinoiserie at its best, as ornate as a cup could ever be, and most importantly, it was on sale at John Montag on Ballindamm, a store that had to shut down some time later after it had burned down, anyway, being on sale meant that it was still way too expensive but it made me think I was about to get a bargain, and so I did, in this lunchbreak in 2012, my concentration at work was way better in the afternoon, I can assure you, there’s nothing better than saving money during luchbreak.

Swiss and red.

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I have always had a thing for anything red and everything Swiss. It started with my best friend’s passport when I was eight or so, his was a real one, it was red and Swiss, mine was nothing but a greenish leaflet and German. So second grade was when the obsession started. Many years later, out of school and university, I ordered this lowboard at the Hamburg USM flagship store. Red and Swiss at the same time. I still had a German passport, but the at least the new EU ones are kind of red now, crimson or whatever you call it, oxblood or so, I couldn’t say, I’m the HKS 13 kind of guy, Coke can red, anyway, that sideboard was red, they call it ruby red by the way, and Swiss and now I was finally happy. Happy until I had to travel to New York, an incident that made me put my (black) Mandarina Duck suitcase on my beloved lowboard as I thought it would be easier to pack at 50 cm above sea level, which it actually was, perfect packing height, but hell, what a big mistake anyway, huge, that suitcase left marks, scars even, scratch marks all over the surface, what had once been shiny and new looked matte and rotten now, I couldn’t take it in, I had the scratching effect of my suitcase tested on my skin, to hell with Mandarina Duck, but no, no scratch marks there, not even on my face, my skin stayed completely unmarked, it didn’t even turn red, so no to hell with Mandarina Duck, I thought, but to hell with USM Haller! Swiss quality? What a joke. As long as you don’t touch it maybe. Which I then tried not to. I moved the lowboard to Zurich and when I left Zurich, I gave it away, for a buck and a half, it’s like selling diamonds when you have to, worst deal ever, leaves you with a tip, but apart from the fact that it weighs a ton and that you have to have somebody over to adjust its feet when you dare to move it, I had grown tired of its fake quality appeal. That plane by the way, Swiss and red, fell off a carton while packing, it broke its wing, well, what can I say, I won’t give up, but until I find anything better, I’ll stick to Frigor chocolate. It’s Swiss and red, too.

Late summer, indoors.

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We’ve enjoyed two days of late summer, this early autumn in Berlin. Everybody was frolicking through town, through parks and streets, trying to forget about those grey, rainy days ahead of us, soaking up the sunshine before its deficiency sets in and makes us miserable and eat tons of cookies, double chocolate chipped, I am pretty sure without all this extra chocolate intake during the holidays, peaking on Christmas Eve, we’d all be among the suicides in the morgues, no way we could survive this period of leafless trees, grey skies and endless colds without it, anyway, as much as I wanted to join my compassionates, I for one stayed at home, soaking up the impact these last sunny days had on my interior decoration, everything looked so splendid, the sun was bringing out everything at its very best, I just had to. And now I have to go out, I do need some fresh air.

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Irresistible horses.

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Picture it, The Hague, summer of 1982. Of a holiday that my family and I spent mostly on the nearby beach in Scheveningen, I just recall one particular day, the day we went to The Hague to see architecture for a change, shops, museums, I guess, and restaurants with dressed people, this I recall intensely, I like dressed people, anyway, The Hague has a lot of beautiful places, we had tea and sandwiches at the most stylish café, Germany had absolutely nothing of the kind these years, I really like The Hague, I actually prefer it to Amsterdam, but don’t ask me why, anyway, on this day we passed, quite by chance, The Hague’s Hermès boutique, and as nobody in my family was particularly interested in their display, I was left behind in front of one of its windows, a window in which there was an ashtray, an ashtray, yes, the most beautiful ashtray with a horse in some sort of gala outfit, and no, I did not smoke at this age, I didn’t smoke for five more years, I was a late bloomer, anyway, this ashtray was so beautiful that I didn’t get it out of my mind, a few hours later I would schlepp my mother back to the store just to show her that ashtray, my mother going once again “What?” as she did not get the beauty of the depicted horse in that or any other ashtrays, hers were purer, simpler, but she can’t ride either, I can, very well even, and so, as my monthly allowance didn’t cover an Hermès ashtray at that time, I had to go without – until I moved to Zurich some years ago. There they had almost the same ashtray, and at the age of fortysomething my cash flow was almost positive, and I even was allowed to smoke, I was in heaven – needless to say, I bought it right away – and a new pack of Dunhills to go with it. The only thing that bothers me, it doesn’t look good with ash in it. Maybe I should quit.

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Life, from my mother’s point of view.

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This photo of my grandmother with my mother on her lap was taken in Berlin in 1942 or 1943, during the war, right in the middle of it, so the date tells us, but not the expression on the faces we see. My grandmother looks serene and happy, elegant, filled with love for her firstborn child, and I find my mother’s all-time sovereign expression already there, ready to master anything, wartimes and everything there was to master after that, kindergarten, school yard and first boyfriends, first in postwar Germany, then in the Russian sector, situations you didn’t choose, that you were just born into, forcing you to leave everything behind (a beautiful villa by the river) when fleeing from the GDR, much later she faced marriage and divorce, her job and my puberty, fate and luck, summers and winters, sickness and health, rain and shine, Christmas and wakes, new countries, new opportunities, and new problems, new houses and new gardens, filled with old friends and new decor, and whatever was lying ahead on this day in 1942 or 1943, she was already sure of herself to master it, overcome it, celebrate it, decorate it. She still has this adorable expression on her face: let it come, all of it, I’m happy to deal with it. I’m glad to have this photo as an inspiration in my new apartment, and by that at the place where it was taken: in Berlin. 75 years later.

 

Moving & Decorating Frenzy.

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So, I moved to Berlin. As a consequence, I found myself living with misplaced pieces of furniture and boxes, boxes, and boxes. Big boxes, small boxes, boxes containing other boxes, heavy boxes, really heavy boxes, and light boxes, boxes filled with books, lots of books, all of them to be alphabetised, I warn you, there are more authors with M than you might think, which you only realise when you’ve just successfully decorated the space between N and O, Neruda and O’Casey, and then you’re handed a box with more Mann, you had forgotten all about Thomas Mann’s letters, all of them, three big volumes, and hey, there is Golo Mann and Heinrich Mann and Klaus Mann, too, what did this family ever do besides writing, and if this wasn’t enough, all kinds of wrapped stuff was hindering my way to the bathroom, to the kitchen, to the front door, to the bedroom, to the washing machine, to the balcony and off the balcony, I was going mad. Really. It took a lot of soothing Niederegger Marzipan and Lenôtre cakes from KaDeWe, Berlin’s fanciest department store, to survive it. You see, little did I know that unpacking these boxes would cause even more chaos. What to do with all this stuff you strangely acquired over the years? Where to put it? And why do you have to dust things you’ve just unpacked? And why is there always more of it? More things, more dust. But somehow I managed. My kitchen cabinets were very welcoming. But mostly because my 75-year old mother helped me. She’s a great organiser. She would have made it big in the military, she would have been made general in a week or so. Now, she’s gone home, advising her gardeners on how to garden her garden. And I am living in an apartment that almost looks like one. Thanks, Mummy!

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Interiors.

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Some people have an inner child that they allow to, well, come out every once in a while and play, just to make sure they stay human, these guys are to be congratulated, for their wisdom, humanity and charm, I, however, whose inner child has never been locked up, whose emotional intelligence might be the one of Methuselah but whose behaviour is rather Calvinistic, and I’m referring to Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes here, not to that repressed guy from Geneva, what am I to do? You cannot let out what’s already out, can you? So I had to come up with an alternative: I let my inner interior designer out, and I pamper him well. I frolic through stores, buy bowls, vases and pitchers from Royal Copenhagen or Lalique, overpriced flowers from fancy stores, those way cheaper tulips from your grocer won’t do sometimes, fruit and cookies and other stuff that just has to be remotely decorative to give me a thrill and there I go, a new arrangement on my Regency table, I’m happy as a child, sorry, as an interior designer and ready to cope with life, business and deadlines.