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…

Cocktail hour.

 

Can one miss something one has never experienced? I do think so. I for one miss cocktail hour. I miss dressing up for drinks. I miss not being forced into a tuxedo after six – just like Jack Donaghy, Alec Baldwin’s character in 30 Rock. When asked by Liz Lemon aka Tina Fey why he was wearing a tux, he replied: “It’s after six, what am I, a farmer?”. I love such traditions, and I want them back, just like in the 60s when even the most provincial of German TV families, the Hesselbachs, styled themselves up. Such glorious times. I really miss them.

The black letter.

I did the impossible, I finished Proust! I finished! I finished Marcel Proust! I am so proud of myself!

Well, as you might have found out by now, I didn’t finish À la recherche du temps perdu, no, of course not, I’m still trapped in one of those extended Guermantes reflections of his, I only finished Jean Santeuil, one might call it Proust for beginners, it should set them at ease as Proust himself didn’t finish that one either, writing, I mean, not just reading it. So, obviously he was a quitter, too. Ha! But I don’t give up that easily, and from now on, I’ll start wearing this Étrivière Double Tour by Hermès to remind me of my literary shortcomings. If ever I succeed in finishing Proust’s masterpiece, all volumes, all of them, all of these three thousand pages, I shall take it off again. Until then, it’s going to serve as a scarlet letter for everybody to see what a quitter I am — damn, I have to finish Hawthorne, too. Damn!

A gardener‘s pride and shame.

I didn’t talk much at dinner, actually I didn’t talk at all. I just ate. Can’t remember what we had though. Something with grilled octopus. I didn’t care. I had just committed murder. A brutal murder. Most foul. Unforgivable. I had cut off an innocent rhododendron’s branch, a branch with tree blossom buds. Perfectly healthy obviously, not dead at all. Not even in bloom yet. Botanical abortion. Unforgivable, as I said. In court, my attorney might come up with excuses like he didn’t know what he was doing or he was in a hurry or even worse the lighting was bad, you see, he was working late, right before dinner time, the sun had almost set, but all this would be just some disgusting bending of the law, juridical malpractice, truth is, our rhododendrons are in bloom, the pride and joy of any gardener and the perfectionist I am, I was cutting dead wood, I had these flawless gardens in mind you see on Instagram, and was being careless, yes, totally careless, it was murder, no doubt, manslaughter at the very least – I am guilty of rhododendronslaughter. That’s a great word for scrabble, by the way…

The history of things.

I hate new things. I love things with a history attached. Fragrances, for instance. Bois des Iles is from 1926, the year The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published, Agatha Christie’s first ‘whodunnit’ story featuring Hercule Poirot, her Belgian detective, and reformulated or not, it still smells like Coco Chanel, au petit jour in the backseat of a black Rolls-Royce, wrapped in her sable coat, on her way home from a delightful sexual encounter with some of these men way out of her league, socially speaking, they were all of such noble birth, rich as hell or nouveau pauvre – très nouveau, très pauvre, but in fact, they all were out of hers, they just had names, names they were just born with, she had made herself a name, a name worth millions then and now, she chose her lovers like others chose jewelry, and was hated for it, envied at least, but to hell, she was no bourgeoise, she just dressed them. The dresser it stands on is from the same time, by the way. It belonged to a pharmacist, so the antique dealer I bought it from told me, considering it’s art deco, it wasn’t even new when he bought it. Inherited, maybe. Or a pharmacist who was into art deco, sounds like an interesting man, somebody who had looked out for something special, who wanted to enjoy opening his sock drawer, suavely, pulling it open with the gentlemanly grip burl wood demands. On the other hand, he might have hated it. Too many memories attached. It might have belonged to his wife who left him for another man. A younger one. Although he was only 36 when she left. He waited all his life for her to come back. Didn’t touch her personal things, her silk stockings, kept them as if she would come back for them, or him – as if, she’d reply – maybe it was just one of those things, he kept telling himself. Or maybe not. Maybe he was just way out of her league.

Kaiser Wilhelm and his bad taste in castles.

Earlier this year, I made an important discovery: Kaiser Wilhelm I had really bad taste, I mean, really bad taste. Schloss Babelsberg, his grotesque summer residence just outside Berlin, is a perfect example of why you won’t find a Wilhelm I chair or ottoman or whatever in any fine antiques store, there’s Louis XV and XVI, there’s even Louis XIII if you don’t care for clichés, there’s Queen Anne, Empire, which is basically Napoleon, everything Victorian, there’s been a lot done in Victorian style, she reigned so very long, then there’s Louis Philippe, George III, the Swedes have their Gustaf, the Austrians have Joseph II and the Americans got their colonial style, I think the colonies belonged mostly to these Georges on the British throne, so it’s safe to say it’s Georgian style, but Wilhelm I? Forgotten with an effort. As if he had never lived. One must know, however, that this particular catastrophy’s architect was none other than Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Biedermeier’s Norman Foster, one of the best Germany has ever had, at least at the beginning, in the early 1830s, when they started construction. Later, after Prince Wilhelm was declared Crown Prince and to inherit Prussia’s throne, his brother’s marriage had remained childless, the budget was increased, allowing them to put more effort in it, demanded especially by Wilhelm’s wife Augusta, she needed even more Gothic bling, for some strange reason everything Gothic was fashionable at the time, an effort that Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s health did not agree with, he died during the planning of the extensions in 1841. Just take a look at it, you’ll understand.

A hymn to breakfast.

I can easily skip lunch, lunch is the most overrated meal in the history of mankind, it’s only purpose is to give the working class a break, just a short one, though, I blame the trade unions, breakfast, however, I love, it was invented by people with lots of time on their hands, the time it takes to season your egg with seven different spices, salt not included, or to sip your tea in a gentlemanly manner, the second brew of the day, you’ve had your first one in bed, your early morning tea, to read your paper, turning those pages in slow motion, one cannot read a paper swiftly, only when looking if your last wrong doing made it to the front pages, that’s how it’s shown in films anyway, it takes even more time to choose what marmalade it is to make it on your toast or croissant, orange, quince or grapefruit, on these croissants you had to pick up at your baker first, you did enjoy that little stroll down the street, always running into a neighbour, exchanging thoughts on the forecast weather and last Sunday’s sermon at church, lemon curd it is, you’ve just realized you only had orange marmalade yesterday and were somewhat disappointed with the texture, your dog awaits a walk, he’s so transparent, be cruel, have another cup of tea, nobody not even your dog should ever rush you, sounds familiar, all of that? Of course not, we devour our croissants while on commute, wash’em down with some office coffee and can’t wait for lunch, the only time in the day where we can let go, for a minute or two, while nodding along our colleague’s reflections on the shortcomings of conference room B, waiting for another of his desperate little sighs, soundtracking his checking the time again, poor fellow, but damn, how long can it take to serve some pasta, we all endure it so very bravely – all by looking forward to our Sunday breakfast, the one day we are allowed to have one.

Around the world in 80 attempts.

All of a sudden, when shopping for a globe, they are so decorative, I came to realize that I have seen nothing of this planet, nothing! Not once have I made it all around the globe. The most western place I’ve been to was San Francisco, or Los Angeles, don’t know which town is more western than the other, basically it’s all California, let’s leave it at that, and the most eastern place was the Maldives, tiniest place, too, I made it through the island in six point five minutes, the most northern spot was Reykjavík, and the most southern location was, quite amazingly, also the Maldives, Northern Africa just sounds southern, but, as the name implies, it is quite northern a place, I never made it lower than Morocco, mapwise. So, what does that sudden discovery leave me with? Regret. Nothing but regret. I must start traveling to places that I haven’t been to before, I guess. Sounds like a good plan. I shall miss Paris in the future though, it’s such a nice place and I’ve only been there 1,472 times…

Covered with ivy and confusion.

Why that is, I couldn’t tell you. Hence my confusion. I think, it all started with some ivy planted to cover some ground where nothing else would grow, the ivy, however, spread, beautifully even, and thankful as we are, we allowed it to spread further, and farther, it then started to climb up trees, our very old apple tree at first, then the cherry, then the plum, giving it an allure of a French country garden’s forgotten but very romantic corner, then, flattered by that French allure all that ivy was so beautifully insinuating, we couldn’t wait for the ivy reaching the pine, the catalpa, the maple, the other cherry tree, the walls, too, of course, the house, the, well, everything, so we started to grow our own ivy, which is actually easily done, just cut some, water it and wait for some roots to sprout, and now, die ich rief, die Geister, werd’ ich nun nicht los, luckily Goethe has a quotation at hand for any kind of situation, the spirits I had conjured up, now, they won’t let go of me, so, once again, I have to leave you with the awful truth of my life’s trials and tribulations, as our garden has been devoured by ivy, our house has semi-disappeared, some delivery people have difficulties finding it, that’s a true story, we actually helped DHL find an excuse, I hope you enjoy some schadenfreude every now and then…

Paris and its column of columns.

These are my favourite columns in the whole world: the ones arcading Rue de Rivoli’s famous addresses, Galignani, for instance, my favourite bookshop, and some cafés offering a place to sit and sip something while overlooking Parisian traffic alongside the Tuileries Garden, the Louvre, or Joan of Arc in front of the Hotel Regina, the most beautifully situated hotel in all of Paris. If you ask me, columns are the best architectural invention since the roof, a roof might offer more shelter from the rain, but so does an umbrella, columns, however, provide us with style, maybe this is why the Acropolis was covered in columned architecture, just to show us what real culture is all about, but then again, Greece isn’t known for rain anyway, is it? Anyway, Paris is blessed with some of the most beautiful columns ever built, some of them with no purpose besides being stylish, but that’s more than fine with me, they stand alone, minding their own business or carrying Napoleon’s statue, they adorn parks and façades, churches and museums, palaces and townhouses, I once started counting them, I made it to 963, then I lost count, there are far too many. Paris is all about exuberance, believe you me.