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.

Trees galore. And some sights.

It’s hard to find a place without any trees in Berlin, they’re everywhere, even important buildings like Humboldt University in what used to be East-Berlin – the Berlin featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain, a place much less horrid than the film, he must have been drugged throughout the entire production, or even at the time when he was reading the script, why would anyone shoot such a boring mess, anyone, I ask you, but I wildly digress – anyway, even this architectural gem is partially covered in leaves and blossoms of a majestic chestnut tree, actually, all of Berlin is covered in trees, up and down every place and street, they’re flourishing so opulently you can’t make out the trunk at times. I wonder who planned this urban jungle, some green spirit way ahead of its time – whoever he was, I proposed a toast to him today, with my little bird friend and my soy caffè latte venti at a very treed Starbucks.

Berlin’s grey, Berlin’s green.

Berlin’s façades fascinate me, the old ones, I mean, the ones talking of a great past, like the one above near Friedrichstrasse and Unter den Linden, right in the middle of Berlin. As the third floor lettering suggests, it was once a great hotel – the Splendid Hotel. But some research showed that period lasted only for fourteen years, however splendid it might have been, it got shut down in 1918, possibly due to a lack of customers, who would want to visit Berlin shortly after World War I? So its rooms were rented to small businesses, tiny offices instead of vast suites. The building survived even WW II and the GDR’s neglect of anything remotely elegant, and as it stands now in one of Berlin’s most cared for areas, it’s in perfect shape and wouldn’t have lost any of its appeal if it weren’t for spring — I can’t pay much attention to anything grey these days. And although this building as well as mine are under monumental protection, mine was not a hotel but it used to house female students in the good old days of the Kaiser, I tend to just look at the wonderful green of the trees from the very moment I open my door or a window…

Zzzzzzzzzzzurich.

That’s no typo, no derailed touch on my iPhone’s screen, it’s just the proper way to pronounce Zurich when you visit the town in the summertime. You have to do it voiced, quite sensually, tune it with all the softness you can come up with. Zzzzzzzzurich. It will put you in the right mood. Zzzzzzzzurich. Give it a try. It helps you adjust to the circumstances. The sky is nowhere bluer, the sun is nowhere brighter, the trees are nowhere greener, the air is nowhere softer, and your drinks are nowhere pricier. Zzzzzzzzzzzurich.

Zurich outlakes any other town.

Berlin has so many lakes, little ones, big ones, small ones, huge ones, a friend of mine lived near one of the smaller ones, in a beautiful villa next to Nikolassee, but however small it was – the lake, not the villa – the neighbourhood’s real estate renommée was huge, nothing but hoary villas set in beautiful gardens, with mature treestock and a rhododendron population to die for, if these bushes suffer from anything, they do from old age, then there’s Wannsee, one of the biggest, which has become quite infamous due to a conference held in 1942, in an even costlier villa, waterside property, the lake’s image, however, hasn’t suffered much, obviously you can’t blame a lake for its residents, but I digress, all I wanted to say is, after a year of living in Berlin, I almost never made it to any of them, they are all so very far away from where I live, Lake Zurich on the other hand was part of my life, I lived nearby, a five minute walk, I crossed it at least twice a day, in the morning on my way to work and back home at night, I swam in it, I sat on its border having Bratwurst and beer, I walked along its shore, back and forth, I watched the sun setting over it, the sail boats crossing on it and stalked the ducks swimming in it, well, what does one do with a lake on your hands, I did all of those things and enjoyed it deeply. Do I do any of these things in Berlin? Some, at least? Not so much, I’d say. I don’t seem to respond to these lakes’ sex appeal. Not in the least, actually. Lake Zurich has ruined me for other lakes, that’s the awful truth.

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.

Frankfurt Tales of Winter and Spring.

I was born here, well, not exactly here, the back entry of the Alte Oper, Frankfurt’s old opera house, but a little up the street, to the right, at the Bürgerhospital in Frankfurt’s Westend, my playground was Holzhausenpark, the former park of the Holzhausen estate, now open for public, now meaning since 1913, just an eighth of the original extent, a tiny leftover, rather Parc Monceau than Central Park, the Holzhausens, like all patricians of the 1800s, the Astors, Vanderbilts and such, have lost their fortune, and their male heirs, all that remains is their moated Wasserschlösschen, a little water castle from 1729, replacing the old castle from the middle ages, I always wanted to own one alike, a pond surrounding one’s house always seemed so appealing to me as a child, jumping in after breakfast in summer, skating on it in winter, but when I look at it now, it has lost most of its appeal, if I were to pick housing today, I’d choose Neuschwanstein, so wonderfully aloof, but that’s another story, anyway, winter doesn’t do anything for Frankfurt, it’s just cold and grey, one has to flee to a gallery, luckily, the Städel has one of my favourite paintings on display, August Macke’s still life of his children’s toys, here at least, in the rooms with the collection’s French impressionists, you can find some spring, it’s not real, just a mirage, but still, it’s properly done, in oils so vivid you can forget about that winter called spring outside.

Spring in Berlin.

Finally a lunch break with some sun. Finally some spring in the air. However, let me be quite clear on that, it wasn’t spring at all, not really, maybe meteorologically, but definitely in name only, in fact, it was icy cold outside, my shawl was wrapped thrice around my neck, the sky might have been blue but there was still some snow left on the ground, ice patches made everything slippery that was left alone by passers-by, and of course I slipped taking some of the photos when trespassing the garden design, but it was worth it, Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie, the old national gallery, inaugurated on this very day some 150 years ago, on March 22nd, 1876, was looking splendid with the bright blue sky and the graphics of the leafless trees, there is nothing better to bring out architecture than a tree, the contrast between culture and nature is one of the most spectacular I know, and so I wasn’t too sad about just taking pictures of the gallery itself – and none of the great pictures on display inside.

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.

Traveling in the company of forgotten delicacies.

 

 

The weather outside was frightful, but the company on my journey aboard the ICE to Berlin was really delightful. The seats behind me were occupied by two elderly ladies with totally different backgrounds: one had spent most of her life as a nurse in Leipzig in the former GDR, head nurse, she insisted on that distinction, the other one in Cologne as a professor’s wife, Frau Professor would have been the correct way to address her if today’s women’s equality hadn’t outdated this nonsense, anyway, they had totally different views on politics and the GDR’s spying on its own population, strangely, the woman from Leipzig didn’t have a problem with it, to her, all the films Frau Professor mentioned were capitalistic propaganda and wild exaggeration, she rather had a problem with elderly people suffering from their highly insufficient pensions, nobody had to search trashcans for returnable bottles in the GDR, but both had one thing in common, the love for delicacies from their youth, regional specialties that are no longer available: some sort of apple cake with crumbs and a special icing that she loved as a child, for example, or Lungenwurst, a sausage made of calf’s lights, and geräucherte Schweinezunge, smoked pork tongue, all these local recipes sadly seem to be long forgotten, they didn’t stop talking about it, instead of traveling to Berlin they were traveling back in time, to a place where you knew your butcher and baker by name, a much happier place that was offering all of your favourite delicatessen. I wonder if their husbands had kissed them good bye wishing them bon appétit instead of bon voyage.