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.
Cheese is the best thing there is, unless you’re lactose intolerant. I thought I was, at least until very lately, but it turned out to be an imaginary intolerance. Actually, it was a severe case of media brainwash, thus called by my physician, but that’s a totally different story. Anyway, as I said, cheese is the best thing there is. Especially this one, imported from Burgundy, France, by my parents who came back yesterday, served tonight for dinner with baguette and some other fine stuff and, most importantly, with a (actually, two and a half) bottle of Maranges, a very fine Burgundy wine, with a nice aroma of almost overly ripe cherries to lighten the almost overly creamy heaviness of that wonderful cheese. A cheese, of which my parents couldn’t recall the name, otherwise I would have told you, please believe me!
Green. I’ve said it before and I say it again, Berlin is very green. Trees everywhere, offering lots of shade and making the urban air somewhat breathable. If I were in charge, meaning if I were either God or Donald Trump, cars would be forbidden altogether. Except maybe for Aston Martins, Bentleys, and la déesse. But that’s a completely different story. Anyway, on a hot summer’s day, Berlin’s trees provide enough shade for strollers and flaneurs to survive global warming, its architecture offers some diversion, and in the same spirit, its restaurants are contributing some nice sunshades to dine under.
When you live in Berlin, you’re far better off than when living in Zurich. Zurich has just one lake, not even a very big one, whereas Berlin has lots of lakes, just lots. One of the biggest, if not the biggest, but I’m not one to compare, is the Wannsee. It’s really close to the city while giving you the impression of being far off anything remotely architectural (I feel transferred to Finland at times), if it weren’t for the Funkturm, Berlin’s iconic radio tower. That tower’s height of 368 metres, Germany’s heighest building, just doesn’t allow it to disappear in the skyline, and helps keeping your feet on the (ever so urban) ground. There are many places to go to on this very ground, but Wannseeterrassen offers the best view with your happy hour drink or your Caesar’s Salad or whatever you’re having. Anyway, I can assure you won’t ever regret coming here at sunset, when the light turns everything incredibly beautiful, romantic and just, well, stunning. Even Rusty couldn’t take his eyes off of that lake… it’s just too good to be true…
When I felt like having some French goat cream cheese yesterday, I realized for the first time in my life how very white it is. I mean, it’s really white. Almost whiter than white. And that’s where it got tricky. When I put that ever so white cube on my white plate, plain white as white plates go, my eyes went blank, they had suddenly stopped transmitting any information, as if they were kind of snow-blinded. I would have needed sunglasses if hadn’t been already dark, we’re talking a late-night snack here… Anyway, I exchanged plates immediately and not only did I choose a very vivid pattern, hand-painted using a lot of turquoise ink, I also looked out for the red cheese cutlery I once bought in France. The morale of the story? It’s the boy scout’s motto: always be prepared.
Some weeks ago, before that outburst of infernal heat, we longed for something spicy, something hot, and something that would really satisfy us—we were really very hungry that day some weeks ago. Some green asparagus with graped parmigiano just wouldn’t do the job. And so we remembered a very rich meal that was very popular in Germany in the 1970s, Gefüllte Paprikaschoten, which translates to Filled Peppers. We always thought of this dish as typically Hungarian a recipe, its origin seemed quite clear to us, as in these days everything served with peppers or even just remotely seasoned with paprika was considered Hungarian, and as Hungarians are very fiery people this meal should actually be a very fiery one. Germans, however, tend to prepare it very, very mild. Overly mild. I’ve said it before, and I say it again, Germans don’t like spices. Therefore, the grounded paprika for the sauce comes from Switzerland, I imported vast amounts of it, not from some posh fine delicatessen, but from a very ordinary supermarket, from Coop, from their cheapest range, Qualité & Prix, and is wonderfully hot. Just perfect. The Swiss love fine dining, and therefore you get the best spices there. Actually, I should call this dish Swiss Hunger Treatment…
When in Paris, it’s one of my strange habits to have the first coffee in the day in the Marais, don’t ask me why, there are perfectly fine alternative locations all over Paris, but no, it has to be the Marais, Paris’s oldest quarter, you won’t find much of Haussmann’s architecture here, it’s filled with beautiful hôtels particuliers, the residences of the aristocracy, erected hundreds of years ago, and still teaching us lessons about grandeur, in comparison, the front door of Mrs Kennedy’s lodging on Park Avenue appears to me like the back entrance to a dubious embassy of a totalitarian country with a laughable gross national product, sorry, New York, and don’t get me started on Trump and his golden tower, anyway, the Rohans and consorts had much better housing, one of those palaces, that’s what these hôtels particuliers really are, palaces, now houses the Picasso Museum. Then there’s Place des Vosges, a cliché, I know, but I have to pay it at least one visit each time I’m there, it actually looks nicest off season, in January, early in the year and in the morning, on a frosty day, void of people and tourists, under light snow, when only birds have left their prints, I like it in the rain, too, a little morbid, but I rather hate it when it’s full of people in summer, people with too much time on their hands ruin everything, loitering with intent, thirsty for a tan or whatever they do on a lawn – I do sound misanthropic, don’t I? Don’t get me wrong, I like people. Just not in places that look better without.