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…

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.

Who needs Xanadu when there’s Zurich?

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I have an imaginary friend who loves to lie in bed and ramble on about his past, he’s called Marcel Proust, and an imaginary foe who bores me to death, he’s called Charles Foster Kane. Tonight, they both inspired me to bother you with this sequel, some kind of photographic rambling on, a post photum rather than a post scriptum, but there were still pictures from my past, of my mind’s Swiss materialization that I hadn’t yet shown you. The selection has no theme, it’s just a potpourri of my favourite places, happy memories, eclectically put together subjects of beauty, just like all the stuff that this rosebud fanatic Mr Kane had put together at Xanadu, you are familiar with Citizen Kane, aren’t you? I never understood this film, really, call me a cinephobic if you must, but as far as Mr Kane’s sense for beauty and idyllic magnificence goes, this I get. Judge for yourselves.

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Paris off the map.

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Paris has wonderful museums, they are all so very famous, the Louvre, the d’Orsay, the Centre Pompidou, and they’re all situated in such famous buildings with outstanding architecture, all these well known façades, they’re all sights for themselves, you get them depicted on postcards, in colour or black and white, just pick your favourite angle, even when you’ve left their art collection to the others there should be enough to write home about, although it’s a lost art somehow, I haven’t written one in years, I hate looking for post offices for the stamps, it takes you years and always in the opposite direction, but I digress, anyway, the Musée Bourdelle is no such museum, no pillars, no fame, no splendour, it’s situated off the tracks, I have never been in the area before, it’s somewhere in Montparnasse, in the 15th arrondissement, there’s a métro-station nearby, Falguière, quite unimpressive a street takes you to a building that looks like, well, a building, but definitely not like a museum, tiny entrance, no visitors, you enter and find yourself in a courtyard that looks like the industrial leftovers from a time when the socialist party had just been founded and this was a place where they might look for new members, it’s nothing but rust and bricks and dusty windows, the plants and flowers seem to have spread by themselves, and if it weren’t for Bourdelle’s works of art that you see everywhere, you might ask for directions in case there was a complete misunderstanding about it all. And then, once your brain rearranges its set of expectations forever, you cannot help but feel happy. It’s a wonderful place. I sat there in the drizzling rain, smoked a cigarette or two, and declared it my favourite museum ever.

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Paris for misanthropists.

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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.

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Marie Antoinette in Paris.

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Here she once lay. In a graveyard next to Boulevard Haussmann in Paris, next to her husband, Louis XVI, King of France. Quite nice a spot for someone who had a death sentence to endure. I think most of the others who made it to the guillotine on Place de la Concorde during the French revolution weren’t exhumed as soon as the winds had changed, just to spend their eternity a little nicer, rather in a peaceful little graveyard in Paris’ eighth arrondissement than in a mass grave. But as soon as she had been exhumed and was buried on this little spot, they made her move again – “they”, she never ever had a say in this, “they” made her leave Austria and marry the King of France, “they” decided she was spending too much money on frivolous things, “they” declared her unworthy and chopped off her head, “they” didn’t even stop after her death, “they” made her rotting corpse run from pillar to post and brought her to the basilica of St.Denis, she was to meet her relatives, French side of the family only of course, and here, on square Louis XVI, “they”, namely Louis XVIII, had a little chapel erected, the chapelle expiatoire, to remember her by. Which I did. Her and her flamboyant extravagances.

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Basic me.

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I came across this selfie when I was looking for photos of Marie Antoinette’s tomb in Paris, and as I found that I have equally important things to say about this outfit of mine, I shall postpone my article about Marie Antoinette’s last resort. So, instead of learning that Proust lived quite nearby, on the opposite side of the street actually, you learn about what I wore the day I went to see the tomb of France’s notorious queen. I actually never take selfies, but on this day, in the restroom of a bistrot next to Galerie Maeght and Deyrolle in St.Germain, I had to (although, is it a selfie if you leave your head out? Well, I had just visited the tomb of Marie Antoinette and let’s not forget she was beheaded, too), as I was wearing my favourite jacket, I’ve been wearing it day in, day out ever since the day I bought it at Hamburg’s Jil Sander flagship store, it’s from an autumn/winter collection when Raf Simons was still in charge. It’s been in the washing machine dozens of times, its zipper is mostly out of order, and if it works it gets stuck in the tiny pleat that frames the zipper, nice detail, nicely sewn, but not very intelligently placed, its only fault actually, but I wonder if Madame Bertin would have lost her head sooner than Marie Antoinette if she had ever confronted Sa Majesté with such thoughtlessness in tailoring, anyway, then there’s my favourite pair of jeans ever, the only one that I will really miss, from that frightful day on when they dissolve into thin air, Ralph Lauren will be invited to attend its funeral, and one of my many black crew neck cashmere pullovers, a cheap one, no logo, but their quality is actually the same, a white shirt, you only see its cuffs, I think it’s from Charvet, and my beloved Hermès scarf, 140 x 140 cm, silk and cotton, imprimeur fou, Les Clefs and some other iconic design printed on top of it (or the other way round). That’s it. Basic me. Tomorrow, I might wear the very same, so you won’t have any difficulties recognizing me in the streets.

Delicatessen obsession.

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Last night, I had the best of nightmares, I know, this may sound oxymoronic, but I can’t put it otherwise. You see, in that dream I was back in Paris, wandering the food halls of La Grande Épicerie de Paris, frolicking from aisle to aisle, from sweet to sour, from bread and butter, butter in so many varieties, salted or left alone, from buffalo to goat milk, French or Italian, to cheese, round, square and triangular in shape, looking ever so perfect, as if it didn’t end up on my baguette to be devoured with a glass of Château Whatever-they-have, from Italian pasta in ever such beautifully designed packaging, the agony of deciding which looks best, which pasta in which box, to all this pâté, nothing but pâté from the far left to the far right of your eye, from green teas to black teas, from unknown niche people to Fortnum’s, Kusmi and Mariage Frères, how many more boxes of Queen Anne, Mirabeau and Prince Wladimir can I possibly buy, I’m asking myself while humming “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” in my head, or aloud, I don’t know, out of context obviously, but no, here they all come, and hey, this sage is really aromatic, I’m taking all they have, wondering what to do with it, browsing through recipes in my head while checking out the rest of the store, caviar, oysters and lobster galore, but I pass, there’s Nicaraguan coffee and Sicilian honey to discover, oh those bees must lead happy lives, I’m facing mouthwatering joy and total despair as my basket cannot hold all I want, whatever I do the pyramid of goods is falling apart, over and over again, spreading my stuff on the floor, hindering other people in shiny shoes from walking, kicking it away from me, none of these items were mine to keep, neither the buffalo butter from some place in Italy, nor the pâté I have chosen, not even the organic artichokes of incredible dimensions, and please don’t get me started on what they are doing to my selection of French mustard and marmalades (lemon, grapefruit, orange and lime). I woke up screaming, but, wow, it was good!

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Simone Signoret, Yves Montand and I.

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Paris is known for its lovers. There were plenty over the centuries as you can probably guess, dozens and hundreds, more or less famous ones, some even made it on the screen, Ninotchka and Count Léon d’Algout, for example. My favourite couple, however, is a real life one that made it into the movies nonetheless: Simone Signoret and Yves Montand, these glorious French actors. They made fabulous films, they drank and smoked, she won an Oscar, he betrayed her with Marilyn Monroe, and most importantly, they had an apartment on 15, Place Dauphine, on the loveliest square in all of Paris, it’s kind of secluded, but you always sense where you are: right in the middle of Paris. Each time I’m there, I pay them a visit, come rain or shine, I stroll by the Seine or cross the Tuileries, depends on where I come from, Rive Gauche or Rive Droite, I cross the Pont Neuf, my favourite bridge in the world, as the square lies on an island in the Seine, the Île de la Cité, just like Notre Dame, and there I am, happy as a child, lingering for quite some time, it’s a perfect spot for a coffee, too. The old chestnut trees were replaced some years ago, at first it looked a bit sad, these little ones couldn’t measure up to the old ones who might still have seen Simone and Yves leaving the house for cigarettes or an invitation to dinner some place fancy, but they’ve grown a bit, and the last time I visited Place Dauphine, I started looking forward to growing old with them.

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Some square metres of urban splendour.

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Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt covers me with confusion. It’s well known for its architectural ensemble, but it is strangely small a spot – and in Berlin, almost everything is big. When I last visited Gendarmenmarkt, it reminded me of a little town’s square, maybe a pompous little town’s one, but still, a place rather situated in the provinces than in the very middle of Berlin. It didn’t feel urban at all. Maybe it was the missing traffic, I love traffic in a town, it delivers pace and movement and life, maybe it was because of all those people walking so very slowly and if they weren’t walking, they were having coffee and cake, taking an afternoon off, calmly, stress free, no one was in a hurry, everybody was at ease, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being at ease and having coffee and walking slowly, but I love being the only who’s at ease, who’s having lots of time on his hands while enjoying a cup of coffee some place nice while everybody else is coping with time frames, traffic and stress, the hustle and bustle of a metropolis like Paris, New York, London or, well, Berlin. Anyway, this little place called Gendarmenmarkt offers two domes, a French and a German, and a concert hall in the middle, the latter being constructed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. All of it speaks of old Prussian splendour. Classicism of the purest sort. It offers everything one could possibly wish for. Except pace.

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