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.

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.

The magic of Lake Lucerne.

Lake Lucerne, like any other lake, looks best in summer. Then, the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, the clear, transparent water, there is no lake cleaner than in Switzerland, believe you me, I swam in it, it’s gorgeous, anyway, the high mountains, topped with snow, the lush trees that line its border, the figs, chestnuts, yuccas and cypresses, the intensely blue sky, insanely blue even, everything looks just majestic, as I said, in summer. In winter, it looks something like that, grey and shapeless, you might say, or quite bewitching, if you have a liking for anything mystic, romantic and enchanted, then it might be impossible to resist its allure, you’re facing a magic realm, by the way, are these old willows on the border or the Erl-Kings daughters? Don’t blame these streaks of fog, your sight is not deceived, you might find yourself entering a different world, out of touch, disconnected, ethereal spheres will take you in and never let you go, so beware, these cruising boats might never come back, leaving you behind in that gloomy place, you might want to change your plans and stay ashore, you will find some enchantment here too, just head for Hermès, the store is right there, just follow the voices coming through the withering leaves, we have many a golden robe for you …

Zurich‘s best coffee.

The best thing about my Zurich apartment was the coffee downstairs at Totò’s. Whenever I would leave the house and feel like taking it slowly, I’d sit down and order a double espresso before taking my tram, heavy stuff, bitter and strong, awfully good, and while I was sipping it, I’d watch my neighbourhood, that beautiful Seefeld scenery, from a different angle, not as usual from my third floor balcony, through my olive trees’ leaves, but at ground level, quite a change, it’s true what that teacher in Dead Poets Society says, you should change your perspective from time to time, it’s quite invigorating, and thanks to Totò’s, I didn’t need to climb on anything, I just had to make it three floors further down.

Paris from dusk till dawn.

When I walked through Paris in the good old days before the iPhone, I was a much happier person, I just didn’t care that in winter when you walk on whatever street or avenue you’re walking on, the instagrammability of this walk will stop at around four, tea time is deadline, at the very latest, you might still enjoy walking, but what’s the use of it, you won’t be able to take one good postable picture, it’s madness, we’ve been to the moon and conquered it, but the sun is still playing dirty tricks on us, and not only from the moment on when it decides to set, no, that would be far to easy a situation to cope with, no, it starts way earlier, all day long it’s “watch the shades”, “it’s too bright now”, “wait, the sun’s shining towards the camera”, “it’s too cloudy now”, “you won’t take a good picture now, let’s have a coffee some place”, “hey, where’s all the light gone?”, it’s no use, you won’t make it, you’re a disgrace to photography, but one can’t capture every single moment, or building, or church, can one? So, you better order a glass of Bordeaux and baguette rillettes and forget about it all, there still will be enough good shots left (not perfect, alright, but you’re not working on assignment anyway, are you?), but, truth be told, even when that Bordeaux kicks in, you will never be as satisfied with your day again, believe you me.

Walking through Paris.

I really can’t say I’m getting much exercise in life. I don’t play tennis, I don’t play golf, I ride a little (but haven’t seen a horse in years), I don’t do marathons, hey, no, that’s not true, I do marathons, but not the speedy ones, I walk, a gentleman will always walk but never run. I’ve walked my most successful marathons in Paris, in somewhat 14 hours, coffee breaks included. One time, I bought a carnet, that’s ten métro tickets, and in a week I only used four of them, worst deal of my life, but the weather was great and I couldn’t stop marathoning, although I do love the métro, there’s nothing more seductive than being told “Palais Royal Musée du Louvre” or “Saint Paul” on my favourite métro line, ligne 1, always twice, the second time a little pushier, a little less charming, make up your mind, go and see the place, that voice is right, get up and get a life, walking is the thing, don’t ever give up, arrondissement after arrondissement, from one bank to the other, from the Marais to Quartier Latin, from St.Germain-des-Prés to Place de la Concorde, those bridges do make sense, and, truth be told, you want to earn all these cafés au lait and buttery croissants you have all day. They’re awfully fattening.

Paris upon Seine.

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Grand-Duchess Anastasia of Russia, the false one, the one Ingrid Bergman played so well she was presented with an Oscar, tried to drown herself in Berlin’s Landwehrkanal, in the Spree, a river so widely spread all over Berlin nobody takes really notice of it. What a sad story. What a miserable choice of ending one’s life. If I were to drown myself, I’d choose the Seine. It plays so much more important a role, it’s a question of belief whether you live on the left or the right bank, Rive Gauche or Rive Droite, old money or nouvelle vague, in the 1960s, Yves Saint Laurent took a stand and named his prêt-à-porter collection accordingly, his haute couture salon remained on the right bank of course, on Avenue Marceau, anyway, it’s so much more high-toned a river, the Sisley people, Count d’Ornano and his family, actually live there, on Quai d’Orsay, able to overlook the river’s beautiful scenery 24/7, so did Rudolf Nureyev, he took lodging on another one of its quais, on Quai Voltaire, Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn took long walks there, passing the bouquinistes with their displays of books and old magazines, spotting themselves on the covers, manifold, after every new film and every new collection, this river knows them all, all my favourite people, Marie Antoinette and Charles de Gaulle, Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, Ernest Hemingway and F.Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau, Romy Schneider and Alain Delon, Claude Chabrol and Claude Sautet, they all crossed it, back and forth, looked in it, gazed into it, spat in it, I’m sure, Hemingway did it all the time, he always looked like a big spitter to me, I could go on for hours, this river has seen them all, and although none of my heroes drowned in it, by chance or on purpose, I’d still choose the Seine over the Spree, but alas, I’m not suicidal at all, I’ll just go on crossing it, over all these beautiful bridges, again and again, loving every second of it.

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Russia’s splendour in the fog.

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Stalin, like any other dictator, had a thing for grandeur, and it spread, every satellite state wanted to contribute to his glory, and so, in the 1950s, Berlin, the capital of the GDR, had its Stalin-Allee constructed, a magnificent architectural endeavour, let’s no longer praise God or anybody in power by His grace, let’s praise Stalin, our real saviour, and let’s do it in style, midcentury neo-classicism with a touch of gingerbread, somehow reminiscent of Karl-Friedrich Schinkel, a reflection of proletarian power, adorned post-revolutionary self-importance rather than self-confidence, miles of praise of somebody who soon would be politically incorrect, even in Russia, but let’s not worry about that, there’s still Karl Marx to be proud of, philosopher, economist and saint to the communists, a saint who stated religion was the opium of the people, let’s honour him and have the boulevard renamed. Today, long after the Berlin wall has come down, long after communism has failed entirely, it’s still called Karl-Marx-Allee, the magnificent bookshop on it bears his name as well, it made it even into a favourite movie of mine, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s “The Life of Others”, which won an Oscar for best foreign language film in 2007, but I seem to digress, anyway, Stalin’s persona non grata for all eternity, but Karl Marx is still among us, as he has never killed anyone, let alone millions, and so the communist era still hasn’t lost its splendour, at least not on Berlin’s Karl-Marx-Allee.

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American cheesecake at Berlin cathedral.

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We’re open, it said, in plain English. A stairway, more than a hundred years old, was obviously leading into Berlin cathedral’s vaults, not to the part where all these dead kings and queens are resting in their sarcophagi, I was hoping, that’ll be all too gloomy, especially on this foggy November morning, so I lingered, indecisively, sat down at one of the tables outside, I was the only one of course, had a cigarette, watched some school kids with their teacher on their excursion day, they looked all so very French and reminded me of Louis Malle’s “Au revoir, les enfants”, just until my hands had frozen, leaving me unable to light another cigarette, my feet, however, were still working, I reached the cathedral’s downstairs café before turning into a pillar of ice, I didn’t want to end up like Mrs Lot, salt or ice, where’s the difference, and ordered caffè latte, medium, and American cheesecake, in a slightly overheated agony, this was the worst interior ever, how could they do this to such a beautiful spot, Berlin’s cathedral is such a splendid sight, I had just taken dozens of pictures, but this looked like a gas station’s espresso bar, on some lesser frequented route nationale, somewhere northwest of Lyon, I think the children from that French school had put me into a French catalogue of reception, anyway, the cake was really great, the coffee not so much but drinkable, and I left as soon as my body temperature allowed. If you like American cheesecake, I can really recommend the place.

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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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