Berlin under construction.

Berlin’s a mess. A total mess. I think it’s always been a mess but right now, it’s really messy. There is no architectural ensemble to be found, it’s a bold mix of old and new, tradition and modernism meet on every corner. Unter den Linden, however, the grand old Prussian boulevard from Berlin cathedral to Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag, has kind of lost whatever was left of its old splendour. Temporarily, I mean. Unter den Linden translates to Under the Lime Trees, but at the moment, you won‘t find any limes there, at least, I don’t. Right now, everything and every place is one single construction site. First of all, they’re building a new subway line right under it, then there’s our last Kaiser’s palace, Wilhelm II’s Stadtschloss, that is being reconstructed like a phoenix from the ashes, and if that wasn’t enough, several other buildings are being renovated, updated, uplifted or rebuilt, like the Staatsbibliothek, the old Prussian state library which has one the nicest courtyards ever, it once was full of climbing vine, all these beautiful leaves, turning red in autumn, bright as fire, were giving the classicist façade such a lush expression, and don’t ask me what all the other bulidings are called that are undergoing all this trouble. But when you blend it all out, all that noise and pounding, and just focus on the beautiful spots, you find nothing but intact Prussian splendour. Berlin is every bit a feast for life as Paris. Believe you me.

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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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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Life, from my mother’s point of view.

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This photo of my grandmother with my mother on her lap was taken in Berlin in 1942 or 1943, during the war, right in the middle of it, so the date tells us, but not the expression on the faces we see. My grandmother looks serene and happy, elegant, filled with love for her firstborn child, and I find my mother’s all-time sovereign expression already there, ready to master anything, wartimes and everything there was to master after that, kindergarten, school yard and first boyfriends, first in postwar Germany, then in the Russian sector, situations you didn’t choose, that you were just born into, forcing you to leave everything behind (a beautiful villa by the river) when fleeing from the GDR, much later she faced marriage and divorce, her job and my puberty, fate and luck, summers and winters, sickness and health, rain and shine, Christmas and wakes, new countries, new opportunities, and new problems, new houses and new gardens, filled with old friends and new decor, and whatever was lying ahead on this day in 1942 or 1943, she was already sure of herself to master it, overcome it, celebrate it, decorate it. She still has this adorable expression on her face: let it come, all of it, I’m happy to deal with it. I’m glad to have this photo as an inspiration in my new apartment, and by that at the place where it was taken: in Berlin. 75 years later.

 

Voguing through Paris.

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After the war, when fashion was given the New Look by Christian Dior, the world was given Robert Doisneau as a society and fashion photographer when Michel de Brunhoff, the editor in chief of Vogue Paris, had the brilliant idea to hire him. I had not known about this collaboration and would never have seen the splendid photographs that illustrate post war Parisian high society life, I would only have known of his famous shot of the kissing couple in front of Paris’ Hôtel de Ville, I had the poster in my kitchen for crying out loud, if Flammarion hadn’t published this wonderful book. It shows it all: aristocratic weddings, parties, receptions, men in tails, women in ball gowns, the rich and famous, elegant home stories, restaurants filled with celebrities, Hélène Rochas, Jacques Fath, Jean Cocteau, Orson Welles and Elsa Maxwell, all in black and white and not once do you miss a single colour. Robert Doisneau captures it all in shades of grey. Don’t you dare buy it and let it gather dust on your coffee table, open it, let your eyes travel and take the most wonderful journey back in time.

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