Archive | May 2009

Walking back from the Mountaintop Or: The Powers of Nature

High up in the mountains. Photo: Ulla Hennig

High up in the mountains. Photo: Ulla Hennig

It is great to be in the mountains when the weather is fine: The air is pure, the sky is blue, the grass is green, you feel the sun on your face while you are happily walking up that path. Just a few more steps, and then there you are, on the top of that mountain. You didn’t have to climb, just walk, but nevertheless you are proud of having reached the summit. Far down on one side you can see the little village where you departed from a few hours ago. Just straight in front of you, far away, too, are the really high mountains, majestic towers of stone and ice. And you are standing in the middle of all that beauty, being a part of it.

Then the blue sky is not so blue anymore.  Clouds are rushing in. It is time to go back. The path is full of pebbles, and you have to be careful. You look back over your shoulder in order to see how much time you have got for getting home without being washed away. Then you stop looking back – it takes too much time. The clouds are now in front of you, too. Dark clouds they are, and it is getting colder, and there’s a strong wind blowing.

The first drops are falling, and then the rain comes down. It is not that slight steady rain you know from the city. It’s like standing under a waterfall, and after half an hour you are wet through. Okay, you say, I can get dry again after the next two hours, and you continue walking down that pebbly path, trying not to slide.

Then you see the lightning. And you hear the thunder. You know how dangerous it is to be in the mountains during a thunderstorm. There have been people struck by lightning. It is getting darker and darker. Rain has changed into hail now. You are on your own, desperately looking for some place to hide. You’ve got the funny feeling that you don’t belong, that you are not made for this kind of nature.

The thunder and lightning have stopped. You are cold, your skin is hurting from the rain and the hail, but you see the first neat little houses of that village you came from, and you haven’t seen anything more welcoming in your whole life. You feel a bit proud of having made it in the end, but you are feeling very, very humble as well. That walk back from the mountaintop taught you the powers of nature.

This is  a post contributing to Robert Hruzek’s Group writing project “What I learned from a Mountaintop Experience” over at

How I changed my Mind about YouTube

I must admit I was not very keen on visiting YouTube for a long time. Every time I went there I had the impression that it was full of amateur videos showing how the family cat managed to open the fridge door or how dad managed to fall into the pool – nothing really interesting, if you know what I mean.

Then I noticed other people’s blogs showing videos – videos I found very entertaining, funny, informative.

So I had another try. I really like music – all kinds of music. Folk music – especially Irish folk music, but also Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, to name a few, country music (I love Johnny Cash!), good old Rock’n Roll, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones. I searched for them on YouTube and got the most amazing results. There is one video with the Irish folk group “The Dubliners” which I am presenting on my blog.

I grew up in a family with a strong tradition of listening to classic music – from Baroque Bach to Strawinsky. I looked for that kind of music at YouTube too. And I am discovering one precious stone after the other. Some of them are just for me (I don’t want to pester you with eight minutes of the Ballett Swan Lake), some of them I am  gladly sharing with you. Mozart is one of my favourite composers, so there’s one piece of him on this blog. I also like Handel, and so there is a piece of him here as well.

This is music – and there is so much more: fine arts, design, short films. I am still discovering YouTube.

For me this is a good example of how to deal with social media:

  1. Try for yourself and find out the possibilities. Then
  2. Decide what you want to know, find, do with it
  3. And then use it systematically.

What kind of experience do you have with YouTube?

Berlin, Pariser Platz

Adlon Hotel and Academy of the Arts, Berlin

Adlon Hotel and Academy of the Arts, Berlin. Photo: Ulla Hennig

One of the most famous places in Berlin is the so called “Pariser Platz” (Paris Place). It is the place immediately in front of the Brandenburg Gate and the end of the famous boulevard “Unter den Linden”.

The glass building on the right side is the home of the Academy of the Arts. It is not a university but a cultural institution offering lectures, exhibitions, films and discussions about contemporary literature.

The other building looks much older, but in reality has been built in the 90es of the 20th century. It is a reconstruction of the fam2ous “Adlon hotel” and was opened in 1997.

The old “Adlon hotel” was opened in 1907 and – at that time – offered something special: It not only had electricity and hot water coming out of the tap, but also a café, a big lounge, a wintergarden and a library.

Throughout the times not only politicians but also film and theater celebrities spend their days and nights in this hotel. Marlene Dietrich was discovered here.

In the last days of WW II it burnt down. It was rebuilt 6 years after the coming down of the wall, and it took two years to built it. It is again one of the most famous hotels of Berlin and maybe even Europe. Even if you haven’t got the money to spend the night in one of the luxurious rooms you can have a walk through the entrance hall and dream about being a paying guest here someday.

At the Roadside

At the roadside. Photo: Ulla Hennig

At the roadside. Photo: Ulla Hennig

I have two ways to get to work, and one of them leads me along that red-brick house and the plants in front of it. I pass this place regularly, and only some weeks ago, when I was not on my way to work and had my camera with me I noticed the beauty of it – the contrast of the yellow blossoms and the red bricks.

On the photo everything looks much nicer than in reality – the red brick building has a lot of graffitis on it, and people don’t always use the trash can for throwing things away. But – stop: isn’t such a photo digging out and rediscovering the beauty of things, a beauty which we have already banned from our mind? Which we do not see anymore? Do photos help us see reality again?

It would be awfully kind of you to join the discussion!

Someday maybe or: what do You really want to do?

Berlin is a wonderful city to live in – you can choose between many concerts if you want to spend an evening listening to classic music. If you are interested in art, there is modern art and old art. Exhibitions usually open on Fridays, but there are so many openings now that they have added Thursday as a day for private view.

Berlin is a wonderful city to live in – you can have lakes and parks and rivers and forests (only with mountains it is a bit difficult, but there are some hills).

Berlin is a wonderful city to live in – if you want to practise your English just go the English friends’ club which meets every Tuesday. If you want to learn how to take better pictures or do something for your drawing practise there are the “Volkshochschulen” (community organised courses).

Berlin is a wonderful city to live in. Berlin is a terrible city to live in. You have so many possibilities that you may get overwhelmed. As someone who is interested in culture I find many interesting things to do, and then:

How often did I find myself sighing “Well, someday I like to go to that wonderful exhibition”. And then, half a year later, when the exhibition is over, I catch myself sighing again: “Oh I would have liked to go there.”

And then I decided to stop and think. What do I really want to do? What is important for me? How much time do I have and how do I want to spend it?

Now I consciously make decisions. I decide whether something at a certain time is important for me or not. I could go to a concert on Sunday afternoon in the Park, but I prefer meeting an old friend of mine. I could go to an exhibition, but I prefer sitting in a park and reading a book. Or the other way round. Just now I prefer writing this blog post to meeting people at the English friends’ club (they will be there half an hour later, too), because it is important for me.

How do you deal with the problem of wanting too many things at the same time?

A small Park in Kreuzberg

Park in Kreuzberg. Photo: Ulla Hennig

Park in Kreuzberg. Photo: Ulla Hennig

Normally at this time of the year this park is full with people – young children playing soccer with their dads or their mates, groups of women with babies sitting on blankets, having a chat. Often you can see dogs running around, chasing after some piece of wood.

Now, with the temperatures going up and the sunny days of spring people leave their flats and live their lives in the open air, in the parks of Berlin.

This park above isn’t a very well kept one; after a week of hot sunny days the green changes into yellow. Patches of dry earth can be seen then. But the people living here – many of them are Turkish or Arabian families – nevertheless still enjoy the park. Their children can run around free, can move without the limits of a small flat.

Politics and Music – George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel, the great German-English baroque composer, lived from 1685 – 1759 (so we celebrate 250 years after his death in 2009). He was born in Germany, trained in Italy and lived in England.

He composed the Music for the Royal Fireworks (HWV 351)   in 1749 under contract of George II of Great Britain for the fireworks in London on 27 April 1749. It was to celebrate the end of a war (the War of the Austrian Succession) and the signing of a Treaty. So it is music written for an important political event.

At that time composers made a living by getting contracts from rich and important people. And if their music was not appreciated by the ordering party they could get into severe difficulties, because they were dependant on their money and support.

But taken all the politics aside it is a wonderful piece of music, as you can hear in the video.

Water Buffalo – slow but steady!

Water bufffalo. Drawing and Photo: Ulla Hennig

Water bufffalo. Drawing and Photo: Ulla Hennig

The home of the water buffalo is Asia. It is valuable for its meat and milk as well as the labour it performs, drawing the plough through the muddy paddy fields for example. There’s nothing hectic or even quick in their movements – they are trodding on slowly, but constantly. And thus, they are getting a lot of work done.

Sometimes, when my to-do list is getting longer and longer, I let myself become hectic, trying to do more things by doing things faster. Fact is, that doesn’t work (at least not for me): I am making mistakes, forget things and I end up by feeling exhausted. Then I think of the water buffalo and return to slow but steady working.

Memories and Old Stuff

Picture of Biberach. Photo: Ulla Hennig

Picture of Biberach. Photo: Ulla Hennig

Do you know this feeling? You have decided to declutter your home (it is spring, isn’t it) and you found a picture stuffed somewhere in the closet / drawer. It belongs to a certain period of your life which is over now. So you decide to throw it away. Before doing that you pick it up and have a look at it.

And then, suddenly, all the memories come back. And there are a lot of memories connected with that tiny little picture. You can’t throw your memories away, can you?

It happenend to me with the picture above. It is a drawing of my birthtown, Biberach, which is situated in the south of Germany, near Lake Constance. I lived there until the age of 5 and then our family moved to another town. It has got a historical marketplace, and every summer there is a big fair with historical parades, called the “Biberacher Schützenfest”.

Looking at that tiny picture all that came back in my mind. What could I do? No, I was sure that I didn’t want to hang it up on the wall. It had no place in my life as it is now. But what to do with my memories? I was just thinking of putting it back where it had been all the months when I got an idea: I would take my camera and take a picture of it. I would then upload this picture to my flickr account. There it would be – ready for looking at it whenever I wanted to do that.

As you can see, I put my idea into practice. My memories are safe now – and the old stuff can go away.

How do you deal with old stuff which has a lot of memories for you?

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin. Photo: Ulla Hennig

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin. Photo: Ulla Hennig

I must admit – I first had my difficulties with this memorial when I looked at it from the outside. Nothing but rows of gray stone slabs that do not bear any markings, neither names nor dates.

It had been designed by the famous architect Peter Eisenman and was openend in May 2005 to the public as a contribute to the death of all the Jews who were killed under the Nazi regime.
From the beginning, people were sitting on the slabs, jumping from one to the other. To me this had almost nothing to do with a memorial.

And then I walked between the big slabs. My feelings changed. I began to feel caged in, lost, helpless. You could not see the sky properly, only the shades of the light from above.

Of course those feelings were nothing compared with what the Jews must have felt when they were humiliated, hunted down, terrorized, shot, killed with gas, killed with work, with no chance to save their lives in the concentration camps – the feeling of hopelessness and of being forgotten by the rest of the world.

But being there between the huge labs made me realize where I was: At a Holocaust Memorial.