Brecht's last summer


Sometimes I feel bad because of all the books that I read, I tend to neglect the German authors. Drifting along the shelves in my favourite bookstore, I always tend to head for the Bohemian ones like Rilke or Kafka or the Austrian ones like Thomas Bernhard, Schnitzler or Ingeborg Bachmann. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that while studying German as a teenager, we had things forced upon us like a novel for teenagers called Brandstiftung (Arson) or worse, Bertholt Brecht. There were four of us, two boys and two girls, in the A level class with two alternating teachers. All in all, I recognise I was an awful student who never learned the genders of words or which prepositions went with which case. Admittedly, the female teacher didn't help much; she had a clear preference for the male students, wore low cut dresses and bombarded us with her enthusiasm for Brecht which irritated me. After a year, I stopped classes, telling everyone that I'd no intention of going to Germany anyway.

The mouse is from a popular kids' programme called Die Sendung mit der Maus. The speech bubble translates as "Be proud of yourself!".

A few years back though, I became more interested in Brecht, firstly after reading a French book called La Maîtresse de Brecht and then more importantly after seeing a German film called Brecht's Last Summer, set in his garden house by the lake. It was nice discovering another side of him, seeing his relationships with women and those last precious days spent in the sunshine of his lakeside retreat. The thought of going to visit this place for myself filled me with emotion.

We set off in those early silent hours of Sunday morning when Berlin is still slumbering, headed for the part of Brandenburg known as the Märkische Schweiz (Schweiz or Switzerland is a popular term Germans use to talk about an area with rocks and nice landscape) along winding streets on a somewhat cool and colourless day. Alongside, fields full of barley, poppies and cornflowers were swaying in the wind and a little later we paused for sandwiches with tomato and mozzarella made with soft white bread as well as thick slices of lemon and poppyseed cake in a deserted park surrounded by a small red castle, an empty Biergarten and some targets for archery practice.

The same fields glowing in the evening sun on the way back

The first stop though was the palace of Neuhardenberg. Stepping out of the car, I noticed the spare white lines of the parish church at the end of two avenues of trees whose bells were calling the local inhabitants. It's impossible not to be charmed by wild beauty of the park which stretches on and on. The busy streets of Berlin seem like a million miles away and it's moments like this when I regret not leaving the city more often for the peace and wide spaces of the countryside. Somehow, I was drawn to the café in the palace grounds where the latte macchiato and apple cake with cream made me feel warm and comforted again.

On the lake in Buckow, my eye was drawn to a white sailing boat gliding along the surface of the lake. Couple and teenagers enjoyed cones of soft ice cream and beer by the edge of the water while at the end of the pier, an old fashioned pleasure boat was pulling out, transporting its passengers to the other shores. The Brecht house is situated on a peninsula. There are the blooming colours of the flowers of the garden, the roses climbing up the walls, the large room inside full of light where Brecht and his friends met to talk about literature and the spot by the water where I imagine him sitting peacefully, maybe writing poems with the hours of the day reflected in its calm surface . Later that afternoon, we listened to a readings from a book called Meetings with Brecht; he seemed so alive, full of humour, intelligence and charm. Coming out into the evening sun which finally made its reappearence, I had the impression of being on holiday. These are those days so special you never want them to end, even if it makes Monday mornings even crueller.

The Brecht Weigel house in Buckow

Some of the flowers in the Brecht garden

The nearby forests

Herring and potato wedges at a lakeside café

Chocolate pudding from Smitten Kitchen (click here for the recipe)

I know I've been making a lot of Deb's recipes but I honestly couldn't resist the rich silkiness of her chocolate pudding. Every spoonful was sheer indulgence and you really have to make this yourself. Next time though, I promise to give you a recipe from somewhere else, even if the asparagus pizza is at the top of my list for this week.


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