Monthly Archives: July 2009

Please do not run over this hedgehog!

The hedgehog babies are proper teenage hedgehogs these days.

Last night one of them strolled out of the undergrowth and lay down on our driveway and promptly fell asleep. Personally I suspect he’d had one too many fermented apples from up the end of the garden, because he was snoring like a miniature pig.

However, he’d also positioned himself right behind our car, which we’d be reversing out of the drive first thing in the morning, so I didn’t want to risk leaving him there.

Of course, moving a drunk juvenile hedgehog is not a task I undertake lightly. As luck would have it, there was an old set of oven gloves lying by the barbecue… so I used those to pick him up.

He sort of stared at me blearily, as teenagers do when they’ve had their first taste of cider. But he didn’t object. So I carried him back towards the nest where I’d first met the family and deposited him in the leaves to sleep it off.

He lay there snoring for about an hour, then finally roused himself and toddled off in search of …. what? Another apple? A couple of slugs? A hangover cure?


Filed under Life in Germany

An afternoon with Ellen Schweitzer

This afternoon we had the chance to visit Düsseldorf artist Ellen Schweitzer in her studio.

Ellen creates amazing art and sculptures using mirrors, glass and a wide variety of other materials such as screws, cutlery, light bulbs, ball bearings, metal objects and even empty ink cartridges.

She told me she first started experimenting with creating art using mirrors at the age of thirteen. Her first piece was a gift for her grandfather. Since then she has made countless fabulous mirrors which are gracing the walls of restaurants, offices and homes all over Düsseldorf.

Her pieces are both decorative and useful – many of them actually function as a mirror, but with an intriguing design creating an inner frame around the centre.  The use of glass and metal creates amazing effects as the light is caught and reflected differently as you walk past. The viewer is irresistably drawn in to the swirling forms and the refracted light patterns.

Ellen works with a lot of humour too. In some pieces, closer examination yields strange objects suspended in the glass. One mirror contained rows of screws. Another was a pattern of bubbles and ball bearings.

“Can you guess what this one is?” giggles Ellen, pointing to a huge mirror with irregularly oval shaped blisters covering its surface.

I can’t.

“It’s lenses from old pairs of spectacles embedded in the surface of the glass.”

It seems like nothing goes to waste in the Schweitzer household.

Ellen’s mirror art is unique. She has developed the technique herself, along with the special materials she uses. She pulls out mirror after mirror of her technical tests, where she has documented the effects of different types of glue together with its impact on glass, metal, plastic… Many of the glues she uses, she blends herself, based of years of experimentation.

“Here, see… this one, this is no good at all. It discolours when it dries. This other one, look, it attracts dust after a while, so it doesn’t stay clear and bright. This one is good – but you can’t use it with copper objects because they go green. But this one is fine with copper….”

Under each test is a label detailing the exact location of the individual glue recipe in her notes. German artists are clearly extremely organised – an impression which is reinforced by the neatly arranged jars of glass marbles, beads, screws, ice cream spoons, washers, ball bearings and other items which appear in her work.

“I have to keep my studio spotlessly clean,” Ellen explains. “When you’re working with materials like glue, you can’t risk dust or cobwebs getting into it before it dries. Everything needs to shine.”

Ellen also shows me a lovely range of her hand-made jewellery – where mirrors also feature strongly. Her designs are bold and modern. Some incorporating oddities like screws and fuses, others more abstract – but nonetheless very striking.

I can’t decide between three of her brooches – so I end up buying all of them. I must be turning German… I’ve started my Christmas shopping in July already!

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Filed under german art, Life in Germany

Growing purple cauliflower in Germany

I mentioned before that I’m growing my own vegetables this year.

One of the things I wanted to do was pick varieties that I wouldn’t normally be able to buy in the shops – or at least not without having to remorgage the house to afford a bag of variegated tomatoes or mottled frisée salad.

I am now paying the price of this overblown horticultural ambition. Take the cauliflower, for example. Of course I could have bought ordinary cauliflower seeds… but what’s the fun in that? Instead I picked out a packet of seeds which said “purple cauliflower”.  I was thinking along the lines of purple flowering broccoli – which is quite pretty, and in any case turns to normal green when you cook it.

Even so, when I found this growing in the garden…. I have to admit, even I recoiled a bit.

It’s recognisably a cauliflower… but nobody told me it would be that purple.

This is a serious problem. You see, my kids are not great fans of vegetables. Generally I have to hide them in soups, pasta sauces, curries and bakes… adding a tin of tomatoes or a cheesy topping to camouflage the presence of carrots or chopped cabbage.

But how the heck am I going to hide something this colour? If I make cauliflower-cheese, it’ll look like a purple monster lurking in an avalanche. Steamed cauliflower rosettes are going to look like they fell in the beetroot. Hmmm…. now there’s an idea. Can you make borscht with cauliflower?

Help me please! I need recipe ideas for alien cauliflower….


Filed under Life in Germany

A Summer storm in the Rhineland

We’ve been having a heatwave for the past few days… glorious sunshine, tropical heat, still heavy air… and ingrates that we are, we’ve been cowering in the cool shade of the house, only occasionally stirring ourselves to shuffle over to the fridge in search of a cold drink.

Last night the heatwave came to an abrupt end. Black clouds bubbled up over from behind the barn and the late afternoon sunshine gave way to near darkness. The sirens, which are flood warnings for those who live close to the Rhine, started sounding… it was eerie against the hot, damp, leaden evening sky.

And then the rain started. A few thudding drops at first – then it was like turning on a shower. Water streamed from the heavens. It was like standing under a waterfall. Great claps of thunder and flashes of lightening. Within minutes our courtyard had turned into a lake.

I spend the next half hour admiring our new garden “water feature” and wondering, should the weather continue like this for long, whether my next hours would be best spent building an ark or ordering some koi carp for the courtyard. But then I discovered that we also had a puddle forming in the entrance hall… so I stopped dreaming of ornamental lakes and started fetching buckets, mops and checking the cellar and upstairs rooms for unexpected dampness.

Meanwhile the ominous sound of many police and fire engine sirens started to echo all around us.

The scariest thing of all was that the toilet in our downstairs bathroom started bubbling and making weird noises… as though some krakan from the depths would appear from it. At the same time the electricity in that part of the house suffered a short circuit… which led to smoke appearing from a lightswitch in the bathroom. We turned off the mains power, just in case. My youngest daughter created a helpful sign which she stuck on the mirror to warn everyone of our certain impending death.

This morning the sun is out, the courtyard is dry and it’s as though nothing happened. The news, though, is full of reports of damage and flooding and even deaths from the storm. I guess we got off lightly after all!


Filed under Life in Germany