Creative Arborism 101

The first in the series. A classic that defined the latter works.

Further in the series, we see an interesting juxtaposition of asymmetrical tree and signage creating balance in imbalance.

A slightly awkward piece; the ‘crossroads’ imagery seems naively overwrought here.

Quite possibly the jewel of the collection. This, the finest specimen of all the trees used in the collection, has been knowingly coupled with sublime signage and a wry parallelism with the real tree. Magnificent.

It’s that festive time of year again. When families, friends and flatmates come together across the continent, unite in their living rooms, gaze at their joyfully selected Christmas tree, hold hands and say to each other, lovingly:
“Well, that was a pretty good Christmas. Time to chuck this on the streets then.”
Since my return from the UK, the changing of the seasons seems to have been marked by little more than rubbish. The first day after New Year’s, the pavements were utterly bristling with a fetid rash of detritus: bits of fireworks, burnt-put sparklers, döner wrappers and so very much broken glass. Slightly unexpectedly considering that this city is usually kept relatively clean and litter-free in comparison to the trashfest that is London, this layer of crud was never really cleared away by anyone, so it just lay on the streets for days, tangling together slowly like washed-up seaweed on a shallow beach. 

But a few days later, after the bulk of the clobber had settled neatly into the gutters and drains, a new wave of special rubbish arrived to truly herald the new year and a fresh start. Suddenly, hundreds of small fir trees started appearing on the pavements. Some were left to grow soggy and lose their needles with time. Some were immediately seen as a canvas and haphazardly spraypainted. Some were set on fire. One that had been set on fire was then spotted by a large dog who saw it as a brilliant new toy, and that dog nearly reaped me off the pavement with his enormous blackened club jutting a metre out from his jaws each way.

Then, a few days after that, someone with an imaginative mind and, presumably, a ladder, decided to stick one of these abandoned Christmas trees into the top of a tall signpost. Inspiration struck the city. One by one, signposts were being adorned with leftover Christmas trees, the trees staying remarkably full of life despite being propped up in a long thin pipe with no access to water. 

And seriously now, something funny is happening with this changing of the seasons. Why are all these trees *still* there? Why does the lady living opposite my office kitchen window still have her festive candelabra on her windowsill? Why – seriously, why – does the pizza place down the road still have one of those plastic trees with an upturned umbrella at the base to catch the polystyrene ‘snow’ that sprays gently from the top? (And why would anyone ever choose to have one of those in their establishment at anytime ever?).

Two days ago, at the farmer’s market, I picked a nice-looking apple from the basket and the sweet bloke behind the stall said ‘Take it! Enjoy! Happy new year!’ People are still, frequently, wishing me a happy new year, even though it’s long since new and definitely seems to be doing its level best to avoid that whole ‘happy’ thing. There are still Dominocubes on sale in Kaisers – not that I’m complaining about that particular detail; Dominocubes are little blocks of soft spiced gingerbread topped with a layer of marzipan and another layer of fruity jelly and covered in chocolate, so yes, do keep those coming. But for some reason I cannot identify, this new year is having a very difficult time indeed letting go of the recent festivities.

And yet. In the supermarket, drifting brainlessly through the aisles, something purple and elongated caught my eye. A Milka bunny. I had stumbled into the Easter aisle. Chocolate eggs, little sweetie rabbits, Kinder chocolate chicks…So what is going on?! What are we doing here, guys, Christmas or Easter? Or am I jumping the gun here and those Easter treats were actually just the leftovers from last Easter, and soon we’ll start seeing Lindt rabbits and bunches of daffodils wedged into signposts as people finally decide it’s time to start getting rid  of the Easter stuff from 9 months ago?

Another pertinent question: who is going to clear up all those trees in posts in the end? Is some schmoe from the government going to go round with a really, really long version of one of those grabby-sticks and yank the trees out of the poles one-by-one? Or are they just going to stay there forever now, a legacy from a Christmas so fundamentally special that we shall never forget it.

Either way, we don’t need trees in posts to remind us that we’ve entered the cruellest part of winter; all you need to realise that is to step outside, where the biting cold has finally arrived and will make your nose feel like numb, dribbling putty in 30 seconds. This new year is about to get hardcore. Bring it on.

Now comes with visual interest! Available in stores.

Grandma, what cool things did you do when you lived in Berlin? Cardcraft.

This is a picture of a mask I made for my first ever German ‘Motto’ party – being a fancy-dress party based on some kind of motto (stop me if I get too technical) – where the motto was ‘Traum’ (dream). Now, although I am an eager dresser-upper to say the least, I am always reluctant these days to spend much time or money on good costumes anymore after being sick and tired of being the zombie bride in the ‘Mean Girls’ situation; that is to say, showing up to a party dressed immaculately and enthusiastically as the llama from ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ only to find that everyone else has either chosen a subtle, charming and attractive costume or most commonly, barely even deigned to acknowledge that it is a fancy dress party at all. But out of the two commodities I have, time and money, time is a lot easier to waste, and thus I set about making a donkey mask so that I could go as Bottom from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Tying a teatowel around my neck to look sufficiently Shakespearian and fastening a woollen tassle to my arse to be my ‘tail’, I forged off into the complete inertia of the Berlin transport system during snowy season. There is no real moral to this story; the party was a lot of fun and gratifyingly some people had also dressed up too (as a waiter or in a skiing onesie, for example); the only reason I tell the story is to show material proof of the fact that I am wasting my year abroad, not even in style.

This blog post was also originally written and used as a rather irate little burst of catharsis, which I then deemed inappropriate to publish and boring to read. Hence the lack of golden thread in this post. So stay tuned and buckle up for a selection of unconnected musings!

 Firstly, work: I have been taken on as research assistant for one of my tutors, meaning that yesterday I had the honour of yomping up to Reinickendorff to the Berlin Landesarchiv to spool through a million metres of microfilm to find some mystery photos in order to enlighten the world about Brecht. Sitting in a room that is entirely beige (including the furniture, machines, and people within) flicking through negatives of a communist journal sounds about as stimulating as chewing greaseproof paper, but god help me if I didn’t love every single pseudo-almost-squint-and-you-can-pretend-it’s-detective-work-or-CSI minute of it. I felt important, investigative, and triumphant twofold because not only did I solve the mystery but also managed to understand the instructions of the guy who taught me how to use the microfilm reading machine, who had a pronounced stutter (honestly, it was so bad he could have been Ben Stiller in a bad Ben Stiller film). The feeling of success quickly dwindled after I then turned the spooling knob too far trying to wind up the film and sent it unfurling all over the place, and then had the receptionists watch me with narrowed eyes as I ate my pumpernickel sandwich in the lobby to avoid the driving snow, and then returned triumphantly home and tried to open the front door with the locker key which I only then realised I had accidentally stolen from the archive.


So that’s that. Then, secondly, children: yet more success turned sour in the form of the world’s shyest child, who up until two weeks ago wouldn’t say a single word but would simply shyly and morosely suck her fists if asked to contribute or join in. I recently got her speaking in lessons, after which she would eagerly say any word I asked her to with the kind of tiny, bashful smile that would make a lumberjack get misty-eyed. And this week, her confidence grew even more and she began to be naughty. I have a feeling this is going to go down a bad, bad road…
However, joyous joyous wonderment came in the form of my Tuesday afternoon lesson, where the children are usually so outrageously naughty that I am lost for words about them; suffice it to say, one of the children has now shown up for multiple lessons with blood all over his face. This week I tried new tactics, and learnt two things about the class: these children respond to a) praise rather than punishment, and b) miming playing electric guitar at any opportunity. We spent the whole lesson singing songs air-guitaring like champions and they at no point tried to murder each other or myself, and even the child with the demonic grin and unnervingly slanty eyebrows was a little gem. It is true that you just have to find the right angle with every group, it’s just that some groups’ angles are more obscure than you could possibly imagine. 


Finally: the first of this year’s Christmas shopping trips was made today, and more than finding presents for anyone I discovered how anything you can imagine is made and sold and considered to be a good idea by someone. My favourite items were the 250 Euro corrugated cardboard totem pole, the ‘man-porcelain’ for MEN who want their PORCELAIN to be HAMMER-RESISTANT, the 95 Euro tray which is designed to look as good upside-down as it does topside-up so that people don’t go ‘Oh good lord, is that a…*choke*…tray??!?‘, and the little orange mouse made of vegetable-dyed leather with no apparent purpose at all which for some reason was being sold in a shop claiming to be an anti-consumerist establishment. No doubt there will be more worldview-changing shopping experiences to come, but that’s that for now; I’m off to weep over the white bathroom floor that I just mopped so that as much black cat fur as possible could become firmly stuck to it before the moisture dried.

Adventures in the wilderness

If you asked me to take you to a place in Germany that is the opposite of Berlin in every single way (except for temperature), I would immediately take you to the Ostsee. If you asked me to take you somewhere that was the definition of Freud’s ‘uncanny’ (thank you, useless literary theory paper) I would take you to the Ostsee without hesitating. If you asked me to show you what Henley town centre would look like with a huge terrifying voodoo swamp replacing the river – well, you’d probably stop asking me to take you places because the lack of variety I offer is so disappointing. 

The Ostsee (and Riebnitz, the town I was staying in) is a very strange and lovely place. While I was there it seemed to be stuck in the ‘slowing down time’ mode of Prince of Persia, because everything was half-soaked in a translucent grey mist and the few living things in the area just drifted, like flecks of soot suspended in lamp-oil. 

Things persist in being stubbornly picturesque no matter where you go, which is probably why my internet has suddenly decided to once again forbid me from uploading any images. Thanks again, O2.

Well, it’s not exciting, but it’s totally unlike anything I have ever seen before; it was so quiet there were bubbles on the surface of the water that you could tell had been there for days, and at one point there was a grebe casually diving in and out of the water, creating a strange optical illusion as the sky and the sea were indistinguishable, both being an identical shade of grey. I’m also terribly upset thatI can’t put any more images into this post because one thing I absolutely loved in Ribnitz was the amber museum; I promise, fossilised resin really is worth a museum. They gave me a little sachet of amber chunks when I bought my ticket (I think partly out of gratitude for being the only visitor of the whole day) and I spent forever wandering around all the brilliant displays, my favourite being the array of insects stuck in amber and featuring as the main attraction the world’s only example of a REAL GECKO encased in amber that is millions of years old. Imagine seeing a laminated mammoth. That’s basically the same thing. It’s astonishing. 

I returned on Sunday night – shockingly, things are in no way different whatsoever back in the big city. My flatmates seem to be having the most incredible time, energised by ‘Herbstputz’ (like spring-cleaning, but in autumn), as every time I return to my apartment they are having an awesome cooking-fest or dancing around wearing sunglasses pretending that it’s sunny. The children are still wild, and made wilder by the fact that they are being allowed less and less time to go outside and joyfully hurt themselves and each other before they come to my lessons. Terror alerts in the city are causing the trains to be erratic, tourist attractions to be put into lockdown mode (sorry mum, but the Reichstag will have to wait till next time) and everyone from England to wryly comment that if this were Britain we’d already be on our fourth terror alert of the week. The Christmas lights are on, the Weihnachtsmaerkte are warming up the Gluehwein, the new bakery across the road opened with a razzmatazz brass band and I can’t, can’t, can’t wait to come home.