(3) Cling and climb and stay together!

400 plants and Ivy is one!

As a countdown to its 400th anniversary in 2021, the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum is presenting 400 plants of scientific and cultural prominence. Since November 24th 2013 such a plant has been highlighted every week. Common Ivy, scientifically named Hedera Helix, was the plant last week (107). What a marvellous choice!

Oh Ivy

Hedera Helix, Common Ivy (to be read aloud)

Oh Ivy, you master of embrace!
You, hugging weather-beaten tree trunks,
Caressing shabby stonewalls and
Flattering faded fences.

We clip you from the rotting shed
And watch you metamorphose into festive decoration.
You take a solemn stance and cover, with eternal green,
A grave, a vault, a ruin and a littered backyard.

On winter and on summer days
You creep and climb and hold together
What time and waste has left:
A promise and a memory of blossom and decay.   (ch)




(2) Stay Together…

…and sing La Marseillaise!

The sunniest public event in the aftermath of the atrocious terrorist attacks on Paris has been the united singing of the national French anthem at Wembley Stadium, when thousands of French and English football fans (including Prince William) were belting out La Marseillaise together with the French and English national football teams – with a lot of gusto, unflagging confidence and good humour. In an outstanding joint effort people let the sun of friendship shine brightly at Wembley Stadium.

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">The Wembley Stadium arch is lit up with the colours of the French flag before the International Friendly match between England and France.</span>

Shaun Botterill via Getty Images

Indeed, considerable efforts were needed to accomplish this heart-warming event. Get to know the words of the anthem, understand them and, biggest challenge of all, make the words sound French! I mean, it’s not god-given to a native English tongue to pronounce French words in a French way, is it? There’s a long tradition of learning French as a foreign language in the English speaking world, of course, and more than likely there are millions who have succeeded in doing so. But, this extremely extravagant French pronunciation is an encounter of the third kind – it  must surely have been concocted right during the Babylonian jumble of languages, obviously by some nasally gifted biblical scholars ! So, first and foremost, a legible phonetic transcription of the anthem was needed. But  would anybody be able to rip the French sounds from the freedom-spirited words of La Marseillaise? “Aux armes, citoyen” – “To arms, citizens” – how could anybody sound-doctor these eternal words of resistance into a good English read?! A case of mission impossible, I thought, an unfeasible feat to chip away  the phonological body from its orthographical sibling.That’s what I thought until, suddenly, out of the blue, a twitter message popped up: It was India Knight’s sweet-lettered soundtrack of the first verse and chorus of La Marseillaise. Here it is again, quoted for everybody to delight in:

And here it is, too, for private use to light up one’s low spirits (“Allons enfants…”) or for public use to stand together as citizens (“Marchons, marchons…”). As, for example, at this weekend’s Premier League matches when La Marseillaise is being played as a gesture of solidarity and remembrance. With 72 French players in the Premier League and its firm friendship to France it feels just right to hum along with the melody of the Marseillaise or even join in with the chorus: OZARM-uh, sit-waah-yen! Join in with the arms of friendship, citizens!







(1) Stay Together

Be free and stay together – like the Primary School children at Wahat al-Salam – Neve Shalom!

Be free!

I am, isn’t that nice?

You are, honey and spice!

We are, dare I say?

You are, all made of clay!

He, she, it is, count to three,

They are, like you and me! 

(from Esther and Christine for the English learners)

Little Lady Loris Purple Playground of Friendship

And that’s where the school children play together: Under the rainbow on Little Lady Loris Purple Playground of Friendship! By the way, the whereabouts of the first “P” in purple are unknown. But everybody has made peace with the fragment “urple” and, anyway, it looks and sounds a lot more colourful than purple. Hopefully, the “P” doesn’t feel too lonely somewhere far away from the playground of friendship and Little Lady Loris’ rainbow.


(3) Midway To Somewhere New

Refugees, staying here

Politicians are doing theoretical forward and backwards rolls, communication media indulge in reports  from the ‘front line’ of the refugee crisis and a roused public opinion is hovering  through the streets and sounds like: Watch out, when it comes through your door! Then, there is the people. Just like you and me they have come across the refugees at stations, in front of registration centres or in tents on some operating space. You meet them when you go to work or do your errands or just buy a newspaper. Gradually, you find yourselves in a noticeably changed reality, in a new social role as hosts to a large number of displaced people in your own country. Those huddled masses from TV have arrived right here. You will have to share your lives with them, somehow. How is that to be accomplished? How to encounter these foreigners, dramatically cut off from relatives, friends, values, food, shelter and finding themselves without any resources in our society. How to include the devastating experience of these people’s terrible losses into our own everyday but nonetheless urgent necessities? Obviously, we have to make room for something new and we have to grow something which is eatable. No need to turn away from this unfamiliar challenge, we’ll accomplish something wholesome.

Plant and grow

Growing bags in Berlin garden

Why have I ever come here, to this cold, hostile station concourse with its flashy noises and hundreds of pushy people hastening past. I can’t call out to them and I don’t want to, either. I am like a stone, on this cold floor, with the child asleep in my arms in a thermo fleece blanket. Don’t step on me. I am like the beggar on the steps of historic Al Hejaz station, that beggar who I would give some money, when I passed by once in a while. I haven’t gone there for years. They told me there was an explosion which killed a dozen of workers, and others, too. Nobody will sit on those stairs any longer. And who am I now? I couldn’t tell the Egyptian lady who came up to me an hour ago and spoke to me with a kind summer voice. She talked to me in Egyptian Arabic. She looked neat and nice, I would have liked her if I had met her somewhere else. She wanted to give me money, at least for the child, she said pitifully. I know, we look needy, messed-up and miserable after the ordeals of the journey but I don’t want people to notice. I wanted to shout at her. I don’t need your money, no, no, keep it!  Don’t look at me! Turn away from us and put your purse back into your handbag, please do! But she insisted, talking patiently, pleading with me that at least she could buy some food. Please tell me what you want, she said, pointing at the shops in the main station. I was infuriated. Who am I to take food from an Egyptian woman, that I don’t know, and who is not even a native on this alien ground. Then, suddenly, she caught my gaze and stopped me in my fury. She said that her name was Dalal. I answered that I didn’t need money but that I needed prayers. And I begged her to pray to God for the people who I left behind. Promise, I demanded. She bent down, stroked my shoulder and promised, using the right words. Her smiling eyes were wet and I wished she could have stayed with me for some more minutes. When she walked away through the large hall I followed her with my eyes. She moved forward steadfastly, with firm steps. Somebody I got to know by name in this strange place, Dalal.

(2) Seeking Refuge

Staying somewhere

We live in a society where the term wandering is connected to individual freedom. Having in mind  an independent seeker of new paths we don’t realize that those tens of thousands, who have been crossing European borders for more than two months, are wanderers seeking for a new living space. What we see are refugees. The TV camera which is following the endless trek of people from the height of a noisy helicopter, tries to convey the whole picture, the vast, global  dimension of a human situation – the refugee crisis. But not even for one single person from that mass of asylum-seekers could we tell how his displacement took place in the beginning or could we foresee how it will be settled in the end. No, we just watch migrant masses who seem to belong nowhere and need to stay somewhere. These images make us shake our heads in resignation: Too many people to be helped, too much asked of me and you, too big a challenge to be coped with. And such is our refugee crisis: we are utterly helpless in the midst of a good life.

Menta Cubana (Mentha Crispa)

Mentha Spicata Var. Crispa (Nana Mint)

I have arrived here in the middle of the night. These are our night lodgings, with two separate big rooms, like camping dorms, taking about 80 to 90 mattresses, no beds. In the lighted entrance hall there is water, cold food, hot beverages, some chairs to sit down for a while before you take a one-way blanket from an elderly refugee helper and find yourself a mattress in one of the darkened dorms. I am with my younger brother. We need to shower and are handed out cleaning utensils, tooth brushes, towels. Everything is stored in open shelves or on tables, so it’s easy to communicate, even without the young male refugee helpers who acted as interpreters and have taken us here from the train station. I look at the piles of towels in the shelf and point at a voluminous red bathing towel right at the bottom of the pile. The woman understands, smiles and takes it out for me. When my brother, who is ahead of me, discovers my red towel he returns to the woman and switches his blue towel for another red one. He makes me laugh, my brother. We wash and shave in the gym showers of a neighbouring school in the backyard. In the last days of the trekking I have grown a beard which is hard to shave off. Some time after my brother and the other men are already back to the night camp I am finally done. I look good, healthier, even though I’ve cut my skin with the unfamiliar shaver. Back in the entrance hall I deposit my used shaving things in a blue garbage bag. A woman standing near looks at me, as if startled. Perhaps she worries about the bleeding cut at my chin. I wave something like ‘no problem’ to her and go to sleep. The mint taste which is still in my palate from the toothpaste reminds me of refreshing nana-tea which at home we used to have after dinner.

(1) Lost And Displaced

Taking Roots

‘Displaced’ – such a harmless, totally painless term. Safely tucked away behind this word are millions of repeated stories of uncountable separations from homes, land, family and friends. Manifold stories of uprootings which means moving to a relative or neighbour, dwelling in the shells of destroyed buildings or, ultimately, fleeing across borders to unknown places.

Whatever it is people carry along, it needs to take roots and give comfort at some other place so that you can recover with its familiar taste.



Mentha suaveolens (apple-mint)

A picture of what I left behind pops into my mind  and stays there, sending circular waves of feelings. A leaf of apple-scented mint in a warm terracotta container, with some dry crumbs of root web which probably a bird has been pecking up. In the early hours of the morning I sit down with a plastic cup of tea which is strongly sweetened, exactly the way it should be. The children are still asleep in the dorm.

Autumn Afternoon

Summer declines, days decrease. Autumn is in everything, colouring fruits and leaves, deepening the blue of the sky and the yellow of the afternoon sun. You can never have enough of autumn colours. They are so physical, almost like food. Manna bread from the sky at the end of summer.


Wet foliage on the lake slope

Wetness comes with the autumn fog and bleaches the colours out of nature. Glancing over the lake I can no longer make out the distinct silhouettes of trees along the opposite shore line. They have melted into grey shadows and like a silent fleet they are sailing away to some unseen sunny continent. In their luggage they carry the greens with them.

Alster Fog and Traffic Light

Autumn fog and red light

A red traffic-light in the grey distance makes me smile.


Oxford Special – Tropical Oxford Sunset (Part 7 and end)

Oxford At Rest!

Tourists are being waved to meeting points by their multilingual guides, visitors reluctantly step out of  museums, cafes and shops, smiling wistfully but, at the same time, looking somewhat exhausted from all the high-quality sightseeing. Group after group disappears down the streets and around the corners of Oxford. Slowly, the city is being recaptured by its residents, the dreaming spires are given some rest. We, too, are homeward bound. While picking up our pace we take some last, quick glimpses at the sleepy extravaganza of Oxford’s sights after 6 o’clock pm. We stop beneath the Bridge of Sighs to give a number of audible sighs, and halt again in Queen’s Lane for a short argument on cobblestones versus asphalt. My friends reason that cobblestones favourably add to Oxford’s historical appearance whereas I insist that tarred streets are an indispensable cultural ingredient  of construction work and offer a nice conceptual contrast to medieval road building… We finally agree that the double yellow line in quaint Queen’s Lane somehow looks like an arabesque ornament for  traffic-sign fetishists.The antique street lamp at the sharp bend of the narrow road is already lit and sheds a warm, orange light that softens both tar and yellow lines.

. Yellow Lines and Lantern

At the main entrance of the Botanical Garden we watch some minutes as the heavy gates are being closed and locked. Now, until the early hours of tomorrow morning, the old garden from 1621 will return to its genuine existence as hortus conclusus. All those 500 plant species, the inspirational trees and flowers, will indulge in their vegetable murmurs without being disturbed by human voices. If not …if not Inspector Lewis has a nightly appearance to unearth some cold corpses for a TV series!

Polaroid Botanical Garden












From Magdalen Bridge we look down at the banks of River Cherwell and notice that the iron wrought backdoor of the garden is still standing open. The punting boats in the river dock are fastened to each other. Already, they seem to have recovered from their  loads of noisy, joyful day tourists. The wet, reddish-brown wood of the boats effectively illuminates the muddy tristesse of the river. Even a leftover plastic bottle adds to the picturesque scene.

. Polaroid_Quiet Boats


Pimm’s No. 1, Cucumber Or Mint?

Having arrived at home, my friends prepare this refreshing highball which uses the spicy-sweet British liqueur Pimm’s No 1. Today, they have decided against cucumber in favour of mint, and they serve the tea-coloured spirit with plenty of bright summer fruit in a large pitcher. Our glasses are filled and we are ready to embark on a tropical Oxford night with a toast to the English longhorn and the River Thames!



Sunset on the River Thames – at the ford where the oxen trots

Thames Sunset


Thank you for the day, dear Oxford friends!


Oxford Special – Radcliffe Camera, Being in a Turner State of Mind (Part 6)

Radcliffe Camera and Turner’s High Street, Oxford

Yes, that’s Radcliffe Camera, an utmost iconic landmark in a city peppered with iconic landmarks – but don’t be mistaken, the building with its circular leaden dome and cupola is a library. The word camera simply means ‘room’ and has absolutely nothing to do with filming devices or movies. Radcliffe is the last name of royal physician Dr. John Radcliffe who left a large sum of money to build this first circular library in England which was opened in 1749. Which means that Radcliffe does not refer to an actor with the same last name, frequently starring in Harry Potter films. My friends tell me that Radcliffe Camera today is the reading room of the Bodleian Library and right that moment some eager reading-beavers nonchalantly leave the distinctive building – wouldn’t everybody just love to tackle his reference works under the lofty dome of Radcliffe Camera?!

Radcliffe Camera Turner (2)

Reading under an 18th century dome may sound like an extravagant adventure but beware, unsuspecting reader, do not tip your library chair backwards on a floor which spans a subterranean cavern! Looking at the noble building, you find it quite unimaginable that beneath the solid stonework, the northern lawn and the picturesque cobblestones Radcliffe Camera holds some 600,000 books. This underground bookstore of two floors, complete with a tunnel which links Radcliffe library with the Bodleian, was constructed from 1909 to 1912. So, tread carefully, you’re treading on printed wisdom!

Turner's Highstreet Ashmolean

The artwork you see fastened to the fence in front of Radcliffe Camera shows an Oxford street scene in misty golden afternoon light and is a replica of JMW Turner’s painting The High Street, Oxford. Having walked down High Street just an hour ago you cannot believe that the painting is from 1810 and you agree with your friends that Turner’s view of High Street seems nearly unchanged after more than two centuries. Just forget some few traffic signs or modern vehicles, especially the omnipresent bicycles leaning against fences, walls, gates…

Turner's High Street (2)

Turner’s The High Street, Oxford had been on loan to Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum from a private collection since 1997 but recently it was left to the British nation in lieu of inheritance tax. Its immense value of £3.5 m turned out to be more than the tax due:  Ashmolean needed to raise £860,000 if it wanted to keep the painting. Luckily, the museum was granted the enormous amount of £800.000 from Heritage Lottery and other funds, but for the remaining £60,000 it had to launch an exceptional fundraising campaign to turn residents and visitors of Oxford into a ‘Turner state of mind’. Over the summer, the famous painting  was on prominent display in the entrance space at Ashmolean Museum and additionally, twelve full-size reproductions of The High Street, Oxford were installed all over the city. The response to the campaign was extraordinary so that in just four weeks the target was reached.

ashmolean and Turners

Look at the proud people holding up their Turner on the day when High Street, Oxford belonged to the city for ever and let their spirit pass over! Says Dr. Alexander Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean:

“The museum has been overwhelmed by public support. With well over 800 people contributing to the appeal, it is clear that the local community, as well as visitors to the museum from across the world, feel that this picture, the greatest painting of the city ever made, must remain on show in a public museum in Oxford”



In September my friends sent me this photo of Turner’s High Street, Oxford, welcoming refugees to Oxford!

Turner's Welcome to Refugees












Oxford Special – Cake Art and Bookworms (Part 5)

Artful Butchers and Sweet Bearded Men at Covered Market

Dreaming spires on your left, brazen door knobs to elite colleges on your right, ancient cobblestones ahead, Radcliffe Camera left behind – sights, sights, sights! Tentatively, I ask my friends, if we, perhaps, well, you know, if we might possibly pass one or the other awesome Oxford sight…? No?!  I am encouraged, however, that a marvellous piece of lower culture, which would promise some relaxation was just ahead: Covered Market! Once built to get the messy butcher business away from the streets of Oxford, it has since then become an oasis of culinary and shopping delights. Instead of messy market affairs you are presented with food art, nowadays.

Artful Butcher at Covered Market

Artful Butcher at Covered Market

Under the white, wooden beams and red timbers of Covered Market’ roofs I give a sigh of pleasure!  You’ll get anything here – ice-cream and shoes, cigars and hats,  first-class meat  and vegetables, cakes and cheeses and even a last minute outfit for Royal Ascot! If you are lucky, you may suddenly stumble on a miniature Oxford sight… We were lucky! When window-shopping at The Cake Shop we came across  a sugary reincarnation of the Sheldonian Theatre. We stood in admiration and marveled at its marsipan beauty. WP_20150824_14_17_10_ProThe Sheldonian Theatre is admired for the beauty of its architecture, the first major design of master builder Christopher Wren. But it is loved for the busts of fourteen bearded men which surround the building on a kind of protective railing. Nobody knows who they were meant to represent in 1669, when the originals were completed. They do look like apostles or philosophers but they’re commonly called ‘the Emperors’. In any case, the busts represent a history of beards. And indeed, each of these striking heads bears a differently styled beard. Still, at The Cake Shop the 14 bearded men look so much sweeter than the ‘Emperors’ surrounding Sheldonian! You would like to taste them…

Blackwell’s Bookshop, a Universe of Reading

Blackwell Oxford

Blackwell’s at Broad Street

Behind the quaint, old-fashioned shop-windows of my friends’ favourite Oxford bookshop, Blackwell’s at Broad Street, you embark on something like space travel into the universe of books!  At its 10,000 square feet Blackwell’s Norrington Room  is even mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest single room selling books in the world ! Just in this part of Blackwell’s there are three miles of shelving to house thousands and thousands of books. Once having entered this magnificent shop, people get frequently lost for hours while lingering and browsing the shelves, leafing through pages, taking books to and fro between shelves and and comfy chairs and being completely absorbed by their reading stuff. So, if you take a friend to Blackwell’s Bookshop – which, by the way, was opened by founding father Benjamin Blackwell himself  in 1879 and is the flagship of Blackwell bookshops in GB – you better agree on a time and place to find him again. Must be seen to believe!

... and get lost!