Book recommendation: “Der Zoo der Anderen” by Jan Mohnhaupt

Source: Hanser Literaturverlag

Here is another book I recently read, and that I wish to review here in English despite it being written in German. The journalist Jan Mohnhaupt has written a detailed report of what happened to the two Berlin zoos during the Cold War, that I found captivating and moving. I have been to both the Zoo and the Tierpark, but at the time with only a vague idea of their history – I am even more curious to come back after this read, to see the animals, trees and enclosures not only as themselves in the present time, but also as traces of a complex past. The interesting side of this book is that the story of the zoos and of the people who managed them and worked there sounded to me as a net of complex, but understandable, human stories, about people who showed the highest dedication to the cause of wildlife, but also had to play smart on the Cold War chess board and to deal with personal life obstacles.

I also have the feeling to be a little more Berliner, with this new piece of local knowledge. I still oscillate between feeling “local” or “foreign” in this city, and I oddly feel close to the most beloved animals in the zoo: adopted by the visitors as true citizens, but forever (hopelessly?) foreign, as members of an exotic species.

Panda bear Bao Bao – source: Berlin Zoo website

I warmly recommend this book to whom has a good German level, and I hope it will be translated to English soon!


Rhubarb-ginger-lemon jam

From a visit to the local library I brought back this intruguing little book about ginger:

Publisher’s page

The title translates roughtly to “Ginger – health and taste” and is a collection of interesting recipes with ginger, with an informative introduction about the plant, its history, and its many culinary and medical applications. From the many recipes I picked the one for rhubarb jam, that included gelling sugar (that I bought last year but didn’t manage to use), lemon and of course ginger juice. I went grocery shopping and I came back with a kilo of rhubarb, in the form of three huge stalks (really huge! I had never seen such large stalks in Italy!). At home I washed and cut the stalks in small pieces, and removed only the largest fibres. I put the rhubarb pieces in a plastic container, poured the sugar, put a lid on and put everything in the fridge overnight. The day after, the rhubarb had let out a lot of juice. I asked my friend to taste a piece of rhubarb, to know whether to filter the fibrous parts away, but he said they were quite soft, so I blended everything in a purée and transferred it into a pot. I cooked the jam until it started gelling, and then added the juice of a lemon and a lot of ginger juice (it’s sold in small bottles here, and it’s so practical). I stirred the jam and poured it into little jars.


I’m not that fond of ginger flavour, but my friend is, and this jam has become a fixed part of our breakfast 🙂 It goes especially well on the dark bread that I just baked, and is #59 in my bread count:



Introducing changes: the trial phase

Last weekend I talked with my friends about introducing changements in our lives, and more precisely, what makes each one of us hesitate before changing anything in our routine.

We agreed that we all find difficult and risky to introduce a changement from one day to another, with no plan to rollback, even if it’s a change for the better. I find it daunting to turn a page forever, and have to adjust into the new habit because there is no other choice. What I look for is to be 100% (OK, at least 80%) convinced of the new plan, therefore I need to test it for a while, because I could discover that it’s not the right solution to my question, or I could need to adjust some details and test it again.

For example, some time ago I decided to draw more regularly. I initially resumed drawing, but in drawing sprints (with a drawing a day) that were too demanding for me to be a permanent task. I have since revised the plan and am aiming to draw once a week, but still I find myself struggling to respect the schedule. For the time being, I’ll probably settle for a finished drawing every other week, and scribbling everytime I feel inspired. I feel that the important thing is that I keep this activity in my schedule, rather than dropping it completely because I can’t work on it often enough. Of course the lower limit changes for every activity (running once every two weeks can’t count as training) and determines how much progress I can expect on that domain (I’m really behind with my practice with the trombone, but I won’t give up, and I want to practice more often in the near future!). Even for what falls below the lower limit there can be a positive thought: it has been tried, but this time it didn’t work out – if I want, I can analyse why, and try again with a better set of conditions.

Overall, I feel more inclined to introduce a changement in my schedule if I can have a trial period before adopting it on the long run. Amusingly enough, it is a widely accepted practice in Germany, so much that there is a (colloquial) word for introduction course: Schnupperkurs – based on the verb schnuppern, that means “to sniff, and in broader sense to get an idea about something new”. The goal of these courses is to give newcomers a good overview of a discipline, so that they know what it involves before committing to it.


What do you think about introducing changements in your schedule? What works for you and what doesn’t? Let me know in the comments!

Progress with yoga

I have started a new yoga class and I’m starting to adjust to the amount of effort and stretching required. The previous class was more relaxing and exploring, while this one is definitely more demanding. The first few lessons felt really hard, and I was unsure if the muscle discomfort I felt in the following days was OK, or a sign that I asked too much from my body. After a month I can say that it’s OK, and I’m getting better at knowing how much to exert myself in order to get the benefit from the stretch, and where to stop.

BKS Iyengar Parivrtta Trikonasana, 2016, Tinte auf Papier, 29,7 x 21cm — Svenja Karstens

I have started quite conservatively, by stretching only a little, and stopping as soon as I felt pain. I knew that the exercises require to go past my comfort zone, and that Iyengar Yoga, the yoga style of my teacher, was above my current level of fitness. But only after a few tries I trusted the teacher and finally myself in doing a bit more. The result is that I feel less and less tired and aching after each session, and I become more aware of what my body can do. I’m lucky that the sessions are attended by a handful of people, so that the teacher can give each one of us a lot of attention.

I’m glad I met another person who doesn’t simply whip me forward, but gives me information about what they observe about my current state/skills, and give me useful and feasible next steps. I was about to add “until I don’t need them anymore” – but it felt rather arrogant. I feel I will benefit from experienced people’s feedback all my life long! I’ll maybe need them less, but appreciate them all the same.

Book recommendation: “Lernen geht anders” by Remo Largo

I read this book a while ago and took quite a lot of notes about it. It’s a book that I found compact and easy to read, while talking about very broad ideas about teaching and learning. Remo Largo is a Swiss pediatrician who wrote several books about education, and is therefore well-known in the German-speaking world.

Book cover, from the author’s website

In this book, he underlines how external pressure (from parents and teachers) is not as effective as the child’s own motivation to learn, because it works as a threat and has no positive long-time effects. Small children grow following a “curiosity path” that leads them to focus on specific topics for a short time-frame (language, movements…) and it’s important that the adults notice these focus moments and support them with related learning environments and tools. He is convinced that obedience doesn’t help in building any relationship between the child and adults, and that a healthy emotional connection with teacher figures has a positive effect on the interest on the topics they explain. He proposes individually-tailored learning paths for each child, so that the speed of learning is appropriate, and the child doesn’t get bored or overloaded.

I consider this book more of a manifesto than a guide, and am curious to know more about the practical applications of these concepts. Many ideas are already part of school programs, and I find that there is significant overlap with Montessori education concepts.

Fox sketches and book recommendation: “Fuchs ganz nah” by Klaus Echle and Anna Rummel

I was looking for great nature photography books in my local libraries and stumbled upon this one, that narrates the friendship between a vixen and two humans: the three met almost every day for a few months in a specific point in the woods, and from there they walked together, with the humans observing the behaviour of the animal and taking pictures. It is a fascinating narration, full of awe and respect for wildlife, and of incredible close-ups of the vixen.

Link to publisher’s page

As I have to give back the book in two days, I decided to draw a few portraits of the fox just now:

As usual, the first two sketches are a bit off. From the fifth onwards I got a better grasp of the typical marks that make the drawing look fox-like: the large ears (still, I made many of them too small), the white patch on the sides of the nose and cheeks with its sharp boundaries, the colour pattern, the black back of the ears, the pointy muzzle. I think the last portrait sums up that quite well. Her ears are really huge 🙂

I’m getting hooked to this 10-sketch sessions, I’ll post more of them with new species – if you have preferences just leave them a comment below!

After the concert

Last week I played as a guest percussionist in a symphonic wind orchestra, and my concert experience was overall good. On the positive side, I managed to play almost all my notes and I didn’t have issues with tubular bells, which I practiced only at the day of the concert. Here is a first-person view of the percussion section, right before the sound check:

It was a somewhat difficult concert, because I knew some pieces too little, and I had to pay a lot of attention just to follow what others were playing. Only the first piece was clear to me enough that I could really enjoy it. I think that the required level of attention is what makes the concert feel energizing, easy or exhausting. If I have to keep my attention on high alert for the whole ten minutes of the piece (or worse the whole concert), and moreover I make mistakes, my energy levels plummet down. I think it’s a quite common experience among musicians, and that my limited amount of rehearsals played a big role. However, for my next concerts I want to be more aware of how ready I am, aim at reasonable goals and not at perfection, and manage my energy so that I have enough left for the day of the concert (sometimes I put 130% in the last rehearsal and go to the concert with almost no energy). The thing is also that I need to communicate my current energy/skills availability in a positive way, not in a way that make me appear lazy. Most of the times when I say that a piece is too hard or that I can’t do something, I end up being pushed even more. I’m working on it, and will update you about my progress, maybe my experience will help others too 🙂