English Texts by Ruth Handschin

The Fleur-de-lis, symbol of the lily, became the emblem of the French monarchy as early as the 12th century. Thus Louis XIV also wears golden lilies on his royal robe.

Versailles is known throughout the world as the epitome of formal landscape gardening. A courtier at the time observed, "In Versailles the King took pleasure in tyrannising nature and subduing it by the concerted forces of art and money...You feel repelled by the constraints imposed everywhere on nature."

The King’s Underwear in the New Chambers of Sanssouci

During restoration work in the New Chambers of Sanssouci, a sensational discovery was made: a parcel was found addressed to Frederick the Great and the sender was Louis XIV from Versailles.

It contained a letter from Louis, written in a tone of friendly familiarity and - to everyone’s excitement - three royal pairs of men’s underpants, fashioned out of the most expensive material. The patterns are made of pure gold appliqué.
Despite the use of DNS analyses it has not yet been possible to date the find.

Dear Frederick

Many thanks for your wonderful letter. I am convinced that Sanssouci will be a splendid place!

I also have good news. As I told you before, I am fed up with fleur-de-lis. This lily has pursued me since my childhood, on my clothes and throughout the palace. I can’t bear the sight of it any longer! That is going to change. Away with the fleur-de-lis! Other flowers and other patterns must be created! I have set my best artists and botanists to work and the first results are already there: ingenious designs! Divine! Golden leaf shapes of plants unknown to me, which all grow here in Versailles. My landscape architects do not know them and my gardeners tear them out. Incomprehensible! They are marvelous. I immediately ordered the first garments to be made. So far they are only under-garments and it must be kept secret. You are the only person I have confided in. I am happy to send you three of the precious samples. My favorite is the Modèle Biodiversité. But judge for yourself!

I must, of course, continue to wear my cloak with the fleur-de-lis, but underneath, Frederick, I wear patterns which are far more magnificent!

Greetings from Versailles Louis XIV

Les Dessous du Roi, Palace Sanssoucis, Potsdam, 2008

Flora fossilis potsdamerplatzii

Berlin always held a double fascination for me: offering both the attractions of a big city as well as heavenly patches of wild plants. Right in the middle of the city you could leave the bustle of traffic and shopping behind and retreat into a wasteland covered in the most diverse pioneer vegetation. Nothing matched the sheer thrill of exploring this jungle entirely on my own: birches, ash leaf maples, cushions of pink flowering soapwort, fragrant clematis, luminous evening primroses …not to speak of insects, birds and rabbits included.

The Lenné-triangle at the Potsdamer Platz was also dotted with particularly large mulleins and sunflowers. This was where I first came across aromatic, sticky goosefoot (Chenopodium botrys), tasty ‘wild rucola’ (Diplotaxis) and tree of heaven.

When the Potsdamer Platz became a massive construction site in the 90s I was gratified and amused in the first years to find that the pioneers were growing afresh, some even bigger than before, in all the cracks and open spaces in the newly broken ground. They were all still there.

But during my summer visit in 1998 I was shocked to discover the changes: the whole area was almost completely built up and the wild plants had largely disappeared. Only a few were standing their ground. Suddenly it became imperative to record the last traces. I started to list the species and to collect the corresponding leaves.

From that point on I brought home a collection of leaves and photo documents from every trip to Berlin. A very specialised “Herbarium Potsdamer-Leipziger Platz” materialized. One of the high points of this collecting activity was the extensive tour of the landscape with the geobotanist Prof. H. Sukopp.

In 2002 I decided to conclude the stocktaking, but, not surprisingly, I have not been completely successful in keeping to this resolve.

The archive of forms remained undisturbed until it was activated in 2005 for the exhibition in the U3 tube station. There, in deep shafts directly beneath their original habitat, 45 leaf forms bore witness to the lost wealth as fluorescent fossils. An archaeological highlight!

Flora fossilis, U3 Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, 2005

Geranium Robertianum

Cranesbill, Storchschnabel, Ruprechtskraut, bec de grue, fourchette du diable, .. all names for a small plant with fine pinnate leaves, red stems, pink flowers and a long, pointed seed formation, the “bills”. These are not only extravagant in shape, they are also “high tech”, for ripened and dry they spring open explosively and hurl their five seeds far into the surrounding area. The first cranesbill is followed by many more, as the plant pursues its building plan month after month: stems – leaves – flowers – seeds…

In the castle room it can be seen magnified to giant proportions as a fluorescent silhouette cutout, extended over floor, walls and ceiling. You discover the surprising beauty of the individual shapes and of the overall structure. The whole room is bathed in cold, fluorescent light, the dimensions and contrasts are extreme; everything is artificial!

And yet, the impression lingers on after you leave the room, prompting you to look for the plant. It can be found again this year, blooming in the castle courtyard. Botanically correct in the international year of biodiversity.

Geranium Robertianum, Schloss Untergröningen, Stuttgart, 2010

Defense Strategy

Spotted Golden Thistle – Scolymus maculatus

‘...where the lemon trees bloom?’ There the thistles bloom too and in Sicily among these are the Golden Thistles.

Every year they start their ingenious program. First, a flat basal rosette appears, whose broad leaves generate energy by means of photosynthesis. When this process is running the plant begins to gain height. An extremely stable stem structure grows upwards, fitted out all around with thorny edges. Every stem bud is supplied with a small, even sharper spiked leaf; just as all the flower heads at the tip of the plant are surrounded by thorny leaves. A construction with a maximum height of almost two meters! Protected behind spines, the seeds ripen until they are ready for dispersal.

The plant has then completed its program, it dies off. The clear, light frame architecture remains, a structure so optimal that it still stands upright even after the rigors of winter. To our eye it conveys strength, elegance and sharpness - the memory of a perfect strategy.

Flowers, Kunstmuseum Heidenheim, 2006