"No sheep in Germany?" Elinor nearly choked on her cappuchino.
"That's what the lady in the wool shop said." I was thoroughly disheartened. Before BG and I left for our epic adventure in Berlin, a kind friend had given me a link to Knitmap. Resorting to old school technology, I now had wool shop addresses written down on a piece of paper and had been hoping to bring home some authentic German wool yarn.
Our old friend and star sheep of the international stage and screen, had arranged to meet us in what seemed to be the only courtyard left in Hackescher Markt not yet subsumed by tourist bijouterie. Once she had coughed up the last drop of her frothy coffee, she patted me on the arm.
"Well, Beaut, I can name at least one ewe living right here in Berlin. Back in our cabaret days, she was an artful hoofer, notoriously elusive, but maybe I can hunt her down." Wrapping a scarf around her head and slipping on some enormous shades, Elinor assumed the air of a sheep of mystery. As BG and I took a walk to Museum Insel, we caught just a glimpse of her entering the stagedoor of the Chamaleon.
Our party convened once more at a truly civilised venue, handmade Berlin, a wool shop with its own cafe on Monpijou Platz. They have handmade knitwear and a range of luxury yarns from all round Europe, including some highly desirable skeins from an indie dyer in Berlin, but not a sniff of real German wool. BG went to have a nose through the fancy stuff while I quizzed Elinor.
"So, any luck?"
"Ah, Foxy was always a fugitive soul." Hauling on the string dangling from her glass mug, Elinor sighed. "Could you nip in and get me some milk? Berlin has the best food in the world, but they do have funny ideas about tea." After much faffing about with a hot teabag, she continued. "I did hear Foxy's been running a beach bar in Kreuzberg."
"A beach bar? Aren't we miles from the coast?"
"Oh, in Berlin you just dump a load of sand on a bit of empty ground along the riverside, put up a couple of deckchairs and people will soon be dancing the tango."
And so that very afternoon we went pounding the streets of Kreuzberg, sustained only by cheesecake and heavenly felafel from the Turkish Market. Careful inspection confirmed this was a great spot for buying fruit, veg, fabric and bricabrac, but not wool and what is more, the beach bars closed down in September. Despite developing a Pavlovian panic response to the whirr of bicycle wheels, BG and I arrived safely at Faden Insel on Oranienstrasse, a proper knitters' wool shop crammed with yarn.
Asked for German sheepswool yarn, the lady immediately reached over to a box at the back of the shop, explaining that though there are no woollen mills in Germany, this yarn was spun in Switzerland from a mix of linen and the fleece of Schwabische sheep from the Jura in Southern Germany. Ausgezeichnet!
With our key wool objective attained, next day, we planned to appreciate art at the Deutsches Guggenheim Museum. Elinor had other ideas.
"If you want a European cultural experience, Beaut, just go and drink coffee in West Berlin." She wasn't wrong. Rattling above the Tiergarten on the S-Bahn to Bahnhof Zoo, the onset of cold weather had turned the trees all gold and orange. In the quiet, stately avenues, there were cushions and blankets on the
seats outside the cafes. BG disturbed the dust and the orderly hush in the second hand bookshops, I loved the cheerful bustle of La Laine wool shop, which stocked a huge range of Lang brand yarns, though no German sheep's wool. The staff could not have been kinder, BG spent ages in the changing room choosing a top and grabbed a glorious bargain, end of range, colour change skein. One of us was very taken with a yarn named Berlin, but my energy was running low.
"Stop sitting on your Hairy Lala, Elinor, I am now desperate for that coffee."
"Untwist your knickers, Beaut, I know just the cafe and there's somebody there I want you to meet."
As the waiter brought our tray, an enigmatic figure, muffled up in golden fleece, approached the table on long, ginger legs.
"Hiya, Foxy!" The two ewes exchanged air kisses. Foxy originally came from Coburg, in Bavaria, her family being the Fuchschaf, an ancient line of German sheep. I felt a little shy of asking about her wunderschon fleece, but Elinor charged straight in.
"Fran here wants to buy your wool, Beaut."
"Naturlich. It is only in the best shop. Manufactum."
We left them deep in decades of gossip. Manufactum is the shop for quality products, many made in Germany. If you've got a few bob, you'll have no trouble spending it. Good job they only have a small selection of yarn.
More woolly gratification was to come. On Sunday, at the Flea Market in Mauer Park, there was a stall selling gorgeous sheepskin rugs from the mountain sheep of Poland. The one I bought could easily be mistaken for a bear. Sitting on it to drink our Gluhwein, watch the people and listen to the band, we wondered if Warsaw might not be a more rewarding destination for the fibre enthusiast.
Obstacles notwithstanding, our trip to Berlin couldn't have been better. BG said she preferred the street art to the galleries we never visited and has come home inspired to redecorate her garden wall with revolutionary graffitti. I am moved to quote Goethe.
"Auch aus Steinen, die in den Weg gelegt werden, kann man Schones bauen."