German actress Iris Berben about Ayurveda
After intensive weeks of filming and theatre performances, German actress Iris Berben is enjoying her Ayurveda treatment at Giardino Ascona – a conversation about mindfulness, time outs and espresso as a drug
The sound of her voice is as unmistakable as the colours of autumn. She was a comedienne in Sketchup and played Inspector Rosa Roth and Consul Buddenbrook’s wife. She was nominated as a Bond girl, and journalist Stefan Aust suggested she would make a viable candidate for the office of President of Germany. She has received many awards – as an actress and for her commitment to society. Actress Iris Berben is touring Germany, Austria and Switzerland reading the heart-rending texts of Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, a Jewish girl who died in the Michailowka labour camp at the age of 18. This evening, she arrives for her Ayurveda cure at Giardino Ascona – tired from shooting the film High Society, for which she spent hours barefoot in the wet grass the previous night. She is wearing a short jacket and a black, sporty skirt with cool trainers, which are generally called sneakers these days. After about a week, she takes time out for an interview during a walk on the shores of Lago Maggiore.
Ms Berben, it seems like you have an infinite number of doubles. You are appearing on stage in Hamburg tonight, turn up tomorrow in Mühlviertel in Upper Austria, only to be seen attending a meeting in Berlin three days later as president of the German Film Academy. What a workload! Iris Berben: We live in a world in which demands on the individual are continuously growing. The pressure increases. This is no different in film and television. Shooting times are shorter, the pay is less, while at the same time quality is expected to ever increase. It is a paradox to which you have to adjust yourself: you can choose to either join in, or not. I decided to join in, which is important for my spiritual life, my inner state, my moments of happiness.
Do you take time out for yourself in everyday life? Iris Berben: You need time outs if you work as much as I do, but it is quite a bit of an issue. We all know that it is reasonable to take them, and yet I often find it difficult to keep a balance. This also has to do with my profession in which you basically cannot plan properly. But I enjoy a day off filming to take a walk or relax on the sofa with a blanket and a book.
Mindfulness has become a major issue in society. Why is this the case? Iris Berben: We are constantly bombarded with information. The world is impatient and wants quick answers. But things are so complex that you can actually no longer find answers quickly enough. We would need a lot more rest to be able to tackle new situations. Mindfulness towards nature, towards others, towards ourselves.
You were a revolutionary, were on the front line in the 1968 demonstrations. You have tried everything – and left nothing out. Were you being mindful at the time or have you developed mindfulness from these experiences? Iris Berben: A good question. I had a very curious mother and grew up with my grandparents in Hamburg. They were Christian, but never bigoted. And they taught me early on what it means to listen. What it means to see people who are different and weaker. 1968 sharpened the focus on a political level. In those years, I learnt to see connections and that everyone in a democracy has a voice and should use it.
Ayurveda teaches mindfulness. You gave your son, Oliver Berben, the gift of a panchakarma cure several years ago. How did you come to Ayurveda? Iris Berben: I have read a lot about it. I like the fact that Ayurveda is not only healing for the body, but also for the soul. And that different types are individually addressed: fire types, earth types, air types. The world of Ayurveda is a beautiful, positive, soft and warm world. Body and mind are purified. I love the applications with warm oil, they also rid the body of toxins. My vice is certainly coffee. I drink eight to nine espressos a day. Here, I was made aware that espresso too is a drug.
You have not travelled to India for your Ayurveda treatment, but to Lago Maggiore. Iris Berben: The idea behind Ayurveda by Giardino has won me over. It is very professional, but not dogmatic and therefore a modern interpretation that addresses European habits. I like that guests are shown the way that is good for them, but they have to take that way on their own. Here, guests are not incapacitated by commandments – they do not have to give up TV and radio. But they can if they want to. And they can also immerse themselves in the world of Ayurveda for a few days on a trial basis before they decide on a longer course of treatment. For me, this is the perfect break.
You are a kitchen freak. You like to cook, and you cook excellently. Cooking, you said, “is a gift to my friends”. You eat meat and drink wine. How do you get along with Ayurvedic cuisine? Iris Berben: have not felt the need to give anything up here – this is also the beauty of this concept. My body communicates with me and I listen to it. There are times like this when it does not want to eat meat. The dishes here are tasty, perfectly prepared and refined with local herbs and spices, whether soups, vegetables or the wonderful desserts (laughs).
How important are the hotel and the ambience? Iris Berben: I like it when everything works. If you feel it is right, down to the last detail. If guests are addressed personally and by name. I observe that this is the case not only with me, but also with everyone else. And I very much appreciate good food. Hotels must have something relaxed and relaxing.
AAyurveda has a lot to do with de-acidification, with detoxification. Are there things in everyday life that make you angry? Iris Berben: Stupidity makes me really angry, because it’s so hard to argue with. It makes me really angry when power games are played, when people are marginalised and treated unfairly. My mother always referred to me as a “justice fanatic”.
We live in a world devoid of rituals. And rituals are moments of peace. Do you have any rituals of your own? Iris Berben: It’s true. Christmas is probably one of the last remaining rituals in society. I have several rituals in everyday life. For example, at 7 or 8 p.m., I have to watch the news. I’m a news junkie. And I like to have baths. During my evening bath, I can relax wonderfully. I always had the ritual to phone my mother on Sundays. That has not yet taken hold with my son – we always talk at different times.
You are in the public eye. You work as an actress in a profession in which you need to be attractive and have special abilities and character. How do you define beauty? Iris Berben: There are beautiful people who walk into a room and yet you have forgotten them after two minutes. And there are beautiful people who fill a room. This is the beauty someone creates because they have attitude, because they are clever or amusing. Beauty certainly has a lot to do with personality. This kind of beautiful and attractive people always have a sense of humour. They are open, alert and intelligent. Everything else is just pretty bubbles.
Ms Berben, thank you for your time.
The hotel for the story:
Hotel Giardino Ascona, Ascona