Fifty+, Portraits


[By Irma Heuven]

Carla’s biography

The beautiful Carla Von Bergmann was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in October 1950 to Dutch parents. Her parents met on the ship on which they were traveling to Cape Town. Their romance started on board the MS Bloemfontein and started the life of Carla that would be one of living on two continents, one foot firmly on the African continent and the other in Europe.

Carla’s father working as an ex-patriot for a Dutch shipping company was transferred from one office to the next in South and East Africa. In those days as an ex-patriot, a home leave at regular intervals of every 3 to 4 years was the norm. This meant regular trips on freight ships up the eastern coast of Africa to Genoa and back 3 months later down the west coast. 

Carla’s story

I started my schooling in Tanga in Tanganyika, then on to Port Elizabeth in SA, Cape Town, finishing in Johannesburg where I went to the University of the Witwatersrand to do a BA in History of Art and Philosophy.


I met my husband in Johannesburg who was out from Germany to do a year in banking in South Africa to gather foreign experience. We got married in Holstein, Germany but after a year returned to sunny South Africa. We had two daughters there, the third being born in Namibia. The political situation being what it was in Southern Africa at the time in 1983 we deemed it safer for our girls to grow up in Germany. We started a business, I was doing what I so love doing, interior design.


15 years later 2 of our daughters discovered love back in Namibia on our numerous trips back and so settled there. We then succumbed to the call of Africa once again, settling in Cape Town where our youngest daughter finished her schooling and then study at the University of Cape Town. 

I was again in interior design, mainly busy on restaurants, etc on the many glorious wine farms in the Cape Winelands. As fate would have it our 3rd daughter fell in love with a young German doing an overseas year( history repeating itself) and so after completing her studies returned to Germany. 

I had in the meantime had been approached by a modeling agency, as I had also been as a student in Johannesburg doing a fair amount of jobs in SA only, so returned to do some modeling after many many years.  This was now on a more international level, no longer the world of the late ’60s. I have loved every moment, traveling widely( my passion), meeting so many wonderful people, the crowning of which was working with the late Peter Lindbergh in LA. 


Carla Von Bergmann

Life took its toll in many ways, my husband and I separated and I moved back to Europe, now living in Hamburg.2013 was a year that changed much in my life, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After months and seemingly endless months of treatment, the second crop of hair I returned back to life still modeling and traveling regularly, of course including Cape Town and Namibia to see my family. I have 12 grandchildren, reason enough to keep moving, traveling, to enjoy this life in which I was given a second chance!!!! I am an ambassador for the wonderful organization  Pink Ribbon, encouraging awareness in women of the dreaded disease to take action on their own initiative, regular doctors appointments and self-checking their breast.

How do you feel about being fifty plus?

I have never been someone stuck in the past so take aging in my stride. My mother was always full of regrets with lots of “if only”‘s filling her day. This molded me to appreciate the moment, now, not when and if. So I am fine with being 50 +++.

At which age did you enjoy life the most? Would you like to go back?

The time of having a big family, three delightful girls, dogs, horses, going on holiday as a family, the adventure of experiencing the unknown and the known altogether. Basically creating wonderful memories. But then I feel every stage in life is important so find this a not really a to be answered question, so many wonderful, important times come to mind simultaneously!!!

From which experience did you learn, what made you stronger?

Bringing up 3 children certainly made me very aware, made me consider and make decisions. A certain strength grew with that responsibility. Strength towards myself I learned whilst being so horribly ill with breast cancer at 63.  I believe I got through all that with pure willpower as well as the wonderful support of my family and friends. It certainly made me stronger. Stronger but not insensitive.


As is the way of the world my daughters started moving on, 2 of the 3 finding their future loves and lives in Namibia so we returned from Germany back to Cape Town with our youngest daughter. I there concentrated on my passion for interior design and started modeling again by sheer coincidence. I became more and more independent and at the age of 60 felt the need to move forward alone. So I moved back to Europe. My youngest daughter is married with children here. I have returned to my life of spending my time on two continents

Which book/ film/ music changed you?

My parents read, my mother was a librarian, so this is a difficult question. I can simply answer with what spontaneously comes to mind. There are two books that so relate to our present difficult times.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa.

The first touched me deeply as an African. It so movingly describes, explains, and touches on the deep problems created by the colonial powers, missionaries, the financial greed, etc that destroyed and changed so much of so many of the inherent African cultures.

These books just simply make one think and aware of so much injustice and inequality in our world.

Music, I love it all, has a soft spot for the music of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Most of my memories are connected to some or another song!!!!

My favorite film is definitely ‘Out of Africa’, very predictable I know. The first of many times that I saw it was whilst living in Germany many years ago. The opening words ” I had a farm in Africa” reduced me to tears, all of me longing to be back in Africa. It is just such a lovely movie!!


What would your ideal day look like?

Wake up at friends in Llundudno, Cape Town to the sound of the Atlant ocean waves breaking over the boulders and onto the beach. I would enjoy my first coffee of the day with the sea below me, wake up with a lovely swim in the pool. We would take a car along this most beautiful coastal road, just magnificent, through Clifton, Camps Bay, Bantry Bay to Sea Point, parking the car towards Green Point and walk the last couple of kilometers to the Granger Bay Market, which open on Saturday and Sunday. There one finds the most exquisite selection of flowers, plants, fruit and vegetables, bread and pastries, fresh fish, etc.

After enjoying this visual feast we would go to the two Frenchman who makes pancakes and THE best galettes that one can hope for. With typical French charm, they bake and adorn your order before your eyes. A feast in itself. One then grabs a table with benches and a sea view to enjoy. This being a brunch means that I could skip lunch. We would then drive out to the wine farm Babylonstoren between Paarl and Franschhoek. We would wander through the magnificent gardens, enjoy the shade under the ancient oak trees surrounding the Cape Dutch Homestead, heading for one of the restaurants for tea and some delicious cake with homegrown fruits. It’s difficult to describe this peaceful, gracious, honest, and completely Cape Winelands atmosphere. No words suffice. A visit to the Farm Shop is an unforgettable experience!!!!!

Late afternoon would find me strolling along with the Left Bank of the Seine, loving every second of being in Paris. I would make my way through the narrow intensely charming streets( the Parisian flower shops! ) to the Boulevard de Saint Germain. There my next destination would be simply Café de Flor. I would have a Gin Tonic as a sundowner and watch Paris go by. I would page through the latest Paris Vogue and Maison de Paris bought at the kiosk just a few meters down the road.

Possibly I would stay there for a small meal or go to a wonderful Japanese restaurant in the small side street around the corner, forgot the name. Some smallish typically Saint Germain hotel would is where I would go to end my day. I am not one for big International hotels when I travel privately. I realize that this all sounds rather “simple” but that is me!


What’s your favorite destination/hotel/museum/restaurant in the world?

  • Destination: Paris.
  • Hotel: Lord Nelson in Cape Town.
  • Museums:  The Louvre especially the small section where special exhibitions are held underneath the pyramid!! Also the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Oh and the MOCCA in the Waterfront, Cape Town.
  • Restaurant: I love small local places in the city that I’m in!!!!


What’s your signature dish?

Chicorée wrapped in ham in a delicious creamy cheesy sauce, oven-baked and served with tiny baby potatoes!!!! A very traditionally Dutch recipe my mother could do so well!!! And a good South African red wine like Mulderbosch Faithful Hound.

My mother’s Christmas Eve dinner!!!!! When we were living in East Africa Mama was inspired by a Canadian friend. A good cut of gammon, garnished with pineapple rings, covering the meat completely, in a baking dish with some pineapple juice to which one adds a generous amount of medium-strong mustard powder. This gets pushed into the oven covered with foil at a low temperature, needs basting regularly. To accompany the gammon one makes a delicious mixture of smooth cottage cheese, shredded pineapple, some whipped cream, a bit of sugar. Into this mixture one then folds some gelatine prepared in hot pineapple juice. This needs to be made in advance to set and get really cold in the fridge. With all this, she served baby potatoes, boiled and then caramelized in melted butter, and sugar in a frying pan, add chopped parsley. Broccoli, simply boiled, completed this most delicious meal.

I continued this tradition with my family. It is still to this day the family favorite once a year to Christmas, my daughters carrying on with it. Never a Christmas goes by without one or another question as to the temp of the oven, the amount of gelatine, etc. The cold cottage cheese mixture with the hot gammon…………..the leftovers of which were relished the next day on toast!!!!


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For more interviews of inspiring fifty-somethings, see our Portraits series.

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