Sunday, February 13, 2011

Goodbye Berlin!

Berlin life is a definite whirlwind. I've been milking my last days with all my wonderful new friends here, only to come down with an epic cold. Gross.

Despite feeling terrible, I went last night to the Berliner Ensemble to see the Kaukasische Kreidekreis. It was so good. I was super impressed by the acting, production, etc. I also find it hilarious how long German curtain calls are. Anyway, I have proceeded to spend this entire day packing and being sick.

Tomorrow is my last day in Berlin. My to do list is long: I have to finish packing, do laundry, meet friends, meet landlord, move out, etc. etc. I wish the last moments could be a bit more leisurely, but moving out of places never is.

All in all, this month has been amazing. My academic achievements have been questionable in their usefulness to my original purpose, but I don't feel like the time was wasted. I discovered some really interesting things and went to a record number of museums. I was really worried when I was planning this trip that I would be super lonely, but somehow I managed to meet a bunch of great people (thanks Ox!) and it's been just fabulous.

Thanks for the support, Herr Prof. Shahan, Friends, Family, etc.

I think I will keep blogging in Freiburg, but much less often.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Parks, James, and Photography

The past few days have been great.

On Tuesday, I basically just walked more. I took the train out to Ostkreuz, then checked out Treptower Park, Görlitzer Park, and various little things on the way. The memorial at Treptower was just as shocking as I had remembered it (Frau, if you are reading, know that I did not roll down anything this time). Yesterday, I went to the Berlinische Galerie. This was probably my favorite art museum I've seen so far in Berlin.

The highlight of the gallery, for me, was an exhibit by a photographer named Nan Goldin. She's American, but did some work in Berlin and other places in Europe. There wasn't anything specific about her work that impressed me; she just seems to have a gift for capturing some of the most real portraits I have ever seen. There was one photograph of a friend of hers sitting on a bed, with that recently-crying but now just sad, wet-looking expression. Good stuff.

There was also an exhibit of photography by Arno Fischer, which was awesome. His work is black and white, with some really awesome shots of Berlin. Upstairs in the museum, they had various post-Wende architectural proposals on display, mostly that never happened. It was sort of crazy to see what they could have/might do to Alexanderplatz.

Yesterday afternoon I went to meet my friend Lilly so she could show me around her neighborhood in Schöneberg. It was cool; West Berlin has a super different feel to it than East Berlin. I liked to see the differences. It was much quieter, with a lot more old people. Also just "prettier," for obvious reasons (nobody in West Berlin had architectural plans like Stalinallee).

After we parted ways I sat down and read the entirety of Washington Square by Henry James. I was impressed with myself, because I don't usual consume literature at that speed, but something about being in a foreign country makes English Lit seem so great. Plus, it's a great book, even though I found it extraordinarily frustrating and problematic. Something to look forward to discussing with my English teacher parents (does one capitalize languages in English? I don't think so...oy vey).

Today I visited Brecht's grave (and Hegel's). Not too exciting, but I felt I should pay homage. Then, falafel and more pick up soccer. Berlin. The way life should be. (doesn't have the same ring to it as Maine)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sun! And Berlin oddities

I've spent the past two days almost strictly spazieren because it's been warm and today there was even some sun!

On Sunday, I went with a couple of my friends to an awesome Brunch place called Entweder Oder in Prenzlauer Berg. Best idea ever. The German conception of brunch basically means a huge platter of fixins and a basket of warm brötchen. So good. Then we walked to the Mauerpark to check out the Flohmarkt, which was cool, but apparently it is cooler in good weather. We took some compulsory pictures of paint, au Ramsey/Herr Dr. Prof. Shahan:

Then, we headed further out, to this cool park near Gesundbrunnen. There is a huge tower that was previously an anti-aircraft tower during the war, according to my friend Dan. It is a super creepy remnant of the war, and the Soviet-style monument on top doesn't make it much cheerier. But, it was a super cool park and an interesting spot. Here's a picture of one side that people use as a climbing wall:

Today I finally went to look at the Gendarmenmarkt for the first time on this trip. Cool, but not as fascinating as some of the more gritty remnants of German history, in my opinion. I met up with my friend Lilly around lunch. We ate Dada Falafel, then proceeded to have one of the most Kafka-esque experiences of my time in Berlin: getting her a replacement for her lost HU Ausweis/Bahn card. Now, this sounds like something that might take a little bit of bureaucratic finagling, but the reality of the situation far exceeded my expectations. For one, the office in question is open two hours a day, two days a week. Second, the official person in question wasn't there at first. She/I kept getting pointed to different rooms within the Hauptgebäude, which would have been fine, except for the appearance of that place. It was almost impossible to navigate, complete with interrogation-like lighting and various Baustelle that made things impassible. A sample:

I seriously felt like the Maus in "Kleine Fabel." Anyway, it was fun in its own way and we survived, ready for an outdoor excursion: Tempelhof! Woo!!

Tempelhof airport closed recently, and now the runway/field is open as a park. This place is so awesome. The building, for one, is huge. It also has a super imposing style that is a stunning example of Nazi-era architecture. The airfield is also amazing because of its sheer size. It is super bizarre to walk through Berlin and suddenly hit such a massive open space, accompanied by an extremely scary-looking building. Plus, there were guys wind-skateboarding. Yes, that exists. Pictures:
(ahh ugly me!)

This entire post sort of makes Berlin seem like a cold, harsh place, but in reality, all of this stuff just gives the city a kind of life and visible history that makes it what it is.

After the spazieren, I proceeded to start working on Berlin Alexanderplatz. It is hard, but doable. I've also come to the point in this trip where I know I won't achieve any more hard core research, so I'm just trying to see as much and learn as much as I can while I'm here. This includes: Berlinische Galerie, Tacheles, Brecht Haus, more parks, more reading, more library fun, etc. I know I'll come back here, but the pressure is still on to really live it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mapplethorpe, "Shoot!", more Buchstaben, Plans

This morning I went to C/O Berlin to see the Mapplethorpe exhibit. Mapplethorpe is intense stuff. For those of you who know the TV show the L Word, you might remember an extended debate in the show about art, sexuality, voyeurism, etc. Mapplethorpe's work was featured on the show. I know, unfortunately, very little about photography, but the images he captured are indeed some of the most beautifully, if sometimes shockingly, framed photos I've ever seen.

What I found even more interesting was the other exhibit the museum had up, called "Shoot!" The exhibit was about fairground booths that would take a picture of you shooting if you hit the bulls-eye of a target. Pay to try, then get your photo as a prize. The exhibit showed some of these pictures, then others by photographers who explored the idea of "shooting" yourself, almost literally with a gun, and a camera. It was really cool.

The fairgrounds shots are funny, because there are usually various family and friends standing around watching, and the picture sort of oddly captures an instant of interest and surprise. The shooter is the photographer, shooting his/herself. The other pictures were awesome. A couple of the photographers (names forgotten already; forgot to bring in my notebook) actually shot a gun through the lens of the camera, which somehow cause the film to capture the image of the shooter, but with a weird black hole in the middle and shatter marks around it. The result is an image that has literally been "shot" in two ways.

The museum also had a booth set up where you could try the game yourself, but the two euro was a no-go for me.

In the afternoon, I went back to the Letter-Museum to talk to one of the co-directors, Barbara Dechant. It wasn't really a formal interview, but she had some interesting thoughts to share about her experiences with graphic design and starting the museum. I liked talking to her; she told me she has always loved letters and collected them, and that opening the museum was like an extension of her hobby. Cool stuff.

I bought Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin today, so that I can attempt to pretend that I will read it. Tomorrow I'm going to Prenzlauer Berg for Bruch and Mauerpark, and hopefully have some time to read, either Döblin or more from Brecht's journals. I also bought tickets for Die Kaukasische Kreidekreis today. Yay!

Friday, February 4, 2011

A day of Lufting and Reading

Frische Luft. My IES Berlin friends (Oxnard and company) have taught me the importance of frische Luft and opening windows every day in Berlin. They have affectionately named this process "lufting." Today was a lufting day.

I spent most of it walking all over the place in Mitte, gabbing with my language exchange partner Lena, while my open windows at home lufted everything. Marvelous.

At the library, I spent the rest of the day paging through Brecht's Arbeitsjournal, which is a fascinating window into his life and work. Each entry is super short, mentioning only a few events or thoughts of the day. I was mostly going through the part from when he lived in the US. He expressed a few times how tiring it was to work on the translation for Galileo, especially, he wrote, the sentence from scene one: "da es so ist, bleibt es nicht so."

In the journal I also came across a new Vorwort he added to Leben des Galilei after the atomic bomb; whether this part was also translated I don't know. Either way, I think it's really interesting. The rhyme scheme struck me as quite Shakespearean, with couplets. It almost resembles some of Shakespeare's famous comic openings. But, of course, the Vorwort is not comic. Note the interesting use of Großbuchstaben; I didn't change anything from how it appeared in the Arbeitsjournal:

geehrtes publikum der Breiten Straße
wir laden Sie heut in die welt der kurven und maße
zu entschleiern vor Ihrem kennerblick
die geburtsstunde der physik.
Sie sehen das leben des großen Galileo Galilei;
den kampf des fallgesetzes mit dem gratis dei,
der wissenschaft mit der obrigkeit
an der schwelle einer Neuen Zeit.
Sie sehen die wissenschaft jung, geil und drall
und Sie sehen ihren sündenfall.
sie muß essen und ihr wird gewalt getan
und so kommt sie auf die schiefe bahn
und wird, die meisterin der natur
billige gesellschaftshur.
noch ist das wahre nicht die ware
doch hat es schon dies sonderbare
daß es die vielen nicht erreicht
und macht ihr leben schwer statt leicht.
solches wissen ist aktuell
die Neue Zeit läuft ab besonders schnell
wir hoffen, Sie leihen Ihr geneigtes ohr
wenn nicht uns, so doch unserm thema, bevor
infolge der nicht gelernten lektion
auftritt die atombombe in person.

Brecht makes it very clear from his notes on Galileo that he doesn't see Galilei as either a hero or a bad guy, but the Vorwort on the atom bomb definitely seems to change, or strengthen, or perhaps even weaken the original effect of the play, whatever that might have been. I find the line "noch ist das wahre nicht die ware" particularly interesting. If science really does represent what is "wahr," how it is used (to make money off of selling a telescope, to win a war by destruction) doesn't necessarily logically coincide with the pursuit of reason. The Neue Zeit, in all caps, is also fascinating. This kind of language was everywhere even in the original play, and after 1945 took on a whole new meaning.

Tomorrow I'm going to the Buchstabenmuseum one more time to talk to the director(s). Also high on my list: Tacheles and c/0 Berlin, which has a Mappelthorpe exhibit I still have yet to see. Hopefully the sun will come out eventually--I think I've forgotten what it looks like. Frische Luft is even better with some sun to go with it, I would imagine.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Demo, Pick up Fussball, Galileo

Last night I went with my roommate to Friedrichshain to check it out, and we walked right into a huge demonstration about squatters getting evicted from an apartment! There were tons of young people angrily shouting, and even more police. Very exciting.

Today I finished Galileo in the morning and then got extremely distracted by a pickup soccer game in the afternoon. So, I haven't done much with it, but I will be revisiting Brecht's notes on the play and thoughts on the American version, which are both published in the same volume from his notebooks.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Failure of Reason, more Brecht, OSS, FBI, etc.

Over the past couple days my impulse to read Brecht has compelled me to look a bit further into German Exilliteratur/reception in the U.S./investigation and/or collaboration with government agencies, including, but not limited to, the State department, the OSS, and the FBI. Ironically, more sources for this particular topic are available in the U.S. even though I came to Germany because of sources, but the library here has tons of Brecht's writings that I can look at in conjunction with whatever documents I might find on the internet. And, I'm reading the literature as I go along because history, literature, theater, etc. are all, of course, interconnected (this assertion may or may not be why DAAD gave me money, so I'm going to go with it).

So, I started reading Leben des Galilei as my next play, because it is one of Brecht's plays from exile (written in Denmark) and it was performed in California as one of the first Brecht plays in the United States. Plus, there is an interesting dimension to that production, which is that the United States used atomic bomb while the Brecht and Charles Laughton were working on adapting the play for American audiences. As Brecht wrote of the event in a notebook, which was published later, "Das >>atomarische Zeitalter<< machte sein Debüt in der Mitte unserer Arbeit. Von heute auf morgen las sich die Biographie des Begründers der neuen Physik anders. Der infernalische Effekt der Großen Bombe stellte den Konflikt des Galilei mit der Obrigkeit seiner Zeit in ein neues, schärferes Licht."

Wowza. This brings immediately to mind the Dürrenmatt play Die Physiker, which I love. I haven't finished reading Galilei yet, so I'm unprepared to make any statements about the message, etc. (I also haven't read the American adaptation, which might be even more interesting), but I think that Brecht's statement about the atomic bomb is good to think about while reading, and reminds me of some assertions I have heard from a certain professor about the failure of the Enlightenment. At what point is the pursuit of reason futile because of the inevitable misuse of science by politicians and military strategists? How do you fight the "Obrigkeit" of traditional society without discovering things that humankind can't even deal with?

In scene four of Galilei, Galilei speaks of his telescope. Remember, this is from the orginial German version, written in 1938/9: "Die Wahrheit ist das Kind der Zeit, nicht der Autorität. Unsere Unwissenheit ist unendlich, tragen wir einen Kubikmillimeter ab! Wozu jetzt noch so klug sein wollen, wenn wir endlich ein klein wenig weniger dumm sein können! Ich habe das unvorstellbare Glück gehabt, ein neues Instrument in die Hand zu bekommen, mit dem man ein Zipfelchen des Universums etwas, nicht viel, näher besehen kann. Benützen Sie es. [!!]"

Wowza again! I'm dying to know how they ended up translating this/performing in a post-war American production! Brecht wrote more on this text in his notebooks, and I will revisit as soon as I finish reading the play.

I have also been perusing various sources pertaining to the OSS, FBI and German writers. The OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the precursor to the FBI, worked extensively with anti-Hitler Germans to develop strategies of "psychological warfare" in addition to on the ground spying, etc. Part of what the OSS did was work with German exiles to form societies for the freedom of Germany among prominent German exiles. In the few OSS documents I read today, I found repeated reference to Thomas Mann as an invaluable influence on "all Germans" even though he and his family were also closely investigated by the FBI for Communist activities. Go figure. I have yet to figure out if he actually did cooperate with the OSS or not, and to what extent. I also need to figure out what Brecht's involvement with these pseudo-organic (i.e. grassroots) organizations was, but I might need to submit a Freedom of Information request to get the full scoop on the OSS communications with various German exiles.

An interesting tidbit from one memorandum that I was able to read (one OSS officer to another) was their take on "The German" and how "he" must be influenced. This comes from a memo on the need for organizations of prominent exiles: "Any attempt to influence the German people requires a special kind of approach in view of the methodical and orderliness of the German Mind [yes, in caps]. The German is always "German." His history has disciplined him to do as he is told and, consequently, he is an unusually good citizen. He is sentimental, but not emotional, and any attempt to influence him must proceed on highly logical lines." This analysis is actually pretty valid, maybe, but I find the wording super weird, not to mention sexist, and the precedent this kind of "warfare" set for the Cold War is a whole other problem (cf. Iran coup, Guatemala coup, Bay of Pigs, etc.).

Anyway, the FBI was a whole different aspect of the Exile/US Gov relationship, and Brecht's FBI file is available online! Yay! It is hundreds of pages long, but from what I skimmed through, it is almost humorously repetitive and focused on the meaning of texts. The investigation looks more like a German Studies notebook that an FBI investigation. I knew that during the Cold War the Feds were preoccupied with hidden meanings and cultural infiltration, but it looks really weird on paper to have a translation and then one sentence with something like "example of revolutionary writing; will get back to you when I have more." (I made that up, but it's not too far off.) I also found it hilarious that Brecht split the country the day after his HUAC hearing in October, and acknowledgement of that fact doesn't show up in the file until mid-January. The file keeps going after that because they still thought he would come back.

I also went to the Pergamon Museum yesterday, for fun. It was cool, I guess (I liked the cuneiform tablets, of course), but I couldn't help wondering the whole time: What the heck is all of this stuff doing in Germany!? Colonialist/Archeological/"Ethnological" claim of other people's ancient treasures, anyone? P.S. I also find it somewhat unsettling that "Ethnologie" is still a subject in Germany. What exactly is this, and what does it mean?

More on all of this to come.