Leaves and Shadows (Berlin XVII)

The Dorotheenstadt Cemetery is permanent home of more eminent German writers than any other cemetery I know. It is located in in Berlin-Mitte and belongs to the former eastern part of the city.

There are very famous ones like Bertold Brecht with Helene Weigel above or Anna Seghers with Johann-Lorenz Schmidt below.

The style of the tombstones varies enormously – permitting individualism that the living did not necessarily enjoy.

While looking for a proper quote from one of all these writers that have come here together, I came across this little sonnet by Wolfgang Hilbig:

Blätter und Schatten

Nicht neu kann sein was du beginnst –
denn immer nimmst du was dir längst gegeben
und gibst es hin:
wie in der Liebe da es mir gebricht
an jeder Kenntnis: rot wie die Buchen Laub verstreun
maßlos am Wegrand wo ich schon sehr frühe ging …
und kannte nicht den Weg
und kenn ihn jetzt noch nicht
und kenne nicht das Kind des Schatten mir vorausläuft
und weiß nichts von der Sonne die ihr rotes Gold
dem Blattwerk einbrennt.
Und weiß nicht mehr den Herbst
der ernst in meinem Rücken ging und dem ich Schatten
war: stets neu entworfner Schatten ungezählter Herbste.

Leaves and Shadows

New cannot be what you begin –
because you always take what you’ve already been given
and give it away:
like in love where I lack
all knowledge: red as when the beeches scatter leaves
along the trail where I walked so early …
and did not know the way
and still don’t know
and don’t know the child whose shadow runs ahead
and know nothing about the sun that burns its red gold
into the foliage.
And don’t know the autumn anymore
that once walked solemnly in my back and to which I was
its shadow: Always newly drafted shadow of countless autumns.

Having become a shadow doesn’t mean to be forgotten.

The words still reach for us, like the hands in George Tabori’s tomb stone below.

Krumme Lanke (Berlin XVI)

Berlin has no Pate Hollow trail, but it offers many lakes that can be walked around, and that are, alas, similar in the type and amount of gratification they offer.

The Krumme Lanke is one of them, and a part of a chain of lakes in the Grunewald, connected by streams.

The lake itself is elongated and curved, as the name suggests.

In the summer, the water level rises considerably when hundreds of brave locals immerse. I don’t know.

I prefer the dark winter hours when the scraggly trees start to talk to each other.

Do ducks write such long poems elsewhere, too?

Weißensee (Berlin XVI)

The Jewish cemetery at Weißensee in Berlin is a wondrous place.

It is vast in space with more than 100,000 graves, and the Jewish tradition of leaving graves undisturbed in perpetuity has created a vastness in time.

What we have here is a landscape of time.

Miraculously, the cemetery was largely unharmed by war and the Nazis, but has suffered vandalism after the second world war. We humans are strange, we can’t even leave the dead unharmed.

Traditional tombstones mingle with more contemporary designs, like the one above for the grave of Stefan Heym.

Long alleys through memory lead to the eternal question:

What will the future bring?

The Rule of Names (Berlin XV)

Off iconic Berlin Friedrichstraße is a little dark side street soon to be renamed into Anton-Wilhelm-Amo-Straße, after the 18th century philosopher.

The name Mohrenstraße raises interesting questions: About the German word Mohr, which has been used since the 8th century, originally to designate inhabitants of Mauretania, which is derived from the Latin Maurus, which in turn might derive from the Greek μαυρός for black. But usage changes, and what once might have only designated origin, has long been a designation of a specific caste by another specific caste.

Then there are the speculations why this specific street carries that name, with even historical sources conveniently contradicting each other — was it a single black resident or a group of slaves from Africa that gave cause for this naming?

And, much more generally, it raises the question: What does give us the right to name something? I suspect that Genesis 2-23 has played a role.

It seems that philosophers, psychologists and writers agree that names are powerful. So if we inflict a name on a person, or, like here, on millions of people a once, shouldn’t we be a bit careful about how we use that name?

The imminent renaming is one step, and it’s easy to nod approval. But will we, for once, readjust our own thinking?

Stolpersteine (Berlin XIV)

I grew up learning little about the German colonialism in Africa from 1884-1920, or the Herero and Namaqua genocide between 1904 and 1908 (the first genocide of the 20th century), or the term Rhineland Bastard, used by the Nazis for Afro-Germans.

The Stolpersteine Project commemorates people prosecuted and murdered by the Nazis by placing a brass plate at their last place of residence of their own choice. There are more than 75,000 of them in Europe, in Berlin alone 8587 at the moment. Most of them commemorate Jewish victims. As far as I know, there are three such Stolpersteine for so-called Afro-Germans in Berlin, and another one in Frankfurt.

Martha Ndumbe‘s Stolperstein is in front of a day care at Max-Beer-Str. 24. She was prosecuted officially as a sex worker, which is why her mother didn’t receive any compensation after the war: She couldn’t prove her daughter was prosecuted because of her race.

Mahjub (Bayume Mohamed) bin Adam Mohamed (Brunnenstraße 193) was a soldier and actor. He was killed in the concentration camp Sachsenhausen.

Ferdinand James Allen (Torstraße 174) was the son of a black musician and his German wife. He lived with epilepsy and was first sterilized than murdered by the Nazis.

All three Stolpersteine are in Berlin Mitte and can be visited during a 30 minute walk. There are several others on the way.

Doors (Berlin XIII)

During the second world war, Hohenschönhausen was a heavily bombed industrial area in the northeast of Berlin.

In 1945, one of the few still intact buildings was used by the Soviet Secret Police as Special Camp 3, a prison camp to intern Nazis and other undesired elements.

The pictures above are from the former cafeteria, converted into prison cells by forced labor.

In 1951, the East German Stasi took over and added a new building with nicer rooms.

It was used as a highly secret interrogation prison, with few people knowing about its existence. Dissidents and other people stubbornly seeking to leave the young republic were brought here into solitary confinement to solicit confessions.

At night, prisoners were checked on every few minutes and woken up if their sleeping position in bed deviated from the norm. The sound of the keyhole latches is still causing nightmares to the survivors.

The psychological torture aimed to make the prisoners feel utterly alone, disoriented, and hopeless.

An open door became even more terrifying than a closed one.

Grunewald Cemetery (Berlin XII)

Close to the Havel — a famous place to drown — secluded, away from any popular hiking trails, in the largest forest of the western part of Berlin, the Grunewald, is a little cemetery.

It is for the misfits, the nameless ones, by fate or choice.

It is a somber place, but it doesn’t depress. Instead it makes us calm and serene. I would even say this is a place I could live.

The earliest graves are from 1900, many of them overgrown.

Some of the graves are mass graves, for fallen soldiers who had no other place.

I wish we knew all their stories.

Walls (Ohio XII)

While the concept of a wall is simple, its function or pattern is complex. A wall can block the way, prevent us from getting elsewhere.

A wall can also provide protection, like the cave wall here in Hocking Hills State Park.

Sometimes a wall provides support for hidden growth.

A wall can become a space for something else to exist.

A wall can even recede and disappear.

Our inner walls are like this, too.

Some Caterpillars Stay Caterpillars

This blog post is (as will be several in the next weeks) inspired by the art of Matthew Shlian. Below you see ragged squares (or Aztec diamonds, if rotated by 45º), tiled by P-pentominos. On the right, we get by without using mirrored copies, and on the left we see all eight rotations and reflections of the P-pentomino.

The embossment on the left comes from Matt’s instagram pages where you can find a paper sculpture called Some Caterpillars Stay Caterpillars 42. He realizes this tiling using folded paper, and my different color are his different shades of grey, coming from natural light, and much more subtle in his sculpture than here.

The colors used in the embossment above add different esthetic and structural flavors. For instance, on the right the parallel slopes of the region are colored in different shades of the same color, emphasizing striped bands that completely eliminate the original tiling by P-pentominoes.

Matt’s original sculpture maintains a poetic balance between the mathematical rigor of the tiling and the more organic nature of a landscape of valleys and ridges that appear in his embossment.

Above is a tiling of the next larger Aztec diamond that can be tiled by P-pentominoes. It turns out that here you need the P-pentomino together with its mirror, but I don’t know a reason for this.