Any mention of a Winterreise evokes Franz Schubert’s song cycle from 1827 based on the poems by Wilhelm Müller.
Anselm Kiefer’s tight installation with the same title at the Diversity United exhibition in Berlin displays a wintry landscape on a stage in a narrow optical perspective.
Actors appear as labels on wooden tags: Names like Joseph von Eichendorff, Madame de Staël, Ulrike Meinhoff, Hermann Hesse and many others make it clear that the scope is larger than German Romanticism from the 19th century.
The extension happens in space, towards France, and in time towards our century.
The choice of objects include mushrooms from a fairy tale forest as well as war relics: A discrepancy between imagination and reality that has only been partially processed by the actors-writers on stage.
Schubert’s and Kiefer’s Winterreise both warn us about illusions. Why do we never listen?
Below is a stereo pair for creating a 3D illusion for those of us capable of cross-eyed viewing.
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.
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?
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.
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.
What you see here are impressions from the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, which has been controversial for two decades, mainly for financial reasons.
My own reservations are more of a more esthetic and, alas, political nature. At first, I was struck by its boredom.
We have low ceilings, steel, glass, and — brown decor.
The prevalence of the color brown (mostly in the form of dead wood and marble tiles) darkens the place, and, much worse, reminds me of an esthetic that I believed had been overcome long ago.
Curiously, the older airport Berlin-Tegel (which had replaced airport Berlin-Tempelhof, famous for the being used for the Luftbrücke during the Berlin Blockade) still feels much more modern, with its successful usage of simple geometric shapes like hexagons and triangles to create an efficient and stimulating atmosphere, was co-designed by the same architect, Meinhard von Gerkan.
Admittedly, here in Indiana I am used to the color brown, and I have always feared that it supports an unhealthy emotional state.
At least here, at BER, there is a solution built-in: Leave.