Trillium Falls Trail

After visiting Fern Canyon in Northern California, the Trillium Falls Trail offers a convenient loop to conclude a rainy day.

What do our short years matter to these trees? Having this much time, and not messing up, not failing, is not for our kind.

Even falling takes an eternity here.

The giant redwoods carry themselves with a grace that is beyond us, and create a space that is entirely their own.

Palimpsests of textured bark record stories of pain and healing. If only we had skin like that.

Or are we the ones who are blessed not to know what is contained in so much time and space, because we could never bear it?

Is seeing time pass quickly really healthier for us?

And is fragility only possible because others bear the space and time that is intolerable for us?

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Three and a Half

The first three pictures are from the summer in 2018. My daughter and I were on our way back from Northern California to San Francisco.

We stopped for a night in Mendocino, precariously perched on a cliff, the morning fog obstructing the view of the beginning day.

The last three pictures were taken this January, 3 1/2 years later, again on our way back, again in Mendocino.

This time the evening clouds leave the view open.

What happened in these 3 1/2 years? And what will happen in the next 3 1/2 years?

Humboldt Lagoons

The Humboldt Lagoons in Northern California offer plenty of exposure to the elements, even on a mild winter day.

Walking the dark sand bank that separates the ocean from the lagoon becomes a search.

Nothing could be more ostensibly temporary, but still life holds on.

Shouldn’t we live so that our life becomes a story worth telling?

This place – like each of us – is a challenge – what words, what language can contain it?

Winterreise (Berlin XVIII)

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.

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.