April 8, 2018 § 1 Comment
Since a couple of weeks I‘ve been following Peter Maass’ tweets where he describes his experience during the Irak war always on the same day but 15 years ago, day by day. He is trying to bring that war, its deaths, its aftermath back into the consciousness of the US, and not only, citizens. I think, he’s hoping that a few more people will see its connection to the political events that followed that war and how this unlawful US invasion in Irak, though surely not the only reason for following events, particularly destabilised Irak and the region.
After an initial overwhelming solidarity with refugees, first crossing the Aegean and then continuing on foot all the way up to Germany, sentiments have changed in Europe, in some countries sooner (not to say some have to unfortunately yet show some solidarity) and more obviously than others, but this is certainly a general development: Too big were the numbers of refugees arriving, too deep are still the roots of nationalism and racism, easy for demagogues and far-right-wingers to dig out.
In Greece the state is in bad shape and help from Europe comes like a bad medicine since years. Thousands of refugees are stranded on islands like Lesbos, the inhabitants’ patience with their own government and hospitality to the refugees is declining.
And here in Germany, Merkel’s initial welcoming for the refugees has in the meantime been successfully presented as an act of political naivety by the growing right-wing parties. (Solidarity is generally a term deeply in crisis in times of global capitalism. Even traditionally social-democratic parties show problems defining it or even understanding it, therefore constantly losing their voters.)
At the moment doors are not as open as initially thought by refugees in Germany, certainly not to the ones that don’t come from countries directly affected by the war against the IS, but even for people already here and coming from those countries —Syria, Irak, Afghanistan—the so-called, “family reunification” has become more difficult.
You see, in most cases, it was men who made the whole way through the Balkans and reached the wealthier northern European countries. Surely some of them did that just for themselves, in order to escape military duty (who can blame them for that?) or wishing to reach a country with a future that they couldn’t see taking place in their own anymore, but many took the road because they were stronger, leaving their families behind, hoping they could get for them later, when they would have reached safety. Many families even started together but saw that it was impossible for kids to keep up with the pace, or money run out, and so they got separated on the way.
And now a final story:
I talked with a friend from Greece on the phone the other day. Among other things she told me that her sister and brother-in-law, already parents of two, had become foster parents to a three-year-old boy from Irak. I was very happy to hear that because these are very good people and there are so many abandoned refugee kids in Greece, still staying in hospitals or even on the streets with their constant dangers. The background of this little boy though illustrates the current situation and brings for me all the stories above together.
His mother has been committed to a mental hospital. Due to her mental problems was not able anymore to take care of her two sons who were initially, more or less, left in the streets. The older son, a young teenager, has been, according to the reports, abusing the younger one, so the kids had to be separated. The father is gathered to be somewhere in Northern Europe, probably in Germany, but nobody really knows or is sure about that.
A family’s fate in our current world.
March 30, 2018 § Leave a comment
Last year I was in Greece taking part in the Good Friday procession in my village. The evening air smelled of orange tree bloom and I recorded the sound of the crowd in the street and sent it to the RIC Journal for their lovely Echos section.
March 26, 2018 § Leave a comment
A winter has its good sides,
no sorrow has to be hidden,
said the weeping willow.
March 22, 2018 § 1 Comment
What does a dream do to a soul?
A minute ago, I almost fell off the bed,
in my dream my bed was elsewhere,
my friend slept next to me,
we both had a sore throat,
Dad had sold his old car, had bought a Golf.
For no one but me is any of this important
Your dream is your sea, your desert.
It’s your tears you must drink now,
fold the night into a drawer,
let go, let go.
I’m here, you’re somewhere else.
March 16, 2018 § Leave a comment
The bronze sculpture by Adolf Brütt in front of the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin is an example of the German realism in the end of the 19th century.
Crossing the Spree towards the Museumsinsel over the Friedrichsbrücke and heading to the Alte Nationalgalerie through the impressive pillar arcades, I first saw the sculpture from its backside. The young woman’s fragile arms and legs hanging powerless next to the quite big and rigid body of a fully dressed man with a hat on. Her head hangs in a lifeless way too which led me to think of the worst case: the woman is dead, the man is her murderer.
And so I was very surprised when a few steps later I saw the sculpture from the front and read its title, “Gerettet” (Saved). I then read online about the story behind the artwork. Apparently Alfred Brütt had witnessed a rescue of a young lady from drowning in Möltenort, at the Baltic Sea, where he was often on vacation. The fisher’s name was Klaus Löpthien, I couldn’t find the girl’s name. Dedicated to him the first title for the sculpture was “The Fisherman”.
I entered the Alte Nationalgalerie, still thinking of the reasons why my first thought had been of a murder and not of a rescue. Even when looking at the sculpture from the front, now knowing its title, I felt it was transmitting more a notion of danger than the feeling of relief about a rescue.
The night before I had visited the Joel Mayerowitz show at the C/O Berlin. It was the last weekend of this great retrospective of Meyerowitz’s love for colour and so the opening hours were extended till 11 pm. I had come to Berlin especially for this show and so I stayed there till late and took my time to enjoy each photo. My hotel was one S-Bahn station away and the walk to it along the 17th June Avenue, past another hotel, a few administrative buildings (well lit but empty at night) and the Charlottenburger Tor with the huge bronze Sophie Charlotte statue on its one side. (This latter is the scariest part of this story.) The next day a flee market would take place on the wide sideway I was walking on and some of the tables and stalls were already there. They looked strangely deserted in the dim light and I took my camera out to take some night pictures when I heard the voices of, I believe, three young men a few meters behind me amusing themselves of me taking photos at night of something so unspectacular like that. A woman is trained by experience to know the kind of voices one has to better run away from and so I didn’t even turn to take a better look at them. That would only cost me time. I hurried as good as I could without running to my hotel.
March 7, 2018 § 3 Comments
The winter has been mild in its biggest part, except for the last weeks of February when temperatures far below zero put a layer of ice on and around everything. These days were quite sunny but the wind was mostly far too cold to allow long walks at favourite spots for photography and inspiration. So the first day temperatures climbed above zero, I took my camera and drove to a nearby moor and peat-bog area, one of my favourite northern European landscapes. Everything was frozen, everything was a photograph before me taking it.
As my eyes moved from the silver-white of the birches to the brown, sometimes almost black, of the peat-bog, I couldn’t but think again of Heaney’s Bog Poems which deal with the darker side of those northern European bogs. In the Iron Age they had been the wet graves of an unknown number of human victims, some of them probably offerings to the fertility goddess and others victims of tribal punishment. The head of a girl, found in a peat-bog thousands of years later, reminds Heaney of a “strange fruit”, surely not just for its shape, but also because of the other well-known poem and song that moans similar lynchings timely much closer to our times and, hopefully, consciousness. Strange is also for Heaney that civilised people like the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus feel a “gradual ease” when confronted often enough “with the likes of this”, brutal murders this head is now evidence of.
Here is the girl’s head like an exhumed gourd.
Oval-faced, prune-skinned, prune-stones for teeth.
They unswaddled the wet fern of her hair
And made an exhibition of its coil,
Let the air at her leathery beauty.
Pash of tallow, perishable treasure:
Her broken nose is dark as a turf clod,
Her eyeholes blank as pools in the old workings.
Diodorus Siculus confessed
His gradual ease with the likes of this:
Murdered, forgotten, nameless, terrible
Beheaded girl, outstaring axe
And beatification, outstaring
What had begun to feel like reverence.
This moor I wander about is not the Teufelsmoor (Devils Moor), but not very far away from it, and so besides the effect of awe such a place has had on humans, I also think of the influence of those landscapes on art and the impact they have had on many artists. Worpswede, a small settlement near the Teufelsmoor, was the most famous artists’ colony in the end of the 19th and birth of the 20th century: Fritz Mackensen, Hans am Ende, Otto Modersohn who was married to the painter Paula Becker and writers and poets , most famous among them Rainer Maria Rilke who was married to, Paula’s best friend, the sculptor Clara Westhoff, lived there for shorter or longer periods of their lives.
A great friendship developed between the two women artists of the colony, Paula and Clara, a friendship partly depicted in a German film I watched last year, named after one of them, “Paula”. While taking a walk in these boggy grounds I can’t but remember the film scenes where the two young girls walked in the same landscape, among the shiny white of the birches and the golden of the moor grass, enjoying their freedom to be there, the freedom to make art, to make love, to make own choices – a freedom not at all common among women of their times and not at all to be taken for granted even for women of our times.
But even there, in Worpswede, among artists who had also chosen that place in order to live a free life dedicated to art, these two women would have to put their artistic ambitions behind those of their husbands. Adrienne Rich writes about that in her poem “Paula Becker to Clara Westhoff”:
Rainer, of course, knows more than Otto knows,
he believes in women. But he feeds on us,
like all of them. His whole life, his art
is protected by women. Which of us could say that?
Which of us, Clara, hasn’t had to take that leap
out beyond our being women
to save our work? or is it to save ourselves?
Marriage is lonelier than solitude.
(And it is the second time this week I think in anger of a most excellent poet like Rilke. For the first one read Teju Cole’s, On the Blackness of the Panther.)
Corpses underneath our feet,
how strange the solace
among those birches and light.
February 25, 2018 § Leave a comment
Opposite the Rathaus in Düsseldorf, at the central Marktplatz, there is a now empty building called Alte Kämmerei that used to be the city treasurer’s office and administration building. The Alte Kämmerei was abandoned in 2014 because the building, built between 1952 and 1956, was not fulfilling modern fire safety regulations and in order to be used again has to go through a thorough renovation and modernisation. The city is still looking for the right investors who would turn this building, at such a central spot, to something attractive for citizens and tourists. In the meantime the Alte Kämmerei is sometimes open to visitors as the haunting atmosphere of the abandoned building and its typical 50s design elements are very photogenic and a nice background for several cultural activities and events.
In such an occasion during the Düsseldorf Photo Festival I was able to visit the building together with other photographers who were all blown away by the spooky atmosphere and the wonderful light we were lucky enough to have on that wonderfully sunny winter Sunday we were permitted entry.
But even in such bright light there is simply no place without a dark past. Not in Germany (or elsewhere). Julius Schulte-Frohlinde, the architect of the Alte Kämmerei, had been, along Albert Speer, one of the most appreciated architects in the Third Reich, openly anti-Semitic and dedicated to the National Socialistic ideals, its aesthetics and architectural fantasies. He had been the architect-director of the Schönheit der Arbeit (“Beauty of Work”), developing homes and recreation places for the National Socialistic worker’s force. Many of Julius Schulte-Frohlinde’s kind, the murderers’ best friends, supporters and muses, survived the war, survived the aftermath of the war, and were spared imprisoning and reprisals after the war thanks to the Allied Powers’ great need –and later the young German Republic’s need–for qualified professionals of all kinds. One would keep one eye closed to minor Nazi past and, obviously, one would even keep both closed if one’s qualification was superb. Besides, as soon as one old Nazi was able to keep or acquire a higher position, there was no doubt that he would surround himself with old friends. They became the little islands of self-righteousness and a continuity of Nazi structures and ways of life which would influence German public life till the late sixties, until the generation of their sons and daughters was old enough and educated enough to rebel against this poisonous generation.
In Düsseldorf the central figure of this old circle of friends and comrades was Friedrich Tamms, head of the city’s planing office. He gathered around him several old Nazi friends. They dreamed of an “autogerechte Stadt” (car-friendly city) with huge streets and a monumental architectural face. Against these plans was a circle of younger architects, the “Architektenring Düsseldorf”. The Architektenring publicly criticised with articles and statements this Nazi clique at the city’s planing office. Nevertheless, the planing office clique went on building several buildings in Düsseldorf, among them the Opernhaus and the Alte Kämmerei.