Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Einfach Kompliziert - Simply Complicated

"Du wirst sehen / es ist alles / sehr kompliziert auf der Welt / Es sieht alles einfach aus / aber es ist sehr kompliziert / alles ist kompliziert."
[You will see / it is all / very complicated in the world / It all looks simple / but is it very complicated / everything is complicated]
Wednesday night we saw Thomas Bernhard's "Einfach kompliziert" (1986) at the Berliner Ensemble, a one-actor piece with Gert Voss (with the exception of part of one scene, where a little girl brings the milk). We really enjoyed it. Parts were laugh-out-loud funny, but mostly it was rather sad and tragic, about a lonely old actor who spends his time alone in his apartment, performing to himself. 

„Die Menschen sind die Ursache, immer sind es die Menschen“

„Wir wollen allein gelassen sein / und man lässt uns nicht allein / Wir brechen die Brücken hinter uns ab / und wir werden belästigt / wir wollen unsere Ruhe haben / und man klopft an die Tür“.

"Wir existieren nur / wenn wir sozusagen / der Mittelpunkt der Welt sind,"
"Die Wünsche aufgegeben / aber mich selbst habe ich nicht aufgegeben / Wir schulden niemandem etwas / Alle schulden uns alles / aber wir schulden niemandem etwas."

Unauthorized translation of the whole play.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Germans and Hollywood

We just saw The Artist tonight and so I thought I'd do a little silent-film inspired post about Germans in Hollywood, with some film recommendations. Feel free to post any other suggestions.

I've seen a lot of the classic German silent films, and shown them to students...and to be honest, they can be hard to take sometimes. The intertitles are usually made for people who need more time to read on the screen, and the movies usually move more slowly in general. I can watch Caligari for the beautiful sets, and I have really enjoyed Nosferatu at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, with live organ accompaniment around Halloween. But if you rent them at home and watch them in your living room, I can't promise you that you will love it. Or Metropolis, or Berlin: Sinfonie der Großstadt. The latter I got to see with modern music at the Babylon in Berlin, an amazing experience. And last year at the Michigan Theater I went to quite a few Charlie Chaplin films on the big screen, with a full audience, laughing with you. It totally changes the experience. Silent films were meant to engage you (the audience) loudly and viscerally, and communally, and that has totally been lost along the way, and it's hard to recapture (but can be done!). Watch Cinema Paradiso for a feel for the loud, grimy and hot atmosphere at the local theater. Some of the opening scenes of The Artist try to capture this, when they zoom out so you can see the movie palace where the film was being shown. But that was a movie premiere in Hollywood, not your local theater. But I'm getting off-track...

The Artist takes place during the late 20s, early 30s, roughly the same time frame for Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel, starring Marlene Dietrich, which also flashes the dates as intertitles, and uses the stock market crash as a time reference.  The Blue Angel was the first major German sound film, and also made Dietrich internationally famous. Both she and von Sternberg went to Hollywood after the film.

Then came the mid 30s and 40s, when Hollywood benefited from the talented writers, directors, composers, and actors who were either driven out or chose to leave Nazi Germany, including: Fritz Lang (in Germany: expressionist classic Metropolis, film noir M, in the US: The Big Heat), Peter Lorre (in Germany: M; in the US: Casablanca), and Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot, Double Indemnity, The Apartment, Sabrina, and many others).

I read that when The Artist director Michel Hazanavicius gave his acceptance speech, he said he wanted to thank three people, "Billy Wilder, Billy Wilder and Billy Wilder." Billy Wilder tops my list of the most amazing stuff you'll ever see that doesn't seem to age (also including Chaplin on the big screen, and Hitchcock). (Maybe that's also why my expectations were very, very high.) If you haven't seen Sunset Boulevard, it is also a film about a silent film star ruined by the sound age. Rent it. Amazing.  And, if you want to see some of his work tied to Germany and the immediate postwar period, rent One, two, three (1961); and A Foreign Affair (1948). Hilarious!

Watch the first minute of this clip, where American GIs are hitting on German "Frolleins," and then accidentally pick up an American from Iowa. The whole film is actually available on YouTube, starting here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

ein Kuchen, durch den die Sonne dreimal scheint

Lately my favorite treat is grabbing a Butterbrezel on my way to the library. This is a big soft pretzel, cut horizontally and filled (generously) with sweet European butter (yes, it's different). YUM! The Butterbrezel is more of a Southern German thing, and it took me a long time to discover it. And we have this really great bakery/café around the block, Brezel Bar that has the best pretzels. They also make Brötchen (rolls) out of the same dough, and make Laugencroissants, plain or drizzled with white and milk chocolate. (Is your mouth watering yet?)  I came here with Jessica, too, and she got little mini-pretzel pieces rolled in different seeds (sunflower seed, poppyseed, etc).

If you're in Berlin, they also have a good breakfast option, and it's a nice (but quite small) place to sit and read or have coffee.

Legend of the origin of the Brezel: A baker was challenged to bake a cake through which the sun shines three times: „Back einen Kuchen lieber Freund, durch den die Sonne dreimal scheint, dann wirst du nicht gehenkt, dein Leben sei dir frei geschenkt.“

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rosenmontag - Karneval

Today is "Rosenmontag" in Germany, the day of the big Karneval parades. The biggest and most famous are in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz, mostly in the Rhineland and also in the southwest. Not so much in Berlin. (Below is a map where they have parades, and what they are called - Fasching, Karneval, Fastnacht, usw.) I went in 2007, to Mainz, (post here) but that experience was enough for me. Germans are usually divided along a North/South divide about how they feel about Karneval. Some love it, the others can't understand it. (It's maybe comparable to how adults feel about Halloween. Some love the chance to go out, dress in costume and go crazy, others not so much.)  My favorite part about German Karneval: the political satire.
Facebook spinning its web around its victim, plus: did I ever mention German opinion of Obama?!

I just read an article about one of the artists who design the papier-maché floats. They are often very political and topical, and super-current (I'm sure people were working very hard in the last few days since the President resigned to make floats about this! See the Wulff floats below). I love this tradition, and I think it marks a big difference to our political culture. (But maybe I'm wrong? We have an awesome tradition of political satire, with The Daily Show etc, but it's not as mainstream.) The Karneval floats are crazy and vulgar, but in the context of Karneval it's all in good fun.  This one guy, Jacques Tilly, is famous for his floats. They are really critical, and he has been attacked by various politicians for his work. Notice how a big theme is always the US/Germany relation.

Merkel + Sarkozy = Markozy
2012, Merkel and the FDP, and leading the train with the European economy
2003, Merkel and Uncle Sam

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Gebaut für Dunkings!!!


Tonight Michael and I saw the Berlin basketball team - Alba - play at the O2 Arena. Michael had gone a few times before, and was impressed with the fans, which he thought had the enthusiasm and energy of college fans rather than most pro basketball team fans.

It's a really fascinating phenomenon, basketball in Germany: first, almost all of the players are American, and they are mostly all college players who couldn't make it in the NBA. On the Berlin team, all of the starting players were American, and the best German player (the one who plays for the German national team) doesn't even start on his own (local) team! Pretty crazy.  Dashaun Wood, the best player on the team, got 27 points tonight, and was the MVP of the league last year. Here is a funny video of him being interviewed for a German audience, about his life in Berlin. (Just think about it! All these American basketball players living in Germany! Crazy...what do they do?!)

In general, it was a pretty cool atmosphere. Not like Michigan games, but still pretty cool. (Michael said it was even better atmosphere at the other games he saw, when it wasn't a blowout win...) And what was impressive: the fans sit there the whole time. There were never lines for food/beer. People sit and stay in their seats. Also at the end: no one gets up early to go and get to their parking spot. People stayed until the very end, and cheer the players at the end while they have their names announced. They don't just head to the locker rooms.  We got to see the Alba win 94:70 against the team ranked above them right now.

Awesome example of Gerglisch: "Built for dunkings. Built for Bodychecks." (they also have hockey there)

We also thought the food/drink options would be amusing. No nachos here. Fries, Bratwurst, Currywurst, Boulette (like a thick hamburger patty), soft pretzels (again, NO cheese!), cookies, muffins, and Haribo (gummi bears) and Hit cookies. Very German. Also notice that beer is 60 cents more expensive than soft drinks (3.80 for 16 oz). Also German: you pay a deposit on your cup (1 EUR). So you definitely clean up after yourself, returning the cup, or you lose the money. For drinks, you can also buy red/white wine, prosecco, and the German mixed beers (coke/beer etc).

Friday, February 17, 2012

These are not the Disney fairy tales...

It seems that fairy tales are in. Lately I've been hearing so much about them: the TV shows "Grimm" and "Once upon a Time," the re-making of children's fairy tales into adult movies: "Red Riding Hood" (2011) and "Snow White and the Huntsman" (2012) with Charlize Theron as the evil queen.

the Märchenhütte
So when I heard about a small German theater that plays fairy tales--for children during the day and for adults at night--I had to go.

Tonight Michael and I saw four Märchen (fairy tales) at the Märchenhütte (fairy tale cabin). In "preparation," I've been reading the original Grimm fairy tales on the train while commuting to/from the library and the FU. They're really fun to go back to as an adult, and these Grimm versions are so violent and brutal sometimes--very different from the watered-down Disney stories. For example, did you know Rapunzel gets pregnant, and that's how the evil fairy (not a witch) knows the prince has been getting up into the tower?! And here is what happens to the evil stepmother in "The 12 brothers": Was sollten sie mit der bösen Stiefmutter anfangen; sie ward in ein Faß gesteckt von siedendem Oehl und von giftigen Schlangen angefüllt, und starb da eines bösen Todes. [she was put in a barrel with boiling oil and filled with poisonous snakes, and died there a nasty death].  Ha! Sometimes it makes me laugh out loud.

I remember reading the original Hans Christian Anderson "Little Mermaid" at my aunt Julie's house--which was a much different version than the Disney one. It also reminds me of hearing Lise Lunge-Larsen's troll stories when I was in school in Duluth. She's a local storyteller who draws upon the Norwegian tradition of telling troll stories. Here, too, kids hear somewhat brutal stories: but good always wins over evil, smart people are able to trick the dumb trolls through cunning.

And I love the patterns that emerge: don't tell a lie, good deeds will be repaid, persistence pays off...

We saw "Der Wolf & die sieben Geißlein" [The wolf and the seven little goats], "Das tapfre Schneiderlein" [the valiant little tailor] and two "Gruselmärchen" [horror stories] for adults, rated 18+. "Gevatter Tod" [Godfather Death], and "Von einem, der auszog, das Fürchten zu lernen" [The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was]. Our favorite was the Schneiderlein. They did a great job playing off of the two characters. Michael: "Hysterical." The "adult" Märchen were a bit of a disappointment. Not scary, but also not as funny as the other ones. They took "adult" to mean "vulgar" in most cases...But it was a really cool atmosphere in the "cabin", and a unique Berlin/German experience.

Have any of you seen these new movies, or the TV shows? Or re-read fairy tales recently? I'd like to know what you think about this phenomenon.

outside the "cabin" there was a campfire, another cabin, and a pizzeria

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Zarah, Marlene and Hildegard: German chanson

For Valentine's...some classic German chanson for you. Sorry, some of the images are strange, but it's for the music.

Hildegard Knef, "Für mich soll's rote Rosen regnen," famous for her deep, smoky voice. If you want more, Eins und eins, das macht zwei, or In dieser Stadt and Heimweh nach dem Kurfürstendamm (she was a Berlinerin).

Zarah Leander, "Nur nicht aus Liebe weinen" (Swedish actress/singer, who worked/lived in Germany many years. Controversially kept making films during the Nazi period, but that's another topic)

And the amazing Marlene Dietrich, from the film Der blaue Engel "Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß..." (Also became famous in the English version, "Falling in Love Again.")

Monday, February 13, 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

"Und das muß anderscher wern ... jetzt uf der Stelle"

Emil Orlik, 1897
Wow, this has been Kultur-Woche for me. Theater, art museums, film to come. Tonight Michael and I saw Gerhart Hauptmann's Die Weber in the Deutsches Theater. It was kinda cool to see it there--because this is where it premiered publicly in 1894. Funny anecdote: after the play was staged, Kaiser Wilhelm cancelled his box seat at the theater. The play was also banned by the police (although the ban was later lifted). The authorities were afraid it would lead to class warfare and even uprisings in Berlin.

The story is based on a true incident: a weavers' uprising in Schlesien (Eastern Prussia) in 1844. The working conditions for the weavers was miserable and many were starving. The revolt was put down with military violence. (More about the play in German here).

Hauptmann was one of the few Germans who has received the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1912). He is famous for being a part of the "Naturalism" movement, making political, hyper-real plays that expose social inequity. In Die Weber, the characters also speak in dialect, providing access to a certain specific social milieu and adding additional class distinctions through spoken language.
As you can see from these pictures, the stage was a two-tiered ladder. During the first two scenes we thought this worked especially well, as they critiqued the hierarchy of the factory and the powerlessness of the weavers. But after the third act I think the performance kinda deteriorated. We both agreed that it was the material, the play itself, that made it, and the performance detracted at times. And of course there was quite a bit of the yelling, spitting, and screaming we looove so much in the German theater...Although it did admittedly work better here than in Kleist.

the Weberlied:
"Hier im Ort ist en Gericht, / noch schlimmer als die Vehmen, / Wo man nicht erst ein Urteil spricht / das Leben schnell zu nehmen. / - Hier wird der Mensch langsam gequält / hier ist die Folterkammer, / hier werden Seufzer viel gezählt / als Zeugen von dem Jammer."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Alte Nationalgalerie: 19th-century art

Berliner Dom and Fersehturm
This evening I went through wintery Berlin to the Alte Nationalgalerie on Museum Island. The highlight was definitely the Caspar David Friedrich room, with 15 or so of his paintings, including the "Mönch am Meer." Kleist said of this painting, "… so ist es, wenn man es betrachtet, als ob einem die Augenlider weggeschnitten wären“. [when one looks at it, it is as if one's eyelids had been cut off.]
the Caspar David Friedrich room

Der Mönch am Meer, Caspar David Friedrich

Abtei im Eichwald, Caspar David Friedrich
a little movie about the museum:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Berlinale! (Berlin International Film Festival)

So today on my way to the library I got tickets for a few Berlinale films. Tickets are on sale at Potsdamer Platz, right near the Staatsbibliothek.  My "strategy" (or lack thereof) was to pick films whose titles sounded intriguing from the screen above the ticket line with the "green" (= tickets available) box next to them. Yes, rather random. So...I am going to see one film as part of the "kulinarisches Kino" [culinary cinema], called The Raw and the Cooked about the green movement in Taiwan, a film caled hiver nomade about nomadic shepherds in French-speaking Switzerland, and a film about three couples in couples therapy, Beziehungsweisen. Ha! It's like playing Russian roulette with film. :) But hey, this way I'm seeing things I might not have otherwise chosen!  (Besides the first one, which I chose knowing it was part of the "culinary cinema" series, and which will be great, for sure.)

There are different categories of films, including the "competition," for the main prize: the Golden Bear. The ones I have tickets to are all "outside of competition", in the "forum" category.
the (pretty short) line today for tickets

"Nicht die Kinder bloß speist man mit Märchen ab"

 Last night I saw Lessing's play Nathan der Weise [Nathan the Wise] at the Berliner Ensemble. The play was written 1779, and is most famous for its "ring parable" about religious tolerance (the three religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam), and general themes of humanism and enlightenment.

The director, Claus Peymann, said he chose to stage the play after September 11th, after hearing the rhetoric of revenge, fight against evil, and crusades. He understood this classic work to be the "voice of reason" that still needed to be heard. "Natürlich habe ich dieses Stück gewählt unter dem Eindruck dieser im September 2001 jählings ausgebrochenen Finsternis", erklärt Claus Peymann. "Es wird von Kreuzrittern gesprochen, von Revanche, von Rache, vom Kampf gegen das Böse, und da schien mir diese bedeutende Stimme der Vernunft aus dem brodelnden Topf der deutschen Klassik gerade die richtige Antwort." (source)

The staging was rather minimalist, and the characters were dressed in a way reminiscent of the crusades (when the play was originally set), mixed with more modern costumes. A few small critiques aside, I really enjoy the Berliner Ensemble. I paid 7 EUR (student discounted rate) for a ticket--which is about the price of going to a movie! And got to see amazing theater! 

Again, some favorite quotes:

Die Menschen sind nicht immer, was sie scheinen, aber selten etwas besseres. [People are not always what they seem, but they are seldom something better.]
Der Wunder höchstes ist, dass uns die wahren, echten Wunder so alltäglich werden können, werden sollen [The greatest miracle is that the true, real miracles can become--should become-- so commonplace to us.]
Es sind nicht alle frei, die ihrer Ketten spotten. [Not all who mock their chains are free.]
Kein Mensch muss müssen. [No man must must.]
Macht denn nur das Blut den Vater? [Is it only blood that makes the father?]
Nicht die Kinder bloß speist man mit Märchen ab. [Not only children can be fed fairy tales.  - hard to translate, it's more like "fended off" with stories...Nathan says this right before he tells the ring parable to the sultan]
Der Wille und nicht die Gabe macht den Geber. [Intention and not the gift makes the giver.]

Monday, February 6, 2012

Minnesota temps in Berlin

So that winter that we haven't been having all winter...? Now we've got it. At least the cold. Tonight it's supposed to be -25 C (-13 F), a record low since 1987.

And we've been out in it. To the gym, the library, to eat Schnitzel. And made it home, where the heat is still working, Gott sei dank.
People walking on the Spree River (Berlin).

Sunday, February 5, 2012

not missing the Superbowl

So, it's another American holiday we're missing. But luckily with the internet, we can still watch the ads: the good part of Superbowl Sunday that gets interrupted by football. :) There were a lot of dumb ones, but here are our favorites, in order:

1. laughed out loud

2. you're lying if you say you didn't get a little misty-eyed watching this

3. fun play with our nostalgia

- Jerry Seinfeld
- The dream car ad was cute, I liked the "sandman" frame
- The skating/footballing polar bears

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Berlin 1945

This is a photo by Friedrich Seidenstücker, taken after WWII in Berlin, which I came across in my research. I actually haven't seen many other photos of the ruins in the snow, so I think it's quite unique. More common are images or descriptions of grass growing up and over the rubble, nature taking back over. But the snow has a really different effect. You get a feeling of cold and silence, which is really beautiful and quite sad, at the same time.

Friday, February 3, 2012