Friday, August 24, 2012

Nights and Days

Berlin is in between the summer break and the fall; it is still warm, but activities are back. Last week, I visited an Open Night of Berlin's synagogues; of the nine that exist (and they are all different, from ultra-liberal to Chabad Lubawitz), five participated, the largest one at Rykestraße, actually just around the corner. They had a reading of Jewish jokes with Klezmer music, somewhat cliché, but fun. Otherwise, there was more music, services, food, and also a few installments of "Ask your Rabbi."

Tomorrow, Berlin starts to celebrate its 775-year-anniversary with a Historiale; also, the Open Night of Museums will take place on Saturday. I am planning to go to the "Museum der Unerhörten Dinge," the Museum of Never-Heard (or: Outrageous) Things". I have no idea what this is, though.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

German Literature

This is a very interesting article in the New York Review of Books on the perception of German, or, much rather, foreign literature in general in the U.S. As a matter of fact, I often had the same feeling. Any thoughts?

Franzen’s Ugly Americans Abroad

Tim Parks

I’m English and live in Italy. During March, within two or three days of each other, I received: from The New York Review, four novels by the Swiss author Peter Stamm; from the Italian newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, in English and Italian; and from a New York publisher, a first novel, Funeral for a Dog, by the young German writer Thomas Pletzinger. The last was accompanied by some promotional puff that begins: “Pletzinger is German, but you wouldn’t know it from his debut, which is both wise and worldly.”

What a wonderful insight this careless moment of blurb-talk gives us into the contemporary American mindset! We want something worldly, but if it seems too German, or perhaps just too foreign, we become wary. As my mailbag indicates, the literary community is very much an international phenomenon, but not, it would seem, a level playing field. To make it in America Pletzinger must shed his German-ness as if he were an immigrant with an embarrassing accent.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

German Punctuality

Going to the airport in Newark, I found out that it's not so easy to fly to Berlin. At least not to check in, because, as a Delta employee found out while trying to process my request, "you want to go to an airport that does not exist!". Very true. Berlin's new airport, Berlin Brandenburg International, named after the late German chancellor Willy Brandt, did not open in time, as the authorities found out just three weeks before the prospective opening, but it will so only next year. Maybe. We will see.

So, my mourning about the closing of Berlin Tegel was a bit premature. Other than that, I should probably be happy to have escaped the heat in America, which—as seen on German TV—is melting streets, airports, and bridges. Maybe in 2020, when I‘m trying to get to the newly opened Willy Brandt airport, JFK will have melted away. Well, all that flying is not healthy anyway.

How is Mark Twain doing? Very well, I‘m in the last throes. Yes, for quite some time now, but I‘m still faster than the airport builders. Twain had a best friend in Berlin, a little older than himself, a German-Jewish novelist named Rudolf Lindau, who was also Bismarck's press secretary (another late German chancellor), and spent time in France, Japan, and California. They kept in touch long afterwards. Right now, I am trying to track down some more letters between the two. In those times, by the way, the post office would deliver letters the same day, sometimes within hours.  Very punctually. You will read all about it in the book, which has been renamed "A Tramp in Berlin".


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