Friday, August 15, 2014

The Great War in Berlin

Hello, everyone! Vanessa here, writing to share some thoughts on the World War I exhibit currently on display at the Deutsches Historisches Museum and Prayer After the Slaughter, our new book of short stories and poetry on the First World War by German satirist Kurt Tucholsky.

August 2014 was the 100th anniversary of Great War’s beginning. The word century tends to carry a certain weight and distance with it—especially for someone like me, who hasn’t yet been alive for a quarter of one—but in discussions of world-shattering events like World War I, it suddenly takes on a disturbing air of immediacy. Walking through an exhibition on the myriad ways in which the Great War affected each and every corner of the world, I found myself thinking things like, “This was only a hundred years ago?” And if those photos and accounts are so shocking to a person whose concept of war has been colored from the start by the nuclear weapons debate and graphic, 24/7 news coverage, I can only imagine the effect it must have had on people back then, for whom automatic weapons were a wholly new and terrifying idea.

Der Erste Weltkrieg at Berlin’s Deutsches Historisches Museum, is a fascinating mixture of information and artifacts, which creates a beautiful (while harrowing) portrait of one of history’s greatest tragedies. Of particular interest to me as a student of art and culture were some great Expressionist paintings, which manage to convey a very personal and compelling account of the violence and chaos in an unusual way. This unconventional approach brought to mind Kurt Tucholsky, one of Germany’s greatest satirists after the Great War.

Tucholsky, who himself served as a soldier in World War I, has been described by Anne Nelson (author of The Red Orchestra) as having “the acid voice of Christopher Hitchens [and] the satirical whimsy of Jon Stewart, combined with the iconoclasm of Bill Maher.” It’s easy, then, to imagine his writing—which was eventually banned by the Nazis—causing a stir, as humor isn’t necessarily the first approach one might take to dealing with something as devastating as World War I. But reading the stories and poems in Prayers After the Slaughter, one realizes that Tucholsky’s wit is anything but improper; his distinct voice, full of insight and nuance, provides a unique account of those years, especially in light of his perspective as an artist and pacifist with firsthand experience at the front. I encourage all of you to check it out in commemoration of this 100-year anniversary. You can get your very own copy here!

Until next time, Vanessa

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