Travelogue XXXV: Goethe

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Goethe and Schiller

March 28, 2015 I am in Jena for the national DAAD-conference and, in an entirely irresponsible move, skipped out on half of of the second day to visit Weimar, the city of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. There will always academic conferences, but there are only so many opportunities to visit Goethe’s actual house.

So, Goethe. He’s what Homer was for the Greeks and Shakespeare for the British–an irresistible and towering figure, the shaper of language and form and art. The last Genie, my professor always said. Everyone with even the most dilettante interest in German literature has had some sort of formative encounter with him, I think. For me it was Werther, which I checked out of the library at age 16 and with which I immediately fell in love, and then Faust, of course, torturously deciphered during my third semester of German. My seminar spent half a semester on the work, and I paced up and down outside of the classroom building for an hour before each session, German dictionary in hand, reading out loud in a bad American accent until it seemed like every line was permanently engrained in my consciousness. It’s inescapable, that work.

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Spring in Weimar

Today: Weimar was clean and beautiful, full of light and blooming trees, and also a bit unsettling. The entire place was marked by the same cult-like atmosphere I experienced two summers ago in Bayreuth–a whole city given over to a single great man (or rather two great men–Friedrich Schiller also commands a good deal of attention). Genie becomes marketing ploy, selling-point, the foundation of a booming tourist industry. The entrance to Goethe’s house was efficient and commercialized–streamlined white registration desk, 8.50E for a student ticket (!!), trade your passport for an audio guide in 20 languages, stand in line to check your bags in the back. It was somewhere between entering the Holy of Holies and going through the TSA at the airport.

The Museum, in a building next to the house, was especially shrine-like–the normal objects of a long and full life preserved with relic-worthy care, behind class in darkened rooms. Goethe’s traveling cloak, mitten (just one), microscope, embroidered suspenders, used-up pens, and on and on and on. It, and of course the house itself, was full of tourists even in the off-season, standing in line to take selfies in front of his desk and to get a glimpse of the room he died in. A bit unheimlich, that.

But somehow, though, it was all extremely fitting. Goethe was a god even during his lifetime, and the pilgrimages to Weimar began almost as soon as he moved in. The selfie-taking tourists are part of a tradition that goes back some two centuries, and includes many of the world’s greatest political, artistic, and intellectual luminaries. Everybody, it seems, wants to see Goethe.

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Before I even got to Goethe’s home in the city, though, there was his Gartenhaus, the tiny cottage in the middle of the Stadtpark along the banks of the Ilm river. Goethe was 27 when he came into possession of the house–his first, and a gift of Duke Carl August. It was easy to see the appeal the surroundings had for Goethe at that time–this was the landscape of Werther, published just three years before, of Empfindsamkeit and Romantik and Sturm und Drang. The cottage itself was modest and evocative–inside, scrubbed wood floors, shelves of books, windows opening into green, and outside, all of the Nature of Goethe’s early poetry. According to the guide in the cottage, Goethe’s nightly skinny dipping in the Ilm, hardly more than a creek, inspired his rapturous poems to the moon.

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The Ilm

An den Mond

Füllest wieder Busch und Tal
Still mit Nebelglanz,
Lösest endlich auch einmal
Meine Seele ganz;

Breitest über mein Gefild
Lindernd deinen Blick,
Wie des Freundes Auge mild
Über mein Geschick.

Jeden Nachklang fühlt mein Herz
Froh- und trüber Zeit,
Wandle zwischen Freud’ und Schmerz
In der Einsamkeit.

Fließe, fließe, lieber Fluß!
Nimmer werd’ ich froh;
So verrauschte Scherz und Kuß
Und die Treue so.

Ich besaß es doch einmal,
was so köstlich ist!
Daß man doch zu seiner Qual
Nimmer es vergißt!

Rausche, Fluß, das Tal entlang,
Ohne Rast und Ruh,
Rausche, flüstre meinem Sang
Melodien zu!

Wenn du in der Winternacht
Wütend überschwillst
Oder um die Frühlingspracht
Junger Knospen quillst.

Selig, wer sich vor der Welt
Ohne Haß verschließt,
Einen Freund am Busen hält
Und mit dem genießt,

Was, von Menschen nicht gewußt
Oder nicht bedacht,
Durch das Labyrinth der Brust
Wandelt in der Nacht.

(English here)

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Haus am Frauenplan

Although he never sold the Gartenhaus, Goethe moved in 1782 to his home on the Frauenplan in downtown Weimar, where he would live until his death in 1832. He was involved in every step of the extensive renovations he set in place in the original building–drawing plans, importing statues, hanging his own drawings on the walls, picking the paint in keeping with the color theory he had developed, and even overseeing the construction. He had enough energy for several lifetimes, that Goethe.

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Goethe as classicist: his custom-designed, built in doormat. “Salve” means “Hello” in Latin. It doesn’t get much cooler than that in my book.

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The grand staircase

Goethe’s close connection to antiquity was evident in every room–his whole house, actually, is a sort of monument to classical art. Goethe imported paintings and extensive plaster casts of  the ancient statuary he had seen during his travels in Italy. They were to serve as inspiration, he wrote, and as objects of his own classical studies, a way to keep the Ancients accessible in a world before photography and internet encyclopedias.

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The dining room

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The Juno room, where Goethe hosted concerts with some of the greatest composers and performers of the early 19th century.

Goethe’s study was one of the last rooms on the tour, and one of the only ones guests aren’t able to enter–it has been left more or less untouched since his death in 1832. Around the corner, his massive personal library, some 5,000 volumes in worn covers crammed onto high shelves. In the study, his famous writing lectern (he didn’t like to spend too much of each day sitting), quill pens, plants on the windowsills. I think the few moments I spent looking through the door will stay with me for quite a long time.

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Faust was written at that desk.

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For comparison’s sake: Johann Joseph Schmeller’s famous portrait of Goethe in his study, 1929/31. I was there, people.

Finally, the room Goethe died in, on March 22, 1832–not one of the huge, majestic halls upstairs, but a small corner bedroom near his study. He was sitting in the chair when he died, attended only by his daughter-and-law Ottilie. His last words, according to his doctor, were “Mehr Licht!” (“More light!”).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then, after all of that, I took the S-Bahn back to Jena, where 500 of the world’s brightest, nerdiest young academics, representing 59 countries and hundreds of fields of study, were having a disco party.

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Travelogue XXXIV: Sonnenaufgang in Mainz

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March 24, 2015 I arrived back in Mainz at the crack of dawn this morning–street sweepers, crowds of pigeons at the train station, too early for church bells. I dragged my luggage down the cobblestone street and up two flights of stairs, waking up approximately the entire neighborhood in the process, threw it all in the apartment, and walked down to the Rhine for the sunrise.

It was wonderful being home, back in Vermont for the first time since last June. My family is amazing. I doted on the cats and lit fires in the fireplaces and ate my mother’s phenomenal cooking. I missed Germany, though, more than I miss Vermont when I am here.

I mean, there were actual swans on the effing Rhine River, and as the sun was rising all the bells in Wiesbaden started ringing. WHAT. 

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Guten Morgen, Mainz!

Also, spring came to Germany while I was gone. When I left Vermont yesterday morning, it was -3 degrees (-19 Celcius) without the windchill, hard-packed, dust-gray snow on the ground that hadn’t melted since it fell last November. Here in Mainz, the almond trees are blooming and there are daffodils everywhere. I went down to the water in a light jacket and scarf, and there was a real heat to the sun’s light. A pair of mourning doves have started making a nest above the gabled window across from mine.

As I walked back to my apartment, the bells in the Mainzer cathedral started ringing. It’s almost Easter. Sie feiern die Auferstehung des Herrn, denn sie sind selber auferstanden…

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I shall spy on Beauty as none has spied on it yet. Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

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Travelogue XXXIII: Humans of Vermont

Vermont is full of extraordinary people. The Green Mountains seem to attract the hardiest and uniquest of souls–both those who have been born and raised here, and those who have chosen to make a life in the state. The Vermonters remind me a more than a little bit of so many of the Germans I have gotten to know, actually, especially during my time on the farm in Kulmbach–politically liberal and socially open-minded, intensely practical, environmentally conscious, slightly hippie and invested in sustainable living, and with a deep love of language and tradition and place. It may take a good five years before the old timers will accept a newcomer, but once they do the friendships are deep and lasting.

In Vermont, especially, I am fascinated by not only how people live, but where–what physical objects they surround themselves with, the type of structure they choose to live in. There are our neighbors Hannah and Dave, for instance, who lived in a school bus for years while building their off-the-grid bungalow with a wall of glass windows facing into the mountains, or Joe and Bob from down the road, who raised a family in an octagon-shaped home made of rough-hewn granite with storage space for the cider press and barrels of maple syrup. And so many more.

Below, a few of the other people I have had the privilege of getting to know during the last two decades, and the spaces they call home.

IMG_3191Justine, Montpelier, Vermont: ninety-one years old, shepherdess, reader of storybooks and teller of tales. Before she moved full-time to her Montpelier apartment, my siblings and I spent countless afternoons on her falling-down farm in Northfield. She fed us tuna fish sandwiches and ginger ale floats, and we fished the dead mice out of her pool before jumping in in our underwear. She taught us all to knit, and we spent hours digging pieces of old china out of the creek bed at the bottom of her field. Her collection of ancient silver spoons was delightful, and my sister and I picked different ones for our ice-cream each time we visited. When my brother was born, she knit him a sweater with her own wool, still a bit stiff with lanolin, bits of hay spun into the yarn.

Her apartment, where she has lived alone since the death of her Latin-teacher husband a decade ago, is full of the mementos of a long and full life–turn-of-the-century artifacts, photographs and old books, pressed flowers and butterfly wings.

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The windowsills of Justine’s farmhouse were always full of her findings–smooth stones and feathers, seed pods and colored leaves. She has carried on the tradition in her apartment.

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The tapestry is a family heirloom from the 1780s, a scene from Shakespeare’s Henry VI.

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Her windows overlook the dam on the Winooksi River. “The river is different every time I look out the window. Isn’t that wonderful?” she said.

Dian and Tom, Chelsea, Vermont: I met Dian during the hottest afternoon in July three summers ago. My mother had dragged me into town to watch our stand at farmers’ market and I was doing a poor job of it–half dozing, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain propped open in my lap. All of the sudden, Dian was standing in front of me. “Do you like that book?!” she said, and then we talked about Mann for half an hour on the commons in downtown Chelsea, population 800. Sometimes life is awesome like that.

Dian is an actress with a degree from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, an author and journalist, a painter, director, dancer, and erstwhile sword-fight choreographer. Her husband Tom writes and illustrates children’s books and plays his own compositions on the old upright piano in the bedroom.

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Their home–The Palace of the Artists–is a restored camp, with colorful doors and an adjoining studio and windows looking into the birch woods and the mountains. It is full of their own artwork and beautiful objects collected during a lifetime of world travel. In the back yard, there’s a little gypsy wagon, where you can sleep in the summer.

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Dian’s studio and study.

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One of Tom’s two loft-studies–“This one’s for writing my books, and the other one is for looking at my stocks,” he explained. (photo: Anna)

Travelogue XXXII: Inside the Studio

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMarch 15, 2015 My family owns a sheep farm and Bed and Breakfast Inn in the backwoods of Vermont. I grew up making beds and serving meals to guests from all around the world who, along with the hundreds of thousands of others who make up Vermont’s tourist industry, travel to the state to look at leaves or ski or learn about sustainable living. The constant presence of The Public on our farm means that the place has to be spic and span during the busy months–flower boxes on the porch, mowed lawn, the rusted-out farm truck banished to some back-40 field drive or another.

Our beautiful studio in the barn, too, is quite presentable during the summer months. It’s the seat of the farm store, where we sell yarn and fiber from our animals, and the space we use to teach classes or host visiting weavers and felters. There’s always something going on–a wine tasting or a children’s camp or an open studio day of some sort. My mother runs a tight ship, and the studio is usually an orderly and welcoming place.

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Photographing yarn for the online store, with the help of Moses.

In the winter, though, that all goes out the window. It’s the off season–no Public, since only the hardiest of guests want to stay on a farm on dirt roads in the middle of winter. That means that the studio no longer has to be orderly. It becomes the workroom for new projects and patterns, a storage space for boxes of yarn and raw fleeces in plastic bags waiting to be sent off to the mill in the spring. It’s half photography studio and half construction zone, full of inventory waiting to be shipped or listed online, and a winter’s worth of odds and ends and new ideas which will be brought to fruition when the weather turns warm again and the guests return.

That’s winter in Vermont, though–taking stock, resting, waiting, planing for the return of the warmth and the work of the summer. And despite the mess, the studio is still an absolutely fascinating place.

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Carding combs.

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Samples knit with patterns designed specifically for our yarn.

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Drop spindles, waiting for the next introduction to fiber arts course.

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A mural from past years’ children’s camps.

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Moses claimed one of the felted purse samples for his own.

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Looms in storage.

…And then back out through the barn, full of grain sacks and lumber and tractor pieces and bikes. Outside, though, everything is clean and white. It has been snowing more or less constantly since I arrived.

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Travelogue XXXI: Home

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Oh rhythm of my heart is beating like a drum
with the words “I love you” rolling off my tongue

No never will I roam for I know my place is home
where the ocean meets the sky
I’ll be sailing

Rod Stewart

It’s almost surreal: two days ago I was drinking chai tea in a cafe across from the Mainzer cathedral, watching the stone turn red in the setting sun and the theater fill up with people. And now I am sitting in front of a fire in a drafty farmhouse in the middle-of-nowhere Vermont, where the air permanently smells like sheep manure and the farmers are just starting to tap the sugar maples. The terms of human existence are different here–dirty rubber boots and vet visits instead of European philosophy and champagne at the opera–but equally as beautiful. And in the end, it’s the life I know best. I was a bare-footed farm girl long before I knew the heady, complicated world of German literature even existed.

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Headed home from the airport in Boston over Route 110–one of the prettiest drives in the state and, actually, in the world.

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The state is full of Covered Bridges….

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Will’s Store in Chelsea, VT, my home town–they make superb homemade ice-cream with a machine that dates back to before the first World War. Also, I saw more flags on the drive home than I saw during 8 months in Germany. America is a patriotic place; Germany is absolutely not.

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South Royalton Food Co-op, twenty minutes down the road. We stopped to pick up some bread to go with dinner.

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The pictures on the wall are of the farmers who stock the store—Buy Local at its best.

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong.

John Denver

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Home at last: the grand view of Grand View Farm.

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Moses the fat barn cat. (photo: GVF)

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Chore time. (photo: GVF)

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Starting seeds in the Greenhouse. Note the snow drifts on the left-hand side–it’s over two meters in places.

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The view from my bedroom window.

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Wood fires.

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I haven’t seen the stars in months. It is good to be home. (photo: Anna)

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Nota Bene: Photos credited to Anna were taken by my insanely talented sister. 

Photos credited to GVF were filched from our farm website

 

Travelogue XXX: Im Dachstübchen I

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Carl Spitzweg, Im Dachstübchen–The Little Room under the Eaves, 1849.

March 2, 2015 I’ve just moved into a Carl Spitzweg painting. His works belong to the Biedermeier period in Germany, those few decades between the Vienna Congress in 1815 and the start of the Revolution in 1848. It was a time of conservatism in German art, where painters and writers turned to the private and idyllic instead of the public and messily political. Spitzweg’s works are utterly charming, full of quaint people living quiet lives in a stable universe. Eine heile Welt, das sanfte Gesetz: the world is safe, the laws are gentle. The Bourgeoise is a sanctuary.

My tiny new apartment belongs to that world, I think. It’s in the middle of the Altstadt (Old City)–cobblestone streets, a spiral staircase and terrace, under the eves with sloping ceilings and a dormer looking out over slate roofs. There is a cloister behind me and a dozen candle-lit Weinstuben where you can sit at night and drink Riesling and talk to 80-year-old couples who have never lived anywhere other than Mainz. The bells are always ringing in some church or another.

For me, it’s another Gleichgewicht, just like Fastnacht was–the balance, the other half. The 20th-century literature with which I spend so much time is so damned complicated–the Welt is no longer heil, people do horrible and senseless things, and art may just be a joke, in the end. It can begin to wear on one. Being able to walk home over cobblestones, through air full of church bells–it is a chance to exhale, to regain, in some small way, one’s belief in the heile Welt.

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The Blumenladen downstairs.

The building I am living in has its own name–Zum Braunenfels–and has foundations dating back to the mid 1500s. In the 17th and 18th centuries it served as a milliner’s shop. It was, along with most of the Mainzer Altstadt, almost entirely destroyed during WWII and then rebuilt in the original architectural style: Fachwerk, that exposed post-and-beam structure that is so quintessentially German.

And today, the ground floor is a flowershop. It doesn’t get much more romantic than that.

I will do another post on the apartment itself after I get everything in order. For now, though, here’s a tour of the neighborhood, which is pretty hard to beat. Certainly, it does cater to the tourist crowd–but from my balcony, which faces into the inner courtyard and not into the street, all I can hear are the bells and, occasionally, the street musicians. I can more than live with that.

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This is what I see on my walk from the bus station…

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…before turning in to this alleyway….

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…or this one.

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The inner courtyard is full of trees…

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The building next to mine just happens to be the Augustinerkirche, one of the loveliest Baroque-Roccoco churches in Mainz.

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Cobblestones, Vespas, and a shrine.

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There are over a dozen Weinstuben within a three-minute walk of my apartment, often side-by-side.

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Over-priced Mainzer specialities, with reflection of photographer. 🙂

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The nearest butcher shop.

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My second-favorite street musicians in Mainz. My top favorite are the three Turkish guys who are always playing at the train station–Turkey meets Klezmer meets jazz.

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Weinhaus zum Spiegel.

Eine heile Welt, indeed.