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.
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.
Eine heile Welt, indeed.