Travelogue XXXVII: Im Dachstübchen II

Carl Spitzweg, The Poor Poet

 April 6, 2015 My Spitzwegian life-under-the-eves in the Mainzer Altstadt continues. Here’s a tour of the inside of my new apartment, to satisfy all of you snoopy (I mean, curious!!) readers out there. 😉 I’m finally fully moved in, a process that took several weeks of back-and-forth and carrying suitcases up lots of stairs.

The entire apartment is exactly 14 square meters. That’s about the size of a large walk-in closet. But it’s incredibly efficient–there’s a bed/living room, a bathroom with a tub, two skylights and a dormer window, and a tiny kitchen. It’s rather like living in a Hobbit house, minus the cave part. Micro-living at its finest.

It’s super reflective of the German/European relationship with space, actually, which is entirely different than the American McMansion-and-four-door-sedan mindset. Here, less is more, and not just because there is so little space–I think people actually like it that way. One family I know, for instance, who own what would be considered in America a normal-size home for four people, actually turned the first two stories into apartments because it was too much space. That doesn’t happen all too often in the US.


The spiral staircase (blue cast iron!) and balcony with room for exactly one person. And a cup of tea. It’s rather barren at the moment, but I am planning to install an entire forest of herbs as soon as it warms up enough.


Many students in Mainz want to live in the Neustadt (New City)–it’s super hip, Mainz’s “little Berlin,” full of bars and clubs and funky places to eat. Apartment prices are lower, and the entire neighborhood caters to the student life. But there, you can’t sit on a balcony every and drink tea and listen to the bells in the Augustinerkirche.


Coats and Caspar David Friedrich.

Also, when I was putting together these pictures, it struck me how many absolutely fantastic people have contributed to the apartment in small or large ways, and, really, to my entire existence in Germany. Thanks, guys. Not to get too sappy, but I wouldn’t be here without you.


The beautiful Persian rug is on loan from a friend, as is the desk. The host father of another friend of mine helped me with the move, which included re-locating a wooden wardrobe from the 5th story of an apartment complex to a room at the top of a spiral staircase, and his wife is sewing me curtains. People are amazing.


A farewell present from Sissy from Finland, a fellow WWOOF-er on the farm in Kulmbach.


The Kitchen.


Mugs from the Christmas Markets in Germany, glass from a dear friend in Vermont, and champagne–a birthday gift–from my host family in Mainz.


“I think somebody up there likes me.”


Lentil-Coconut milk curry on the stove. Drop spindle and wool from home, books (Reclam FTW!!), Kandinsky poster inspired by an afternoon with the German Expressionists in Munich, and daffodils bought from the local farmers’ market. In a Jägermeister bottle, of course. Also, you know you aren’t in the country anymore when you have to PAY MONEY for flowers, people.


I bought a tiny bust of Goethe IN Goethe’s house in Weimar. It doesn’t get much more awesome than that, even though he looks super grumpy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, there it is. I’m super proud of it, actually, if you haven’t picked up on that already. My first apartment–another step on the road to adulthood. I got my first electricity bill yesterday and just about passed out. It was only for 20E, but, I mean, I got an electricity bill. There’s no going back from there.


Best of all, the trees outside my window have bloomed.

Travelogue I: Munich

KandinskyWassily Kandinsky, Häuser in München, 1908 

 11. Juli, 2014 Arrived in Munich with the high-speed train at 6pm. The group left on a walking tour, and I took a taxi into the city for dinner. “I’m looking for a cafe somewhere near the Odeonsplatz,” I told the cab driver. “Cafe Tambosi–das wollen Sie bestimmt!” he answered. “It’s where you go to see and be seen in Munich.” So I went to Cafe Tambosi on the most beautiful square in the city and sat under a linden tree, and drank Riesling with my Pasta Aglio, and read Kafka’s diaries until it was too dark to see.

tambosi-odeonsplatz_0Cafe Tambosi, outdoor seating overlooking Odeonsplatz

12. Juli, 2014 I went into the city again early, to find out how to get a rush ticket to a new play by Elfriede Jelinek on in the Residenz that evening. Afterwards, I heard music, and walked behind the box office to find a rehearsal of the Staatsoper orchestra for an open-air concert that evening. It was pouring rain, and I sat on a ledge under some ponderous marble overhang and listened and got mostly soaked. And then who should come out but Diana Damrau herself, wearing a scarf and coat because of the cold, to sing Strauss Lieder and joke with the conductor about the abysmal weather.

Strauss’ Morgen, Diana Damrau

IMG_0069There she is!

What a city–everything is here, the beauty, culture, refinement–and the people who can afford to take it all in, coming to see and be seen, walking from Odeonsplatz to the opera, shelling out 8 euros for a glass of German Sekt in some rococo gem of a restaurant. I feel almost guilty to be loving it, to be able to be here in the first place. In the Middle East, people are blowing each other up. Back home, the farmer down the road, who is hardly older than I am, has probably been spreading manure for the second cut hay for the past two weeks. And here I am drinking tea in a cafe by the Hofbraeuhaus for 4.50 a cup, after having heard Diana Damrau sing Strauss. I went to the ladies’ room, and the sinks were all pink marble–polished gold fixtures, floor-to-ceiling mirrors.

IMG_0078Taking a break to read on the edge of a fountain in some inner courtyard of the Residenz–no one around. Note that the “carvings” on the walls are painted on–the effects of the war are still very much felt here, especially in the architecture. 

13. Juli, 2014 Shatteringly good theater last night. FaustIn and Out: a new work by Elfriede Jelinek, Austrian avant-garde at its most brutal. Typical for her,  the play was hard-hitting, dirty, sometimes pornographic–but also more philosophical and less unrelentingly naturalistic than Die Klavierspielerin (The Pianist), the other novel I have read by her. The plot was based on that horrible story from the news a few years ago: Austrian man keeps his daughter locked in the basement for 24 years, rapes her repeatedly, fathers 7 children, burns the stillbirths in the household oven. Jelinek’s take unfolded as a series of monologues, or arias, by the two characters in the story, sometimes lasting up to 30 minutes–not just a conversation between father and daughter, but between man and woman, Faust and Gretchen (the whole thing was full of Goethe quotes), perhaps above all between God and man. The daughter’s rants were sorts of prayers, addressed to a father who was God, Lord, redeemer, creator, and also a monster. Is the God we believe in a God who rapes us instead of loves us, who holds us captive in a windowless cellar, while only he is allowed to be free? etc. The penultimate word of the drama was “Freiheit” (freedom) à la Goetz von Berlichingen, shouted triumphantly by the father offstage. The daughter, looking out at the audience, replied quietly, flatly, in English: “What?”

FaustIn-and-out-the staging

The space itself was beautiful, which jarred rather harshly with the content of the play–Cuvilliés-Theater, inside the Residenz–completed in 1753, destroyed during WWII and then restored and reopened in 2008. Mozart premiered his Idomeneo there in 1781. We were up in the highest loge, in a box, chairs pulled up to the silk-covered edge of the balcony.


Afterwards a glass of cold Valpolicella at Tambosi. Long discussion of women in German literature, home very late.

14. Juli, 2014 Back in Wuerzburg, which seems very small and comforting in comparison to Munich. Yesterday was all modern art, at the newly-restored Lenbachhaus, a Florentine-style villa built in the late 1800s as the private home of Franz von Lenbach and acquired by the city of Munich in the 1920s.



Exhibition notes: stunning collection of Der Blaue Reiter, the German expressionist group from the early 1900s I fell in love with while researching for a paper on silent films last year. Brilliant, explosive, bright colors everywhere–for me, at first very hard to reconcile with the fractured and apocalyptic artist statements I listened to as part of the audio tour. Kandinsky, my favorite: playful and horrible at the same time, especially in the more abstract works. Exuberant on the surface–but underneath there is often something nightmarish. Not so brutal as Anselm Kiefer, say, but still marked by a feeling of impending immolation. In that way, not so different from the final chapters of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. 

kandinsky-improvisation19Kandinsky, Improvisation 19

Art today is moving in directions of which our forebears had no inkling; the Horsemen of the Apocalypse are heard galloping through the air; artistic excitement can be felt all over Europe – new artists are signalling to one another from all sides; a glance, a touch of the hand, is enough to convey understanding. Franz Marc, 1912

Kandinsky_-_Composition_VI_(1913)Kandinsky, Composition VI, 1913

The more frightening the world becomes… the more art becomes abstract. Wassily Kandinsky

8930072872_c3fa9e83ac_zKandinsky, Impression VI, 1911

The rest of the museum was noteworthy as well, with an extensive collection of very contemporary pieces as well as a wing of rooms from the original villa, rich and decadent and notably free of Blaue Reiter angst:




…And one more photo below from the after-1945 wing, which I can’t resist posting because German museums are insane. SM club meets modern art?? Viewers encouraged to participate, according to the placard. lol.


…and just for the sake of NOT ending on that note, here’s the gorgeous interior of the Theatinerkirche on Odeonsplatz:

So, there was Munich, in 48 hours. We were back in time to catch Germany’s victory in World Cup soccer. Air horns, fireworks, German flags, people singing in the streets…..

Berlin: Kunst

Of course it would be unforgivable, to go to Berlin and not hear any music! Herr G. went to a concert every night, and was kind enough to let me trail along. We missed the Komische Oper (alas!), as the tickets were sold out. We consoled ourselves, however, and made do with two of the other 10,000 cultural events currently taking place in the city…

The first evening we went to a lovely Baroque concert in the Schloss Charlottenburg and then to dinner at midnight at the Ständige Vertretung, overlooking the river. And then the next night we heard an opera concert with two amazing young singers in the building below, and then went out to an Italian restaurant for desert. We were living it up, I tell you.

One can hardly imagine how surreal it is, to be walking around at midnight in Berlin, in a fancy dress and shawl, with three professors in evening wear arguing about wine in French, all while partially drunk on the best live singing one has heard all year. It defies reason.

And I couldn’t resist the gigantic poster of a morose Barenboim outside the Berlin Philharmonic.

And the museums! A definite highlight for me was the Pergamon, which utterly satisfied the geeky Classics side of things. The museum had full-size recreations of various ancient buildings–awe-inspiring, to say the least.


A gate from Babylon, below. As with the churches, I find such things puzzling and astounding. What drove those creators, in this instance thousands of years ago, to devote a life time to make something so beautiful?

The last place I visited was another modern art museum, this one an old restored railway station….

The main exhibition was the work of Joseph Beuys, a new one for me. He was one of the most important German artists of the previous century. I would have to spend a good deal more time with his work to make any commentary on it, other than to say that I found it exceedingly enigmatic. But I really liked the work below, dozens of blackboards filled with faint writings (in English!) on philosophy and society and geometry.


I was mostly interested in Anselm Kiefer, the second artist I had fallen for in the San Francisco MOMA. There was only one small room of his works here, and he was as difficult and as beautiful and as tied to Germany’s history as before. If Cy Twombly is Shakespeare (“What do you read, my lord? Words, words, words…”), Kiefer is Mann’s Doktor Faustus.






If you are ever in San Francisco and the exhibition is still there, go and see this one below, with the lead angel wing.


In those days Germany, a hectic flush on its cheeks, was reeling at the height of its savage triumphs, about to win the world on the strength of the one pact that it intended to keep and had signed with its blood. Today, in the embrace of demons, a hand over one eye, the other staring into the horror, it plummets from despair to despair….When, out of this final hopelessness, will a miracle that goes beyond faith bear the light of hope? A lonely man folds his hands and says, “May God have mercy on your poor soul, my friend, my fatherland.”

Closing paragraph, Doktor Faustus

München: Kunst

Above: outside the Pinakothek der Moderne.

We had half of our weekend in Munich free, with the assignment to visit several places of cultural importance on our own. I spent most of Sunday (after a mass in the beautiful Frauen Kirche) in the Museum Brandhorst, one of the many fantastic art museums in the city. The building itself is a work of art, recently opened in 2009.

And there just so happened to be a huge exhibit of Cy Twombly, possibly my very favorite modern artist.

I fell for him two summers ago, in the San Francisco MOMA–and now, in Germany, I had the chance to visit a museum with an entire floor of his work. Here were the same odd, present colors I remembered, the same blackboards covered in fine and illegible script, the same wide reference to literature, poetry, and classical antiquity above all.

The rooms were airy, lit from above, with pale wood floors. The largest, otherwise empty except for Twombly’s gigantic canvases, featured a series of rose paintings, each with scrawled verses of poetry from Shakespeare, Dickinson, Rilke, Bachmann…

…And one had the closing lines of Eliot’s Four Quartets. Powerful stuff.

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well,
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

The Lepanto room, with Twombly’s signature ships.

More amazingness.

Anyway, one must really see the works in person to get any sort of idea of the their scope, presence, and beauty. But hopefully this gives some idea. Now I want to write an essay on the Classical influences in Twombly’s work. Wouldn’t that be fascinating to investigate?