Leseliste I: Kafka Tagebücher

Also get ready for posts on books, because traveling and reading go together awesomely…..

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Kafka, Diaries 1910-1923: Bought at the tiny Antiquariat (above) behind the Cathedral in Wuerzburg. Crazy stuff–descriptions of insomnia, his dreams (“I dream, I don’t sleep”), the women he sees on the streets but is somehow never able to talk to (“if I should live to be 40 I would settle down comfortably with an ugly old maid–but I won’t live till I’m 40”), his list of reasons pro and contra marriage to Felice Bauer (“I must be alone. All that I have done is an accomplishment only of solitude”), the way he is entirely made of literature and wants to do nothing else with his life but write, but is simultaneously unable to experience literature and writing as anything other than torture.

IMG_0071Drinking Chai and reading in some lovely cafe in Munich.

The last entry, before tuberculosis took away his ability to speak and eat, a year before his death:

12. Juni, 1923 Die schrecklichen letzten Zeiten, unaufzählbar, fast ununterbrochen. Spaziergänge, Nächte, Tage, für alles unfähig, außer für Schmerzen.

Immer ängstlicher im Niederschreiben. Es ist begreiflich. Jedes Wort, gewendet in der Hand der Geister – dieser Schwung der Hand ist ihre charakteristische Bewegung –, wird zum Spieß, gekehrt gegen den Sprecher. Eine Bemerkung wie diese ganz besonders. Und so ins Unendliche. Der Trost wäre nur: es geschieht, ob du willst oder nicht. Und was du willst, hilft nur unmerklich wenig. Mehr als Trost ist: Auch du hast Waffen.

June 12, 1923 The horrible end times, innumerable, almost incessant. Walks, nights, days, incapable of everything except pain.

More and more fearful in putting things in writing. It is understandable. Every word, turned in the hands of the spirits–this turn of the hand is their characteristic motion–becomes a lance aimed at the speaker. An observation like this entirely peculiar. And so on into endlessness. The only consolation would be: it is happening, whether you want it to or not. And what you want helps hardly at all. More than consolation is: even you have weapons.

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IMG_0082Reading and soaking my feet in a fountain in a courtyard in the Residenz, surrounded by surreal little statues–half children, half fish. 

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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.

theater4-DW-Bayern-MuenchenCuvilliés

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.

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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:

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…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.

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

Kirchen und Shäkespeare

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust?

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

I once heard a professor say that these few lines were the ultimate statement on the Renaissance. It was a time when human beings–their creativity, ideas, power–were beginning to come to the forefront as inherently worthy of study and awe. But behind it all was still this pressing knowledge of mankind’s fragility, his limitations, his very smallness in the face of God, nature, death. It was possible to be both infinite in faculty and a quintessence of dust.

I think the churches here are fascinating reflections of the passage. As I said, they seem to be as much celebrations of human creativity and power as places of worship. But even amidst the walls of stained glass and stone, amidst the breathtakingly beautiful organs, frescoes, alters, columns, and statues, there is still this pervading feeling of quintessence-of-dust.

Schönbornkapelle, Dom St. Kilian, Würzburg

Asamkirche, München

Frauenkirche, München

Marienkapelle, Würzburg

München: Zum Schluss

Finally, before I leave Munich for Würzburg, Rothenburg, and Berlin, here are a few more miscellaneous photos and notes.

One could fill many pages with pictures of stunning old buildings. Here’s just one more…

It is also interesting to note that most of these buildings were partly or entirely destroyed during bombing in World War II. What we see today are often modern reconstructions of buildings originally many centuries old.

Below, part of the English Garden. Anna, apparently some scene in Pride and Prejudice was filmed here.

Fine dining in the Hofbräuhaus, one of the most famous restaurants in Munich.

And one for Luke. Germans are crazy about Fußball….though the mood has been somewhat dampened of late, after Germany lost the semi-finals for the world Meisterschaft.

Tschüss München!

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?

 

Für Anna

Hallo Meine Schwester! Since you already stalked my Youtube page this is old hat…but look what we found playing in downtown Munich, at 11:30pm! THE musical! I restrained myself from breaking out in song.

Also, here’s a few random pictures of Ballet in Munich. I bet Roberto Bolle, or whatever his name is, dances here.

Dr. G. and I, and hopefully others, are going to see PILOBOLUS in Berlin…look them up. They come to Dartmouth every year, and are apparently fantastic (modern dance).

München: Thomas Mann

As most of you probably know, after hearing innumerable impassioned expositions and rants on the topic, I am a fan of German author Thomas Mann–born 1875, died 1955, author of 1,000-page novels about syphilis-ridden composers and crazy sanatoriums in the Alps.

And guess where he lived for some 30 years of his life? Munich, of course! As I found out, Dr. C. is also rather a Thomas Mann geek (For instance, as we were eating our enormous breakfast in the hotel lobby–smoked salmon, eggs, cream cheese, meats, fresh fruit, hot bread, coffee–he leaned over and whispered, gesturing at the loud group on the other side of the room, “Isn’t this exactly like the Magic Mountain?? And check it out, there’s the bad Russian table…..”–a give-away, for sure). Anyway, he was kind enough to take me on a Thomas Mann tour of sorts. Check it out:

Mann lived with his family on the above street from 1914 until he was forced to flee to America in 1933. The surrounding area was beautiful and quiet, all tall shady trees and paths overlooking the Isar river:

Alas, his house, now a private residence, was being restored and we weren’t able to get a view of the whole thing. Here’s one shot, however:

Here are a few of the surrounding homes, to give some idea of the neighborhood. It was all completely classy and up-scale–I had forgotten how well-off Mann was at this time, after his first novel Buddenbrooks achieved best-seller status.

And one more time…..the house is in the background, on the right.

It is easy enough to guess where we went next–Nordfriedhof (North Cemetery), the place where Mann’s most famous (and most amazing) novella Death in Venice begins. Imagine!

First here are the opening paragraphs of Death in Venice, for those unfamiliar with it…..

GUSTAVE ASCHENBACH–or von Aschenbach, as he had been known officially since his fiftieth birthday–had set out alone from his house in Prince Regent Street, Munich, for an extended walk. It was a spring afternoon in that year of grace 19–, when Europe sat upon the anxious seat beneath a menace that hung over its head for months. Aschenbach had sought the open soon after tea. He was overwrought by a morning of hard, nerve-taxing work, work which had not ceased to exact his uttermost in the way of sustained concentration, conscientiousness, and tact; and after the noon meal found himself powerless to check the onward sweep of the productive mechanism within him, that motus animi continuus in which, according to Cicero, eloquence resides. He had sought but not found relaxation in sleep–though the wear and tear upon his system had come to make a daily nap more and more imperative–and now undertook a walk, in the hope that air and exercise might send him back refreshed to a good evening’s work.

May had begun, and after weeks of cold and wet a mock summer had set in. The English Gardens, though in tenderest leaf, felt as sultry as in August and were full of vehicles and pedestrians near the city. But towards Aumeister the paths were solitary and still, and Aschenbach strolled thither, stopping awhile to watch the lively crowds in the restaurant garden with its fringe of carriages and cabs. Thence he took his homeward way outside the park and across the sunset fields. By the time he reached the North Cemetery, Nordfriedhof, however, he felt tired, and a storm was brewing above Föhring; so he waited at the stopping-place for a tram to carry him back to the city.

He found the neighbourhood quite empty. Not a wagon in sight, either on the paved Ungererstrasse, with its gleaming tramlines stretching off towards Schwabing, nor on the Föhring highway. Nothing stirred behind the hedge in the stone-mason’s yard, where crosses, monuments, and commemorative tablets made a supernumerary and untenanted graveyard opposite the real one. The mortuary chapel, a structure in Byzantine style, stood facing it, silent in the gleam of the ebbing day. Its façade was adorned with Greek crosses and tinted hieratic designs, and displayed a symmetrically arranged selection of scriptural texts in gilded letters, all of them with a bearing upon the future life,such as: “They are entering into the House of the Lord” and “May the Light Everlasting shine upon them.” Aschenbach beguiled some minutes of his waiting with reading these formulas and letting his mind’s eye lose itself in their mystical meaning. He was brought back to reality by the sight of a man standing in the portico, above the two apocalyptic beasts that guarded the staircase, and something not quite usual in this man’s appearance gave his thoughts a fresh turn.

We were in the English Gardens the previous evening, which are absolutely gorgeous. But check out the pictures below. The stone carver across the street:

The Byzantine Mortuary Chapel:

The door of the chapel facing the street:

The carved quotations Aschenbach reads:

…And the mysterious stranger Aschenbach sees leaning against it, who prompts his whole infamous journey to Venice!

Alas, I do not have red hair, and had forgotten my sun hat. Dr. C. and I both decided, however, that if we did see a shifty red-haired man with bad teeth, we were going to run.

And finally, a few pictures of the surrounding area and graveyard itself, which is just the sort of place I would want to walk if I was a disenchanted and over-worked genius author.

So yes, it was quite an afternoon. And the great, beautiful Mythos that is German art and literature became that much more real.

München: Musik

Most important things first, right? München (Munich), exponentially larger and more overwhelming than Würzburg, is truly a city of music.

We made a quick tour of the downtown area after our arrival Friday afternoon–and what do we pass first, right around the corner from the bus stop? Joseph Calleja himself (one of my favorite tenors…), rehearsing O Soave Fanciulla (my favorite Puccini duet…) for a concert Sunday night, in the beautiful outdoor Odeonsplatz. Wow.

 

Odeonsplatz below.

The poster for the concert.

…And now note the poster above, for the City Opera summer Ring Cycle….Siegfried opened Friday night, but was utterly sold out, alas.

More Wagner, and the opera house itself.

Look who else you can see…

A. and I walked back to Odeonsplatz Saturday night, to hear the München Philharmonic in another outdoor concert of Russian music. We were too poor to buy tickets, so we sat on a window-ledge on a side street and read our German homework and listened for free–along with a couple dozen other assorted students and young couples, who brought picnic blankets and wine to make a night of it.

The city was also full of street musicians, many of whom were absolutely fantastic. Like this group, for instance, who played some sort of crazy Vivaldi mash-up as if they were possessed by devils (in the words of Prof. G.!):

 

Up next: Cathedrals, Thomas Mann, and Cy Twombly!