What’s New

“The leader of the free world gives a speech, and she nails it.”  (Intelligencer, 3/18/20)

The cultural venues may be closed, but Covid-19 has opened up their performances to wider (online) audiences than ever before.  (The Guardian, 3/16/20)

Konrad Adenauer, who served as the Federal Republic’s first chancellor between the ages of 73 and  87, “shaped West German politics and Germany’s relationship with the wider world more than any other single person.”  (The Washington Post, 3/9/20)

“In the nineteen-forties, the West Side of Los Angeles effectively became the capital of German literature in exile. It was as if the cafés of Berlin, Munich, and Vienna had disgorged their clientele onto Sunset Boulevard.”  (The New Yorker, 3/2/20)

What do CDU leaders Armin Laschet, Friedrich Merz, and Norbert Röttgen all have in common? They studied law with Constanze Stelzenmüller in 1980s Bonn, and she has a thing or two to say about that.  (Financial Times, 3/5/20)

The Old Masters Picture Gallery gets a major upgrade at the Semperbau in Dresden.  (The Art Newspaper, 2/27/20; artnet, 2/27/20)

Arts

“In her etchings, prints and sculptures, [Käthe] Kollwitz continues to remind us what it means to be an artist and the possibilities of art in the most troubling of times.”  (Lithub, 2/14/20)

In 1926, architect and activist Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky designed the first fitted kitchen, to simplify food preparation in close quarters for (especially) working-class women. Her “Frankfurt Kitchen” was just the start of a long and eventful career. (The Wire, 1/26/20; MoMA, 2/14/20)

Ai Weiwei has some choice words for Germany, and for Berlin taxi drivers in particular.  (The Guardian, 1/21/20)

Ceramics in the Bauhaus tradition are thriving at the Maria Laach Abbey in western Germany.  (Deutsche Welle, 12/20/19)

“Making Marvels” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an early modern “parade of science and splendor,” including the exquisite Dresden Green.  (The New York Times, 12/19/19)

String theory is the “relatively new big idea around which all the old big ideas can coalesce” at Anselm Kiefer’s new exhibition, “Superstrings, Runes, the Norns, Gordian Knot,” at White Cube in London.  (The Telegraph, 11/19/19;  The Guardian, 11/25/19

The jewel heist from Dresden’s historic Green Vault was one of the largest ever, and a blow to Saxon and German cultural pride.  (artnet, 11/26/19; The Art Newspaper, 11/26/19;  The Economist, 11/28/19)

Locally printed “emergency money” from World War I and the economic crisis thereafter combated cash shortages with artistic flair.  (The Observer, 9/28/19)

A colorful, GDR-era mural by Josep Renau celebrating “man’s relation to nature and technology” has been restored “in all its pixelated glory” in Erfurt.  (The Guardian, 11/3/19; The Art Newspaper, 12/2/19)

In memoriam: Ingo Maurer (1932–2019), “Promethean in his delivery of illumination—fashioning lamps out of shattered crockery, scribbled memos, holograms, tea strainers and incandescent bulbs with feathered wings.”  (The New York Times, 10/24/19; Azure, 10/29/19)

“Beyond Bauhaus: Modernism in Britain 1933–66” is now showing at the RIBA in London. “The show casts a necessarily broad net,” writes Oliver Wainwright, “given our introverted island wasn’t particularly receptive to the radical cocktail of machine-made functionalism, abstraction and socialism.”  (The Guardian, 10/1/19)

There’s still time to see “Point of No Return,” a survey of Wende-era work by GDR artists at the Museum der bildenden Künste in Leipzig. Then head to the Düsseldorf Kunstpalast for “Utopia and Demise,” among the few major surveys of GDR art mounted since the Wende.   (The New York Times, 7/24/19; The Independent, 9/19/19)

The Bauhaus may have never had a proper music department, but “musical thinking permeated the lives of its students and faculty.”  (The New York Times, 8/22/19)

The “stylishly straightforward” Bauhaus Museum Dessau opened on September 9. “Our maxim was ‘more with less,'” says architect Roberto Gonzalez.  The Wall Street Journal, 8/9/19; artnet, 9/9/19; The Economist, 9/18/19)

Berlin’s “rebuilt Stadtschloss has become a national monument, but an accidental one—not a legacy defining grand projet, but the product of a series of actions with unintended consequences. It is a German monument developed in a very un-German way.”  (Financial Times, 9/13/19)

“Thousands of artworks from the Nazi period lie hidden away in storage depots,” both in Germany and the U.S. Is it time for the public to see them?  (Spiegel Online – International, 8/14/19)

“Mounting an exhibition containing swastikas, propaganda posters, photographs of Nazi rallies and clips of Leni Riefenstahl…was bound to generate controversy.” By that measure, the Design Museum Den Bosch’s exhibition on “Design of the Third Reich” does not disappoint.  (artnet, 9/17/19; The New York Times, 9/17/19)

“They complain that they do not have enough money to do research on these objects to take proper care of them…but they had enough money to build a castle in the middle of Berlin.” The debate over the Humboldt Forum and the repatriation of African artifacts continues.  (The New York Times, 9/4/19)

John Eliot Gardiner explains how he rediscovered Beethoven’s radicalism with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique.  (The New York Times, 2/14/20)

Jaromir Weinberger’s Frühlingsstürme, “the last operetta of the Weimar Republic,” is back on stage at the Komische Oper.  (The New York Times, 1/26/20)

“The cruel isolation of deafness created the possibility of writing music that slipped the bonds of earth to touch the face of God. That Beethoven grasped his opportunity is an achievement almost beyond comprehension.”  (The Spectator, 1/11/20)

“When he conducts, Kirill Petrenko presents a paradox: How can an artist so mysteriously shy and monastic offstage manage to steal the spotlight whenever he’s on?”  Here’s a check-in with the celebrated conductor, “deep into his inaugural season” with the Berlin Philharmonic.  (The New York Times, 1/24/20)

“There’s a reason why Adorno’s defenders might gravitate toward depression, unpleasantness, or both: his world is a huge bummer. But so is ours.”  (The Baffler, 11/22/19)

Kudos to Heartbeat Opera in NYC for their new take on Der Freischütz: “A fantastic work about the end of the Thirty Years’ War, magic bullets, and winning women with violence has taken on, with remarkably little adaptation necessary, hot-button issues like gun culture, toxic masculinity and the plight of returning soldiers.”  (The New York Times, 11/28/19; The New York Times, 12/5/19)

“Strauss and Hofmannsthal operatically imagined in 1919 the possible relevance of a spiritually dedicated empress for the 20th century, her beauty embellished by harps and tuned to a solo violin in the key of E-flat.” You’ll want to see Die Frau ohne Schatten after reading this piece by Larry Wolff.  (The New York Times, 10/12/19)

Thirty years later, David Hasselhoff is still looking for freedom in Berlin.  (The Guardian, 10/8/19; NPR, 11/8/19; The Washington Post, 12/17/19)

The Bauhaus may have never had a proper music department, but “musical thinking permeated the lives of its students and faculty.”  (The New York Times, 8/22/19)

It’s Clara Schumann’s 200th birthday—celebrate by listening to Isata Kanneh-Mason’s new recording of her best piano music.  (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/10/19; The New York Times, 8/28/19;  The Guardian, 9/12/19)

In praise of Richard Strauss’s Salome: “The score is at once staggeringly original, more than a little trashy, and unsettling in its sexual and racial politics. When the clarinet slithers up a disjointed scale at the outset of the piece, the curtain effectively goes up on twentieth-century music.”  (The New Yorker, 8/21/19)

 

 

The cultural venues may be closed, but Covid-19 has opened up their performances to wider (online) audiences than ever before.  (The Guardian, 3/16/20)

Onstage in February 2020: René Pollesch renews the world at the Friedrichstadt-Palast, while King Lear’s daughters Regan and Goneril dismantle patriarchy at the Münchner Kammerspiele.  (The New York Times, 2/13/20)

Jaromir Weinberger’s Frühlingsstürme, “the last operetta of the Weimar Republic,” is back on stage at the Komische Oper.  (The New York Times, 1/26/20)

The music from Bartok’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle is entering the public domain—and so Tanztheater Wuppertal is reviving Pina Bausch’s “Bluebeard” for the first time since 1994.  (The New York Times,  1/15/20)

In memoriam: Harry Kupfer (1935–2019), “a towering figure in opera production with a career spanning 60 years.” (The New York Times, 1/3/20; The Guardian, 1/9/20)

Kudos to Heartbeat Opera in NYC for their new take on Der Freischütz: “A fantastic work about the end of the Thirty Years’ War, magic bullets, and winning women with violence has taken on, with remarkably little adaptation necessary, hot-button issues like gun culture, toxic masculinity and the plight of returning soldiers.”  (The New York Times, 11/28/19; The New York Times, 12/5/19)

“Strauss and Hofmannsthal operatically imagined in 1919 the possible relevance of a spiritually dedicated empress for the 20th century, her beauty embellished by harps and tuned to a solo violin in the key of E-flat.” You’ll want to see Die Frau ohne Schatten after reading this piece by Larry Wolff.  (The New York Times, 10/12/19)

The far-right AfD party is turning up the pressure on Germany’s theaters and opera houses. They’re hitting back forcefully, with action and satire.  (Financial Times, 8/26/19; The Atlantic, 10/28/19)

In praise of Richard Strauss’s Salome: “The score is at once staggeringly original, more than a little trashy, and unsettling in its sexual and racial politics. When the clarinet slithers up a disjointed scale at the outset of the piece, the curtain effectively goes up on twentieth-century music.”  (The New Yorker, 8/21/19)

 

 

“Part scary movie, part avant-garde, part Surrealist fever dream, Caligari still feels profoundly modern.” Robert Wiene’s silent masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari opened in Berlin on February 26, 1920. (The Conversation, 2/25/20)

“Lacking the nail-biting suspense that the story would seem to call for, Balloon quickly deflates.”  (The Wrap, 2/19/20; The Hollywood Reporter, 2/20/20)

Babylon Berlin is back!  Germany’s “first TV blockbuster of the streaming era returns for its third season, promising more murder and mystery in the turbulent days of the Weimar era.”  (The Guardian, 12/19/19)

Heimat Is a Space in Time, a meditation on Germany and filmmaker Thomas Heise’s own family history, “is a dreadfully German piece of work. That is part of its power.”  (The Hollywood Reporter, 9/5/19; The Guardian, 11/21/19)

Lotte Reiniger created more than 70 silhouette animation films in a career that spanned 60 years.  (The New York Times, 10/16/19)

“The question of how much and what kind of fun it’s permissible to have with Nazis never goes away, and the resurgence of right-wing extremism around the world makes the question newly uncomfortable.”  (Slate, 10/14/19; The New York Times, 10/16/19; The Washington Post, 10/20/19)

 

 

 

History

Did the Hohenzollern family “substantially abet National Socialism”? Millions of euros, and the fate of important cultural treasures, depends on the answer.  (Berlin Policy Journal, 2/20/20; The New York Review of Books, 2/26/20)

“The gulf between America’s ideals and its realities hit home particularly hard for one group: the thousands of black occupation troops sent to a defeated Germany to promote democracy.”  (The New York Times, 2/19/20)

Sinclair McKay has written a new history of the firebombing of Dresden on February 13, 1945.  (The Spectator, 2/1/20; The Economist, 2/6/20)

Donna Rifkind shines an overdue spotlight on Salka Viertel, “a destroyer of walls, a builder of bridges, a welcome among strangers,” in a new biography, The Sun and Her Stars.  (Harper’s, 1/2020; Time,  1/2/20)

Sheindi Miller’s diary, which documents her ordeal as a 14-year-old prisoner and forced laborer at Auschwitz, is now on display at the Deutsches Historisches Museum. Seventy-five years after the camp’s liberation, she attended the opening of the exhibition with her extended family.  (The Wall Street Journal, 1/24/20)

Mietskasernen, or “rental barracks,” have shaped Berlin’s culture and counterculture for more than a century.  (Citylab, 1/13/20)

“But even as Germany is regularly commended as a nation that has faced and taken responsibility for dark periods of its history, it is struggling to reckon with its colonial role.”  (The Washington Post, 1/3/20; Deutsche Welle, 1/19/20)

“Neither scientific study nor psychoanalytic text, ‘The Third Reich of Dreams’ is a collective diary, a witness account hauled out of a nation’s shadows and into forensic light.”  (The New Yorker, 11/7/19)

Anna Funder looks back on Stasiland, seventeen years after it was first published: “My great mistake was to imagine that the stories I was finding would be well received by Germans.”  (The Monthly, Dec. 2019/Jan. 2020)

Charlotte Salomon’s Life? or Theatre? is “one of the most astonishing autobiographical documents of the 20th century . . . an open book that makes more sense today than when it was found because it is, in fact, that most contemporary of things: a graphic novel.”  (The Guardian, 11/6/19; Smithsonian, 11/15/19; Apollo, 2/4/20)

“Strauss and Hofmannsthal operatically imagined in 1919 the possible relevance of a spiritually dedicated empress for the 20th century, her beauty embellished by harps and tuned to a solo violin in the key of E-flat.” You’ll want to see Die Frau ohne Schatten after reading this piece by Larry Wolff.  (The New York Times, 10/12/19)

Locally printed “emergency money” from World War I and the economic crisis thereafter combated cash shortages with artistic flair.  (The Observer, 9/28/19)

More compelling testimonials about November 9, 1989 and its aftermath.  (Brookings, 11/2019; Boston Review, 11/6/19; AFP, 11/6/19; The Guardian, 11/6/19; The Wall Street Journal, 11/7/19; Politico, 11/7/19)

“German unification was shaped by both the East and the West, and Helmut Kohl’s political skill and the trust he enjoyed with the allies played a significant role. But the peaceful revolution and Nov. 9, 1989, was the work of the citizens of the GDR.” (Spiegel Online – International, 11/7/19)

Julia Franck, Heike Geissler, Maxim Leo, Norman Ohler, and Bernhard Schlink look back on the opening of the Berlin Wall and its aftermath. (The Observer, 11/3/19)

Beyond Checkpoint Charlie: Avoid the tourists, and visit these lesser-known relics of divided Berlin.  (The Guardian, 10/29/19)

“Democracy is in trouble . . . A century after the founding of Germany’s Weimar Republic is a good moment to revisit the paradigmatic case of a democracy’s demise.”  (Prospect, 8/29/’19)

Whether we needed them or not, there are two new Hitler biographies out in 2019.  (The Guardian, 9/27/19; The New York Times, 9/29/19)

Berlin’s “rebuilt Stadtschloss has become a national monument, but an accidental one—not a legacy defining grand projet, but the product of a series of actions with unintended consequences. It is a German monument developed in a very un-German way.”  (Financial Times, 9/13/19)

In memoriam: Sigmund Jähn (1937–2019), the first German cosmonaut. “The first German in space always saw himself as a bridge-builder between East and West and for a peaceful use of space.”  (Deutsche Welle, 9/22/19; The New York Times, 9/24/19)

Luisa Beck recalls W.E.B. Du Bois’s formative experience as a student in 1890s Berlin and the complicated history of racism on both sides of the Atlantic.  (The Washington Post, 9/8/19)

“They complain that they do not have enough money to do research on these objects to take proper care of them…but they had enough money to build a castle in the middle of Berlin.” The debate over the Humboldt Forum and the repatriation of African artifacts continues.  (The New York Times, 9/4/19)

 

 

 

Books & Ideas

Sinclair McKay has written a new history of the firebombing of Dresden on February 13, 1945.  (The Spectator, 2/1/20; The Economist, 2/6/20)

An “entirely unimportant young lady alone with her questions” becomes an interpreter at the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials in The German House by Annette Hess, translated into English by Elisabeth Lauffer.  (The Washington Post, 12/30/19; The Economist, 1/8/20)

Donna Rifkind shines an overdue spotlight on Salka Viertel, “a destroyer of walls, a builder of bridges, a welcome among strangers,” in a new biography, The Sun and Her Stars.  (Harper’s, 1/2020; Time,  1/2/20)

How to build a multicultural and pluralistic Germany?  Max Czollek provocatively tells the country’s minorities to “de-integrate” themselves.  (The New York Times, 1/16/20)

Haven’t made it through Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities? Try Agathe, or the Forgotten Sister, in a new translation by Joel Agee. Its 36 chapters are “a novel within the novel,” zeroing in on the unusual love story between Ulrich and Agathe.  (The New York Times, 12/5/19; The Paris Review, 1/8/20)

“In a country where 20th-century history weighs heavily, Fontane offers a long gaze on the landscape.” Theodor Fontane was born 200 years ago, on December 30, 1819. (The Guardian, 12/20/19)

“Neither scientific study nor psychoanalytic text, ‘The Third Reich of Dreams’ is a collective diary, a witness account hauled out of a nation’s shadows and into forensic light.”  (The New Yorker, 11/7/19)

Anna Funder looks back on Stasiland, seventeen years after it was first published: “My great mistake was to imagine that the stories I was finding would be well received by Germans.”  (The Monthly, Dec. 2019/Jan. 2020)

“There’s a reason why Adorno’s defenders might gravitate toward depression, unpleasantness, or both: his world is a huge bummer. But so is ours.”  (The Baffler, 11/22/19)

“Monsters lurk in the Nietzschean deep. It cannot be a random mishap that so many unpleasant people have taken pleasure in his work.”   (The New Yorker, 10/7/19)

“I didn’t want to learn tourist or business German, I wanted to read poetry.” Author Margaret Drabble explains why it’s never too late to appreciate a new language.  (The Paris Review, 11/14/19)

Julia Franck, Heike Geissler, Maxim Leo, Norman Ohler, and Bernhard Schlink look back on the opening of the Berlin Wall and its aftermath. (The Observer, 11/3/19)

“Inadvertently or not, most of today’s far right speak in Heideggerian terms: lamenting the rootlessness of modern life and the ravishing of national character by the liberal world order; longing for a lost social harmony between land and people.”  (New Statesman, 9/11/19)

“He is a fine writer, who combines great insight with shocking ethical blindness.” The world of arts and letters is stunned by the Swedish Academy’s decision to award Peter Handke the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature.  (The Guardian, 10/10/19; The New Republic, 10/10/19;

Whether we needed them or not, there are two new Hitler biographies out in 2019.  (The Guardian, 9/27/19; The New York Times, 9/29/19)

In Thomas Mann’s War: Literature, Politics, and the World Republic of Letters, Tobias Boes retraces Thomas Mann’s journey from nonpolitical man to anti-fascist public intellectual.  (The National Interest, 8/14/19; National Review, 12/5/19)

Every translation is also a reinterpretation. Here’s how German literary translators are dealing with the linguistic and political pitfalls in Huckleberry Finn, Gone with the Wind, the works of James Baldwin, and more.  (Deutsche Welle, 9/30/19)

Adorno was right—you can buy a t-shirt that says so. Peter E. Gordon  examines the Frankfurt School thinker’s legacy, fifty years after his death.  (The New York Review of Books, 8/5/19)

 

 

Et Cetera

Philip Oltermann casts Angela Merkel as the “anti-hero Arthur Dent: an everywoman who remains bewildered by—rather than in charge of—the strange alien universe she has landed in.”  (The Spectator, 1/29/20)

Thomas Kemmerich’s sudden rise—and fall—as minister president of Thüringen “displayed the disastrous state of Germany’s political center—and how far the country now stands from the anti-fascist consensus it proclaims to maintain.”  (Foreign Policy, 2/7/20; The New York Times, 2/7/20; Bloomberg, 2/10/20)

Berlin’s clubs are dying? Long live Berlin’s clubs!  (The New York Times, 1/24/20; The Economist, 1/30/20; The Irish Times, 2/1/20; The Guardian, 2/12/20)

No, the pickle ornament is not a beloved German holiday tradition. But “somewhat ironically, the Christmas Pickle has made its way across the pond and has recently started to rise in popularity in Germany.”  (The Local, 12/16/19)

Ever wondered about what happens to items left behind on German trains? This story is for you.  (The New York Times, 12/23/19)

“My country was no longer the land of religious tolerance that it likely felt like to my grandparents upon their arrival,” writes Rachel Leventhal. “Continuing to hold a grudge against Germany for the sins of its past felt completely out of touch with the reality of this terrifying new America.”  (Tablet, 11/1/19)

“Merkeling along has not served the country poorly (not for nothing is the chancellor still its most popular politician) . . . But the practice of deferring many difficult decisions, taking others at the last-minute and wrapping the whole package in a soothingly apolitical vagueness has left behind a trail of unresolved tensions and challenges.”  (New Statesman, 11/21/19; The Guardian, 11/22/19)

“German unification was shaped by both the East and the West, and Helmut Kohl’s political skill and the trust he enjoyed with the allies played a significant role. But the peaceful revolution and Nov. 9, 1989, was the work of the citizens of the GDR.” (Spiegel Online – International, 11/7/19)

It’s November 2019. Germans are celebrating three decades of reunification with each other—and mourning three years of estrangement with the U.S.  (Bloomberg, 11/7/19)

Neues Deutschland, once the party newspaper of the SED, is now published by Die Linke. “Despite brutal circulation decline, heavy financial losses and massive job cuts, the paper survived the transition to capitalism and democracy.”  (Financial Times, 11/1/19)

“Germany’s Jews are increasingly a target of violence and aggression. Germany, of all countries, needs to protect them.”  (The Atlantic, 10/9/19; The New York Times, 10/10/19)

Walzwerk, a restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District that specializes in East German cuisine, “is a portal to life behind the Iron Curtain and to a state that no longer exists.”  (Atlas Obscura, 9/17/19)

“It feels like more books about race have been published in the past two years in Germany than in the past two decades,” writes Mithu Sanyal. “Reading about all this can create the impression there is more racism than ever in Germany. Actually, the opposite is true. What’s happened is we are finally starting to talk about it.”  (The Guardian, 9/18/19)

Germans “have been getting naked in public for over a hundred years.” Katrin Bennhold investigates!  (The New York Times, 8/31/19; The New York Times, 8/31/19)

About me

 

I’m a German-English translator with years of professional experience as a writer, teacher, and historian. To learn more about my work, please visit translatorplease.com.

I started kulturplease.com in 2009, when I was in between careers and craving a little more Kultur in my daily life. My life—and the world at large—has changed a lot since then. But I’m just as enthusiastic about following the latest developments in the German arts and culture, and celebrating the talented people who write about them.

I aspire to keep this site as up-to-date as possible, but sometimes life intervenes. If it looks like I haven’t updated things in awhile, stay tuned! I’ll be back. You can also look for me on Twitter.

Elizabeth Janik