What’s New

Why does Kraftwerk belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? “Rather than mastering and transforming the music of the 20th century’s first half, they invented the rock and roll of the future.”  (Open Culture, 11/10/21)

The 9th of November—Germany’s Schicksalstag— “is a good moment to remember that democracy should not be taken for granted.”  (The Spectator, 11/9/21)

“In modern Germany, Krimis are everywhere. More than 3,000 new crime novels are published every year, and the deluge of crime shows (both televised and theatrical), murder mystery dinners, and crime fiction festivals is near constant.”  (Foreign Policy, 10/24/21; New Books in German, 11/14/21)

As her 16 years in office draw to a close, how should we interpret the legacy of Chancellor Angela Merkel? Here’s a collection of answers from some of the brightest Merkel-watchers in the English-language media.  (Foreign Affairs, May/June 2021; Bloomberg, 6/9/21; The New York Times, 6/12/21; The Washington Post, 7/15/21; The Irish Times, 7/24/21; The Guardian, 8/31/21)

Frank Schätzing’s environmental thriller Der Schwarm is becoming The Swarm, an eight-part series on ZDF. In a first for the public broadcaster, the original production will be dubbed or subtitled for German audiences. (The Hollywood Reporter, 6/16/21; The Guardian, 10/8/21)

“Greater Einland (population: 1,000) has no internet and no ATMs . . . Even more remarkably, it is being gradually sucked down into a vast subterranean hole of unknown provenance.” Raphaela Edelbauer’s debut novel, Liquid Land, combines a “dreamy, Gothic strangeness with whimsical humour and an element of farce”—and it’s translated into English by Jen Calleja.  (Lonesome Reader, 8/19/21; The Guardian, 9/10/21)

Arts

“Like an imposing Disneyland castle minus the fun,” the Humboldt Forum is “an institution manufactured to fill a building, rather than the other way around . . . But the symbolism of rebuilding an imperial palace, crowned with a golden crucifix, as a showcase for colonial booty now seems almost comically misjudged.”  (National Geographic, 12/16/20; The New York Times, 7/22/21;  The Guardian, 9/9/21)

In Neo Rauch’s art, “events seem to take place in a parallel world . . . Alongside patches of preternatural calm, a discordant color breaks in, or a reptilian tail, or a burning backpack, or a Converse sneaker. The over-all effect is of allegorical painting, but these are allegories to which Rauch has thrown away the key.”  (The New Yorker, 9/27/21)

Don’t look for Benin bronzes in the Humboldt Forum: “Germany is on course to be the first country to return to Nigeria sculptures looted by British troops from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin in 1897.”  (The Guardian, 3/23/21; The Art Newspaper, 3/24/21; AICGS, 5/11/21; The Art Newspaper, 10/15/21)

Eco-friendly and koselig, too: WoHo “could serve as a template for how to build a charismatic architectural showpiece in an up-and-coming neighborhood without exclusion or displacement.”  (Bloomberg, 2/11/21; Bloomberg, 2/27/21)

Göring’s Man in Paris is “the story of a Nazi art plunderer and his world”—and how historian Jonathan Petropoulos became part of that world more than fifty years later.  (The Art Newspaper, 1/7/21; The New York Times, 1/17/21)

Tholey, the oldest working abbey in Germany, has a beautiful new look—stained glass windows by the artists Gerhard Richter and Mahbuba Maqsoodi.  (The New York Times, 9/18/20)

“There was nothing half-hearted about either Lovis Corinth or his pictures”: an appreciation of the artist and his Walchensee paintings, created a century ago.  (New Statesman, 2/10/21)

“Antisemitism for beginners”: the Jewish children’s book publisher Ariella Verlag has released a darkly humorous collection of cartoons.  (PRI, 2/3/21)

Brighten your day with a (virtual) visit to Michael and Petra Mayer’s architectural glass and mosaic studio in Munich.  (The New York Times, 12/2/20)

“From 1974 to 1984, Zusammenleben subtly depicted the reality of everyday life in East Germany.” Ute Mahler’s compelling black-and-white photos are now on display at La Maison De L’Image Documentaire.  (The Guardian, 1/6/21)

“The task of the work of art,” said Caspar David Friedrich, “is to recognise the spirit of nature and to imbue it with heart and feeling and to absorb it and represent it.”  (New Statesman, 7/22/20)

The message of “Unveiled: Berlin and Its Monuments” at the Spandau Citadel is clear: “A monument is not a descriptive account of history, but instead a historical artifact that tells a story about power. In a setting that invites scrutiny, visitors can study Berlin’s monuments to grasp more clearly who had power and how that power was used.”  (Atlas Obscura, 8/14/20)

It may have taken a pandemic, but now the rest of us can get into Berghain. The Berlin nightclub is temporarily reinventing itself as a gallery for local artists.  (The Art Newspaper, 8/12/20; The Guardian, 8/13/20)

“In 1986 a treasure trove of German film posters from the first four decades of film history were found, profoundly damaged by a fire, in the mine where they had remained for forty years.” Many of the restored posters are now on display at the Deutsche Kinemathek and in its online gallery.  (MUBI Notebook, 7/17/20)

“With its heavy armour plating, its second horn halfway up the back, its three-toed feet and its cruel face, the poor animal looked more like a tank than the real thing.” Albrecht Dürer’s oddly inaccurate rendering of a rhinoceros shaped Europeans’ imagery of the animal for centuries.  (History Today, 8/2020)

Adele Schopenhauer’s Scherenschnitte, unpublished in her lifetime, “vanished into an intimate constellation of private albums, self-conscious repositories of emotion.”  (Collage Research Network, 8/1/20)

Hello, Lenin? As a 35-year-old statue of the Soviet leader stands firm in Schwerin, Gelsenkirchen bucks worldwide trends to become the first western German city to display a statue in his honor.  (Digital Cosmonaut, 6/2020; Deutsche Welle, 6/20/20)

In memoriam: photographer Astrid Kirchherr (1938-2020). “In a dingy, disreputable Hamburg bar, amid the noise and squalor, she detected something beautiful.”  (The New York Times, 5/16/20; The Guardian, 5/19/20)

The bottom half of Kang Sunkoo’s Statue of Limitations, an 11-meter-high sculpture referencing Germany’s colonial past, has just been installed at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. The upper half will be placed in the city’s Afrikanisches Viertel, so-called for its streets that were in named in the colonial era.  (London Review of Books, 10/4/19; The Art Newspaper, 5/18/20)

Germany’s museums are opening back up—with online ticketing, social distancing, plexiglass shields, and a lot of disinfectant.  (artnet, 4/22/20;  The Art Newspaper, 5/4/20)

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

“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; The Economist, 7/20/20)

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)

A 55-CD box set gives us new occasion to reflect on the complicated legacy of conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, whose “sublime artistry . . . collided with his role as de facto chief conductor of the Nazi regime.”  (The New York Times, 10/14/21)

“The Isarphilharmonie, designed for temporary use but with a potential future after the Gasteig’s reopening, was designed to hold its own among Germany’s important concert halls.”  (The New York Times, 10/12/21)

Tresor is turning 30, and there’s a 12-record set of new and classic techno to help you celebrate. (DJ, 9/30/21; The Guardian, 10/5/21)

A fresh take on the Dreigroschenoper at the Berliner Ensemble? Yes, please! Director Barrie Kosky “adds and subtracts, breathing new life into a work that desperately needed it.”  (The New York Times, 8/5/21; The New York Times,  8/15/21)

“Why would any self-respecting woman perform Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben?” Carolyn Sampson makes a well-considered case. (The Guardian, 4/13/21)

“My obsession with Rammstein annoyed and worried my parents in equal measure,” writes Keza MacDonald, “and over the next few years gifted me with a German vocabulary that my high-school teacher memorably described as ‘extraordinary, if unrepeatable.'” (The Guardian, 3/1/21)

“A debate about racism, musicology, free speech and the music theorist Heinrich Schenker” is roiling academia and making international news. (The New York Times, 2/14/21)

The 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth is safely behind us—time for a less reverential look at “how our Beethoven obsession took hold.”  (The New Yorker, 1/19/21)

“With a warehouse that produced 50 to 65 grand pianos a year, Nannette Streicher’s firm was considered by many to be the finest in Vienna.”  (The New York Times, 11/6/20)

“Like operagoers across the generations, filmmakers have had trouble deciding whether Wagner is an exhaustible store of wonder or a bottomless well of hate. But that uncertainty also mirrors the film industry’s own ambiguous role as an incubator of heroic fantasies, which can serve a wide range of political ends.”  (The New Yorker, 8/24/20)

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, the last known living member of the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz, will deliver a (virtual) speech at the Salzburg music festival, on the occasion of its 100th anniversary.  (The New York Times, 8/13/20)

“You’ve heard of Shakespeare in the Park. How about Wagner in the Parking Lot?” Germany’s opera companies get creative to meet the demands of social distancing.  (The New York Times, 7/15/20)

“The lesson of [Marian] Anderson’s time in Europe is stunning in its simplicity and, for that reason, has been easy to dismiss. She showed up. . . And she delivered what was becoming increasingly difficult to showcase amid so much racial violence: a brilliant demonstration of her full humanity at a time when white supremacists wanted to deny it.”  (The New Yorker, 7/15/20)

In praise of the Schlager: “Germany’s most embarrassing musical genre,” and a “bright, shiny thread . . . in the fabric of pop music.”  (The Guardian, 7/8/20)

“German theaters have the artistic drive as well as the means, thanks to generous government subsidies, to insist that the show go on.” (The New York Times, 5/19/20; The Guardian, 5/29/20; The New York Times, 7/2/20)

In memoriam: photographer Astrid Kirchherr (1938-2020). “In a dingy, disreputable Hamburg bar, amid the noise and squalor, she detected something beautiful.”  (The New York Times, 5/16/20; The Guardian, 5/19/20)

In memoriam: Florian Schneider (1947-2020), co-founder of Kraftwerk. “Few people could have claimed to have exerted as much musical influence while remaining so enigmatic.”  (The Guardian, 5/6/20; Rolling Stone, 5/6/20; The Quietus, 5/7/20)

“The Berlin Philharmonic tests a musical path out of lockdown,” with a livestreamed concert featuring soprano Christiane Karg and a much reduced, socially distanced ensemble.  (The New York Times, 5/1/20)

“With Brahms, everything passes through layers of reflection. He is the great poet of the ambiguous, in-between, nameless emotions . . . In a repertory full of arrested adolescents, he is the most adult of composers.”  (The New Yorker, 4/16/20)

The Ensemble Avantgarde has released a new collection of chamber music by composer Paul Dessau.  (The New York Times, 4/8/20)

“While there are no over-the-top costumes, sweaty high-fives between strangers or sex by the dancefloor, there are a few perks to virtual clubbing: no long queues or bouncers denying entry.”  (The Guardian, 4/3/20)

In memoriam: Hellmut Stern, violinist and longtime concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He returned to his home city after years in exile, setting “a unique example of reconciliation and forgiveness.”  (The New York Times, 3/31/20)

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)

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)

 

 

In April 1936, a group of English schoolboys set out for a hike in the Black Forest, led by a charismatic teacher who “ignored numerous warnings and made a series of fatal decisions.” Their story has become a well-researched history, a graphic novel, and now a stage play.  (The Guardian, 9/10/21)

Camp Siegfried is a boy-meets-girl-meets-fascist-indoctrination two-hander,” set at a summer camp for German-American youth on 1930s Long Island.  (The Guardian, 9/7/21; Variety, 9/17/21)

The 2021 Brecht Festival in Augsburg was designed as a digital-only event: “Nothing here is slapdash or slipshod . . . As far as online theater festivals go, this one is practically binge-worthy.”  (The New York Times, 3/4/21)

In memoriam: Eric Bentley (1916–2020). Among a long lifetime of achievements, he helped bring Brecht to English-speaking audiences.  (The New York Times, 8/5/20)

“German theaters have the artistic drive as well as the means, thanks to generous government subsidies, to insist that the show go on.”  (The New York Times, 5/19/20; The Guardian, 5/29/20; The New York Times, 7/2/20)

In memoriam: Rolf Hochhuth (1931-2020): playwright and Querdenker; his first and best-known work, Der Stellvertreter, criticized the inaction of Pope Pius XII in World War II.  (Deutsche Welle, 5/14/20; The Telegraph, 5/18/20)

Since the 17th century, the people of Oberammergau have kept their promise to perform the Passion Play almost every tenth year, “celebrating their salvation from one pandemic—until another pandemic forced them to break it.” The play is now postponed until 2022.  (The New York Times, 4/5/2020)

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)

 

 

“In modern Germany, Krimis are everywhere. More than 3,000 new crime novels are published every year, and the deluge of crime shows (both televised and theatrical), murder mystery dinners, and crime fiction festivals is near constant.”  (Foreign Policy, 10/24/21; New Books in German, 11/14/21)

Did we really need an eight-part remake of Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo? We’re about to find out.  (The Guardian, 2/19/21)

Actress Barbara Sukowa “has played a lot of headstrong women in her 40-year career”; Helena Zengel is just getting started. Don’t miss their on-screen work.  (The New York Times, 12/30/20; The New York Times, 2/5/21)

“I come from a world that didn’t tell me anything about myself”: 185 LGBTQ actors published a joint manifesto in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, calling for a change in attitudes and greater representation in scripts.  (Deutsche Welle, 2/5/21;  The Hollywood Reporter, 2/5/21)

“Like operagoers across the generations, filmmakers have had trouble deciding whether Wagner is an exhaustible store of wonder or a bottomless well of hate. But that uncertainty also mirrors the film industry’s own ambiguous role as an incubator of heroic fantasies, which can serve a wide range of political ends.”  (The New Yorker, 8/24/20)

A bestselling book about Angela Merkel’s response to the European refugee crisis (Die Getriebenen) has since inspired a popular TV movie. “Any attempt to understand the legacy of the summer of 2015 must reckon with both works—and the crucial differences between them.”  (Foreign Policy, 8/23/20)

Scott Calonico’s short documentary Betrayal tells “the story of how the flight of an East German spy affected the family members he left behind.”  (The New Yorker, 8/5/20)

“In 1986 a treasure trove of German film posters from the first four decades of film history were found, profoundly damaged by a fire, in the mine where they had remained for forty years.” Many of the restored posters are now on display at the Deutsche Kinemathek and in its online gallery.  (MUBI Notebook, 7/17/20)

An 8-part German-Danish TV series, filmed in 2019, shows how the fictitious North Sea island of Sløborn descends into chaos as a mysterious virus takes hold.  (The Guardian, 7/27/20)

“The damaged first-world-war veteran and the refugee traumatised by his journey across the ocean, both of whom have the hubris to say: ‘I belong not on the fringes, but the heart of society.'” Director Burhan Qurbani explains his reimagining of the classic modernist novel Berlin Alexanderplatz.  (The Hollywood Reporter, 2/28/20; The Guardian, 7/17/20)

A terrific line-up of new German films should be heading your way soon, including a celebration of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, “an expressionistic thriller set in 1920s Vienna, a tale of Nazi seduction and a new Thomas Mann adaptation.”  (Variety, 6/23/20)

Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, directed by Fritz Lang, “was a lightning bolt that crackled across the stormy sky of Weimar Germany.” You have the time, says J. Hoberman, give it a try!  (The New York Times, 5/6/20)

Berlin’s Windowflicks project “is redefining the term ‘home cinema’ by bringing together local communities at a time of isolation, through the power of film.”  (The Guardian, 5/7/20)

“What happens to people when they are being denied the right to unconditional love?” Nora Fingscheidt’s System Crasher, about a troubled child in a troubled system of care, has swept the 2020 German Film Awards.  (The Guardian, 3/4/20; New Statesman, 3/25/20; Deutsche Welle, 4/25/20)

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; The Guardian, 4/10/20)

“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)

 

 

 

History

In 1953 Reinhart Koselleck, “still at the beginning of his career, postulated that we need to discard the conceptions of history that provided ammunition for the ideological furies of the 20th century . . . and start rethinking from scratch what constitute the actual ‘conditions of possible histories.'”  (Aeon, 9/1/20)

“Like an imposing Disneyland castle minus the fun,” the Humboldt Forum is “an institution manufactured to fill a building, rather than the other way around . . . But the symbolism of rebuilding an imperial palace, crowned with a golden crucifix, as a showcase for colonial booty now seems almost comically misjudged.”  (National Geographic, 12/16/20; The New York Times, 7/22/21;  The Guardian, 9/9/21)

“Upon publication, Fin-de-Siècle Vienna was quickly embraced by critics and readers in the United States, Europe, and beyond.” Thomas Bender recalls the historian Carl Schorske and his remarkable work.  (Public Books, 9/21/21)

“Two opposite, potentially even hostile, societies unite—that’s one of the most exciting sociological experiments you could imagine.” Sociologist Steffen Mau discusses Rostock’s Lütten Klein district and the traumas of German reunification.  (Jacobin, 10/3/21)

“There is no archive of spiritual malaise induced by catastrophic defeat or fears of your past coming back to haunt you, the way that there are archives for political parties and institutions of state.” Monica Black investigates the “post-Hitler spiritual and psychological distress” of a demon-haunted Germany after 1945.  (Cabinet, 9/14/21)

Judy Batalion wanted to write about “strong Jewish women,” and she found them: the unsung “courier girls” and other resistance fighters “who paid off Gestapo guards, hid revolvers in teddy bears, flirted with Nazis and then killed them.”  (The New York Times, 3/18/21; The Economist, 5/1/21)

Endpapers “is more than a book of history; it’s a transnational, intergenerational reckoning” about the extraordinary Wolff family and the idea of Bildung, too.  (The Boston Globe,  2/25/21; Lithub, 3/10/21)

Göring’s Man in Paris is “the story of a Nazi art plunderer and his world”—and how historian Jonathan Petropoulos became part of that world more than fifty years later.  (The Art Newspaper, 1/7/21; The New York Times, 1/17/21)

“Stepping into the past, sometimes, happens through art like the Stolpersteine creating unforeseen connections, and via technology bringing strangers across the world with a story to share together.” Now journalist Deborah Cole shares a story with the Ibermann family, who once lived in her Berlin building.  (AFP Correspondent, 2/23/21)

A dilapidated Boeing 707 with an unusual history is the last plane at Berlin’s Tegel airport. It’s slated to be removed by the end of April 2021.  (Atlas Obscura, 2/17/21)

Tom Rapoport‘s family emigrated from the US to the GDR in 1952. After German reunification, the molecular biologist lost his old job and found a new one at Harvard. He’s commuted between Boston and Berlin for the past 26 years.  (Berliner Zeitung, 2/13/21)

Why has it taken so many decades for Germany to charge now-elderly defendants who were once camp guards or other low-level personnel for Nazi war crimes? The 2011 conviction of John Demjanjuk was a watershed moment for the German justice system.  (The New York Times, 2/9/21)

Muslim-background Germans are not engaging “wrongly” with Holocaust education programs, says Esra Özyürek. Rather than remorse, they may respond with anxiety, fear—and radical empathy.  (Haaretz, 2/1/21)

Americans still have a great deal to learn from the Germans about coming to terms with a difficult past.  (Bloomberg, 1/30/21; Foreign Policy, 1/30/21)

“Holocaust museums for years have been asking visitors: ‘Beware the Holocaust because you could have been a victim.’ I suppose we are thinking: ‘Beware the Holocaust because you could have been a perpetrator.'” A new Imperial War Museums gallery reframes the experience of genocide.  (The Guardian, 1/27/21)

Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz, a prisoner at Dachau, secretly recorded his experiences on more than 1,800 pages between November 1942 and October 1944, then buried the diary underneath a concrete floor. He survived, and his testimony was unearthed after the camp’s liberation.  (The New York Times, 9/4/20)

“The presiding scientific genius of the Romantic age, when science had not yet been dispersed into specialties that rarely connect with one another, Alexander von Humboldt wanted to know everything, and came closer than any of his contemporaries to doing so.”  (The New Atlantis, Winter 2021)

The Dolchstoßlegende and the Big Lie are back in the news—and historians are here to explain why this is very bad news.  (The Washington Post, 11/23/20; The Washington Post, 1/9/21; The New York Times, 1/9/21; New Statesman, 1/13/21; Foreign Policy, 2/6/21)

The Jewish Museum in Berlin has a new director and a new permanent exhibition.  (The Wall Street Journal, 8/21/20; The New York Times, 8/26/20)

The Bohemians by Norman Ohler, translated by Tim Mohr and Marshall Yarbrough, is “a detailed and meticulously researched tale about a pair of young German resisters that reads like a thriller.”  (The New York Times, 7/14/20; The Spectator, 8/6/20)

The message of “Unveiled: Berlin and Its Monuments” at the Spandau Citadel is clear: “A monument is not a descriptive account of history, but instead a historical artifact that tells a story about power. In a setting that invites scrutiny, visitors can study Berlin’s monuments to grasp more clearly who had power and how that power was used.”  (Atlas Obscura, 8/14/20)

One hundred years after the redrawing of the German-Danish border, a once “bloody European frontier” has become “one of the world’s most successfully integrated and multilingual border regions.”  (The Economist, 8/22/20)

Hitler’s Northern Utopia, by Despina Stratigakos, “tells the story of a broad range of completed and unrealized architectural and infrastructure projects far beyond the well-known German military defenses built on Norway’s Atlantic coast.”  (Metropolis, 7/24/20; The Washington Post, 8/20/20)

Suzanne L. Marchand “uses porcelain as a vehicle to weave a sweeping economic, social and cultural history of central Europe. Along the way, she traces the transformation of the hundreds of German principalities into a powerful state that, by the late 19th century, was producing porcelain on an industrial scale.”  (The Economist, 7/16/20; The Wall Street Journal, 7/28/20)

Scott Calonico’s short documentary Betrayal tells “the story of how the flight of an East German spy affected the family members he left behind.”  (The New Yorker, 8/5/20)

How do we identify Albert Einstein? For the man himself, “being Jewish and German were not questions of identity but rather mutable matters of identification.”  (Aeon, 4/2/20)

“With its heavy armour plating, its second horn halfway up the back, its three-toed feet and its cruel face, the poor animal looked more like a tank than the real thing.” Albrecht Dürer’s oddly inaccurate rendering of a rhinoceros shaped Europeans’ imagery of the animal for centuries.  (History Today, 8/2020)

The villa where it happened: a new exhibition at Cecilienhof commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Potsdam Conference.  (The New York Times, 6/29/20)

“For postwar Germany, the United States was savior, protector and liberal democratic model. Now, Germans, in shock, speak of the ‘American catastrophe.'”  (The Guardian,  7/23/20; The New York Times, 7/24/20)

Pömmelte, a sacred site from the Late Stone Age, is helping scholars “build a picture of the dawn of the Unetice culture, sometimes described as Europe’s first ‘state.'” You can visit the reconstruction near Magdeburg.  (The Art Newspaper, 6/2/20)

Freya von Moltke held onto her uncensored correspondence with her husband Helmuth, written during his last months in a Nazi prison, until her own death in 2010.  Last Letters: The Prison Correspondence, 1944–1945 has been newly translated by Shelley Frisch.  (Lithub, 9/18/19; National Review, 2/29/20)

“Available at train stations, supermarkets, bakeries, kiosks, factories, Portuguese beach resorts, online, and everywhere else Germans buy things, Bild Zeitung squats like a large toad on German life.” Thomas Meaney examines the history and persistent influence of Germany’s largest tabloid newspaper.  (The Guardian, 7/16/20)

Learning from the Germans? Thomas Laqueur explains why “it seems far-fetched to imagine that comparing slavery to the Holocaust can help us to come to terms with the granular ubiquity of American racism.”  (London Review of Books, 6/18/20)

“The well-intentioned determination of German politicians and academics to take exclusive responsibility for the Nazi genocide is now aiding other perpetrators to whitewash their participation”: A thoughtful critique by historian Jan Grabowski.  (Haaretz, 6/22/20)

Through the Darkest of Times and Attentat 1942 are among a new breed of video games that seek to portray the historical experience of National Socialism, and the difficult moral choices that accompanied it, in a more nuanced way.  (The New York Times, 3/20/20; The Washington Post, 7/6/20)

“The Habsburgs are a writer’s gift, offering a regal cast of mad, colourful and deeply flawed characters.” In a new book, Martyn Rady charts the rise and fall of one of history’s most powerful families.  (Financial Times, 5/20/20; TLS, 6/26/20)

“In the postwar era, Germany fundamentally redesigned law enforcement to prevent past atrocities from ever repeating. Its approach may hold lessons for police reform everywhere.” (The New York Times, 6/23/20)

Hello, Lenin? As a 35-year-old statue of the Soviet leader stands firm in Schwerin, Gelsenkirchen bucks worldwide trends to become the first western German city to display a statue in his honor.  (Digital Cosmonaut, 6/2020; Deutsche Welle, 6/20/20)

The biographies of Wolfgang Leonhard and Markus Wolf were “strikingly similar” until March 1949. “Yet one remained an enthusiastic collaborator, while the other could not bear the betrayal of his ideals. Why?” Anne Applebaum has answers; please read them.  (The Atlantic, July/August 2020)

Samuel Moyn weighs in on a stubborn problem for (not just) German historians: “It is true that in the face of novelty, analogy with possible historical avatars is indispensable, to abate confusion and to seek orientation. But there is no doubt that it often compounds the confusion as the ghosts of the past are allowed to walk again in a landscape that has changed profoundly.”  (The New York Review of Books, 5/19/20)

The bottom half of Kang Sunkoo’s Statue of Limitations, an 11-meter-high sculpture referencing Germany’s colonial past, has just been installed at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. The upper half will be placed in the city’s Afrikanisches Viertel, so-called for its streets that were in named in the colonial era.  (London Review of Books, 10/4/19; The Art Newspaper, 5/18/20)

Of course, there’s a history behind the history. In History after Hitler: A Transatlantic Enterprise, Philipp Stelzel positions “the dialogue between German and American historians as a key part of the intellectual history of the Federal Republic and of Cold War transatlantic relations.”  (Mosse Program Blog, 1/11/19; New Books in History, 12/2/19)

“We have to sort this through and say: ‘These parts of my national history I can be proud of and I can stand by, and these parts I’m sorry for and I’d like to do my best to somehow make up for.'” A good place to start is Learning from the Germans: Confronting Race and the Memory of Evil, Susan Neiman’s comparative study of how Germans and Americans have come to terms (or not) with the injustices and atrocities in their national histories.  (The Guardian, 9/13/19; The New Yorker, 10/21/19; The New Republic, 10/31/19; The New Yorker, 7/6/20)

What lessons can we take away from the previous history of pandemics? Richard J. Evans, author of Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years (1830–1910), places Covid-19 in historical perspective.  (The New Yorker, 3/18/20; New Statesman, 4/2/20)

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)

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; Jacobin, 7/3/20)

 

 

 

Books & Ideas

“Upon publication, Fin-de-Siècle Vienna was quickly embraced by critics and readers in the United States, Europe, and beyond.” Thomas Bender recalls the historian Carl Schorske and his remarkable work.  (Public Books, 9/21/21)

“From the first assured pages of Afterlives, a book of quiet beauty and tragedy, it is clear one is in the hands of a master storyteller.” Nobel laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah “leads us by the hand into the world of German-occupied east Africa, before Germany lost its territories after defeat in the first world war.”  (Financial Times, 10/22/20; The Economist, 10/7/21)

“Two opposite, potentially even hostile, societies unite—that’s one of the most exciting sociological experiments you could imagine.” Sociologist Steffen Mau discusses Rostock’s Lütten Klein district and the traumas of German reunification.  (Jacobin, 10/3/21)

Take it from translator Shelley Frisch: “One of the cruelest barbs one can level against a writer’s style in English is to accuse a text of sounding ‘translated from German.'”  (Princeton University Press, 9/30/21)

The Magician is Colm Tóibín’s own “Mann-sized” novel about the author of Buddenbrooks and Doctor Faustus.  (Times Literary Supplement, 9/10/21;  The Washington Post, 9/14/21; The Guardian, 9/17/21)

Thomas Mann’s Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man “is a strange, frequently off-putting book, a 500-page assault on democracy, enlightenment and reason . . . And yet, at the moment, the book feels not just worthy of our attention but somehow indispensable.”  (The New York Times, 9/17/21)

“Condemned to live in an idolatrous world with the outlook of Hegel’s ‘beautiful soul,’ they spent their lives finessing waspish denunciations for like-minded readers rather than striving to transform it.” Stuart Jeffries discusses Martin Jay’s new essay collection—and American conspiracy theorists—on the Frankfurt School.  (The New Statesman, 8/18/21)

“In a belated plot twist, the German chancellor is the heroine of a new novel detailing her post-chancellery career as a hobby detective. Get off the stage, Miss Marple, it’s time for Miss Merkel.”  (The Irish Times, 4/16/21)

Stefan Weber, plagiarism hunter: “Critics describe him as a persnickety crusader who takes pleasure in character assassination. Even his supporters acknowledge that his drive to hold writers, academics and others to the highest standards can be vexing.”  (The New York Times, 9/10/21)

“His unease about a disappearing world echoes our own, as does his denial about the onrushing future.” Thanks to translator Isabel Fargo Cole, you can now read Adalbert Stifter’s complete Motley Stones in English.  (The Economist, 6/26/21; The Nation, 9/13/21)

Göring’s Man in Paris is “the story of a Nazi art plunderer and his world”—and how historian Jonathan Petropoulos became part of that world more than fifty years later.  (The Art Newspaper, 1/7/21; The New York Times, 1/17/21)

“In the shouty Valhalla of pointlessly destructive literary feuds, a place of honor must go to the verbal duel between the poets Heinrich Heine and August von Platen, which amused and disgusted the German literary world in 1829.”  (The New Yorker, 2/5/21)

Wolfram Eilenberger’s Time of the Magicians, translated by Shaun Whiteside, takes us back to the tumultuous decade between 1919 and 1929, as Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Cassirer, and Benjamin were thinking “intently, obsessively and sometimes dangerously about how to answer the oldest questions of philosophy.”  (The Guardian, 8/13/20;  The New York Times, 8/14/20; New Statesman, 12/10/20)

“Antisemitism for beginners”: the Jewish children’s book publisher Ariella Verlag has released a darkly humorous collection of cartoons.  (PRI, 2/3/21)

What better time to revisit Stefan Zweig’s 1942 memoir The World of Yesterday: “His plaintive ode to serendipitous meetings in free and open cities is one that echoes, too, from the shuttered windows of our own era’s locked-down metropolises.”  (New Statesman, 1/27/21)

In memoriam: Helga Weyhe (1922-2021), “Germany’s oldest bookseller.”  (The New York Times, 1/14/21)

It’s Hegel’s 250th birthday—here’s to reason in history and notoriously difficult German philosophers in the news.   (Deutsche Welle, 8/27/20; The Guardian, 8/27/20)

The Bohemians by Norman Ohler, translated by Tim Mohr and Marshall Yarbrough, is “a detailed and meticulously researched tale about a pair of young German resisters that reads like a thriller.”  (The New York Times, 7/14/20; The Spectator, 8/6/20)

A bestselling book about Angela Merkel’s response to the European refugee crisis (Die Getriebenen) has since inspired a popular TV movie. “Any attempt to understand the legacy of the summer of 2015 must reckon with both works—and the crucial differences between them.”  (Foreign Policy, 8/23/20)

Suzanne L. Marchand “uses porcelain as a vehicle to weave a sweeping economic, social and cultural history of central Europe. Along the way, she traces the transformation of the hundreds of German principalities into a powerful state that, by the late 19th century, was producing porcelain on an industrial scale.”  (The Economist, 7/16/20; The Wall Street Journal, 7/28/20)

“‘Michael Kohlhaas,’ which was recently reissued by New Directions in a sparkling new translation from Michael Hofmann, makes for a fine entry point into Kleist’s passionate, grotesque, hysterical, and deeply strange body of work.”  (The New Yorker, 5/20/20)

Reality TV meets the refugee crisis: “The first thing to say about Timur Vermes’s second novel, The Hungry and the Fat, is that Jamie Bulloch’s translation is immaculate . . . The second striking thing about this novel is how very good it is.”  (The Guardian, 2/8/20; Financial Times, 2/14/20)

“The Habsburgs are a writer’s gift, offering a regal cast of mad, colourful and deeply flawed characters.” In a new book, Martyn Rady charts the rise and fall of one of history’s most powerful families.  (Financial Times, 5/20/20; TLS, 6/26/20)

James Kirchick recalls The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Nobel prizewinner Heinrich Böll, and shows us how “a biting Cold War-era German novella helps explain our current moment.”  (The American Interest, 6/28/20)

“Christine Wunnicke’s glittering, absurdist jewel of a novel,” The Fox and Dr. Shimamura, is “itself a translation from the German.” And a prizewinning one at that! Philip Boehm is the 2020 recipient of the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize.  (Music & Literature, 3/28/19; The New York Times, 5/31/19)

“The zoos were microcosms of postwar Germany, subsumed, like everything else during the Cold War, into the ideological struggle.” The Zookeepers’ War by J. W. Mohnhaupt, translated by Shelley Frisch, is the cultural history of Cold War Berlin you didn’t know you were missing.   (Time, 11/12/19; Air Mail, 11/23/19)

Daniel Kehlmann’s new novel Tyll, translated by Ross Benjamin, reanimates “the old German chronicle of mobile mischief by placing its protagonist, Tyll Ulenspiegel, in a deeply imagined early-seventeenth-century world, a Europe ruined by the Thirty Years’ War.” (The New York Times, 2/3/20; The New Yorker, 2/10/20)

“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)

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)

 

 

Et Cetera

“In the summer of 1971, a young German couple set off on a trip that would take them farther from home than any of their journeys before.” Their daughter Edda Schlager, born one year later, has curated a remarkable collection of photos of Uzbekistan then and now.  (The Calvert Journal,  8/12/21)

“What lessons can Americans concerned about the current state and future of their democracy take from the German experience?” Political scientist Stephen Szabo has suggestions.  (Foreign Policy, 10/17/21)

Merkel-Raute, Muttivation, asymmetrische Demobilisierung, and more: Here are 16 terms that Angela Merkel’s 16-year chancellorship helped usher into the German language.  (The Guardian, 9/22/21)

“Angela, Angie and sometimes Merkel: For some refugee families who traveled to Germany during the migrant crisis of 2015 and 2016, gratitude for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to welcome them comes via a namesake.”  (The New York Times, 9/19/21)

“It’s a nail-biter, German-style: Who can most effectively channel stability and continuity? Or put another way: Who can channel Ms. Merkel?” Voters will elect a new chancellor and governing coalition on September 26. (The New York Times, 9/1/21)

The Greens and the CDU/CSU will settle on their chancellor candidates soon. “With both choices imminent, and an unusually competitive election looming, the focus is on the individual rivalries. but the contest also deserves to be seen as a broader one, on the character and location of Germany’s post-Merkel political centre.”  (New Statesman, 4/14/21)

Why Märklin is thriving: “For many people, the chance to create a separate, better world in the living room—with stunning mountains, tiny chugging locomotives and communities of inch-high people where no one needs a mask—is hard to resist.”  (The New York Times, 3/18/21)

Abstandsbier, Coronaangst, overzoomed, and more: more than 1,000 new German words are here to help us describe pandemic life.  (The Guardian, 2/23/21; Slate, 2/24/21)

A dilapidated Boeing 707 with an unusual history is the last plane at Berlin’s Tegel airport. It’s slated to be removed by the end of April 2021.  (Atlas Obscura, 2/17/21)

Confused about German politics? “Keep squinting at the overall hue of the national palette,” Andreas Kluth advises. “It’ll always tend toward mud-brown. But a black-green pattern is also becoming discernable.”  (Bloomberg, 2/17/21)

There’s a new political leader on Germany’s national stage. By a narrow majority, the CDU elected the “Catholic, moderate, consensus-oriented, no-experiments” Armin Laschet to be its new leader. But will he represent the party in the September election?  (New Statesman, 1/16/21; The Economist, 1/23/21)

In Germany, “the virus is not an ‘enemy,’ and the process of containing it is not a war.” In response to the pandemic, German politicians tend to forego martial imagery and opt for expressions like “challenge,” “crisis,” “task,” and even “long-distance run.”  (The Conversation, 5/22/20)

“Whatever the question, the answer is Germany”—it seems Britain and the U.S. could use some help.  (The New York Times,  7/19/20; The Guardian, 8/22/20; The New York Times, 8/25/20; The Economist, 8/29/20; The Irish Times, 8/31/20; New Statesman, 9/2/20)

 

One hundred years after the redrawing of the German-Danish border, a once “bloody European frontier” has become “one of the world’s most successfully integrated and multilingual border regions.”  (The Economist, 8/22/20)

“Merkel has been chancellor since 2005, when her fellow world leaders included Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac and George W Bush. It is hard to imagine Germany, and the continent, without her.” Here’s a useful overview of what might come next in Germany’s political landscape.  (New Statesman, 8/7/20)

Germans, socks, and sandals—here’s all you need to know.  (Deutsche Welle, 7/29/20)

“For postwar Germany, the United States was savior, protector and liberal democratic model. Now, Germans, in shock, speak of the ‘American catastrophe.'”  (The Guardian,  7/23/20; The New York Times, 7/24/20)

“Available at train stations, supermarkets, bakeries, kiosks, factories, Portuguese beach resorts, online, and everywhere else Germans buy things, Bild Zeitung squats like a large toad on German life.” Thomas Meaney examines the history and persistent influence of Germany’s largest tabloid newspaper.  (The Guardian, 7/16/20)

Through the Darkest of Times and Attentat 1942 are among a new breed of video games that seek to portray the historical experience of National Socialism, and the difficult moral choices that accompanied it, in a more nuanced way.  (The New York Times, 3/20/20; The Washington Post, 7/6/20)

“Germany has a problem . . . Cases of far-right extremists in the military and the police, some hoarding weapons and explosives, have multiplied alarmingly.”  (The New York Times, 7/3/20)

“Confronted with a pandemic that has cratered Europe’s economy, Ms. Merkel and Mr. Macron, who have often found themselves at odds over the years, dragged the rusty Franco-German motor out of the garage and got it running again.”  (The New York Times, 5/19/20; Bloomberg, 5/20/20)

“The leader of the free world gives a speech, and she nails it.”  (Intelligencer, 3/18/20; The Atlantic, 4/20/20)

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)

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)

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