SAW IT ON TV : GENERATION WAR & WEISSENSEE

Generation War 8Generation War 5 Generation War 6 Generation War 1

 

It was easy to miss the week-long run of GENERATION WAR. It screened for a week at Embarcadero and then no place else in the Bay Area. For the US release by Music Box, the hugely successful TV (ZDF) mini series, originally called Our Mothers, Our Fathers, was edited into a 2 part 280 min-long film. A war movie with all the great production values we are used to by now; perhaps with the “best representation of close combat ever filmed” says David Denby of the New Yorker. We follow five young Germans, 2 brothers fighting in the Wehrmacht, a nurse, an aspiring singer, and her Jewish lover, through 4 years of war and witness how they are brutalized by what the war on the Eastern front and the Nazis put them through. Three of them survive, including the Jew. A WW2 film trying to give a collective portrait of a generation, highly acclaimed by the German media for opening up a dialog between old and young about accountability and forgiveness. I hope it did. I would have preferred a documentary addressing these issues that are so painful, so complex, so explosive that it calls for much more than a popular melodrama like approach. The film includes every possible horror of the war, from close combat to executions, hangings, betrayals, to partisan cruelties and field hospitals with lots of screaming and blood. Nothing has been left out – except concentration camps. The 5 protagonists celebrate in Berlin the night before leaving for the front and we know that at least a few will survive and come back to that same bar, changed and in rubble. On the vast Eastern front they keep bumping into each other. The brothers, one a bookish war hater turns into a killer, whereas the responsible, stern lieutenant becomes a deserter. The young Jew hides in the woods with Jew-hating Polish partisans and survives against all odds – it makes for good story, but we don’t get much inside into the only Jewish character in the film. The roles of the two women, a naive nurse that for no apparent reason betrays a Jewish doctor urgently needed at the front, and the singer, carrying on with an SS officer to save her Jewish lover and advance her career, are bordering on trite stereotypes. Five hours of too much that left me with too little.

Very different is WEISSENSEE, a TV (ARD) series of 12 episodes. 45 min ea. that premiered in 2010.

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An East-Berlin love story, taking place around 1980 and flavored with everything we know from The Lives of Others, focuses on two families at the opposite end of the political scope. The Kupfers main players are the father (Uwe Kockisch) belonging to the old Stasi bosses who wanted to change society for the better. His two sons, the older (Jörg Hartmann) following the party line faithfully not because his father knows Honecker, but because he is overly ambitious and can’t deal with failure. In different times he would have made a great bank manager. The younger brother (Florian Lukas), a police man (VoPo), has no intention to rise in his job except into the arms of his lover (Hannah Herzsprung), who belongs to the Hausmann family on the other side of the fence. Her mother (Katrin Sass), a wonderful Lieder-singer, who like many of the GDR Liedermachers in the late seventies (Wolf Biermann comes to mind) openly critiques the system. With a rebellious daughter who is in love with the son and brother of party bosses, with performing anti-regime songs and a former love affair with the father of her daughter’s lover, the question is, how will she and her daughter have to pay for it all. Like Generation War, the story depends on conventions of popular melodrama – a Romeo/Julia love story, contrasting brothers, a singer, betrayal, pregnancy, spying, murder, prison, forgiveness – but no painful clichés, no obvious good guys versus bad guys, all characters, even the party-faithfuls, do not come across as creations of a smart script writer, but as humans who, under pressure, do not resist the temptation to be human. Once you start watching, you can’t stop. Too bad that this series has not made it to the big screen in the US.

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TO THE LIGHTHOUSE

A shuttle bus from Drakes Beach visitor center drops you off less than half a mile from the Point Reyes lighthouse. Walking under storm-bent fir trees with views of beautiful beaches, featuring elephant seals fighting for the best place in the sun (or fog), you come to the top of 302 steps leading down to the historic lighthouse. Built in the 1860s with the latest lens technology (Fresnel lens from France) it started operating in 1870 and has not changed until it was decommissioned in 1975. A windy spot, often so foggy that many ships could not be saved by the powerful beacon, but many crews members got rescued by the coastguards on duty. Today the lens is replaced by a solar powered beacon located below the lighthouse. Going up the 302 step is a workout that will justify a delicious lunch at Drakes Bay Oyster farm. It was a bit chilly but you quickly forget when slurping piles of fresh oysters, and close the meal with local cheeses from Nicasio Valley. Don’t forget to bring a bottle of wine and sign the petition to save the oyster farm from government take-over.

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A WEEKEND AT BERLIN & BEYOND

Ludwig II

Shores of Hope

West

Measuring the World

At the Berlin & Beyond film festival in the beautiful Castro Theatre, my old stomping ground. Friday night’s program in a packed house started with plenty of long speeches followed by a short live performance of a Wagner song to introduce LUDWIG II, the centerpiece piece film. Good to be reminded that without Ludwig Bayreuth, which was not mentioned in the film, might never have been built. Veteran director Peter Sehr, who died of brain tumor shortly after the release of this film, focused on Ludwig, the pacifist, who hated politics and loved art, music and, of course, Wagner. The 2.5 hrs long film felt long, although it was fascinating to watch Sabin Tambrea’s dexterous portrayal of young Ludwig. No time was wasted with the construction of the castles, all stages of mad Ludwig’s life up to his mysterious death in Starnberger See at the side of his physician were included. Still, something was missing, or less might have been more, as the Dubini brothers demonstrated in their Ludwig 1881, shown at B&B 97. Perhaps Visconti and Syberberg are simply hard acts to follow.

SHORES OF HOPE /Wir wollten aufs Meer, by Toke Constantin Hebbeln (his wonderful debut film NEVERMORE was shown at B&B 2007), tells the story of friendship and betrayal among shipyard workers in East Germany. Stasi surveillance, torture in State prisons, good inmates, bad guards and even worse Stasi officers, love and lies, all that felt like it could have been a film about the Holocaust. Ever since The Life of Others hit the screen films about life in East Germany often became interchangeable with Holocaust films. SHORES OF HOPE is one of them. I much preferred watching the German TV series WEISSENSEE about the same topic with a more sensitive and clever story. A very different and more compelling way to approach the subject is shown in WEST by Christian Schwochow (his debut film NOVEMBER CHILD was screened at B&B 09). After having lost the man she loved and the father of her child, Nelly tries to escape from the past and start a new life in the West which turns out to be much more difficult than expected. Not only is she confronted with the usual humiliations but with the suspicion to be a spy and accusations that turn everybody around her, even the man she loved, into a suspect. Is there no escape from the past? Powerful, touching, with great performances, especially by Jördis Triebel (Nelly) who some might remember from EMMAS GLÜCK.

MEASURING THE WORLD concluded my B&B weekend. I love the book by Daniel Kehlmann and was warned that the film does not hold up to it. I agree but it was not a waste of time. Kehlmann, the screenwriter, was not able to translate the insightful, historically rich and often hilarious interaction between Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt onto screen. Two scientists, albeit geniuses, do not make for a compelling film. Nature becomes the third major player in this 3D film, which reminded me of THE WALL, another difficult translation from book to film that worked well because the breath taking Alps featured as companion and counterpoint for the lonely woman. Here it is uncharted territory in Latin America around the turn of the 18th century that keeps the story alive.

I would have liked to see the amazing cinematography of MORE THAN HONEY on the big screen of the Castro – it was shown at the Goethe-Institut. The Q&A with Christian Schwochow after WEST could have been longer (there were many more questions and plenty of time), but I remember how difficult it is to please everybody.

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ZWEI LEBEN – OH BOY – DER FALL – DER GESCHMACK VON APFELKERNEN

 

 

 

 

 

I saw a few German or German-language films, over the last months, all of them award winners, critically acclaimed or included in a film series here in San Francisco. OH BOY was an add-on and the only German film, I noticed, at the Mill Valley Film Festival; DER FALL the opening film of Sister Cities: Zürich-San Francisco, presented by the SF Film Society; ZWEI LEBEN, Germany’s Oscar bid, and THE TASTE OF APPLE SEEDS with its high profile cast opened in German movie houses this September. DER FALL, a Swiss film from 1972, that never made it into the international festival circuit – thus not subtitled until its screening in SF a few weeks ago – will be pretty impossible to find. A black and white film taking place in a grey, cold Zürich full of unattractive industrial buildings and train tracks – not the Zürich we know with perfectly restored old houses around a beautiful lake with high-end designer stores where even Oprah is tempted to shop. It is a Zürich populated with failures, hippies (who don’t smoke – my friend noticed that nobody was smoking in this film from 1972), sick people, jealous husbands, and a pathetic private detective who makes his living snooping around other people’s lives. When he falls for a young chick that has already destroyed at least one marriage, the detective is doomed. Why is he attracted to her? God only knows, I couldn’t figure it out.

ZWEI LEBEN kept me glued to the screen. A twisted story about a mother (Liv Ullmann) who thinks that the young woman she has been living with (Juliane Köhler) is her daughter. There are many movies about unknown fathers but mothers would know, we think, unless their babies have been switched in the hospital. Here the mix-up points at disturbing politics of both, Nazi and Stasi Germany . Great performances by both Köhler and Ullman. A complicated beginning – because the plot is complicated – and an ending that seemed too constructed, but altogether a powerful film. — DER GESCHMACK VON APFELKERNEN, with an impressive cast of Germany’s best – Hannah Herzsprung, Marie Bäumer, Meret Becker, Florian Stetter. They had too many stories to tell covering too many generations, places, relationships. I gave up after the first half hour to figure out what was going on and got bored. — And last but not at all least OH BOY, Tom Schilling’s 80 minute screen appearance. He must have been in almost every shot but it didn’t feel forced, boring or overpowering like Michael Gwisdek’s soliloquy – well articulated although drunk – about life and death and politics. Schilling’s face is innocent, young, honest, not changing much while we accompany him over 24hours through Berlin. Yes, it has been done before, many times, but this film felt fresh and touching, like a deep breath of Berliner Luft.

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SEPTEMBER TRAVELS : France

 

 

 

 

 

The Périgord Noir was my destination. Known for its food (foie gras, truffles, black walnuts) & wine (Bergerac red and white), its prehistoric caves (Lascaux, les Eyzies) , and unspoiled nature with the Dordogne and Vézère meandering through green valleys, it’s a must for Francophiles and foodies. Yes, I wanted to try the local specialties, but liver of tortured geese and ducks? As soon as I mentioned San Francisco as my home, I was assured that the birds are treated fairly in the process of producing the famed liver that ended up in my suitcase. And when I left Bergerac I had to promise at customs to drink good French wine with it in CA, otherwise only one small can would be allowed. Yes, I promised. No coke, no sprite. Everything in the Vézère area seemed ancient and beautiful. Our hang-out, St. Léon sur Vézère, had a church from the 10th century with amazing acoustics, three fabulous restaurants and a tiny grocery store with the best French wines and cheeses. — The caves in les Eyzies and Rouffignac show an impressive array of 12 to 17 thousand-year-old paintings and drawings of auroches, horses, deer, very much like the art we know from Werner Herzog’s film about Chauvet which dates back to 35 thousand years ago. The same style, the same animals, the same colors but different artists who could not have known each other. Fifteen thousand years of unchanged art and unchanged life. I felt claustrophobic but also a bit nostalgic in this very slow moving world and did not mind that the Grotte de Rouffignac had just closed for lunch when we arrived at noon.

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SEPTEMBER TRAVELS: Poland – Krakow

 

 

 

 

 

Krakow: old, beautiful, relaxed. Lots of churches, cafés, parks, open spaces. We stayed at Helena Rubinstein’s birth place in the heart of the Jewish Quarter across from the Jewish cemetery and the only active synagogue that serves the remaining 10,000 Jews in Krakow. All three of these locations are tourist attractions, together with Schindler’s Factory. Helena’s family left Krakow in 1914. Not far from the Jewish Quarter is the castle, the old town square with cafés, an old market place now catering to tourists, and churches on every street corner. The best place for food is an outdoor market that serves roasted sausages, pig’s feet, ears, ribs, and whatever else a pig has to offer. Good luck for vegetariens — but there will always be borscht. Poland’s history has been a sad one, many divisions, take-overs by aggressive neighbors like Russia, Germany, Austria. Only recently did the Poles produce their own heroes to be proud of — Pope John Paul II, of course, former Bishop of Krakow, and Lech Walesa, charismatic political activist and leader of the trade union Solidarity, that helped turn around Polish history. Andrzej Wajda’s latest film, an homage to Walesa, premiered in a huge industrial compound outside of Krakow and I was lucky to be present. Wajda (85 years old and sick, according to his wife) couldn’t make it, nor Walesa or his family joined the three thousand plus crowd that watched the film and applauded reluctantly. That’s the Polish way, commented a friend, they don’t overflow with enthusiasm. Or did they – like me – not like the film?

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SEPTEMBER TRAVELS: Poland – Auschwitz

 

 

 

 

 

Pick up at the hotel at 11am, return at 7pm. A tour to Auschwitz with about 20 people in our bus from six different countries. Throughout the 70 minute bus ride a DVD of the 1986 film THE LIBERATION OF AUSCHWITZ, by Irmgard von zur Mühlen, in Polish with English subtitles. I felt sick when we finally arrived, the film had done its job. We were assigned to the language we had requested. There were about 20 different ones offered every day and while the organizers ran around calling and waving signs and putting stickers on our jacket not to get lost in the turmoil of visitors pouring out of huge tour busses, the film I had just seen, faded away and last year’s visit to King Ludwig’s castles in Bavaria came to my mind. Was I visiting a Polish Museum with a permanent blockbuster exhibition? “The tour starts in 5 minutes, ” announced a young woman. “It will last about 90 minutes. Bathrooms are downstairs, drinks and small snacks can be purchased and must be consumed before the tour starts. No eating on the compound.” Everybody stormed downstairs for the toilets. Long lines. Finally, equipped with headphones that allowed you to receive only the German guide if you pressed the correct channel, our small German group, passing masses of English, Spanish and Polish speaking visitors, headed for the infamous sign, Arbeit macht frei. Rows of barracks, Blocks, built of brick, numbers above the entrance. Some turned into exhibition space with walls covered of head shots and names, all Polish. Suitcases, brushes, shoes, and hair, real hair, behind glass, hand written letters to loved ones. Instead of tears cameras in front of the visitors’ eyes. Click, click. Then to the next Block. Our guide talked fast, a routine job. No time for questions. The last Block, the prison, where people were interrogated, tortured, killed no photos allowed, only outside at the wall that still seemed to show traces of blood from the countless executions. — End of the Auschwitz tour. Next stop Birkenau. Only 10 kilometers away but too far for most of the tour busses. Vast, empty fields of long barracks built for 100 000 prisoners. Most barracks destroyed by the Nazis themselves to cover up their crimes. We walked along the train tracks, stood at the ramp where those found fit to work were separated from their children and parents. The gas chambers not far from the ramp. It was a rainy, grey afternoon and all I could think of was the huge machinery behind the horror, that was necessary to make it all work. Thousands of people were involved in organizing and executing this machine made for human beings that were treated like cattle, like material. Fit for work or not. And the unfit were killed in the most efficient way or used for horrific experiments. Whatever the Germans do, they do well. No more comments.

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HIMMEL ÜBER BERLIN

 

 

 

 

 

Always changing, always dramatic, always beautiful. And underneath this sky seen from my balcony in Kreuzberg on a weekday evening, people ride home from work (lots of bicycles in Berlin), meet friends in a sidewalk café, spend hours reading the Zeitung on the banks of the Paul Linke Ufer or listen to eclectic music at the entrance to Türkenmarkt on the Maibachufer across from my apartment. Life in Berlin is much more relaxed than in San Francisco, and much much more relaxed than in LA. Here people take their time to talk to friends, walk their dogs (most don’t pick up the poo), watch the sunset with a beer in their hand. Officially drinking beer is no longer allowed in the subway. Thank god, I thought, no more broken glass all over the Ubahn stations and parks on Sunday mornings, but Berliners don’t follow the rules. They cross red lights, bike on sidewalks in the wrong direction, drink on the subway despite the ordinance. Well, breaking the rules is something I always appreciate, especially from Germans. That’s why I love aBerlin.

There are lots of German films on my agenda: FEUCHTGEBIETE, WEST, FINSTERWORLD, TWO LIVES, Germany’s entry for the 2014 Oscars. Hope they will make it to the theatres while I’m here in Berlin. You can count on my comments.

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THE ACT OF KILLING &THE BANALITY OF EVIL

 

 

 

 

Both films, Hannah Arendt and the Act of Killing, are shown next to each other at Opera Plaza Cinemas in San Francisco. If you haven’t seen them, take an afternoon or evening off and go through hell. It will haunt you for days, especially The Act of Killing, a documentary in Werner Herzog’s style ( he is one of the executive producers), where the boundaries between reality and fiction are fluid and boundaries between reality and film become so undistinguishable that at the end I thought, it was a Hollywood movie I had just seen about torture, terror, killings and smiling gangsters who had committed the brutal acts. Inspired by Hollywood movies the killers in Indonesia who, in 1965, after Sukarno was ousted by the military, killed in a year about a million Sukarno supporters by cutting their throats, beating them to death, strangling them with wires (it was less bloody) and to this day have lived almost happily ever after. The government that supported the coup is still in power. The perpetrators, common people, who love to dance and act out, cross dress and boast about the atrocities they committed, have raised children and grand children telling them about their bloody past without feeling any remorse. At the end of the film, one of them (who looks so much like Nelson Mandela!) has stomach convulsions, he bents over in pain and throws up into the trough where he had slaughtered thousands of innocent people. Is it real? Or is it another re-enactment, this time of remorse? Was I supposed to feel any relief, may be even empathy with this brutal killer now that he finally felt some stomach pain? No, I didn’t feel any. I was just wondering when and if he would ever face a court of justice —like Eichmann.

 

 

 

 

 

When THE ACT OF KILLING was shown at the Berlinale 2013 people asked Joshua Oppenheimer, the director, if he could imagine making a movie about Nazis (if still alive) re-enacting the Holocaust. There are many similarities, yes. In both cases the unsuspected, common man committed the crimes. Not a monster but a neighbor who, in Indonesia, danced the Cha Cha Cha expertly and loved Hollywood movies. In Germany he might have belonged to a police battalion from Hamburg, a left-leaning working class city that didn’t support the Nazis early on. (See Goldhagen www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/09/bsp/hitler.html ) Or he might have just followed the orders like Eichmann claimed in front of the Israeli court. The Germans would not have been good at re-enacting the holocaust. Eichmann’s face was twisted, intense, no dancing and smiling, like the Indonesian killers. And watching those smiling faces made The Act of Killing so much more disturbing. The Nazi stereotype is a stern, stiff face in a tight fitting uniform with polished boots that gives or receives orders. In Indonesia not one of the killers said that he was following orders. They killed because they did a job that was in demand and paid well.

For more on The Act of Killing here some links to the NYT http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/movies/the-act-of-killing-and-indonesian-death-squads.html?pagewanted=all and an interview with director Joshua Oppenheimer on the Daily Show. http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/tue-august-13-2013-joshua-oppenheimer

No Bali for me —but I do have a small flat in Berlin.

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HANNAH ARENDT on film

at the Jewish Film Festival and now at Opera Plaza in San Francisco

 

 

 

 

 

A week or so ago at the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco I saw Margarete von Trotta’s latest film HANNAH ARENDT, highly anticipated not just by me but by a sold-out Castro crowd. Ever since it’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last September we have been waiting for von Trotta’s take of the outstanding Jewish philosopher/thinker/political scientist who escaped Nazi Germany and then France to settle down in New York where in 1961 she shook up the Jewish intellectual community with her reports on the Eichmann trial. Von Trotta’s film focuses on this year or two of her life – not on her relationship with writer Mary McCarthy as suggested by an article in the New Yorker from May 2013. This is not a film about Arendt’s philosophies, her way of dissecting the world, but about a few action packed months of the philosopher’s life that were full of controversy, tension and accusations.

Her reports for the New Yorker portrayed Eichmann not as the devil, the incorporation of all evil, but of the “banality of Evil”, an ordinary guy who followed orders and did not think about the consequences. The Jewish intellectual community of New York and beyond condemned her analysis as a defense of Eichmann, lacking any feelings and emotions for her own Jewish people. Did the term “banality of Evil” spring from a cold, albeit brilliant intellect that had dissected the trial without being able to feel any compassion? Formidable Barbara Sukowa (seen here most recently in VISION, another collaboration with von Trotta, shown at German Gems 2010) gives a strong, nuanced (chain-smoking) performance as Arendt who, confronted with harsh criticism also from close friends, does not give in. She can handle hate mail, yes. She can escape to the country, has friends and famous lovers, like Mary McCarthy, (Heidegger included in flash-backs), she has a loving, open-minded husband and many devoted students. I agree with those who say that this strong, highbrow woman might have found in von Trotta’s film some of the mediocrity she detected in Eichmann (and failed to see in McCarthy’s writing). Still, it is very worth watching the film and reengaging in the discussion about Eichmann in Jerusalem.

After 50 years the audience at the Castro seemed to be just as divided as the readership of the New Yorker in 1962. When Arendt /Sukowa defended her position in front of her students with a brilliant speech half of the Castro applauded, the other half applauded her Jewish friend Hans Jonas who criticized Arendt as a defendant of Eichmann

The Castro felt very alive, as if the actors had stepped out of the screen onto the stage of the theatre, like Barbara Sukowa did a few years ago as guest of Berlin & Beyond and star of the film THE INVENTION OF CURRIED SAUSAGE / Die Erfindung der Currywurst.

 

 

 

Here a review from the NYReview of Books 11/21/13. An insightful take on this film, different from all the reviews I read. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/nov/21/arendt-eichmann-new-truth/

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GOETHE ON MY MIND – Nach Goethe steht mir der Sinn

 

 

 

 

 

In meinem Bücherschrank fand neulich ich eine wunderschöne Ausgabe von Goethe’s Italienischer Reise, ein Bat Mitzvah Geschenk für meine Tochter Milena von ihrem Patenonkel Charles Rosen. Natürlich auf Deutsch ohne Übersetzung, was Charles sicher so nebenbei las, während er auf dem Klavier Fingerübungen machte und dabei nicht nur Goethes zum Teil lange und verschachtelten Sätze verstanden, sondern in seinem Kopf behalten hat. Charles war ein außergewöhnlich kluger Kopf, der einen ganzen Abend damit verbrachte mit seinem Freund Henry die Vornamen deutscher Dichter und Denker des 18. Jahrhunderts aufzuzählen – Lessing: Gotthold Ephraim, Schlegel: August Wilhelm, ETA Hoffmann: Ernst Theodor Wilhelm, Mörike: Eduard Friedrich, Wieland: Christoph Martin, Wackenroder: Wilhelm Heinrich, Hegel: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich und natürlich Goethe: Johann Wolfgang. Er kannte viel mehr als ich, die ich zu der Zeit Literatur studierte und mich an dem Spiel beteiligte so gut ich konnte. Die Ausgabe der Italienischen Reise enthält sowohl Faksimiles von Goethes Zeichnungen und Malereien, die während der zweijährigen Reise entstanden, als auch von Tischbein, Kniep und anderen Malern, die ihn begleiteten und oft auch portraitierten. Der Reisebericht ist erst 30 Jahre später veröffentlicht worden, nachdem Goethe viel Persönliches und wohl auch Intimes, herausgenommen hatte. Dennoch gibt es Anekdoten, die die Wahlverwandtschaften andeuten, ein Faksimile der 5. Römischen Elegie, Liebesgedichte, die auch erst nach seiner Rückkehr veröffentlicht wurden und Beschreibungen von Frauen, die ihm am Herzen lagen. Was mich an den Tagebuchberichten fasziniert ist ein Goethe, der sich selbst nie in der Vordergrund spielt, fast bescheiden von dem berühmten Dichter schreibt, der incognito reist, sich oft nur zögernd zu Erkennen gibt, Gemälde bemängelt, die ihn nur als “hübscher Bursche, aber keine Spur von mir” darstellen, die Schwächen seiner eigenen Malerei sehr genau erkennt und das Talent, was ihn vor allen andern auszeichnet, die Kunst zu Schreiben, nie zur Schau stellt. Braucht er auch nicht, denn man hat das, was er meisterhaft beherrscht, vor sich, die wunderbare Beschreibung der Italienischen Reise.

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FROM SAKURA TO XIHU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My long overdue trip to Japan finally happened – I had tickets for March 11, 2011, when earthquake and tsunami devastated the country but this time I was greeted by friends who had nearly forgotten the disaster and beautiful cherry blossoms (sakura) in Yamagata, 30 min. away from Fukushima. I stayed with families throughout the 10 days in Japan, shared a tiny apartment and a loving relationship between a 70 year old mother and her 45 year old daughter in the middle of Tokyo, and up North I joined 84 year old grandma visiting to her husband’s grave, soaked with mom in the hot springs, while dad in his brand new mercedes with tv and all the gadgets prepared the tour route to the best cherry blossoms and the oldest temples. I am one of the very few who went to Japan and left out Kyoto, a reason for me to return.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a 3 hour flight I landed in Shanghai. A culture shock, warned my friends, and they were right. 100 square kilometers of city that never ends with buildings that looked like East-German Plattenbau, some much worse than what I saw in East Germany years ago. They were interspersed with beautiful old buildings from colonial times, many restored – the famous Bund with banks and hotels that cater to tourist and the many rich in Shanghai – others terribly run down, windows and doors absent, laundry covering the open holes. The fantastic subway system always crowded with pushy people is like a city below a city. Be prepared for very long walks if you have to change lines and you better know your exit, otherwise another long walk. Tokyo’s metro is similar but it feels different, people don’t scream into their cell phones, don’t push you around. And, thank God, I was not driving in China, just sat in taxis and friend’s cars fearing for my life. Rules don’t seem to exist, or they are tested to the max. Hangzhou is known for being one of China’s beautiful cities. Like Shanghai, it has a wide, slow moving river with slow moving barges that look like big black pieces of wood flowing down the river. There is a romantic, large lake – Xihu or Westlake in Hangzhou, a “Fussgängerzone” like in German cities where you can see the remains of the thousand year old city wall, many beautiful pharmacies from around 1650 where lots of patients visit doctors and buy strange herbs, There are silk shops where big balls of raw silk are sorted and sieved by hand and a silk road for tourist to buy silk products, and a wide variety of Chinese and western restaurants. If you visit Shanghai, stop in Hangzhou, it’s only an hour away by fast train and tickets are much cheaper than in Japan. I didn’t loose my heart in China though, too many people who think of nothing but work, family and making money by selling something — very different from the Japanese where salesmen or women would rather hide in their shops than try to talk you into buying something. Would like to go back to Japan to visit Kyoto and hike on the Kumano trails.

 

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