Postcard from... Rüdenhof, Moritzburg

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By Paul Scraton:

In 1943 the artist Käthe Kollwitz left her apartment in the Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg for the final time. The war, which she had campaigned against through her art long before it even began, had forced her out of the city she’d called home for 52 years. Her first destination was Nordhausen, but that soon became a target too, and so in July of 1944 she arrived at the Rüdenhof, a manor house on the edge of Moritzburg in Saxony. There she was given two rooms, and a balcony from which she could look out across the fields and the rolling landscape of this town a few miles north of Dresden. There were many refugees, both in the Rüdenhof and elsewhere in town, and hardly any of them knew that they had the famous artist in their midst. It was to be her final stop. She would not experience the end of the war, dying just a couple of weeks before the German surrender, in her room in Moritzburg on the 22 April 1945.

Today, the town of Moritzburg draws visitors from Dresden to wander the castle grounds or the only lighthouse in landlocked Saxony. On a July morning there are plenty of people strolling in the sunshine, crossing the bridge to the castle where it stands on an island, eating ice cream or drinking an early beer on the cafe terraces. At the Rüdenhof, it is quieter. One small group explores the rooms of the house, now turned into a museum devoted to the life and work of Käthe Kollwitz. We follow them through, tracing the story of the artist from her beginnings in Königsburg in East Prussia and the move to Berlin, her early illustrations and woodcuts, the tragic death of her son during World War I and the pacifism that inspired her work through the 1920s and 1930s, most clearly in her epic War cycle of 1921-23.

Es ist genug gestorben! Keiner darf mehr fallen!

Enough had died during that war to end all wars, and yet Kollwitz would live to see many more fall, including her grandson who was killed in 1942. War had taken a son and a grandson from her. It had changed the boundaries of her world. The only house she ever lived in to survive the second war was the Rüdenhof. Her childhood home in Königsburg was rubble. What would be built in its place was now in Kaliningrad, USSR. Her apartment block in Prenzlauer Berg was destroyed. What was built in its place would look out across a square that would take her name. Kollwitz was gone. Most of the places she called home were gone. But her art and message would live on. 

Summer sunlight shines in despite the blinds in the windows as we walk among her work, so dark and painful yet full of compassion for those who are suffering. When she reached Moritzburg at the end of her long journey, Käthe Kollwitz had left all her art behind. She came only with her diary and a few personal bits and pieces. The group ahead of us ask questions of the guide. Gentle, respectful questions, about a woman, her life and her work. There are not many of us in these rooms today, but it is clear that all of us who are here have been touched by her genius. She speaks to us, all these years on, whether we encounter her in Cologne or Berlin, in an old manor house in Moritzburg or in the pages of a book. She speaks to us and she inspires us. Our job is to make sure we continue to listen. 

***

Paul Scraton is the editor in chief of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. His latest book is Built on Sand, a novel of Berlin and Brandenburg, published by Influx Press. He also wrote about the places of Käthe Kollwitz in Berlin on his website Under a Grey Sky.

The Käthe-Kollwitz Haus, Moritzburg.

See the Light: James Turrell in Berlin

James Turrell, Ganzfeld Aural, 2018; © Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Dieter and Si Rosenkranz, photo: Florian Holzherr

James Turrell, Ganzfeld Aural, 2018; © Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Dieter and Si Rosenkranz, photo: Florian Holzherr

By Sara Bellini:

The way we experience space is connected with the way we perceive light. A thick fog, complete darkness, disco lights give a different depth to a place, which in turn influences the way we exist in it and our internal space. Our perception of space and light is what James Turrell has been exploring in his art for the past five decades.

This summer Berlin has the privilege to host two of his site-specific installations, among the many dispersed all over the globe (Roden Crater deserves a read). The first opened at the Jewish Museum in April 2018 and will be open until 30 September this year. “Aural” is part of the Ganzfeld series and consists of a room infused with homogeneous, coloured light. The eye needs time to adjust and the lack of walls or any other object can be disorientating. James Turrell wants to leave you alone with your looking and your awareness of yourself taking in the light. In a space without landmarks, perception is all.

The second installation is located inside a burial chapel in the Dorotheenstädtischer cemetery, in itself a place of significance in Berlin. Located next to Bertolt Brecht’s house, this graveyard is the burial place of the poet and playwright and of other famous Germans, such as Christa Wolf, Helene Weigel, Hegel and Fichte. It is hidden from the main entrance on the Chausseestraße behind the older Huguenot cemetery, and the bricks of the Humboldt University’s north campus are visible beyond the back wall. The church itself was built at the beginning of the 20th century and was renovated several times before the 2015 reopening. The studio of the architect Nedelykov Moreira has worked with James Turrell to come up with a modern minimal design that wouldn’t distract from the light show.

With ten light programmes that change according to the liturgical calendar and fifteen light moods, James Turrell’s installation works closely with the shades of the sunset. For this reason, and because of the late summer sunsets, the light show has different entry times during the year and is closed in July and August. You find yourself sitting in a place that looks like an anonymous church, gazing at the complementary colours of the lights positioned in the aps, transept, nave, narthex and walls, convincing yourself that the glass of the windows themselves must be stained this or that colour, only to change your mind a light mood later. Then you go out in the fading daylight, you look at the sky and for a moment you have the illusion that the neon have permeated your retina. Subjective perception is all.

***

Both shows have limited access so check tickets availability and opening times:
James Turrell at the Jewish Museum
James Turrell at the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof

Vindstille

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By Ian C Smith:

I have my memories, some award winners
even if they lack the charm of a Doisneau
also, mementos of trepid exploration.
One, an example of good composition
always a comfort, I keep near my bed.
A woman stands on a jetty of rocks
holding an infant, her back to camera
motionless, facing a lake, or sea.
Clouds bank behind a distant boat.
The silence is a perfect example of art
in this early Scandinavian monochrome.
Mother and child.  Journey’s end or beginning.

I bought it in Denmark, driving from Norway.
Later, just off a ferry, near Lübeck
I captured heavy holidaying Germans
in a vast caravan park where it rained.
My tent humid, gear now locked in the car
I plodded around puddles to the laundry
where I tried to translate instructions.
I ended up screaming at a machine.
Watching hausfraus, obese twins, sniggered.
Ja, ja, I muttered, thinking of Arbus
as I bundled up my pathetic smalls.

My decrepit car tracked history’s map crabwise
amusing Europe’s posing border guards
their sneers echoing those lumpen twins’.
I cut myself opening a can of beans
bad news buzzing me again in the fast lane.
When I was no longer the slowest driver
East German police tailed me over potholes
past Leipzig’s cindering orange haze
after I shot their helicopter in a car park
my thoughts by then U-turning for home.
Was it Auden who said photography
brought a new sadness to the world?

With my precious lenses in leather pouches
and the knowledge that when the eye blinks
it sucks part of someone else inside it
as well as part of himself at that moment
I carried that woman and child in my pack
wrapped like my equipment and damaged hand
a talisman during those Sturm und Drang days.
It encourages me when opportunity lurches
as I round a corner of the human map.
I concentrate on the miracle of light.
Yes, that, and timing and silver emulsion.  

***

Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in, Amsterdam Quarterly, Australian Poetry Journal, Critical Survey, Live Encounters, Poetry New Zealand, Southerly, & Two-Thirds North.  His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.

The destroyed village: Fleury-devant-Douaumont

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By Paul Scraton:

As the road approaches the village through the forest, a sign appears at the sign of the road. It is like all others at the entrance to villages and towns throughout France: a white rectangle, fringed in red. The name of the settlement in black letters.

FLEURY DT DOUAUMONT

But unlike most other towns or villages in France, there are more words underneath.

village détruit

These two words mark Fleury-devant-Douaumont out from the other villages in the surrounding region and across the country. These two words help tell a story. In the forests around the town of Verdun, in the northeast of France, there are eight other villages with this categorisation. They stand in the Zone Rouge, an area declared uninhabitable by the French government after the devastation of the First World War. The land was contaminated, as along with the remains of the dead, poison and other dangerous gases had soaked into the soil along with lead and mercury, with impossible to calculate amounts of unexploded ordinances littered across the former battlefields.

Before the First World War Fleury-devant-Douaumont was home to just over 400 inhabitants, who worked the land or in the village itself. There were farms and smithys, a bakery and a grocery-cafe. A church and a school, a town hall and a weaver's workshop. It was not easy farming land, although even this far north the villagers were able to harvest grapes and make money from the forest that surrounded them.

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On the 21 February 1916 the sound of artillery shells marked the beginning of the German advance, part of what would become known as the Battle of Verdun, one of the deadliest in all of military history. A few hundred metres from the entrance to the village, the cemetery at Douaumont is the resting place for thousands of French soldiers who died in a battle that lasted months. The ossuary, one of France’s most important national monuments, houses the remains of over 130,000 French and German soldiers who fell at Verdun. Altogether, the fighting in these now peaceful, wooded hills, took the lives of well over 300,000 mostly young men and although the forest now covers the landscape, the scars remain. Trenches, dug down into the soil. Shell craters, that give the land a strange, undulating shape. And crosses, so many crosses, in long neat lines. A reminder, a hundred years later, of what was lost.

As the Germans advanced, Fleury-devant-Douaumont was evacuated. Altogether, what remained of the village exchanged hands sixteen times over the course of the battle. When it finally ended, the village was no more. It was in the Zone Rouge, declared a village that had ‘died for France.’ Nothing was left, but in honour of its sacrifice, it kept its legal status. The red-framed white signs still stand at the entrance and exit of Fleury-devant-Douaumont. It still has a mayor.

Today, visitors park on the side of the road that links the Douaumont ossuary with the Verdun Memorial, and wander the three streets of the village, marked out as they are among the trees by white poles. Stone slabs inform visitors in three languages as to what building once occupied a particular plot of land. A farm. The church. A bakery. The wash house. The school. There are remnants of some structures – a few stones in the ground, foundations poking through the mossy forest floor – but otherwise there is nothing, except the war memorial and a rebuilt chapel, where Our Lady of Europe, draped in a blue flag with gold stars, offers a permanent reminder of what could emerge out of the devastation of not only this war, but the one that was soon to follow.

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A small plaque offers the visitor a few words from Jean Guitton of the Académie française:

It is here, in the silence of Douaumont and the wiped out village of Fleury that I came to realise that you cannot pull down walls in Europe without first reconciling the peoples.

In the village and at the ossuary, there are cars parked with visitors from across Europe. The GB and the B. The CZ and the PL. The L and the NL. Mostly F and D, coming like Mitterand and Kohl did, and later Hollande and Merkel, to pay their respects together to the fallen of both countries. It is without question a sombre place. Signs at the entrance of the forest gently remind you that it is not a place for picnics or music, ball games or impromptu campsites. Other signs warn walkers and cyclists to stick to the paths, that the weapons of war can still kill, even a hundred years after the peace.

Why is important to visit such places? Why should we walk through Fleury-devant-Douaumont, where the streets and the memories of the houses and the people that once occupied this hillside have been reclaimed by the forest? Stefan Zweig knew. In 1920, the Austrian writer travelled to Ypres. The guns had only been silent for a couple of years. The landscape was still devastated and the wounded were still returning to their homes and already the first tourist groups were arriving, to the battlefields of Flanders and elsewhere along the Western Front.

For Zweig, the traces were important, whether two years after the events or a hundred. In Fleury-devant-Douaumont I thought of Zweig’s words, written after his return from Ypres. It made me hopeful that there were other people there with me in the woods, walking the village streets now held in the embrace of the forest. Zweig knew that despite the distasteful elements of places such as these becoming tourist destinations, there was still something good, and something very important, “when a hundred thousand people, comfortable and carefree, clatter through … annually, and whether they care for it or not, these countless graves, these poisoned woods, these devastated squares still serve as reminders… All that recalls the past in whatever form or intention leads the memory back towards those terrible years that must never be unlearned.”

About the author:
Paul Scraton is the editor in chief of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. Paul’s book Ghosts on the Shore: Travels along Germany’s Baltic coast is out now, published by Influx Press.

The story of a beach: Strandbad Wannsee, Berlin

Image: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P014703 / Frankl, A. / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Image: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P014703 / Frankl, A. / CC-BY-SA 3.0

By Paul Scraton

Down in the south-west of Berlin, close to the border with Potsdam, is a wide expanse of golden sand. This the Strandbad Wannsee, the city’s most famous beach, and a popular place to escape the heat of the summer in Berlin without leaving the city limits. The story of the Strandbad Wannsee, which has been name-checked in popular show tunes and punk songs, reflects Berlin’s experiences in the 20th century, and especially the years of division, when this beach became the Riviera, the Adriatic and the North Sea of the West Berliners imagination, all rolled into one.

The tale of the Strandbad begins, as so much in Berlin, with the rapid growth following German unification in 1871. From three quarters of a million residents, the city boomed to reach almost two million at the turn of the century, less than thirty years later. The majority of incomers lived in one- or two-room apartments in so-called Mietskaserne (rental barracks), enduring cramped conditions with limited sanitary facilities. It was unsurprising that as soon as the spring weather turned warm people flocked to the lakes and rivers surrounding Berlin.

At the same time, public bathing was technically illegal – Victorian morality was just as pervasive in Wilhelmine Germany as it was on the other side of the North Sea – but soon the numbers were such that the local municipality of Teltow, south of Berlin, bowed to the popular pressure and in 1907 it made a 200m stretch of the Wannsee shoreline open to the public. The Strandbad Wannsee was born, with two separate beaches (one for men, one for women) and a motley collection of ‘facilities’ among the trees, usually housed in tents. By the late 1920s the tents had been replaced by the buildings that remain to this day, designed by Martin Wagner and Richard Ermisch in a simple, functional style known as ‘New Objectivity’.

By the late 1920s, the visitors to the Strandbad Wannsee had access to changing facilities, terraces for sporting and other leisure activities, the beach itself and various culinary offerings, each designed to accommodate tens of thousands of bathers at any one time. But while this corner of the city might have felt like an escape from the city hidden beyond the trees, it could not remain aloof from the turbulent events of the period as Weimar Germany lurched from crisis to crisis and the National Socialists came ever closer to power.

The tension in the city was reflected in the street battles between Nazis, Communists and agents of the state, flaring up dramatically in the working class neighbourhoods of Wedding, Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg. Yet another place where such battles occurred was the beach at Wannsee. Planting flags each political grouping would mark out its territory on the sands indicating allegiance by sewing the appropriate patch of identity on bathing costumes. Add to the simmering mix long hot summer’s days and excesses of beer and soon fighting broke out, often involving members of staff and, once the alarm was raised, the authorities.

The man attempting to manage the Strandbad through this period was one Hermann Clajus, a local Social Democratic councillor. After Hitler took power in 1933, Clajus was dismissed from his post and learned that he was about to be arrested. On the 18th March 1933 Hermann Clajus took his own life, and as with the rest of Germany the Strandbad had fallen into Nazi hands. By 1935 Jews were forbidden from bathing at Wannsee, although this regulation and its accompanying signs were removed for the 1936 Olympics, presumably in an attempt to hide overt displays of discrimination from visiting dignitaries. By 1938 Jews were forbidden from bathing in any public baths, open air or otherwise.

After the Second World War, particularly following the building of the Berlin Wall, the Strandbad Wannsee became very important for West Berliners. With sand imported from the West German Baltic coast, it offered a very real sense of escape within the limits of their surrounded city. Most of the lakes and much of the Baltic coast, lying within the territory of the German Democratic Republic, were now off limits, and so Wannsee and the surrounding forests became the only really accessible “countryside” that did not involve a flight, train or autobahn transit through the GDR to West Germany. This sense of longing for a seaside far away, having to ‘make do’ with the beach at Wannsee, was best expressed in the lyrics of West Berlin punk band Die Ärtze’s 1988 single Westerland, which namechecks the Strandbad in its opening line.

The Wall is now long gone, and West Berliners have the choice of many lakes in Brandenburg. They can be on the beach at the Baltic Sea in a couple of hours, but the Strandbad Wannsee retains its popularity, celebrating its centenary in 2007 and designated a cultural heritage site. Its popularity with Berlin’s public is undiminished and approximately a quarter of a million bathers pass through its turnstiles every summer.

About the author: Paul Scraton is the editor in chief of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, and his short essay on crossing borders appears in the latest edition of the journal. He is also the author of Ghosts on the Shore: Travels along Germany’s Baltic coast (Influx Press) and you can read more of his work on his website www.underagreysky.com.

April Clouds

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Märkisches Land, 17 April 2017, East

By Rolf Schröter:

The landscape that can be viewed through the window of an intercity train flies by, and things one might wish to focus on vanish too quickly. The only real world thing outside the train that can be grasped, that stays long enough to let musing begin, is the sky. This is especially true in spring, when above the monotonous agricultural deserts of the German plain the clouds and sunlight perform their works of great theatre. I try to focus on small excerpts of that performance, to capture them in a small notebook that I carry in my pocket. It is hasty work, as the clouds and the train move, and by the time I am finished things have progressed so far that I cannot check my sketch with the original any more. It doesn't matter. Instead I note the time, the approximate place, and the direction of travel. I take home with me a report, even if it might be fiction.

Westhavelland, 28 April 2017, West

 

Wolfsburg, 28 April 2017, West

 

Isenbüttel, 17 April 2017, East

 

Uetze, 17 April 2017, East

 

Rolf Schröter is a draughtsman living in Berlin. While doing technical and design drawings for the living, he is spending a lot of free time sketching from observation in his town or on journeys. He publishes this work on his blog skizzenblog.rolfschroeter.com.

Postcard from... the Rakotzbrücke

IMAGE: Katrin Schönig

IMAGE: Katrin Schönig

By Paul Scraton:

The basalt columns reach out from the sandy soil to create perfect hiding places for the mystical creatures of the forest as they move down to the water’s edge. The stones tumble into the gloomy lake, as if to provide a landing stage for the creatures lurking in the depths. And the bridge curls in an arch from one bank to the other, its reflection in the lake creating a perfect circle. 

This is, surely, the devil’s work.

In this corner of Germany, close to the Polish border, the Rakotzbrücke has also been long known as the ‘Devil’s Bridge’, but in reality the structure, along with the basalt columns and the other rock formations that stand at the water are the work of very human hands. The bridge is at the heart of the Azalea and Rhododendron Park in Kromlau, Gablenz; a landscaped garden created in the 19th century by the local landowner along ‘English’ lines. With the end of the Second World War the park became property of the local community, and since 1948 it has been protected as a nature reserve.

But despite the fact that you know this structure was created by mortal hands, and despite the queue of photographers at the head of the lake, looking for the perfect angle to capture the perfect circle, it still has a strange impact when you approach it through the woods. It could be the stage set for some fantastical film or HBO series. It could be the nocturnal playground for all manner of beings. And it is not hard to imagine it as a playground for those mystical creatures of the forest, even if they themselves have no idea how it got there.