The tide at the North Sea comes and goes in 6 hour intervals, or so they say – I’m yet to figure it out. The moon knows. High tide one evening, low the next. Meander aimlessly for an hour or more in the flat expanse. Discover oysters.
Those elevations on the horizon are the “Halligen”, small islands with one or a few buildings on them. A harsh and lonely life, wind-tossed, and cut off from civilization. During the storms, they’re on their own. On occasion, the sea rises to the threshold or beyond. No way out. Where do the sheep go then? I have no idea. You’ve got to love seclusion to survive out there.
Not particularly talkative either. Quick, short answers, preferably in single syllables. But the old tombstones of the whale hunters and seafaring captains talk all the more, entire novels in fact.
I’m on Föhr, in case you wonder. Lots of Frisians from Föhr emigrated to the States which is perhaps why a Manhattan is such a popular cocktail on Föhr. Maybe some tourist agent cooked that one up – maybe some well-to-do American returned home and introduced the cocktail.
Layers of lore and texture like these.
Sea salt – wind-blown corrosion.
4.5 hours to Hamburg and back. 40 minutes outside of the US embassy.
Theodor Fontane (born 1819) being remembered in Neuruppin for his prophetic wisdom and playfulness, coining words that are gems hidden inside the heft of his novels. The curators have printed them on balloons, across the floor, on cubes, on cards, on police tape, and on a lawn chair. Visitors lean into the word landscape with craned necks and smiles on their faces.
He called his home region of Brandenburg “Ängstlichkeitsprovinz” – fearful province or, more precisely, anxiety province / anxious provinciality. Which fits the region in 2019 perhaps better than it did between 1860 and 1880 when he coined the term.
Fearful of being forgotten, not consulted about changes in society, of poverty, rural exodus – a breeding ground for resentment, xenophobia, extremism to the point of forming militias or resorting to murder.
We sway between avoiding the regions where election results are horrifying and wondering whether engaging more with those folks is the only way forward. Being on the fence is not gaining traction – the opposite seems to be the case. Each side digs deeper into the trenches.
Which seems to create local blind spots. Safe bubbles. Here, the world is fine. Elsewhere, different story.
After a brief visit to Berlin where I parked the dog at Andy’s studio to find him listening to an old Telefunken portable radio, I picked up this beauty at a local thrift store. These stations were my world back in the early 1970s. AFN. Sender Freies Berlin (SFB) or Radio Free Berlin, and RIAS (Radio in the American Sector). All three are now defunct. In Berlin.
There is something sweet about stopping in the nostalgic presence of an old device. Not at all because I’m nostalgic for those long-ago days, but because the new is so very digitally “enhanced.” What is it – really – that we have gained? An American president (no caps warranted) who is the last person in the world that should have attended the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Who rose to power on the digital proliferation of verbal garbage. And I fear that’s not even the half of it.
Here we are.
As for the half of what we choose not to do – on vacation – I decided it was time to stop. To stop by Sachsenhausen, which I had passed on the train or in the car several times. To find myself utterly confused by the café near the entrance, and by the sight of numerous teenagers, mostly girls, who sat inside the camp on benches near the perimeter, eating sandwiches, and tapping messages on their cell phones. People taking photos of their group under “Arbeit macht frei.”
The razed barracks are marked by rectangular fields of coarse black gravel and plaques of the former block numbers. I walked aimlessly in silence along the paths, among couples, past tour groups from Spain, Portugal, Italy, past Americans, and past numerous groups of German teenagers on a field trip – all good – but where have we failed – are we failing – to tell folks, “No, you do not eat sandwiches inside a concentration camp.” And stop it with the stupid selfies and WhatsApp messages.
A German lesson: Geschichte (singular), a story, history
Geschichten (plural), stories
The word contains the word “Schicht” which means layer.
At that meeting of three historians/researchers/professors of history didactics (above), the audience sat around the three talking heads and changed seats ever so often for a change of perspective. Instead, the lesson was that you run the risk of the whole event getting ahead of itself because when three academics get together, they ultimately just talk among themselves. The topic was “Aus GeschichteN lernen?” (Learning from (his)stories?) and as thoughtful as it had been set up, it still got mired in the main challenge of our times: how exactly do we talk to each other, without talking about or at each other?
By contrast, the local courthouse opened its museum in the attic, housing recreations of judicial workplaces of archivists, record binders, and clerks, and giving a tour of the courthouse along with anecdotes of key cases. Plus a rum-laced coffee with whipped cream.
One of those cases from the 1950s was of a couple of fine art forgers.
When the buyer of this supposed Chagall wrote to the artist to clarify whether he had been had, Chagall sent back a handwritten note confirming the authenticity of the painting, claiming it was indeed his. It was not.
Which makes me wonder… do we punish or praise the forger? Do we dismiss the artist because he can’t tell what he has painted? Or do we cherish the artist because his work is worthy of forgery? He has created and released an ideal into the world that is then copied. The ultimate compliment. Should the buyer feel cheated? Did he buy the painting or the signature? Or the monetary value of the work? Will he no longer enjoy it?
Happy Groundhog Day.
At the local monthly Salon, which usually sees me arriving early to meet new and old, I arrived unusually late and tired. Found a corner near the DJ, a woman in her 20s, to hide in, to do nothing but enjoy the music. Which included a bit of observation, character study — the concentration with which she turned the knobs or let her fingertips fly across the soft cover spines. How she let the vinyl slip out of its sleeve, how she handled the LP, she, clearly not of the generation who learned from the elders and practiced in her youth, but what am I saying, of course, she learned from elders and practiced by example. Well, I questioned that, watching her fingers spread across the tracks, thinking, well, we wouldn’t have… but what do I know? There is no but for her, of the generation that rediscovered vinyl, the rich sound of it, which you cannot get from a CD. I sat there for a long while and soaked up the atmosphere, and all the details of this image. The return to an analog age when social media was a photocopied flyer, standing in the street, trying to convince people, and liking people was going out to meet them. When the need or desire to connect something required cables.
A simple man and his fiancé out there in the cold, facing the elements and an uncertain future. Dressed with what they have, providing for the offspring with what is given. Freely.
Peace to you and those you love. Merry Christmas.