It’s been so long since I’ve posted anything, but I have had so much to do lately that I barely have had time to do my work, let alone anything extra curricular. But as the title would insinuate; I am in Berlin!!! This is the third week of my German Intensive course (out of four) and it is very hard, but I am starting to see very encouraging glimpses of hope in the horizon. It’s been so long since I have studied German grammar, and as those who try to learn it would agree with me, it is not really the easiest language to learn. The course is from 9 am to 3 pm every day (and then there are the Hausaufgaben), so I have little time to see the city – nonetheless, I make it a personal goal to see parts of Berlin every week, even if it is just a cup of coffee in a Kreuzberg café. Like they say, you can’t learn the language if you don’t use it in public (or I say…).
One of the lovely members of Beinglorious was in Berlin at the start of my course (for the umptheenth time :)) and we made a coffee date. She was very kind about my many uhh’s and aaahh’s and eeeeh’s, stuttering and butchering my way through sentences in German (she is German, just to clarify the situation), but I actually think it helped a lot – it’s only when you verbalise what you learn throughout the day in a stuffy classroom that you are aware of what you are saying and in what situation. We came past a second-hand bookshop and of course had to stop a couple of hours, browsing.
There was a lot of good literature in there, and I bought a couple of books, one of which was Ovid’s Love Books. We had a segment of his literature in one of the earliest semesters at uni. From what I can remember I found it very brazen, something I didn’t expect, and I am looking forward to reading it in German.
In other news, I am now the proud owner of my very own e-book reader!! Yessir, bobsky, hubby came to visit me in Berlin with a nice red packaged present containing an e-reader. He of all people can appreciate an affection for electronica, and so he thought it was only suitable, since I had been rambling on and off about e-readers the last 2 years, but never actually owned one, that I got one for myself 🙂 Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read in it so much these days, but I am betting on it being the best 3-hour wait in the terminal and 1-hour flight back home ever! There are already over 500 books on it, so the only trouble I will have is to make up my mind which one to start on… Unfortunately, there is as of yet almost no literature in German on it. Where does one buy German literature for one’s e-reader?
Yesterday I went into town after uni (just to not go straight home and hit the books) and I of course ended up in a bookstore – endresult: 4 books, 2 postcards and a bookmark. Since I have become more aware of the massive (and in many cases, unnescessary) meat consumption, and Jonathan Safran Foer at the International Author’s Stage in Copenhagen made such an impact on me, I had to buy his book – I’ve heard it’s not that rah-rah, but then again, I could be surprised. And of course since I am in Germany I picked up Uwe Tellkamp’s ‘Der Turm’ that was much hypened in literary circles back home. Rafik Schami’s book I bought because I want to get some sort of feel for Germany’s Migrantenliteratur – not a lot of that going on in Denmark, apart from Manu Sareen’s children’s books, and a couple of short stories in the 2007 Anthology of Forfatterskolen, I am having trouble coming up with what else is there, so I am speculating that it really is a blank spot in Danish literature. The last one I bought is Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. It is set in Bush-era and Hurricane Katrina time, and it questions the political and social structure of the US, when a Syrian-American man is arrested and held imprisoned for 23 days without proper legal process in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans.
Anywhoo, enough of this, I am going to do some weekend sightseeing: stops along the way include Marga Schöllers Bücherstube, Käthe Kollowitz Museum, Zara (not really a sightseeing/cultural point, but if I come across one, I go into one), Dalí at Potsdamer Platz and, if I have time, a quick stop at the 15. Internationale Berliner Bierfestival on Karl-Marx-Allee.
Beginning with an ouch and some altogether unrelated non-literary news (which, however, will excuse to some extent my complete awol from the blogosphere): My hand is f*%& up from doing work at my father’s farm weeding in his potatoe fields – maaaan it hurts. My wrist crackles and fizzles! Fascinating on one side, and completely turning on my gagreflex on the other. I have enclosed photographic evidence to corroborate this little tale and as proof that it is pretty hard to write with this thing on my arm, and it hurts if I strain my wrist too much. No snide comments a-thank-you-very-much!
So, I have been at home on the Faroes for two weeks now and I am kind of surprised at how good the weather has behaved – usually I can use rain and storm as an excuse to sit up in my room and read all day, but when the sun is shining I get my productive on! Which means I have not read that much. But my bread-making skills have been amped quite a bit (another ouch point for my wrist).
One of my favorite things to do when I’m home is going to my mother’s bookshelves – it’s like therapy to me. 5 days into my trip on the Faroes I was already rummaging through my mother’s bookshelf about three times a day. One morning I found a collection of class struggle songs, including of course “The Internationale” and just about every theme under the sun, whether it’s women’s lib or an alternative tune to celebrate Christmas. Some of the songs are quite funny and others are downright disturbing, but as a whole we could do with a lot more united singing to build morale these days when the right/liberal/conservative political power is rising to disturbingly new hights every day.
But back to literature:
After a long brake from Herta Müller‘s “Der Mensch ist ein großer Fasan auf der Welt” I started reading it again on the plane home. It’s harder than I thought picking up the nuances of literature when it is in German (or maybe it’s just Herta’s style), but then again it is also a totally different reading experience – paying a lot more attention to the language, and looking up words along the way, having to reread the senctences and going back to passages that need further clarification – where I normally gob up pages. The poetic language takes precedence in this case, and the textual layering is beautiful – I could spend hours at passages reading and rereading to find new meanings and hints open up in the language. I would really like to read it in other languages to see what the translators do with this text.
The German-minority family Windisch in Romania are waiting for an exit permit to the West. It is 1980s Ceaușescu-land and Herr Windisch is dreading the stagnation of time and mind. The Romanian proverb ‘Man is a great pheasant in the world’ transmits the awkwardness of the broken-winged bird wildlife to human clumsiness and evil. And there is plenty evil and baseness in this short but brimmed novel. And I am in awe over how weightily Müller uses literary techniques with seemingly straightforward (but not pretentious) ease. And she approaches very tough and far-reaching tematics through this strong hold on the poetry of language, using it as respectively a light and a sword to enlight and cut through the experiences and actions of her characters. One of my favorite passages is called “Die Grassuppe” and is about Mrs. Windisch, Katharina and her time in a Russian work camp. It’s composition is reminiscent of a fairy tale albeit a grotesque postmodern one. I won’t recount it here, only note that the repetitive style in language is complementing the issue of intense survival instinct.
The political implications and how they are conveyed through literature is totally different to someone like say, Sofi Oksanen. Oksanen’s approach seems more with emphasis on the storyline, expressing the anger in the dialogue and thought processes and having characters acting counter to the events – whether it be detremental to themselves or others. And her narratives are also beautifully executed.
But Müller’s characters and setting in “Der Mensch ist…” are a product of this stagnant, cynical aura that destroys human’s from the inside out and betray’s sides of humanity we in good times try so hard to avoid to talk about and surpress with fervor. Makes you think what we could accomplish if we utilized this passion to positive change, instead of ending with yet another tale of ideology turned sour and dictatorical – are we really that thick that we to this day still lack the level of abstraction that can change this cycle of a history doomed to repeat itself in different shades and locations? I will end with a quote from “Der Mensch ist ein großer Fasan auf der Welt”.
Der Nachtwächter hat Windisch erzählt, daß der Pfarrer in der Sakristei ein Eisenbett stehen hat. In diesem Bett sucht er mit den Frauen die Taufscheine. “Wenn’s gutgeht,” hat der Nachtwächter gesagt, “sucht er die Taufscheine fünfmal. Wenn er gründliche Arbeit leistet, sucht er sie zehnmal. Der Milizmann verliert und verlegt bei manchen Familien siebenmal die Gesuche und die Stempelmarken. Er sucht sie mit den Frauen, die auswandern wollen, im Lagerraum der Post, auf der Matratze.” Der Nachtwächter hat gelacht. “Deine Frau”, hat er zu Windisch gesagt “ist zu ihm zu alt. Deine Kathi läßt er in Ruh. Aber deine Tochter kommt auch noch dran. Der Pfarrer mach sie katolisch, und der Milizmann macht sie staatenlos. Die Postfrau gibt dem Milizmann den Schlüssel, wenn er im Lagerraum Arbeit hat.
I was in Gothenburg from Wednesday to Friday to visit my sister and her boyfriend with my mother. It was great fun, although I missed my weekly food club (major bummer)!!
On Friday we went to a district called Haga and there were so many charming little streets, with so many adorable little shops and cute little café’s, that I would gladly recommend it to anyone going to Gothenburg. It’s worth the stroll and luckily for us it was hot, hot, hot. So we sat outside Jacob’s eating white chocolate cheesecake with mango sauce and drinking latte’s, enjoying the sun. And afterwards we went into Clara bookstore to browse through Mucha posters and English classic literature. We also went through tea shops and gadgets shops and antique shops and in every little shop there were smiles and greetings. Truly a happy-go-lucky day (or as they say in Danish – lalleglad) 🙂
When me and my mom went back to Copenhagen my bags were filled with newly acquired stuff – a handbag and a dress from Indiska, a ‘The Bitch Is Sleeping’-mask for my beau who hates my intensively used night-light, but most importantly 5 books in Swedish by different authors and nationalities. And when I got home, sweet little Herta Müller was in my mailbox awaiting my return… well, her book ‘Der Mensch ist ein grosser Fasan auf der Welt’, was in my mailbox. But she is welcome to it any day.
I am starting to look incredibly much forward to summer holidays where I can fall off the planet with my books and a steaming jug of java.
I wish you all a good Saturday, happy trails.
Received a new book in the mail today. I have said it before, I will say it again; the mail rules!! (except when it consists of bills and fast food ads). It’s like getting gifts every now and then, especially since I have the memory of a gold-fish, I always forget I’ve ordered something, and when it arrives I all like, ‘huh… heyyyyyy… nice!’
Anyway, the book is an anonymous diary by a woman in Berlin 1945 at the time when the Russian army entered the city. I am promised a brutal chaos of rape, pillage and women yet again getting the raw end of a bad deal.
Can’t wait to sink my teeth into this one, even though I might have to set it on the back burner for a little while and finish my exams first. Since it is in German, it might take a while.