An English Idyll in the Rheinland

This blog is getting too political lately. Now for something completely different.

I visited Heltorf Castle Park (g) yesterday, an English-style landscape park from the early 19th century located on the very northern outskirts of Düsseldorf. It's part of the private holdings of the Spee noble family (g) which has resided near Düsseldorf for centuries and has left its mark on the city and the surroundings in innumerable ways. 

The park was originally part of the private grounds of the nearby Castle Heltorf, an early 19th-century pile. A certain Abbé Biarelle conceived of the idea of creating an English-style park in 1796, and the renowned landscape architect Maximilan Weyhe (g) began the work in 1803. The park is 54 hectares, and open to the public only on weekends during spring and summer. I'd always meant to visit. I rarely met people who had, but the ones who did returned singing its praises. 

It's quite far outside the city center, a 20-minute streetcar ride away, but very much worth it. The place is magical, on a par with the finest English parks. The landscape is lush, slightly hilly, and dominated by a spectacular centuries-old trees from all over the world — conifers, firs, maples, magnificent copper beeches (called "blood" beeches in German!) and the largest tulip tree in Europe, which must be at least 45 meters tall. A brook winds through the park, and forms several ponds in which fat carp meander and tadpoles squirm. There are innumerable rhododendrons throwing off blossoms in all colors.

And the best thing is visitors have it all to themselves, since the park isn't very well-known, is somewhat out of the way, and is only open for a small part of the year. I saw only 6 other people in the few hours I spent there. The park is located well outside the city, charges €3 entrance, and has no "attractions" or ice cream vendors or playgrounds or bandstands or trashcans or bathrooms or any other distractions. The only sounds are birdsong and occasionally a faraway hum of traffic. (This is the most densely-populated part of Europe, after all.)

If you need any more stimulation than nature, discreetly molded by men of impeccable refinement, you're in the wrong place. And probably quite unclubbable.

I saw not a single speck of litter anywhere. The park doesn't even have any seating (although there are a few simple log benches) or signs, except two discreet wooden arrows pointing you in the general direction of the exit. You can get a photocopied map of the park about the size of a postcard at the entrance, but it looks to be about 30 years old. Not that anything's changed much in that time, of course.

You're meant to meander around, pleasantly lost, until you encounter a moat or ha-ha. The modern Spee family runs a forestry business in the area, and a small corner of the park is apparently used for this purpose, since I saw a small, discreet sign asking visitors to keep out. But that just adds to the charm. Something's got to pay for the massive effort of work it takes to keep the park looking so unpretentious.

I even ran into the owner, Wilhelm Count of Spee (pronounced 'shpay'). He lives in fairly modest water castle on the edge of the property, and was out taking pictures on this fine spring day. Like every member of the German nobility I've ever met, he was quite friendly and laid-back, but also impeccably groomed and dressed. He looks a bit like Ulrich Mühe. He obviously loves this jewel of a park, and seems to know something about every tree in it. He says he's working on a detailed book on the park's history, which I'm looking forward to.

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An American in Berghain

Schlecky Silberstein stumbled upon this instant Internet classic — an American from San Antonio decides on the spur of the moment to visit legendary Berlin nightclub Berghain and, as his Yelp review indicates, is scarred for life. I'm putting it after the fold because, well, this is Berghain we're talking about. You've been warned.

Here's the text of the review, link to original below:

Please excuse the long review, but I'm going to share with you my experience at Berghain. I was in Berlin a couple weeks ago and I was sitting in my hotel bar. I started chatting with a couple guys from London. They seemed normal and told me they were getting ready to head to the worlds coolest night club. I figure it's Saturday night…what the hell. So I ask them if I can tag along. They said no problem. One of them informs me that I should probably change clothes because this place is hard to get into, but they had a connection. They recommended that I go change into black, simple clothes. No buttons on the shirts and no hoodies. They said if I had a black scarf, that would be awesome. Said the door guy loves scarves and black clothes. So I go change and come back down to the lobby. We hail a cab and are now off to this place called Berghain.

Upon arriving…I see this super long line that's leading into what looks like a commercial building of some sort. I'd liken it to a warehouse. It's not inviting at all. The guys from London tell me we are going to cut in line. While we are standing there looking for the spot to cut, I take out my phone to check Facebook. One of the London guys goes into a rage and starts cussing me out and grabs my phone. Yelling…"DON'T LOOK AT YOUR PHONE. DON'T USE IT!" "THEY WON'T LET US IN!"…Anyway…we get to the front of the line and there's this creepy looking, older guy with ear rings–face tats and spikes in his lips. Supposedly he's some type of guru in the club scene. He's a weird guy and yes he had a scarf on. He looks me up and down and then waves us in using his pinky…Now things are about to get really weird.

Once inside, the music is blasting too loud. You could feel it in your chest. I thought the bass was going to set my heart off rhythm. I tell the two guys from London…"Let's go get a beer!"…They look at me like I am crazy. They offer me these strange looking little pills and I pass. No drugs for me. They both pop them and then start making out! I'm not talking about a little kiss or a peck, I'm talking open-mouth, tongue kissing. It was very aggressive/disturbing kissing. I didn't even know these dudes were gay! I look around and there are 3 or 4 naked guys dancing all crazy with erections. I decide to go get a beer and I tell myself—maybe I'm in the wrong part of the club? Maybe this is the gay section. Nope. The whole club is the gay section!

On the way to grab a beer, I pass in disbelief, a bearded guy butt fucking the crap out of another bearded dude. You could smell feces and sweat. I take my eyes off of that situation and it only gets worse. There's another guy, and I kid you not…he's got his arm, almost to his elbow, up another guys ass! I thought it was a magic trick or an illusion. It WASN'T! The guy that's basically getting impaled is enjoying it! I saw one guy getting tag teamed (double penetration style) by 2 guys! I said to hell with this…I'm out of here! As I'm leaving, I remember that one of those Londoner's has my phone. So I need to go to find him.

Now there are naked guys everywhere! Sucking each other off. Fisting each other. There was one dude that was riding another guy (cowgirl style) and yelling "Balles Tief!" "Balles Tief!"…I ask the dude next to me…"What's he screamin?!"…He informs "Balles Tief" is German for "Balls Deep"…

This Nazi looking guy comes up to me with a syringe and acts like he's going to stick me with it. I jump back and think about beating the shit out of him and he starts laughing and in very bad English says "You vant chemical to keep wake and make you high?"…As I'm saying "NO!"…a loud siren/whistle starts blowing and the whole club starts going bananas! I ask this guy who looks like a vampire…"What the hell is that? Is there a fire or terrorist or something?"…He does this weird  giggle and say's the siren means it's "Slip and Slide time!"…100's of guys, the ones that aren't already naked, drop there pants and start masturbating on the dance floor. Evidently, you are supposed to ejaculate on the floor and make it slippy and then naked guys go sliding through it! WTF! I look back and that vampire looking dude is jerking off in my direction. I throw a beer bottle at him and start hauling ass out of there.

I run past this one guy that seems to be injured and he's asking for help. I'm a pretty nice guy, so I ask what happened. He bends over and you can see this silicone/rubber looking object barely protruding out of his butt. You could barely see it. He then explains that he had shoved a rubber arm with fist up there and it was stuck! This guy thinks I'm going to help pull it out?!? Get the fuck out of here!

I finally get to the exit and I yell to that weirdo door man "YOU SICK BASTARD!"…I hail a cab and make it back to my hotel. That was my experience at the "worlds coolest night club"..I can handle a lot of stuff, but this place was WAY over the top. I will not be back. Never.

Read Kyle W.'s review of Berghain on Yelp
https://www.yelp.com/embed/widgets.js

The Neander Valley and Ultra-Rectilinear Mettman

Over the weekend I set out for the Neander Valley, where the first Neanderthal skeleton was found. It's also an ultra-pleasant hiking destination, complete with babbling brooks, succulent green meadows, winding forest pathways, mildly dramatic shale rock formations, and quaint villages where people set out bookcases full of old horse magazines by the side of the road. The leaves were, to use Oscar Wilde's phrase, 'ruined gold'.

During the hike I made a wrong turn or two and ended up in Mettman, famed as one of the epicenters of German Spießbürgerlichkeit (g) (petit-bourgeois stodginess). Everything there was quiet, respectable, recently-cleaned, and terrifyingly rectilinear.

Perhaps you readers can help me clear up a few mysteries in the pictures below. First, those metal studs pounded into the (mold-yellowed) wooden electricity pole? Who puts them there and  what do they mean? Second, the old stone markers by the side of the road in Bracken, Germany. What was their original purpose. Any clues would be appreciated.

Moss on rotting tree stumpPath and Meadow near Düsssel in Neander valleyPath in sunlight in Neander valleyRuined gold chestnut leaves in Neander valleySignal Studs in Wooden Electricity PoleStone marker in BrackenStone markers in BrackenUprooted tree roots amid broken slate Neander valleyView of Mettman Creek ValleyHouse in MettmanRectilinear neat garages in MettmanIch hase Zigreten machine in Mettman

Beech roots Neander valley Bookshelf and door near BrackenDetail of mountain creek wildlife info posterDüssel river in fall Neander valleyEsel Nicht Füttern Don't Feed the DonkeyGaststätte im kühlen Grund Christmas festInformation poster about molesIvy and beech leaves Neander valleyIvy Covered Rocky OutcropMaple leaf caugh in twigs Neander ValleyMeadows in Neander valleyMein Pferd magazines in outdoor bookshelf BrackenMigrating geese and doves in Neander valleyMoss covered rotting tree branch Neander valley

Rules for Cemeteries

No trip to Kassel would be complete without a visit to the Museum für Sepulkralkultur (g), a museum devoted to death and burial. There are coffins from around the globe (including simple boxes for Orthodox Jews and gaily-decorated Ghanaian models), hell money and hell cigarettes, Totentanz sculptures, hearses, monuments, embalming kits, memorial portraits, 'death crowns' for children and young unmarried people, monuments, death masks, and art inspired by death, funerals, rebirth, and reincarnation. Outside, there are innovative grave markers designed by contemporary artists. Of course, there are also programs for kids.

There are also the obligatory information-drenched placards describing the origin and nature of European funeral practices. From these you learn that the practice of burying people in individual, marked graves only became uniform in Europe in the last 200 years — before that, most poorer citizens were dumped in mass graves. You also learn that modern German cemeteries are facing a space crisis — they're not running out of it, they often have too much of it, since almost 50% of Germans now choose to be cremated, and those numbers keep growing.

While there, I stocked up on a few back issues of Friedhof und Denkmal: Zeitschrift für Sepulkralkultur (Cemetery and Monument: Journal of Sepulchral Culture). In the 2-2011 issue of this handsome magazine, there is a discussion of the model rules for grave design in Catholic cemeteries that were recently promulgated by the Archbishopric of Cologne:

Basically, the new regulations contain only required dimensions for the grave, as well as bans on some materials that are inappropriate for cemeteries. Completely covered graves are forbidden: the grave-plate can only cover up to one-third of the grave…. [Individual church cemeteries can still] add regulations that servce to express shared religious beliefs. An example is a ban on polished stone, since this prevents natural change in the stone, which itself is an expression of the transitoriness of human life in this world. A ban on snow-white marble and showy (überschwänglich) golden inscriptions serve to prevent excessive ostentation in the religious sense.

The back of the book contains reviews of recent burial-related books, including a 400-page work by Regina Deckers on 'The Testa Velata in Baroque Sculpture' (g) an entire monograph (written at the University of Düsseldorf!) on the motif of figures with veiled heads or faces in funerary sculpture.

Now for some of the odd and delightful things in the museum, hover for info.

Skeleton Sculpture MfSK Kassel
Totentanz Figure Knight MfSK Kassel
Death and the Chinaman MfSK Kassel

Skulls Inscribed with Owners' Names from S. Germany MfSK Kassel
Nietszche Memorial Model MfSK Kassel
General View of 19th Century Embalmer's Kit

Eye-caps from 19th Century Embalmers' Kit MfSK Kassel
Kubach & Kropp 'Stein fuer das Licht' MfSK Kassel
Spinster's Burial Crown MfSK Kassel
Martin Luther Death Mask MfSK Kassel
Beethoven Death Mask MfSK Kassel

Some Impressions from Documenta 13

D13 Action Mousetrap Poster in Disused Train Station
Instead of giving you a panorama of Kassel to start this post, here's an old 'watch for pickpockets' poster from Kassel's disused former main train station. Wait, that's unfair. Here's a picture of Kassel looking its best:

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By day, Kassel's not much to look at. There's a somewhat grand central square, the Friedrichplatz, lined by a giant 18th-century classical pile on one side (the Friedericianum, on the left in the photo above) and a row of shops on the other. Just south of that, there is a massive Baroque park, the Karlsaue, divided into a huge central field ringed by artificial meadows in the English style. Outside the city center, things quickly get very grim indeed: Kassel was flattened during World War II, and the monotonous 4- and 5-story housing oblongs thrown up in haste in the 1950s quickly numb the eye.

But wait, there's more! Every five years, Kassel is taken over by Documenta, one of the largest contemporary-art shows in the world. The working-class locals generally tolerate the quinquennial onslaught of bestubbled men in black turtlenecks and women in flowing raiment, since they spend lots of money and put Kassel on the map. The art is all over town, so to speak, with exhibitions in the Friedericanum (the main venue) the grounds of a disused central train station, a natural history museum, the classical Orangerie, a special modern hall called the Documenta-Halle, and all over the grounds of the sprawling Karlsaue. The atmosphere is of a sedate, bildungsbürgerlich outdoor festival. Inevitably, the Occupy folks have come to Kassel and set up a tent city just outside the main venue.

The international art scene, we are told, is now split between two camps. First, the major galleries, museums and auction houses, who extract profits from those at the top of the winner-take-all contemporary-art pyramid. Then there are curators of the international bienniales, who often critique the unholy commercialism of the mainstream market by inviting outsiders, non-artists, scientists, and activists to display at the major international exhibitions. The works they commission and display often have a social agenda and cannot easily be commodified.

Carolyn Christov-Bagarkiev, curator of this year's thirteenth Documenta (or dOCUMENTA (13), in the official spelling) stands proudly in the second camp — her welcoming remarks even promise a 'non-logocentric' exhibition, whatever that might be. This has its good and not-so-good sides. On the positive side, she has invited a spectacularly international cast of participants, with entries from all continents. Anyone coming to Kassel looking for room after room of 'big names' will go away disappointed. She has also invited several scientists to explain their work, including Anton Zeilinger, the Austrian physicist who has invented deceptively simple experiments to illuminate seeming paradoxes of quantum mechanics such as quantum teleportation.

The downsides of CCB's approach are also evident. It's always a bad sign when curators have to resort to fluff-words such as 'foreground', 'practice', 'intervention' or 'technique' to describe what the artist is doing, and there's a lot of charlatanry on display. Thai artist — I hesitate to use the word — Pratchaya Phinthong displays two dead tsetse flies in a glass box. Ryan Gardner has hogged the entire sprawling ground floor of the Friedericianum for an installation that features hidden fans which create a breeze. Yup, that's all there is to “I need some meaning I can memorise (The Invisible Pull)” — two giant, empty rooms with a mild breeze running through them. I couldn't be bothered to find out what this was supposed to teach us, although perhaps it's a commentary on Germans' paranoid terror of moving indoor air. American Susan Hiller features a jukebox playing songs she likes, which 'foregrounds' the exquisite taste and social awareness of her iPod shuffle list. Lara Favaretto has stacked a couple of giant piles of junk in the open area behind the former main train station, an embarassingly unoriginal foray. Goldberg and Faivovich, a hirsute pair of twentysomethings who look like (and may be) heirs of wealthy Argentine families, have filmed themselves crawling over the El Chaco meteorite. They originally wanted to transport this giant rock from Argentina to Kassel, but were very rightly stopped by the authorities and — the irony! — indigenous tribes from the area.

Just as uninspired, though perhaps more edifying, are the didactic exhibits by social activists. One room in the natural-history museum, the Ottoneum, is given over to Maria Tereza Alves' massive model volcano, part of a documentation of the struggle of a group of indigenous people to prevent the sale of their land to an international conglomerate. If this were a high-school science fair, this earnest diorama would certainly snap up first prize. Turning to the social studies fair, we have an outdoor exhibit by Robin Kahn on the oppression of certain Western Saharan tribes by Morocco. The display is pasted onto hastily-erected wooden boards in what is supposed to remind you of a refugee camp, and there is a tent in which you may nosh in solidarity on Western Saharan food, if you wish. The explanatory placards, consisting of simple collages, were bettered by many of the impromptu exhibits in the Occupy Kassel tent city in the Friedrichplatz. And then there was the nice Thai lady showing movies about the animal shelter she runs in Thailand, and soliciting contributions for 'DOGumenta' outside her outdoor '"'installation'"'. Then there were the hairy young things from the art collective AND AND AND, whose intervention consisted of the strategy of selling 'anti-capitalist' organic tea from a hastily-nailed-together wooden stand. Or maybe they were giving it away, so as to interrogate the logocentric matrix of late capita-blah blah blah. Anyone who sees revolutionary potential in organic tea obviously hasn't been to a corporate boardroom lately.

But enough of the silliness. They can't all be zingers, in the words of Primus, and there was much fascinating stuff on display. The Cypriot-German team of Haris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramer took over three stories of a dilapidated former train command center to create a hypnotic installation composed of bare rooms with enigmatic pictures and symbols, books containing star measurements or simple diagrams, oddly evocative unsent letters, and framed, faded photographs clippings of everything from Neanderthal busts to Russian waterfalls. The top floor of the building, a creaky loft, has been subtly claimed for art by the placement of black spheres. The installation worked by suggestion and intimation, and left the visitor with an oddly abstract sense of melancholy:

D13 Epanimonda & Cramer ZNL Installation 2
Epaminonda & Cramer ZNL Installation 5Epaminonda & Cramer ZNL Installation 6

Julie Mehretu displayed four massive canvases whose background consisted of a thick mass of overlapping CAD line drawings with different perspective points, overlaid by a complex system of handmade marks and color fields. Looking upon these canvases brought on vertigo, and the contrast between the clinical precision of the computerized drafting and the hand-drawn marks was eerie and evocative. Thomas Bayrle's dissected vehicle engines and stand-alone windshield wipers evoked the hypnotic potential latent in the calm repetition of machines. Also on display were some of his short films, one of which shows anonymous crowds of miniature human figures wandering on the reflective leaves of a rotating rubber plant:

His massive 'Airplane' from 1983, a drawing of a plane made of recursive drawings of ever-smaller planes, evoked the almost hermetic obsessiveness of Hanna Darboven.

D13 Documenta Hall with Carmageddon & Airplane by Bayrle

A roomful of intricately abstract paintings and textiles by Aboriginal artists from Australia mesmerized everyone who entered it, including yours truly.

The crowning achievements of this Documenta were, in my view, two multimedia installations. One, housed in a room of the Documenta-Halle, is 'In Search of Vanished Blood' by Pakistani-Indian artist Nalini Malani:

She has suspended five large transparent plastic cylinders from the ceiling painted with silhouettes reminiscent of traditional shadow plays. As they rotate, film is projected both beside and through them, creating a coruscating, mind-breaking riot of silhouette, shape, and sound. Interweaved are images of women veiled, undressed, and in ritual costume. It's difficult to tell which juxtapositions are planned and which are randomly-generated, which makes them all the more fascinating. At one point, for instance, the image of a woman putting on a dress is shown repeatedly, accompanied by the sound of glass breaking. Of course, neither description nor videos can do it justice, you simply have to immerse yourself in the maelstrom.*

The second is called 'The Refusal of Time' and was masterminded by William Kentridge, the South African artist whose career shows a combination of superb draftsmanship, an unerring sense of symbolism, and a streak of unabashed showmanship.

D13 The Refusal of Time by William Kentridge 2
D13 The Refusal of Time by William Kentridge 1

'The Refusal of Time' is a 25-minute meditation on time and space, projected on six separate non-synchronized screens and accompanied by a soundtrack that is by turns boisterously African, raucously Dixieland, grindingly industrial, and spaciously contemplative. And not just by turns — sometimes completely different stuff gets stacked on top of itself, just as it does in life. Kentridge takes a broad palette of time-related symbolism — metronomes, space signals, mindless task-repetition, the life cycle of a family, the slow progress toward extinction — and subjects them to an spectacularly fertile and inventive series of cross-linked variations that is comical, frightening, and moving. Unlike almost every other installation, everyone who entered the Kentridge room stayed, mesmerized, until the end of the show, and there was often spontaneous applause. As someone once said of John Ashbery, Kentridge truly lives in a Versailles of the imagination.

Such are my thoughts on Documenta. I stopped by a few more museums during the trip, and will post about those in the coming days, as my schedule permits. And below, just for fun, some more images from Documenta (details in hover text):

D13 Approaching- Choreography Engineered in Never-Past Tense by Haegue Yang
D13 Bactrian Princess (ca. 2500-1500 bc)
D13 ex libris by Emily Jacir 1
D13 Momentary Monument by Lara Favaretto
D13 News from Nowhere by Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho-001
D13 Notebook Page from Vyacheslav Akhunov
D13 Untitled by Doreen Reid Nakamarra
D13 Limited Art Project by Yan Lei

* As is so often the case in this Documenta, the room in which Malini's work is displayed is a sealed, ventilation-free cube that was heated to something like 45 degrees by the six constantly-working projectors and visitors' body heat, making it impossible to stay more than 4-5 minutes inside the room. But of course you can hardly blame the Documenta management, since who could have predicted that a traditional German sealed indoor chamber with 6 projectors and dozens of people inside it might get unbelievably hot during the summer?

Catacomb Saints

About a month ago, I took a short bike tour in the Allgäu, starting in Ulm and going down to Rot and der Rot, where I gave a speech. Taking the bike on an IC train turned out to be pretty straightforward, as long as you reserve everything first. The landscape down there, at the border between Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, is idyllic: rolling hills, verdant meadows, cool deciduous forests, and fat, lazy cows and sheep everywhere. Perfect for biking: The hills are just high enough to add some variety to your ride, without being too intimidating.

The entire area is filled with baroque monasteries and churches. I usually find baroque churches a bit tedious: after a while, the hovering angels and ornate columns and rays of light remind me of a Mexican cab-driver's dashboard. So I was a bit surprised to find myself really liking the South German baroque on display. In the really fine churches, such as the spectacular Ottobeuren monastery church, the pleasure comes from the consummate skill on display. The sculptural groups — in particular, the Baptism of Jesus located above the pulpit — are minor masterpieces, as are the ceiling frescoes by Januarius Zick. Riotous blasts of juicy Counter-Reformation drama.

Ottobeuren Baptism of Christ Above Pulpit (Joseph Christian 1763)

Ottobeuren Main Altar
But there's also a charming, folk-art aspect to many of the churches. St. Verena, the monastery church at St. Norbert in Rot and der Rot, is a soothing blend of neoclassical columns and baroque ornamentation. It has paired groups of side-altars topped by ingenuous sculpture groups created by F.X .Feichtmayr II in the 1780s:

St. Verena Sculpture Group Moses and Copper Snake (F.X. Feichtmayr II 1779-86)

St. Verena Sculpture Group Crucifixion (Feichtmayr 1779-86)
But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of these churches is the phenomenon of the so-called Catacomb Saints (Katakombenheiligen). Beginning in the 16th century, the catacombs under Rome were re-discovered. Someone had the ingenious idea of locating skeletons buried on or near Christian symbols (cross, monograms, lambs, martyrs' palms) and declaring them to be early Christian martyrs. The skeletons could then be sold to interested buyers, of whom there were many in Germany.

After arriving from Rome, the skeletons would then be draped in the most precious finery the local community could afford, and displayed in ornate glass-enclosed altars. Sometimes the skeletons are propped on pillows, holding martyrs' palms, sometimes they are standing up. The bones are usually held together in fine white gauze. To make them more life-like, the faithful might place wigs on them, or even entire reconstructed model faces. Nevertheless, their clothes are always made with cunningly-placed openings showing a shinbone here or a ribcage there, to make sure the faithful know they are seeing an entire skeleton. A few pictures:

St. Verena Reliquary Altar St. Domitia (Feichtmayr 1779-86)

St. Verena Detail of Head of St. Benedictus

Ottobeuren Reliquary Shrine St. Bonifacius

Ottobeuren Reliquary Shrine St. Bonifacius Detail of Head-1

It goes without saying that the attribution of entire life histories to these anonymous remains was almost always spurious. The practice was finally ended in 1860. Tour guides and brochures often gloss over them or ignore them entirely, as if they were faintly embarrassed by the whole charade.

I found them fascinating. The German artist HAP Grieshaber, known for his monumental woodcuts, was born in Rot an der Rot. As a child, he was also drawn to the catacomb saints, as his wife recalls:

He rode to Rot an der Rot. After a half-century he saw the place of his birth again…. There, Helmut Andreas Paul (HAP) had been born to Protestant parents. His first steps led to the monastery church, which was his playroom. Immediately, he found his childhood, and himself, again. Some visitors might have thought him very pious as they saw him on his knees in front of the side altars, to see everything from the perspective of a four-year-old, before his nose these glass cases* with their martyrs' relics, these macabre delights, whose ivory-shimmering bones are draped so richly in pearls, embroidery, sequins, and glimmering semi-precious stones. A skull blooms like a bouquet of roses, some were covered with plaster and painted to a doll-like sheen. Some hands held swords, and some had embroidered shoes over their delicate ankles. Grieshaber recognized everything once again. He remembered how he had felt as a child, and saw everything he had previously kept covered and hidden in his conscious life. And over him arched the round, figure-strewn heaven of the Baroque.

(source: Kirchenführer Pfarrkirche St. Verena, p. 27).

* The German word in the original is Petrellen. I couldn't find a translation anywhere. Little help?

The Saturation of the Deer

Yo, behold this pleasant 1846 painting by Moritz von Schwind:

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I admired it in person at the Hamburger Kunsthalle last weekend. It seemed darker in person — I think the digital version may have been brightened a little. Nevertheless, a nice chunk of late Romanticism, dusted with kitsch. The modeling of the buck's solid, sagging flesh and horns is nicely plastic.

Here is the translation of the picture's title:

Von Schwind

I chuckled over the translation of the German word tränken as "saturate". But then I became thoughtful, and stroked my chin. There's no easy translation for tränken. Tränken describes only how animals drink. Humans trinken, animals tränken. Same thing for eating: humans essen, while animals fressen. Add to that the fact that English has no simple transitive word for "give water to". You can "water" plants, but that always implies pouring water over or into something. You wouldn't water your dogs or your children, you would only give them something to drink.

The translators seemed to realize this, but then fatally chose "saturate" as the proper translation from the other entries on the dict.leo.org list. But how can we blame them? The meaning comes across, sort of, and the only other alternatives would have doubled the length of the title, which doesn't seem right.

The other titles were translated quite well.

Föckinghausen: Föcking Marvelous

Last week, I joined a group for a hiking weekend in the Sauerland. We stayed at the Waldhaus (g) hotel in Föckinghausen, which is perched on the top of a hill and surrounded by verdant pastures filled with satisfied-looking cows. The rooms were well-appointed and freshly renovated, and the hotel serves good old-fashioned Sauerland fare, along with some more worldly dishes. The hotel is run by the Knippschild family, a fact which elicits murmurs of satisfaction from most Germans, who love family-run businesses. The only drawback was the omnipresence of deceased animals nailed to the wall. Above the fireplace in one of the dining rooms were the skulls of four juvenile deer, sliced horizontally straight through the eye orbit, mounted in a chevron formation. They all appeared to have been killed at the same time, perhaps with a machine gun, or poison gas. Most unsettling. On the plus side were the trash cans in all the rooms, which featured hunting scenes of courtly gallantry (see below).

The hiking is pleasant and low-impact. There are mild hills all about, but the hiking paths are smooth and well-marked. That part of the Sauerland is dominated by pine forests which don't offer all the variety of a typical German Mischwald. Many of these forests were ripped apart by Orkan (European windstorm) Kyrill in 2007, and the effort to haul away the dead wood is still visible everywhere. Nevertheless, the hike still offered some soothing panoramas, especially from the top of the Lörmecke Tower (g), a beautiful, brand-new observation tower built at one of the highest peaks in the Arnsberger Wald nature park.

Also on the agenda was a trip to the Warsteiner beer brewery. If you're imagining donning a hard hat and wandering amid clouds of malt-steam, you'll be disappointed. The tour begins in the brand-new, clinically clean, EPCOT-like "Welcome Center", and starts off with a corporate propaganda film broadcast in the so-called Rotarium, a rotating film theatre (!). The Story of Beer is framed by an exasperatingly lame story involving a chipper brewerette named Vera who takes two loutish male friends on a real tour of the actual brewery and floors them with her comphrenensive knowledge of how modern beer is brewed. Gurrrlz understand beer 2! Wha-aa?!? Whodathunkit?!?

To be fair, the movie does give you a teutonically thorough overview of the beer brewing process. One of the interesting facts is that the much-ballyhooed German Beer Purity Law of 1516, which specified that all beer sold in German may be made only from water, hops, and malted barley, is being constantly violated by German beer makers. Why? Because yeast is essential to the creation of beer, a fact which wasn't known until the late 19th century. Of course, that's rather a pettifogging distinction. The Reinheitsgebot (the informal name for the purity law) is still in force, and means that German beer is (1) all natural; and (2) made under clean-room conditions, since no artificial preservatives or chemical additives are permitted.

After the film, everyone's herded into a PeopleMover style enclosed bus, which slowly traverses the entire (gigantic) Warsteiner brewery. We made the trip on a Saturday. I found it unsettling that there wasn't a single human being in the entire brewery. Not even a security guard. Not one person. I couldn't help wondering occasionally whether it was a real brewery we were seeing beyond the windows of the visitors' tram, or whether it was some elaborate model, built to conceal the fact that Warsteiner is actually being shipped in from China via an underground tunnel.

Be that as it may, the beer served at the end of the tour was crisp and fresh, and the hiking was more than acceptable. In a few hours, I'll set off to Bingen, to experience yet another mystical connection to the German Urwald.

To tide you over, here are a few pictures from the Sauerland:

Biedermeier Muelleimer
Feld hinter Waldhaus 2
Warsteiner Kisten
Moosbruch 1
Waldbrande Schild
Christian Stiefermann Holzskulptur
Panorama von Loermecke Turm
Wegweiser
Parkbank
Pilzkette
Baueme Sonnenuntergang
Feld hinter Waldhaus