"Lost in Deutschland" vorher

Dieses Blog begann auf Deutsch - im Archiv befinden sich eine ganze Reihe von Texten über das Engländersein in Deutschland - von 2008 bis 2011 sortiert. 2008-2009 wurden zudem Video-Berichterstattungen auf Deutsch zum Thema hier veröffentlicht.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

November taster extract: George Eliot in Germany

From now through until the publication of my anthology Germany: Beyond the Enchanted Forest in April, I'll be offering historical diary entries from writers featured in it, on or near the same date as they wrote their journal. This should have gone out on 12th November, since it was written 158 years ago on that day by George Eliot.

Widely considered one of the best writers in the English language, Eliot was a Germanophile and translated several literary and philosophical works out of German (her first published work was a translation of D. F. Strauss' Das Leben Jesu). In 1854-1855, she took an eight month sojourn to Germany, staying mainly at Weimar and Berlin. On the former, she published an essay, Three Months in Weimar, in which she gives a run-down of the prominent people who had marked the place over the last hundred years; in the latter, she began translating Spinoza's Ethics - the first to render it into English.

In this letter, we hear Eliot's view on Lessing, a very philosophical playwright from the German Enlightenment, which takes her into a wider dicussion of German society and the way in which it seems to function without the need the political freedom the British already considered essential to modern soceity.

George Eliot to Charles Bray, Berlin, 12th November, 1854

Dear Friend,
Last night we went to see “Nathan der Weise.” You know, or perhaps you do not know that this play is a sort of dramatic apologue the moral of which is religious tolerance. It thrilled me to think that Lessing dared nearly a hundred years ago to write the grand sentiments and profound thoughts which this play contains for the people’s theatre which he dreamed of, but which Germany has never had. In England the words which call down applause here would make the pit rise in horror.

It is amusing to see how very comfortable the Germans are without many of the things England considers the safeguards of society. The Germans eat their Bratwurst and Küchen form house to house in gladness of hear though they have no Episcopal establishment and though the have some things which are though very noxious with us. I think them immensely inferior to us in creative intellect and in the possession of the means of life, but they know better how to use the means they have for the end of enjoyment. One sees everywhere in Germany what is the rarest of all things in England – thorough bien-être, freedom from gnawing cares and ambitions, contentment in inexpensive pleasures with no suspicion that happiness is a vice which we must not only not indulge in ourselves but as far as possible restrain others from giving way to. There are disadvantages, of course. They don’t improve their locks and carriages as we do, and they consider a room furnished when it has a looking glass and an escritoire in it. They put their knives in their mouths, write un-sit-out-able comedies and unreadable books; but they are decidedly happy animals and in spite of Pascal, that is perhaps better than being extremely clever ones – miserable and knowing their misery.

Berlin is a cold place, but the cold is dry and bracing. This morning the roofs are covered with snow, and soon I suppose we shall have the first stratum of snow in the streets which will lie all winter. We work hard in the mornings till our heads are hot, then walk out, dine at three and, if we don’t go out, read diligently aloud in the evenings. I think it is impossible for two human beings to be more happy in each other. All I am anxious about is the certainty of work by which I may get money – and that just now does not present itself.

Best love to all. Forgive all my omissions and commissions and believe ever

Your sincere and affectionate
Marian Evans

Friday, 2 November 2012

Book news and a taster extract

You may take the lack of posts on this blog in recent months as a sign that my writing energies were engaged elsewhere: in the production of my anthology of writing about Germany. The result of these efforts is that the book is now listed on Amazon and, as I'm sure you're aware, that means that it is pre-orderable (yes, that was the sound of cartoon-style Euro-signs kerchinging in my eyes).

It also means that I can fulfil my long-held promise to offer you, my loyal Lost in Deutschland readers online, a few more foretastes of the writing I've included in what is now finally, definitely, and unalterably called Germany: Beyond the Enchanted Forest: A Literary Anthology.

I'm going to start off with Ingrid Anders, a plucky young American "novelist, poet, travelwriter, lyricist" as she describes herself, who went back to her mother's German roots by spending a college year abroad in Berlin and reworked her experiences in a pretty clever little semi-autobiographic novel called Earth to Kat Vespucci, published in 2009.

I say "semi-autobiographical", because it would be easy to equate Anders one-to-one with her alter-ego Vespucci. Yet the gentle irony Anders the author enjoys at the expense of Vespucci the narrator is proof that we have a skilled writer on our hands who uses and structures her material carefully. Nevertheless, as so often with this kind of work, the best scenes feel like they came straight out of real life and got little more than a dab-handed comic-book-style layover before going to print and making us laugh.

Like this one, for example, about the lack of barriers and consequent ease of fare-dodging on German public transport, that great mystery to all of us English-speakers from places where it feels like the idea of civic duty broke down some time ago. In this deeply whimsical extract, we see Vespucci finally getting to the bottom of the whole thing and answering those quesitons we've all asked ourselves again and again: no, not all Germans do pay their fare; yes, most Germans do; so it really is that easy to dodge a fare; yes, the cogs of German bureaucracy - and of some bureacrats - do turn astonishingly slowly.

Something tells me these passengers on the Berlin U-Bahn didn't buy a ticket either...

I have another good laugh the next morning when I check the mail. There is a letter for Carmelita Rodriguez from the Berlin Transportation Authority. It looks official and urgent, so I decide to open it. It is a forty euro fine for Schwarzfahren issued a week ago. That’s weird. I bring the bill inside and call the number on the back.
A scratchy, female voice answers, “Berlinerverkehrsgesllschaft, Guten Morgen, Frau Tintenpinkler hier.”
“Guten Morgen,” I reply, “I’m calling about a fine that was issued to Carmelita Rodriguez.”
“What was the fine for?”
There is a silence on the other end of the line. I can feel a steely, bureaucratic stare of hatred forming on the face of Frau Tintenpinkler.
“I suppose you’re calling to say that you’re sorry and you’ll never do it again.”
“No, actually.”
“Well, I didn’t expect you to be sorry, but at least you’re honest.”
“Actually, it wasn’t me.”
“Here we go. Schwarzfahrer are never who they say they are. Let me guess, it was your sister, or your friend, or maybe it was your roomate.”
“It was my roommate.”
“Of course it was.”
“Let me explain. The fine was issued to Carmelita Rodriguez, who is, or was, my roommate. But she doesn’t live here anymore.”
“Yes, she does.”
“What do you mean, yes, she does?”
“I mean, yes, she does.”
“With all due respect, Frau Tintenpinkler, Carmelita lives in San Diego.”
“Carmelita Rodriguez lives at 1 Coppistrasse, 7th Floor, Apartment B, Berlin, Germany 10365.”
“There is a mistake. She left as soon as she got here and we haven’t seen her since. That’s why it’s impossible that she could have been caught last week for Schwarzfahren.”
“It is documented here in the Official Berlin Resident Directory that Carmelita Rodriguez lives at 1 Coppistrasse, 7th Floor, Apartment B, Berlin, Germany 10365.”
“That explains it, Frau Tintenpinkler. She left without telling anyone, so the Official Berlin Resident Directory doesn’t reflect that change.”
Frau Tintenpinkler inhales sharply. There is silence for a moment and then an explosion.
“Frau Rodriguez, I beg your pardon!”
“It’s Frau Vespucci.”
“How dare you challenge the accuracy of the Official Berlin Resident Directory? Are you prepared to offer proof to support your accusation?”
“What do you mean proof?”
“I mean some kind of documentation?”
“What kind of documentation?”
“All Berlin residents must register with the Official Berlin Resident Office when moving in our out of a residence. It is clearly stated here that Frau Rodriguez moved into 1 Coppistrasse, 7th Floor, Apartment B, Berlin, Germany 10365 on the first of the month. There is no documentation stating a change of address since that date. Therefore, she still lives there.”
“But Carmelita never officially moved out. She just left.”
“Excuse me?”
“She just left. Without registering.”
“Left without registering?”
“No, it’s true. All her stuff is still in her room, but she’s back in San Diego.”
“Frau Rodriguez!”
“It’s Frau Vespucci.”
“Are you trying to make a fool out of me?”
“No, Frau Tintenpinkler, I’m trying to tell you the truth.”
“Why is it that Scwarzfahrer always become so honest directly after they’ve been caught?”
“I’m trying to tell you that if you want Carmelita to pay the fine, it’s best you contact her at her new address in San Diego.”
“Thank you, Frau Rodriguez-“
“It’s Frau Vespucci.”
“-for telling me how to do my job. I’m sure you have many years of experience working at the Berlinerverkehrsgesellschaft. With all due respect to you and your expertise, I’m going to follow the official procedure that has worked most effectively for us over the past forty years, which states that in order to make a Schwarzfahrer  pay his or her fine, you contact him or her at his or her current address, which is to say, the one at which he or she currently lives. In the case of Carmelita Rodriguez, that address is 1 Coppistrasse, 7th Floor, Apartment B, Berlin, Germany 10365. It says it right here. Unlike you, I have documentation to prove it.”
“As you wish, Frau Tintenpinkler, but I assure you, she doesn’t live here.”
“I assure you, Frau Rodriguez-“
“It’s Frau Vespucci.”
“-she does.”
“Fritz,” I ask, puzzled, when I get off the phone with Frau Tintenpinkler at the Berlinerverkehrsgesellschaft. “Did you see this letter that arrived for Carmelita?”’
“It’s a fine for Schwarzfahren.”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot.”
“You know about it?”
“But Carmelita wasn’t even in Berlin when the fine was issued.”
“Of course not. Carmelita lives in San Diego.”
“Right. So how could she have gotten a fine for Schwarzfahren?”
“Maybe someone else got caught and gave her name to the Berlinerverkehrsgesellschaft instead of their own?”
“Who would do such a thing?”
“Someone who didn’t want to pay the fine, I guess.”
“But who?”
“Well… me, most likely.”