Want to learn more about the world but are short on time? Let’s take a trip to foreign lands by appreciating the best short works of art from every country around the world.
We’re going to pick a country and look at…
- 1 song
- 1 poem
- 1 short film
- 1 short story
- 1 essay/non-fiction piece
- 1 piece of art (painting/sketch/sculpture)
My name is Ben. I’m the curator of this museum. You may ask me questions about the exhibits but please refrain from asking any questions pertaining to the filthy lies tarnishing my name in the tabloids. Today’s country is………..
Germany. A wonderful country with a rich heritage and tons of culture to dig your curry wurst eating teeth into. This grand country is famous for a lot more than just this guy. And, because a huge portion of this website’s readership is German, I thought I’d take us on a trip to
German was the first language I ever learned. You know, after English. And Pig-Latin. And sarcasm… The German language introduced me to a world of literature that forever changed my aesthetic and philosophic viewpoints. You’ve got Nietzsche and Goethe and Mann and Brecht and Hesse and so many more.
The German language has a real logical beauty to it. So much so that I really advise learning a bit of German so you can appreciate its literature in the original tongue. But even if you don’t know any German, there is still so much to be gained by immersing yourself in the country’s music, books, films, and art. As you can probably tell, it was very, very difficult to choose just six things to focus on for this country. But alas…
I give you… The exhibits!
THE SHORT STORY
‘Snow White’ by The Brothers Grimm
Hanau-born brothers Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859) are famous for bringing some of the most enduring fairy tales into the collective consciousness. Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White are just a few of their most recognisable titles. If the Brothers were alive today, I’m sure the Walt Disney Company would owe them some pretty fat royalty cheques. Although the Brothers’ original stories are much more macabre than the soft family sugar-coated retellings we see on the big screen.
For a great example of just how far the original stories differ from their retellings, check out ‘Snow White’. Implications of necrophilia and female slavery along with overt cannibalism, abuse, and torture abound in this “delightful” little tale. If you’re hesitant to read this story because it’s a fairy tale, I implore you to give it a shot anyway, perhaps even sample a few different tales from the Brothers. There is nothing Disney about the Brothers Grimm. These are HBO X-rated fairytales that have more in common with a Chuck Palahniuk story than a musical about mermaids.
Reading time: 7 minutes.
Reminds me of: The kind of stories the older kids used to tell me when I was young. You know, perverse scary stories constructed only with the aim to make a little kid piss his pants.
Favourite line: “But already a pair of iron slippers had been heated over glowing coals and they were brought in with tongs and placed before her. Then she had to put her feet into the red-hot shoes and dance until she dropped dead.”
‘Homesick for Sadness’ by Jenny Erpenbeck
Writer, opera director, columnist and East Berlin born Jenny Erpenbeck (1967) is most prominently known in Germany for her productions of Bartók, Schoenberg, Mozart, and Monteverdi. Her essay ‘Homesick for Sadness’ is supremely adept at inducing a strong sense of nostalgia inside me – a nostalgia for a home not my own, not of my era, and no longer in existence.
Reading time: 3 minutes.
Favourite lines: “Freedom wasn’t just a gift, it was something you paid for, and the price of freedom turned out to have been my entire life up till then.”
“A half of the city was the whole city for me. Even today, it’s only my mind, not my feelings, that understands that the city is now functioning again as it was built and intended to.”
“For me, an empty space did not bear witness to a lack. It was a place that had been either abandoned or declared off-limits by the grown-ups and therefore, in my imagination, it was a place that belonged entirely to me.”
“I loved this ugly, purportedly gray East Berlin that had been forgotten by all the world, this Berlin that was familiar to me and that now—at least the part where I grew up—no longer exists.”
THE SHORT FILM
‘La Soufrière’ (1977) by Werner Herzog
This is why Werner Herzog is one of my favourite directors. The guy’s a madman! And a genius. And a poet. He hears that a volcano is about to erupt on Guadeloupe and all the citizens (apart from a few stubborn crazies) evacuate… So Herzog and his camera man rush to the island to roam the streets, film, and wait for the ash! Luckily it didn’t actually erupt.
Watching time: 30 minutes.
What’s so great about it? Herzog’s narration.
Favourite bit: The post-apocalyptic vibe you get when you see animals roaming the deserted streets.
‘Wandrers Nachtlied II’ by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832)
I was turned on to this poem by John le Carré who said in this wonderful collection of poetry: ‘I chose this poem in part because it is a gem of German lyrical poetry; and in part because the beauty of the German language has long been lost on British ears, and it’s high time for a revival. And finally because the ‘Nachtlied’ is a moving and exquisite contemplation of old age.’
Wayfarer’s Night Song II
Over the hilltops
In all the treetops
hardly a breath of air.
The little birds fall silent
in the woods
Just wait… soon
you’ll also be at rest.
Wandrers Nachtlied II
Über allen Gipfeln
In allen Wipfeln
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.
‘Das Spiel’ by Annett Louisan
Listening time: 3 minutes and 5 seconds.
Why I chose this song: German gets a bad (and undue) rap for being a harsh sounding language. Well, there’s nothing harsh about Louisan’s vocals. Wonderful stuff.
When to listen to it: You’re munching on waffles and drinking hot cocoa at a Christmas market in Bavaria completely oblivious to the devastating meaning of the lyrics.
Favourite bit: “Ich will doch nur spielen. Ich tu doch nichts.”
‘Cat and Bird’ by Paul Klee (1928)
What is it? An oil and ink painting by the guy who said ‘Drawing is taking a line for a walk.’ Klee was a modernist more interested in representing thought and perception rather than visible reality. In this picture, the bird is on the cat’s mind – it represents the cat’s desire and, thanks to Klee, we are privy to that desire. This idea of desire is emphasised by the heart-shaped, heart-coloured nose.
What strikes me the most about it: The colours, the intent, the raw starkly rendered emotion, the reflection of me the viewer, and the fact that it’s so damn hübsch.
That’s the end of our German exhibition.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this selection of the art of Germany. Please feel free to replenish your energy in the cafe with some glorious Schnitzel. Come back soon and visit our other exhibitions. I’ll be waiting.
Can’t get enough of this museum?
Check out some of the other exhibits: