Archive for the ‘germany’ Category

Remembering Kristallnacht

The night of 9th/10th November 1938 was Kristallnacht in Nazi GermanyThe night of 9th/10th November 1938 was Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany. The Kristall/crystal part of the name refers to the broken glass from the smashed windows of Jewish shops, businesses and synagogues. Jewish homes, schools and hospitals were ransacked, damaged and destroyed. Over 250 synagogues and 7,000 businesses were attacked. 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

The event was widely reported, pretty much as it was happening, largely by foreign journalists working in Germany. With what impact is a moot point.

Kristallnacht was made possible by the support, funding and protection afforded the National Socialists by corporate Germany. Five years earlier (on 20th February 1933 at the palace of the President of the Assembly on the banks of the Spree in Berlin) 24 leading industrialists had attended a meeting with Hitler and Göring. In the wake of it they coughed up money and other support. In doing so they cleared the way for the rise of the Nazis and ultimately Kristallnacht and the Holocaust. This key event is brilliantly spotlighted in Eric Vuillard’s Prix Goncourt-winning novella (récit) The Order of the Day/L’Ordre du Jour.

The brands at that meeting included:

  • Allianz – the insurance and financial services multinational which sponsors the stadium of our local rugby team, Saracens
  • Opel – their cars are now sold in the UK under the Vauxhall brand – they’re even sold in Israel, under their own name
  • Bayer – the multinational pharma company with the motto “We exist to help people thrive” – wrong people in 1933
  • BASF – whose tapes I used to use to make mixtapes as a teenager
  • Agfa – whose film I used to use as a budding teen photographer
  • Siemens – the multinational manufacturer with the motto “Ingenuity for life”
  • IG Farben – broken up after the war on account of having supplied the gas for the gas chambers among other evils – the main successor companies are Agfa, BASF, Bayer and Sanofi (motto: “Empowering Life”)
  • Telefunken – a tellies and hifis name from my youth

So the brands (and their logos) long outlived the Jewish businesses with the broken shop-windows, the people who ran them and the congregations that filled those synagogues.

A great irony is that another sledgehammer wall smashing event took place in Germany on 9th November – the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

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The evolution of an eagle-based logo

Allianz-logo

The Eagle has Landed

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Nazis loved eagles too – this eagle is looking the other way

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Blitzkrieg means lightning war

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Nazis loved lightning too

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A cross-based logo (1904)

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The cross has persisted

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A cross-based logo – Hackenkreuz (= hook cross)

BASF-logo

IG Farben (which created bad chemistry) morphed into BASF among others

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IG Farben dissolved after the war

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An IG Farben Luftschutz helmet – oddly familiar

AGFA-Logo

Another recipient of IG Farben

Siemens-Logo

Life?

SANOFI-Logo

Life? Another recipient of IG Farben

Telefunken logo

Lightning strikes thrice

 

Tigress

While it was very sad to hear of the death of Judith Kerr this week, it also felt like the rounding off of a life well lived. To come from flight (in 1933) from the Nazis and the Holocaust in Germany, Poland, France and across Europe (which went out to vote the day after her passing) to a constructive, hopeful and beautiful body of work which gives delight to millions is a story and a half.

I had the pleasure of appearing with her on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’, talking about fathers reading to their children. Prior to entering the studio I’d forgotten that the programme was live so it really helped having a calm atmosphere engendered by Judith and Jenni Murray, the host. I can’t recall much about the conversation other than it went well, felt coherent and fluent, not stressful. And Judith was a thoroughly inspiring person.

Of course I read ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ with my boys. She kindly signed their copy after the recording at Broadcasting House.

I have a vague memory of people looking for a historical analogy in it, like the Tiger stood for the Nazis or the Gestapo or something, “It’s about the rise of Hitler, right?” “No” she said “it’s about a tiger. Who comes to tea.”

That Judith Kerr now stands widely as being about turning adversity to living fully, being constructive and defeating the forces of darkness with hope and humanity is as it should be. The family, though surprised, take the Tiger in their stride and find a joyful, united solution to the problems it causes.

I am writing this in the garden of Keats’ house in Hampstead. Up the road in Downshire Hill, opposite the house of Lee Miller and Roland Penrose, is the home of Fred and Diana Uhlman. I met her many years ago to speak about her husband’s work as an artist and their joint role as catalysts of the London art scene before and after the Second World War. Fred came to London in 1936 and became the centre with Diana of a network of artists on the run including Oskar Kokoschka (who followed in the wake of Egon Schiele). This whole area became a home to artists escaped from Nazi tyranny. Judith was the widely admired standard bearer for art and culture’s triumph over the dark side.

oskar kokoschka kunstler und poeten book cover design

The Artist Who Came To London (acquired this week from Black Gull book shop, East Finchley)

Story Snippet – Trondheim train

I find myself sitting next to Sissel on the six-hour train journey from Trondheim to Oslo. She is an elegant elderly lady with a wicked laugh. A native of Trondheim, she used to be the projectionist at the Cinemateket where I delivered my lecture on Thursday. She is on her way to Oslo airport heading for Berlin, her first visit there since 1977. The last time she went she tried to call David Bowie and Iggy Pop. She found the phone number of their flat under James Osterberg (Iggy’s non-stage name) in the phone book. She rang but a woman answered and said they were out.

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Family Tree

My engagement with the Family Tree began when I started to sketch it out based on a conversation with my paternal grandmother. Here is a picture of her that came to light just this weekend – being a rainy one, I spent much of it working on the online version of the Tree.

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Dora

Originally I drew it out on an A1 piece of graph paper with a pencil. I went on to interview my maternal grandmother and grandfather, adding to the annotated freehand Tree. In time I added my wife’s Irish family, the backbone of that bit coming from a wander around an old Co. Louth cemetery with a notebook in hand.

In 2013, to enable me to share it with an older relative abroad I copied the handwritten diagram into a piece of easily accessible software. When I started the analogue Tree I expected to get back at best 3 or 4 generations based on living memory. As my family (to the best of my knowledge) were from – besides England – Germany, Poland, USA, Netherlands and possibly other bits of Eastern Europe, a peripatetic lot, I pictured lost and destroyed records where there even were records. These stones rolled and bureaucracy would probably not have been able to keep pace. However the advantage of the digital Tree is that it connects to other digital Trees. You can work your way back like a logic puzzle. I made my way back, obsessively working till the early hours, to 1730 …to 1544 …to 1499! 1499 in Prague.

I now have a Tree with 651 leaves (346 representing deceased family members). Exactly 50/50 male/female. The most common names: Patrick and Sarah. Birthplaces from Australia to Italy. Places of death from Kazakhstan to Israel. The highlights include finding…

  • 5 Sirs
  • 2 MPs
  • 1 privy councillor
  • a link to the Faroe Isles
  • the founders of University College Hospital, London – where both my kids were born
  • the co-founders of University College London – where I have been hanging out this very day
  • the first Jew to become an English barrister
  • the first Jew to become an English Baronet
  • the founder of JFS (the Jewish Free School)
  • a mysterious family branch in the USA
  • and at the end of this weekend’s activities an international Communist leader…

Karl Radek , who crossed paths with the likes of Rosa Luxemburg and Walter Rathenau, travelled on the famous sealed train from Switzerland to Russia with Lenin (1917), and did time in Moabit prison in Berlin after the Spartacist Uprising in Germany (1919). An honest to goodness 100% bona fide revolutionary. He totally looks the part too…

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Karl

The Man Who Rose From Earth

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Front door of 155 Hauptstrasse Schoeneberg – Bowie’s apartment in Berlin – 17th January 2016

I fell asleep with the radio on…

…when I woke just before 4am, death hour, David Bowie was playing and the listeners to Up All Night on Radio 5 had selected Sound and Vision as the song that best captures Bowie, and one caller was arguing for Station to Station as the best LP, which was my view too in the wake of his death on 10th January last year. Sound and Vision was the track on my first directorial showreel (of which a poor digitisation is to be found here, though I think it may have been blocked by YouTube during the last year because of the copyright track (I can still see it but sorry, you may not be able to)) – cutting that reel is why it is burnt into my consciousness, hard wired from the edit suite.

Update 8.i.17 21:30 – I managed to find a badly encoded/pixellated copy of my Sound & Vision reel from which you can get the general idea

So it’s 04:40 now on Bowie’s birthday – one year on. We’re all going to be bombarded with Bowie The Next Days of course but it’s worth asking “Where are we now?” like the image I saw on the Big Man’s front door at 155 Hauptstrasse in Schoeneberg, Berlin on 17th January 2016. I was due to work in Berlin by chance, at Documentary Campus, six days after I first heard the news of Bowie’s ascension early one morning on the radio. I decided to make it something of a tribute trip. Here’s the photo album.

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Berlin, 16th January 2016 – 8 days after Blackstar release

Where Are We Now? The world looks quite different from 10th January 2016.

That set of photos is the first fragment as I start over the next couple of anniversary days to pull together a picture of where we are now Bowie- & Other-wise.

My initial reaction at this point one year on is that his death cast a shadow over the whole year which is extraordinary for someone I didn’t know and never talked to. I saw him in the flesh a couple of times but I feel less about his passing emotionally than that of John Martyn, however his music is woven into my life, like that of many other people of the Bowie era (a long one by popular music standards) and that I reckon is one of the main reasons his passing prompted such widespread, strong and unique reaction.

The second fragment is this – written 15 minutes after hearing the surprise black news 363 days ago, another occasion I have been woken early by Bowie.

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My 1977 vintage badge which dropped off my lapel in Berlin, January 2016 – from Carnaby Street to a mysterious final resting place

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‘Heroes’ mystery solved

A few days ago when I was in Berlin I wrote this (in a post called Where Are We Now? about David Bowie):

There are a few panels of the Berlin Wall on display on the north side of the place and then a significant stretch of the banal concrete sections in Niederkirchnerstrasse (on the corner of which was the Blackstar poster above). The bands graffitied on that section indicate how frozen in time it is: Blondie, Madness, Lee Perry all get a painted name check. A few more individual sections stand in the grounds of the apartment blocks adjacent to the Hansa Studio in Köthener Strasse. It all helps get you in the ‘Heroes’ frame of mind. I tried to figure out where Bowie might have seen Visconti and his lover from the studio windows but it’s hard to figure as two walls are blank and there’s no obvious spot where the Wall would have been in sight from the front or back of the Hansa building so the lovers’ kiss remains in the imagination (which is probably where it actually was anyway).

Well I was wrong – the spot where the lovers (Visconti and a backing singer) kissed by the Wall was behind the building. I actually snuck through an archway to investigate that Sunday afternoon. A security guard came out of a concealed door as I got to the end of the short tunnel but he must have thought it was not worth the bother and let it go. I walked around a bit in the back garden and car park in search of the spot so I reckon I must have been pretty much bang on at one point.

The mystery is solved in this fascinating video clip (20 mins) from BBC4 in which Visconti recalls the event (about 11 mins in).

David Bowie at the Berlin Wall, 1987

David Bowie locations in Berlin

[Updated 28/1/16]

As promised in my Where Are We Now? post just below here is a list of David Bowie related locations in Berlin which can easily be visited on foot or by foot and public transport:

David Bowie at the Berlin Wall, 1987

  • David Bowie’s 1st floor apartment (shared with Iggy Pop). Bowie lived in Berlin from late 1976 to 1979. – Hauptstrasse 155, Schöneberg [U-bahn: Kleistpark]
  • David & Iggy’s local (gay) bar, now called Neues Ufer, back then called Anderes Ufer – Hauptstrasse 157, Schöneberg
  • Hansa Tonstudio, recording studios where Low and ‘Heroes’ were recorded (in oak-panelled Tonstudio 2) and produced The Idiot for Iggy Pop – Köthener Strasse 38 [near Potsdamer Platz (which gets a mention in Where Are We Now?) – you can only enter with an official tour like the ones lead by Thilo Schmied]. The ‘Heroes’ spot (where “Standing, by the wall … we kissed, as though nothing could fall”) is just behind the studio building, accessible through an arch albeit on private property. The position of the Wall is marked by a double line of cobblestones.
  • The site of the Dschungel night club (as mentioned in Where Are We Now?) where Bowie, Iggy and Lou Reed shook a leg – Nürnberger Strasse 53 = Ellington Hotel
  • KaDeWe department store (also as mentioned in Where Are We Now?) is round the corner at Tauentzienstraße 21-24
  • Paris Bar arty restaurant in Charlottenburg where Bowie & Iggy went for special occasions to hang out with artist types – Kantstrasse 152 [U & S Zoologischer Garten]
  • Brücke Museum where Bowie went to be inspired by German Expressionist art such as that of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Erich Heckel. Otto Müller’s Lovers Between Garden Waals may be a source for the song ‘Heroes’ – Bussardsteig 9 [bus line 115, Pücklerstraße stop]
  • In front of the Reichstag where Bowie performed to 70,000 Germans in 1987, audible to more over the Wall in the East (two years before the Berliner Mauer fell).

To be added:

  • Filming locations for ‘Just a Gigolo’, the movie Bowie starred in in 1978 (directed by David Hemmings).
  • S036 – music venue in Kreuzberg where Bowie & Iggy hung out
  • Bösebrücke – the only other location mentioned in Where Are We Now? (a bit out of the city centre) where the first wave of 20,000 East Germans crossed over in 1989.
  • Joe’s Beer House – a drinking haunt of Bowie & Iggy
  • Unlimited – another of their nightclub hang-outs
  • Lützower Lampe – where Bowie celebrated his 31st birthday with Iggy and Eno and a bunch of trannies.

 

(I’ll add some of my pictures to this in the next few days)

Goodbye to Berlin: Day 3 in Bowie’s Berlin

 

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Goodbye to my badge

My Low badge, in my life since 1978, decided to jump ship off my lapel – it’s somewhere in Berlin which seems just about right. From Carnaby Street to Kurfürstendamm or wherever on earth it landed – a journey as tidy as the Big Man’s. He had his Mod phase (as in Baby Loves That Way – Davy Jones & The Lower Third) so no doubt made the odd sortie into Carnaby Street and environs in his time.

So headed off badgeless for an early start, a wander along the Spree across a tranquil corner of Museum Island, ice floating in the dark green waters, bright sunshine through sub-zero temperatures. Went as far as the subterranean monument to the burning of books by the Nazis, a ghostly room of empty shelves glimpsed through a small window set in a cobbled courtyard in front of the Law faculty of Humboldt University. Bowie had a weird brush with fascism and Nietzsche in the 70s which it took him a while to extricate himself from, probably coke fuelled. He also had a terrible adolescent German moustache at one point – very rare fashion faux pas.

My main meeting of the day at Doc Campus was over a hill to the north of the hotel. At the brow of the hill on the way over I found a great little record shop and in the little window at feet level was a 7” picture disc of Young Americans which of course I was compelled to spunk my Euros on. Plus a copy of Kraftwerk’s Das Model (Deutsche version) as a nod to Bowie’s inspiration from them, Neu and other Teutonic electronica. And a copy of The Stars We Are LP (nice n cheap) by Marc Almond, a big Bowie infuencee. All zeroed in on in the space of a few minutes (from years of practice) , then on to the gathering…

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Hallo to Young Americans

We reviewed 76 documentary projects of which only one had a direct connection to Bowie – one centred on 60s singer P J Proby who Bowie emulated, probably in a tongue in cheek way, on certain Berlin trilogy tracks and earlier recordings.

Had a farewell currywurst before heading for home. On the plane back I read a telling note from the BBC Talent Selection Group in 1965 following an audition Bowie did for them: “A singer devoid of personality. Sings wrong notes and out of tune.” Just goes to show. How little people know. You need to trust your own instincts.

It’s now 23.59 on the first week anniversary of the Thin White Duke’s trip to the Station on the other side of the Border. Official end to BowieWeek of reflection, mourning and celebration. Concluding it in Berlin was a real privilege.

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Goodbye to the old world

 

Get Bach to Where you once belonged

Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)

Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)

Spent the first half of a beautifully golden sunny autumn day out at the MDR (Mitteldeutsch Rundfunk) campus at the edge of Leipzig listening to documentary pitches at Documentary Campus 2015. Included was ‘Craig Barfoot’s Modern Dilemmas’ which is the project I’ve been mentoring – the bastard child of Louis Theroux and Woody Allen. I walked back into town through the autumnal streets – it’s always spectacularly yellow against blue when I’m in town.

I made my pilgrimage to the site of the Great Synagogue, burned down on Kristallnacht in November 1938, the year my grand-parents got the fuck outta here and headed to Highbury. I spent time chatting remotely to Enfant Terrible No. 1 who has been to that place twice with me, chatting from the back row of the ghostly congregation. I wanted to link him to his great-grandparents.

I had a special experience there. I took a moment to say a couple of prayers, the couple of lines I knew. As I finished a small flock of sparrows (my favourite bird) landed on the brass chairs which make up the memorial. Exactly at the moment of finishing the key line from the memorial prayer. They stayed for just a few seconds then flew off again.

Leipzig had 11,000 Jews in 1933. It had 0 in 1945. 14,000 perished in and around the city.

From there I walked – via a cafe moment – to my grandparents apartment of 1938 in Promenadenstrasse (now Kathe Kollwitz Strasse) – it’s just a space now, formerly a car park, soon a new development.

And for the third point of my pilgrim’s triangle I took an imagined walk from their place on a Saturday afternoon three-quarters of a century ago to my grandfather’s favourite sister’s flat in Nordplatz. I stood on the threshold of No. 1 and reflected on his time there as a bachelor and the wider family he lost.

It feels good coming back here and reclaiming our stake in the place. And to reclaim my steak in the place I went for a traditional German meatfest in Auerbach Keller, closing the day’s circle from Craig’s Meat v Veg dilemma, and adding to Bach the Romantic figures of Goethe (who set the first written scene of Faust in that cellar) and Schiller as other resonant ghosts in this city.

city full of ghosts

city full of ghosts

Bach to the Fatherland

The boy is Bach in town

The boy is Bach in town

So I’m sitting here in the shadow of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig listening (unusually for me) to Johann Sebastian Bach, chapel/choirmaster of St Thomas’s, on Spotify, absurdly selecting ‘tracks’ according to number of listens (Partita in B-flat major 2,764,917). And I’m writing this post 5 years and 1 day after I wrote my first Back to the Fatherland on first coming to the city where my dad was born, accompanied by my sons/his grandsons.

Here is that first post about how I found my grandparents’ house, which is just a few streets from here, the other side of the site of the burnt-down synagogue:

Back to the Fatherland – first part

Back to the Fatherland – second part

I came back in 2010 thanks to Documentary Campus/Doc Leipzig, the annual documentary film festival held largely at the MDR building just out of the city centre, just a short walk from the hospital where my dad was born. That’s why I’m back for the fifth time.

Here’s an account of my third (2013) visit during my sabbatical from Channel 4:

Return to the Fatherland

Leipzigzaging

Last year I came with my older son who was making his first documentary (Scattergun – a life in four tattoos) as part of his A level in Applied Media. He was interested in listening in on the pitching sessions.

This year I’m solo again (like 2012 and 2013). I’ve been mentoring a documentary team making a film about renouncing vegetarianism. Last year I mentored a film about Super 8. This year I brought my own Kodak flipcam (off-spring of the Super 8) to make a little video of the trip.

I arrived in the autumnal late afternoon sun of Berlin Schoenefeld, got a taxi driven by a mad Turk to Sudkreuz (he miraculously got me there with 15 minutes to spare) and then the train to Leipzig Hauptbahnhof. I had dinner with a bunch of the Documentary Campus folk in an ex-vinegar (Essig) factory. So no bitterness there, just celebration of The Documentary among a group of old pals including Elizabeth MacIntyre of Discovery Networks International, who is just leaving Documentary Campus to head up Sheffield DocFest, and Lena Pasanen, formerly of YLE, Finland, who is taking over Elizabeth’s role. I walked back, surprised at how well I could navigate the city at night.

So here I am in the shadow of the Thomaskirche as its bells chime midnight. By now I’m listening to Jacques Loussier playing Bach – sacrilege perhaps but sometimes a man just needs jazz.

Get Bach to where you once belonged

Get Bach to where you once belonged

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