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Haus proud: The women of Bauhaus
Bauhaus women

Bobbed, geometric haircuts. Chunky jewellery. Vegetarian diets. Saxophone playing. Breathing exercises. Painting. Carving. Snapping with brand new 35mm Leica cameras. Dressing in the artiest handmade clothes. Attending arty parties. Ninety years on from the founding of Walter Gropius‘s legendary art, craft and design school, the female students of the Bauhaus appear to have been as liberated as young women today.

At least they do in the photographs in Bauhaus Women, a book by Ulrike Muller, a “museum educator” in Weimar, the German town where the Bauhaus opened in 1919, declaring equality between the sexes. Where German women had once received art education at home with tutors, at the Bauhaus they were free to join courses.

And yet the photographs of those seemingly liberated women tell, at best, a half truth. Yes, the world’s most famous modern art school accepted women. But few became well known. While the men of the Bauhaus – Gropius, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, László Moholy-Nagy and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – are celebrated, names like Gunta Stölzl (a weaver), Benita Otte (another weaver), Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain (ceramicist), Ilse Fehling (sculptor and set designer) or Alma Siedhoff-Buscher (toy maker) mean precious little.

If these bright young things came to the Bauhaus as equals, why are the women so obscure? The school’s fleeting existence (just 14 years), the rise of the anti-modern National Socialist movement and six years of world war may have been factors, but the uncomfortable truth is that the Bauhaus was never a haven of female emancipation.

More women than men applied to the school in 1919, and Gropius insisted that there would be “no difference between the beautiful and the strong sex” – those very words betraying his real views. Those of the “strong sex” were, in fact, marked out for painting, carving and, from 1927, the school’s new architecture department. The “beautiful sex” had to be content, mostly, with weaving.

The school’s students produced radical work, but Gropius’s vision was, at heart, medieval, if apparently modern, and he was keen to keep women in their place – at looms, primarily, weaving modern fabrics for fashion houses and industrial production. He believed women thought in “two dimensions”, while men could grapple with three. ()

Chinese Artist Accuses Government for Injury

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Is China the right country to be the guest of honor at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair? The debate could be rekindled this week following the hospitalization in Munich of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who believes he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage this week because of an alleged beating by secret police in Sichuan.

Surgeons at a clinic in Munich on Monday performed surgery on 51-year-old Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, after diagnosing a cerebral hemorhage on the right side of his brain. Ai told SPIEGEL in August that secret police had attacked him in his hotel room in southern China’s Sichuan province on August 12. The head injury now being treated is presumed to be connected to the attack.

Ai is considered one of China’s most important artists as well as one of its most well-known abroad, but after repeatedly provoking the government with allegations of human rights violations, he has also become one of the country’s most controversial. Just over a week ago, the artist — who participated in the design of the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium in Beijing — flew from China to Munich to prepare for the opening of his new solo exhibition, “So Sorry,” which is set to run from Oct. 11.

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The Beijing Book Fair?

A censorship scandal has already erupted around October’s Frankfurt Book Fair, whose guest of honour this year is China. This coming Saturday, in the lead up to the fair, Frankfurt will be hosting a symposium on “China and the World”, (pdf) together with the Chinese. One of the speakers, an influential investigative journalist and environmental activist, Dai Qing, has now come under pressure from the Chinese delegation not to give her talk, as Bernhard Bartsch reported yesterday in the Frankfurter Rundschau: “The written invitation issued by the Frankfurt Book Fair, which Dai needed to apply for her visa, vanished into thin air at the behest of the Peking authorities for Press and Publication (GAPP), which is now threatening to pull out of conference entirely if the disagreeable author is allowed to enter the country.”

In the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Henrik Bork reported: “The Chinese have ‘stated unequivocally that if Ms Dai Qing does turn up after all, they will pull out all together,’ according to Peter Ripken, the symposium’s organiser. This has created a ‘catch-22 situation‘, because it would mean that the entire 10-person delegation from Beijing boycotts the symposium.”

It was announced today that Dai Qing has received an express visa from the German embassy and is intent on coming to Frankfurt this weekend, Henrik Bork reports. And the Book Fair? It is making “worried noises about Dai’s insistence on coming to Frankfurt. ‘It could bring the whole event to its knees,’ says Peter Ripken. ‘We want a real debate, but without the Chinese attendees the conference would become a tribunal.’ Last Wednesday he was still under the assumption that Dai would agreed not to come to Frankfurt until October when she would talk at an event that was not connected to the official Chinese programme at the Book Fair.” Hang Hui, professor of Humanities at Tsinghua University and a pioneer of the government-critical “new left” in China who was to give a key note speech at the symposium, will also not be attending. He told the FR that “his visa application had been rejected by the German embassy on formal grounds”.

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Welcome to Berlin’s squat scene

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[W]hen a German graphic designer friend told me that many of these squats offer food, film nights and gigs to paying guests, I was intrigued. Sarah explained: “I used to pop in for VoKü at a squat near my office in Kreuzberg. Unfortunately, it has now been closed down, but it did the best lunches. Everybody was friendly and the food was delicious and cheap.” VoKü is when squats open their doors to the community and offer food at affordable prices; it is short for Volksküche, meaning “people’s kitchen”. This concept is so established that there is an online list (see below) with details of when and where VoKüs take place. It’s an extensive list, too, with eight or so meals taking place in Berlin daily.

The idea sounds so welcoming that it would be rude not to experience it first-hand. So the following Sunday, at 7pm, my husband Tom and I head for VoKü at Zielona Gora, a rainbow-painted building on leafy Boxhagener Platz in Friedrichshain – a neighbourhood in former East Berlin. As we approach, we see a mass of leather-clad punks spilling from a large table on the pavement. They’re eating, chatting and laughing, and hardly notice us as we clamber over their dogs lying in the doorway.

Inside, it looks nothing like I would have imagined. Less squat, more student union cafe. The large square room has tables around the edge and a queue snaking into it, the walls are plastered with photocopied newspaper articles and there is French folky music playing. The food smells good and we join the queue. The atmosphere is buzzy and there is an eclectic crowd ()

Revisiting Communist Germany’s Fashion Scene

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Marco Wilms clearly remembers an early lesson from his days as an elementary school pupil in communist East Germany. One day, the director drew a crooked tree on a chalkboard. She then explained to the class that her job, and that of the socialist collective, was to bend that tree and make it grow straight.

“It was obvious that she was referring to me,” said Wilms, laughing.

Under a regime that demanded conformity, Wilms preferred individualism, and wasn’t afraid of speaking his mind. He paid the price. As a teenager, he was labeled a “potential enemy of the state” and barred from finishing high school, despite top grades. Instead of applying to art academies as planned, he spent the next three years waking up at 6 a.m. to work at a factory making fish hooks.

But when a scout spotted Wilms at a disco and recruited him to join East Germany’s elite cadre of state-sanctioned models, Wilms finally found his niche: Pulsating on the fringes of East Germany’s highly regulated mainstream fashion world was a brazen alternative scene that reveled in self-expression, subverting precepts of how a citizen of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was to dress and act.

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Wilms — now a fairly ordinary-looking, if sleekly dressed, 43-year-old filmmaker — has documented this thrilling movement. His touchingly personal “Comrade Couture,” which hit German cinemas earlier this spring, combines film footage and photos from the 1980s and revisits four of the scene’s most vivid personalities in an attempt to summon the thrill of freedom and economically unencumbered creativity that lent East Germany’s fashion underground its potency.

Mur de Berlin: Artistes Pour La Liberté

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Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Sculptures of the Palais Royal association under the tutelage of The Ministry of Culture and Communication, is presenting 31 sculptures by world renowned artists. Most of the provocative sculptures from the private collection Artists for Freedom are actual 3.3 X 4 ft. concrete slabs from the Berlin Wall and artists include Richard Long, Sol Lewitt, Arman, Eduardo Chillida, Daniel Buren, and Robert Longo.

La politique allemande secouée par le « Twittergate »

« Les gars, vous pouvez aller regarder le foot tranquille. Le vote est un succès ! » Ce commentaire n’a pas été fait au comptoir d’un café de Berlin, mais sur Twitter par la député allemande Julia Klöckner, à propos de l’élection du président de la République fédérale à laquelle elle assistait. Son collègue, Ulrich Kelber, était encore plus précis : « Le décompte est confirmé : 613. Köhler est élu. »

Why Donald Duck Is the Jerry Lewis of Germany

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Whereas in the U.S. fans of Donald Duck tend to gravitate to the animated films, duck fandom in Germany centers on the printed comics published in the kids’ weekly “Micky Maus” and the monthly “Donald Duck Special” (with a print run of 40,000 copies), which sells mainly to adult readers.

Donald Duck didn’t always find Germany so hospitable. In the years following World War II, American influence in the newly formed Federal Republic was strong, but German cultural institutions were hesitant to sanction one U.S. import: the comic book. A law banning comics was proposed, and some American comics were eventually burned by school officials worried about their effects on students’ morals and ability to express themselves in complete sentences.

When the Ehapa publishing house was founded in 1951 to bring American comics to German kids, it was a risky endeavor. Ehapa’s pilot project, a monthly comics magazine, bore the title “Micky Maus” to capitalize on that icon’s popularity. From the beginning, though, most of the pages of “Micky Maus” were devoted to duck tales.

Donald Duck’s popularity was helped along by Erika Fuchs, a free spirit in owlish glasses who was tasked with translating the stories. A Ph.D. in art history, Dr. Fuchs had never laid eyes on a comic book before the day an editor handed her a Donald Duck story, but no matter. She had a knack for breathing life into the German version of Carl Barks’s duck. Her talent was so great she continued to fill speech bubbles for the denizens of Duckburg (which she renamed Entenhausen, based on the German word for “duck”) until shortly before her death in 2005 at the age of 98.

Ehapa directed Dr. Fuchs to crank up the erudition level of the comics she translated, a task she took seriously. Her interpretations of the comic books often quote (and misquote) from the great classics of German literature, sometimes even inserting political subtexts into the duck tales. Dr. Fuchs both thickens and deepens Mr. Barks’s often sparse dialogues, and the hilariousness of the result may explain why Donald Duck remains the most popular children’s comic in Germany to this day.

Dr. Fuchs’s Donald was no ordinary comic creation. He was a bird of arts and letters, and many Germans credit him with having initiated them into the language of the literary classics. The German comics are peppered with fancy quotations. In one story Donald’s nephews steal famous lines from Friedrich Schiller’s play “William Tell”; Donald garbles a classic Schiller poem, “The Bell,” in another. Other lines are straight out of Goethe, Hölderlin and even Wagner (whose words are put in the mouth of a singing cat). The great books later sounded like old friends when readers encountered them at school. As the German Donald points out, “Reading is educational! We learn so much from the works of our poets and thinkers.”

Google Street View hits privacy gridlock in Germany

Germany and Google Inc. remained at odds today over how the company holds certain data used for its Street View map imagery.

Google was given a deadline of today to agree to 12 points regarding Street View in order to comply with Germany’s privacy laws, which generally restrict photographs of people and property except in very public situations, such as a sporting event, without a person’s consent.

The final sticking point concerns partially censored images where Google has blurred items such as license plates or peoples’ faces, said Johannes Caspar, who heads the data protection agency for the Hamburg area.

Hamburg as well 15 other German states want Google to permanently delete that information from its databases in order to comply with the law, Caspar said. Google, however, says it needs to retain that data in order to make its automated blurring technology more accurate, Caspar said.

Google built its own application for automatically detecting faces and license plates, which it says is up to 99% accurate. Google has argued to Hamburg that it needs to retain the data since the blurring technology is self-learning and needs more data to improve.

In pictures: Google Street View glitches captured on screen (news.com.au) [lol!]

The ‘Producers’ debuts in Germany

Adolf Hitler is returning to the Berlin theater where he watched “The Merry Widow” during World War II, but this time he’ll be on stage, singing “Heil Myself,” swinging his hips and fluttering his eyelashes in Germany’s first production of Mel Brooks’s celebrated musical comedy “The Producers.”

[The manager of the Admiralspalast, Falk] Walter is confident the musical won’t flop in Berlin, even though some critics are wondering whether it should be staged here. “Should one be allowed to laugh about Hitler?” wrote Berliner Morgenpost, a local Berlin daily. Berliner Zeitung, another Berlin paper, wrote, “it remains risky to put this satire about Hitler on the stage in the former Reich capital — even if it has been successful around the world and Jewish people in Tel Aviv laughed about it.”

It remains to be seen how Berlin audiences will respond to the sight of statuesque blonde maidens wearing oversized pretzels and sausages on their heads as the lead tenor stormtrooper sings “Look out, here comes the master race!”