Hard landing in France

Arriving in Strasbourg from Germany, the first thing I do is to fall over. I was lucky I didn’t break an arm or a wrist, probably thanks to my reactions being so slow that I never managed to extend a protective arm. I’ve done this on a couple of occasions and it irritates me; it’s the kind of thing old people do, not silver tigers like me. And, of course, it’s potentially dangerous although this time no worse than a scraped arm, a few spots of blood on my shirt and a confused couple of minutes while someone helped me reassemble my scattered possessions and get back to the vertical.

There was nothing particular about the ground and I couldn’t work out why it happened. These new versions of David Kendall from 70 onwards do require a bit of tinkering to operate. There are some good new functions but you really do have to keep your eye on what they’re doing. You can’t just let them deal with the boring bits on autopilot and dream about etymology as you could with the earlier versions…..

But apart from this spatial dissonance, all has been well. A fine week in Berlin where, among other things, I’ve learnt about the German version of the Garden City movement, visiting one area east of Berlin and the more well-known Falkenberg, a very attractive verdant area with its flowers and flowering bushes  not at all far from the dense stone city. I’ve been interested in William Morris for a long time but have more recently visited Welwyn Garden City and read about Ebenezer Howard. These strands were more concentrated in Germany, perhaps because of German industrialisation occurring at a later date and at a faster pace. I found an interesting doctoral thesis on the net which takes up the various strands which made up the movement, social-democratic reformists focusing on trying to improve working class housing within a capitalist society, more mystical elements wanting a different kind of life, involving dances and other cultural activities beyond my pain threshold for the excruciating, and the dark Germany longing back to a vanished sense of community and culture untarnished by the growth of the industrial metropolises (no prizes for guessing which section of the population was blamed for this development..).

I also wanted to enhance my knowledge of German literature and focused on Tucholsky, who had lived in the area north of Berlin at some time before fleeing from the Nazis to Sweden and the perhaps more well-known Theodor Fontane. I’ve read Effi Briest in translation but have now also bought Fontane’s Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg (auswahl), which I’m going to try to start today on the train to Paris. I acquired this on a brief trip to Neuruppin, the so-called “Fontane Town” where he had lived and which is full of Fontane connections; it’s on my list for a more leisurely trip to the area another time I’m in Germany, as well as a trip to the castle of Rheinsberg with its associations with Tucholsky (echoes of the lakeside castle of Mariefred in Sweden where he lived his final days and is buried there, his grave a site of pilgrimage for lovers of German literature).

I love learning about a culture by drawing on a thread and seeing where it leads me. Some imes the author or whatever the thread is proves less interesting but it still enriches my relationship to the culture. I’ve practised this over many years in Sweden where I’ve wanted to avoid fastening in a superficial familiarity which can easily be the fate of exiles and others living for a long time in a foreign country.

My German reading is coming along nicely but my comprehension leaves a lot to be desired. And, as usual, I make few concessions to local prejudices about pronunciation.

I’m reluctant, however, to enrol for a formal course as to date I’m wholly self-learnt in German, which I find amusing and satisfying. But German will have a place in my work for the rest of 2022 and for my plan for 2023 with the aim of being able to understand news programmes in German and improve my ability to follow what people are taking about within a year.

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