Monday, April 25, 2011

Fastenzeit und Ostern

A few Sundays ago, while fixing breakfast, the people in my radio discussed the Third Sunday of Lent, called "Oculi" for its associated verse, "My eyes are ever on the Lord" (Psalm 25:15). That the Sundays in Lent have names was new to me; it must be a Catholic thing, I thought, as I am fairly familiar with the somewhat less common Protestant observance of Lent. So I was doubly surprised to hear the pastor at the church I attend here in Dresden read the same verse before the service a few hours later. Our little “store-back"* congregation isn't liturgical, which means that it does not follow any of the agreed-upon calendars for Scripture readings on a given Sunday of the year. Rather, whoever is speaking that day chooses a text or texts on which to preach. They celebrate Advent but not Lent—and I've really enjoyed singing "hallelujahs" without regard to it being the Fastenzeit (Time of Fasting, a.k.a. Lent). At any rate, here are my experiences (and a little research on) Lent and Easter in Germany.

Fasching is German Carnival (Karneval in some parts): the children (mostly) dress up and attend parties. It struck me as the original teutonic equivalent of Halloween, an increasingly popular American import here. My Bible Study decided not to celebrate Fasching; I had Eierkuchen (like a crepe) for dinner. I didn’t hear anything about Ash Wednesday (Ashermittwoch) services, which is unfortunate, as it's one of my favorite observances of the year. It's not very common, at least in circles I inhabit, but I learned on radio that fasting of various kinds is practiced: maybe a total fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; or else a modified fast for a week; and sometimes just for certain things (like chocolate, or television). I also discovered that green is associated here at least as much with "envy" as with "hope"--what we call Maundy Thursday is "Grünfreitag" here. And on Karfreitag (Good Friday), I almost attended a service at our “mother church,” Oase, ... but I read the map wrong and got lost, despite asking for directions. It probably would have been a contemporary service of praise songs and prayer, much like our Sunday worship services.

Nothing much in particular distinguished Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday from any other day, except for the gist of the sermons. Easter was bittersweet for me, as it was also my last Sunday with the church I have been attending for the last 7 months. I don't know that we got to know each other particularly well, but they were familiar, friendly faces, and we were happy to see each other every week. I'm very glad to have been a part of Gott@Prohlis and hope that this little church plant continues to grow in that often neglected suburb. (The website is in German and under construction; eventually there may even be pictures of me.)

For most Germans, Easter is about the candy and chocolate rabbits that began appearing in the grocery stores a few weeks before Ash Wednesday. Even if they aren't religious, many people still dye Easter eggs, especially using the wax batik technique common in Central/Eastern Europe. (In the photo you can see the green egg ornament a member of my Bible Study gifted to me.) Probably my favorite custom is the decoration of bushes and trees with colored eggs. I've seen this in the US, but it was more common here and made the city colorful and festive. The most obvious manifestation of the Easter holiday(s) is that Good Friday and Easter Monday are both public holidays, so everything closes except the museums and the lone 365-day-a-year grocery store in town, at the Neustadt Bahnhof. Spring Break for the schools is happening this week, too, so many people use the time to travel, visit friends, etc. Soon I'll put up another post about my Holy Saturday visit to a famous Saxon castle, Schloss Moritzburg. For now I will wish you, Frohe Ostern!

* * * * *
For the curious (and otherwise unknowledgable), here are the named Sundays of Lent:
Invocavit (Invocation) – "Call upon me, and I will answer you." (Psalm 91:15)
Reminiscere (Remembrance) – "Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love!" (Psalm 25:6)
Oculi (Seeing) – "My eyes are ever on the Lord." (Psalm 25:15)
Laetare (Joy) – "Rejoice with Jerusalem!" (Isaiah 66:10)
Judica (Justice) – "Vindicate me, O God." (Psalm 43:1)
Palmarum (Palm Sunday) – Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem (John 12:12–19)

In German you can remember the Sundays with the mnemonic: Irechter Ordnung lerne Jesu Passion,“ which translates as “Learn Jesus’ passion [story] in the right order."

Wikipedia tells me that Invocation Sunday is associated in Protestant tradition with Martin Luther’s eight famous “Invocation Sermons” given in Wittenberg in 1522, which immediately became classic formulations of his radical (but not too radical) new theology. Also, apparently current Catholic practice associates Psalm 27: 8 with Remembrance Sunday, “My heart says, search for God's face!,” which is also a good verse.

* * * * *

*--Presumably you've heard of "store-front" churches. Well, there's a bank in the front of our building, and we have two rooms in the rear. Ergo, "store-back" church.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Was ist schön?

What is beautiful?

I’ve been waiting for some time to share photos of our new apartment until my roommate could fix the place up a bit—to make it schöner. We live in an old factory warehouse (left) that has been divided into apartments. Many of the tenants do their own renovations. For instance, with the help of some friends, my roommate knocked down a wall and a half to open up the space, hung the lights, painted, and put down carpet. She’s done a number on what used to be the questionable WC down the hall. (On the walls you can't see is art associated with her daughter.) Unfortunately, I think I will move out before she gets to the kitchen; she’s planning on putting up a backsplash of various pottary and glass shards that should look really awesome when it’s done.

Below-left is the kitchen/ bathroom/ playroom, with the (in)famous bathtub in the middle.* My roommate sleeps and works on the other side of the half wall. On the right is my room, which is quite large and has a door (with only one handle...long story). You can see that a lot of light comes in through the big windows. Our rooms look over the back "yard" (parking and a picnic table but no grass) and the recycling/composting bins behind the Umwelt Zentrum (Environment Center). I can also see the the auditorium of the music high school, which looks kind of like a large folded white napkin; if there's a performance, the neon lights in the "folds" glow pink, blue, purple, and green (bottom).

One of the things I noticed when I first moved in with my roommate is that the apartment is full of things found or otherwise collected: natural things such as rocks, shells, and minerals; also pieces she's picked up at local Flohmarkt (flea market), like two marionettes from India. Some of her paintings hang my room. It occurred to me that when one is surrounded by beautiful things, then it is easier to have beautiful thoughts, as it were.

Not everything about this apartment is supposed to be “beautiful,” however. There’s an edgier, in-your-face aesthetic about the art in the stairway, for instance. Only one of the paintings is actually lewd; and after almost four months, even the grimacing clown is no longer shocking (perhaps to the dismay of its artist?).

In fact, not just the building but the neighborhood is full of characters. The "clay" figure on the left stands on top of a hotel building. The soldier on the right was spraypainted on the crumbling entranceway to the Herzogin Garten, destroyed during the 1945 bombing and since then an overgrown lot with various unfulfilled development plans. 

There is also classical beauty to be found. On the left is the old Yenidzi cigarette factory, built in 1907-1909 to look like a mosque--an architectural advertisement for the Ottoman tobacco they imported from Yenidzi (now Genisea, Greece). After standing empty for many years, it was renovated in 1996 into a commercial office building. Under the dome there is a restaurant ("Dresden's highest Biergarten") and space used for a children's storytime. On the right is the Dresdner Volkshaus, a non-commercial office building with a spa and fancy Asian restaurant on the first floor. Just to the right of this frame is a construction site, where they are enlarging the building by one-third with apartments. Unlike the genteel, settled area we moved from, this is an up-and-coming neighborhood. I can understand why my roommate wants to be a part of that; I've often said that my other other dream career would be investment real estate: purchasing/selling abandoned or under-used buildings to revivify urban spaces.

The original impetus of this post was the reminder at the “Was ist schön?” exhibition at the German Hygiene Museum that not all art is made to be beautiful. The collages, dioramas, performance art, and short films my roommate makes, for instance, are sometimes beautiful but mostly challenging. They force the viewer to ask questions: what kind of relationship do those people have? what is going on here? what does that symbol mean? I’ll leave you with a bit of 2D body art of my own:

*--There are two reasons the bathtub is in the middle of the "kitchen." First, this means the water pipes don't have to go far to join those from the kitchen sink. Second, we can lay in the bathtub and watch a movie projected on the far wall. Can you say that about your bathtub? There are a couple of screen we can pull down from the ceiling if we want privacy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Meissen's many treasures

My folks got here last Monday night, and they greatly enjoyed traipsing about Dresden while I was at the archives. They saw the Altstadt, Innere Neustadt, Hygiene Museum, and Schloss Pillnitz (the summer palace August der Stärke [the Strong] gifted to one of his mistresses). One evening we even saw the feierliche Eröffnung ("festive opening") of an art exhibit that my roommate is a part of at the Rathaus. A small band played while a tapdancer executed some impressive improvisation. Also there were some speeches. Below you can see my roommate and me in front of some of the collages she made for this show. To the left is a shot from a performance piece she did with the man playing the recorder. She rigged up a plexiglass trough on two overhead projectors, and then ran a constant stream of water across them while interposing various objects (like a chain) and images (like the eyes you can see on the ceiling). She does a lot of multimedia work in 2D, 3D, and film.

MAP (My Awesome Parents) and I spent last Friday in Meissen, which is a perfect daytrip from Dresden. Although the weather was a bit gray and chill, the porcelain factory was really really interesting, the church had a surprising amount of art, and Schloss Albrechtburg with its gorgeous murals and vaulted ceilings really missed its calling as a royal residence. (It was abandoned by the family and spent most of its history as the center of the porcelain manufacture.) It was a day of many beautiful things and of empty wallets, as we both decided to splurge on a little hand-painted porcelain: I bought two dessert plates at the outlet, and they got two soup bowls at an antique shop. See if you can find either of the two bobblehead figures in my photo album on flickr! Other fun finds include a porcelain organ; figurines of four of the senses (which is missing?); a baptismal font with faces carved on its "knees;" Duke Albrecht's "manly deed" and also getting his beard shaved; and an alchemy set.

Saturday MAP and I ran errands in the morning and then attempted to go swimming at a city Schwimmhalle. Unfortunately, they were having a meet that day instead of free swim. But after that we went to das Historische Grüne Gewolbe (the historical green vault), which is a series of rooms (re)decorated to look like they did in the early 18th century, when August der Stärke displayed his treasures of amber, ivory, bronze, rock crystal, precious stones, silver, and gold. Many of the rooms have mirrors, and the effect is quite dazzling. Then it was off to the Vespers service at the Kreuzkirche, where we heard the famous Knabenchor (boys choir). We finished the evening with dinner at the Sophienkeller, a kitschy medieval-themed cellar restaurant with suits of armor in the hallways and a wandering lute player who serenades the guests. Our table was a reproduction [?!] torture device on which the prisoner was locked in metal stocks and a cylinder with spikes could be rotated under the small of his back.

MAP came to church with me Sunday morning, and then I kissed them and sent them off on the train for a few days in Leipzig and a few days in Berlin. It was a lot of fun to see them, and to shirk my work to play tourist for two days. There's so much to see and do in Dresden that a week isn't even enough time. Others things on the list of possibilities were VW's Gläserne Manufaktur (glass auto factory); the Erick Kästner Museum; Gedenkstätte Bautznerstrasse (an old Stasi prison); the technology museum; and the traffic museum (I thought my dad would like their temporary exhibit of DDR motorcycles). My impression is that Leipzig has less overtly touristy attractions but a more vibrant contemporary art scene. I'll let you know soon, as moving day is only two weeks away!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sachsens Glanz

Wow, it’s hard to believe that it’s been more than a month since the last time I posted! I have been working overtime in order to get everything done here in Dresden before I leave for Leipzig at the end of April, especially since I wanted to make time for visits from Dear Husband (DH) and My Awesome Parents (MAP*). DH was just here for about 10 days, and we really enjoyed the time together going out to eat, watching American movies, and catching up with each other. There was also the requisite amount of exercise, sponsored by the local mass transit authority, in the form of sprinting for various trams and buses. We even got to watch the Super Moon rise while we ate dinner overlooking the Elbe River (above)!

“Sachsens Glanz, Preussens Gloria” is the name of a popular East German made-for-tv-movie shown in 1985 & 1987 that made familiar the bedroom pursuits of Augustus II (the Strong), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland; the court intrigues around his weaker son Augustus III; and Saxony's disastrous involvement in the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). The six parts are roughly based on Polish author Józef Ignacy Kraszewski's (1812-1887) "Saxon Trilogy" novels (Countess Cosel [1873]Brühl [1874], and From the Seven Years' War [1875]) and were largely filmed "on-location" at places like Schloss (Castle) Moritzburg (below). The film was a form of escapism into a “safe” period of German history (1697-1763) and is being released on DVD for those with nostaglia for the good old old days. I took the photograph at left at a tram stop.

The title captures in a pithy phrase the historical stereotypes of Saxony’s conservativism and preoccupation with art and high culture over against Prussia’s military aggressiveness. Augustus III was busy trying to keep up with his conniving ministers when, in 1756, Frederick II (the Great), Elector of Brandenburg and King of Prussia, preemptively invaded, thus sparking the Seven Years' War. (Saxony was diplomatically part of the French-Austrian axis that opposed the Anglo-Prussian axis.) Then, to salt the wound, Frederick forcibly drafted Saxony's army into his own! So, the film series does not have a happy ending, but it does idolize the period responsible for must of Saxony's (and especially Dresden's) great art and architecture.

Schloss Moritzburg
That's not all to the history of "Saxony's Glitz, Prussia's Glory." In 1806, Napoleon abolished the Holy Roman Empire. Elector Frederick Augustus III became King Frederick Augustus I and made the then-reasonable decision to side with the French emperor.** Unfortunately, history and the Russian winter were against him, and when in 1813 Napoleon received his comeuppance, Frederick Augustus I was also captured and dispossessed. Frederick Wilhelm III of Prussia thought, oh, ALL of Saxony would make a nice addition to his kingdom, but because the other attendees at the Conference of Vienna in 1815 feared such a strong Prussia, they pressured him to accept only HALF. This became the Prussian Province of Saxony, now part of Saxon-Anhalt and not to be confused with the Free State of Saxony, which is where my project takes place.

Saxony is still fairly conservative as a state, both politically and artistically. My roommate (an artist) complains that the capital city of Dresden just wants to rest on its laurels and promote the old art and cultural institutions, whereas more industrial Leipzig—since the 1100s a fair city, a publishing center since the 1400s, and a hot spot of the 1989 revolution—is both politically and artistically more forward thinking. DH and I will explore Saxony’s second city in May, so here are some of our high culture experiences in Dresden.

Last month I decided I wanted to attend a ballet performance at the famous Semperoper (known for its architect, Georg Semper). I invited some friends, but they were not able to get us good tickets at a good price in time, so on my way home from the archive one evening, I stopped by the ticket office on a whim, to see if they had anything under 50 Euros. The ticket lady said if I was willing to pay fifty cents more, I could have a front-row seat! It was a chance too good to pass up, so I paid up and thoroughly enjoyed the Dresden Ballet’s premiere of their reconstruction of George Balanchine’s Coppelia, the romantic comedy based on E.T.A.Hoffmann’s decidedly darker short story. The music was expressively conducted and beautiful, the costumes and sets—inspired by Meissen porcelain designs—were whimsical, and the dancing was very good. The inside of the Semperoper is really stunning (right), so I was disappointed when my roommate told me it isn’t really marble in the lobbies.

The organist sits in a loft above the altar.
When DH came for a visit over spring break, we heard two concerts. The first was an organ recital in the famous Frauenkirche, which hosts a cycle of 12 organ concerts with the Hofkirche (a.k.a. the Catholic Kathedrale) and the Kreuzkirche. ¼ of those are played by the Dom (cathedral) organist in Cologne, apparently one of THE top organist positions in the country. Indeed, Herr Winfried Bönig was at the manuals that night. DH pointed out that the only original organ music Bönig played was a piece he himself wants to master this year, Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G major. Transcriptions of works originally written for other instruments made up the rest of the program. Ironically, the only piece in which my untrained ears could hear mistakes was Bönig’s own transcription of Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze”! I found the version of Franz Liszt’s (1811-1886) "Funérailles" (Funeral March) rather peculiar, as it swings between somber honor and total melodrama—typical of Liszt, says DH. The reconstructed Frauenkirche is rather like an architectural Listz piece, then, as on the surface it is over-the-top, but on closer inspection one realizes most of the sanctuary is plaster painted to look like marble. The photo shows the high-baroque altar area.

The second concert, which we attended with a new friend in Dresden, was the Dresden Philharmonie’s Bratchissimo, which is a play on the Italian/German word for viola. I found Richard Wagner's (1813-1883) »Vorspiel und Liebestod« from his opera Tristan und Isolde to be very beautiful; he was a master of musical tension. Then we heard Sofia Gubaidulina's (1931- ) double-viola concerto »Zwei Wege« (Two Ways), which premiered in New York City in 1999. It's supposed to be a meditation on the two ways in which Mary and Martha loved Jesus, with a complicated set of seven variations. But even DH didn't hear that, and all I heard was discord. But the encore the soloists played was beautiful in a classical way. Arnold Schoenberg's (1874-1951) »Pelléas und Melisande«, a symphonic poem for orchestra (Opus. 5), almost put me to sleep--but maybe I just wasn't in the right mood for it. Altogether, a glamorous evening, as you can see!

*--I was going to refer to them as the Parental Units, but they deserve a more flattering acronym!
**--In the meantime, Poland got to be a state for 30 years but then was divided up between Austria, Prussia, and Russia. When Napoleon came along he gave parts of Poland (as the Duchy of Warsaw) back to Saxony, which was able to defend them against Austrian encroachment. In 1815, Russia got most of Poland, including parts that had belonged to Prussia, and Prussia got the northern half of Saxony as a consolation prize. Although Saxony had suffered the really bad geopolitical luck of being a central area of conflict (Battle of Leipzig, anyone?) and having to support 1 million foreign troops (native pop.: 2 million), it was in the process of successfully industrializing. So (half of) it wasn't such a poor acquisition. As usual, though, Poland got the short end of the stick.