Friday, September 23, 2011

Where I worked, Part II (Leipzig und Berlin)

This is the second of two posts about the places at which I conducted my research while in Germany. Apologies for the delay in publication; teaching, reading my notes, and putting the finishing touches on a book manuscript have been taking up my time.

First: Saxony's second city. I went to Leipzig in order to work in the rich collection of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (Germany National Library). The two houses in Leipzig and Frankfurt am Main collect everything published in German since just before WWI. The big old building with beautiful mosaics in the lobby and pretty stained-glass windows in the cafeteria (left) dates from the same time, so many of the city tour buses pause in the circle drive for the tourists to snap a few photographs. When eating outside on the steps I often felt like part of the attraction. I liked working in the large main reading room, with its dark wood floor, walls, and desks. The desks each had a classic green-glass hooded lamp, which when glowing in the evenings lent the appropriate mood for doing research in early-twentieth-century ladies journals.

My hair was still short in May!
Small dome in Haus 1
Door handle to Haus 1
Speaking of mood, the characters of the two houses of the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin are very different. Haus 1 opened with great fanfare in early 1914, and its domed main reading room is supposed to have been quite an impressive sight. Unfortunately, the cuppola was damaged during WWII air raids, and it was finally dismantled in the 1970s. Haus 1 lies on the famous boulevard Unter den Linden, just a few blocks east of the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), and it ended up in East Berlin. There it suffered the architectural outrage (to read about it now) of having a couple of ugly book towers erected to hold the collections. The building is currently being cleaned and renovated inside and out, and a new glass cube main reading room will open early next year. On Die lange Nachte der Bibliotheken (Long night at the libraries) we were allowed a glimpsed at the as-yet unfinished reading room. Even though the entire place is essentially a construction site, I rather preferred the older style and even the noise to the visually interesting but strictly quiet Haus 2 on Potsdamer Platz. Plus, Haus 1 was closer once I moved to Prenzlauer Berg in July. With the division of the capital city, the library was also divided, and a newer, more modern building constructed in West Berlin in the 1960s contains the more recent collections. It is an architectural marvel of white and concrete and glass, of shapes and lights and uneven, open balconies. The open hours of Haus 2 were shorter than at Haus 1, so I was only here twice: once, to photograph a book that exists in single-copy in the Handwriting Collection; and once on Die lange Nacht der Bibliotheken to hear a radio drama set in a library. If you ever get lost in a library late at night--well, sometimes you don't want to be found...

Haus 2, Potsdamer Platz

The last place I worked in Berlin was at the Bundesfilmarchiv (Federal Film Archive) at Fehrbellinerplatz in Wilmersdorf. Part of the Platz is surrounded by the rounded “wings” of two Nazi-era buildings. From above I think they are supposed to be eagle-shaped. (The red structure in the photo to the left is the entrance to the U-Bahn.) I worked in the building across the street (right). Although the collection itself is impressive, I was underwhelmed my first day there. Visits are by appointment only and consist of you using the machines in an archivist’s office. However, this was helpful for me, since some of the 1920s hygiene films I looked at came in the mundane formats of VHS or DVD, but others were on film reels, and I had never worked with those before. I went back for a quick half day on my last day of research in Germany. I marked a few films for stills I want for an article I'm thinking of writing, and I watched a few more films. I was interested to note that both an advertisement for canned meat and a public health film on good diet used the idea of a fantasy land of too much food--they date from the post-WWI period, when Germans were finally able to buy and eat food after the long "hunger blockade" by the Allies.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Where I worked, Part I (Dresden)

The next several posts are about where and how I worked in Germany. I spent my days in one of several libraries or archives, each with its own character. For the first seven months, most of my time was at the Dresden Hauptstaatsarchive (Main State Archive) in its temporary quarters on the grounds of the military barracks north of the city (photo left). There wasn't much to do or see in the area. The building used to house the state and university library, before that moved to the campus in the middle of town. At the beginning of June (after I had left Dresden), the archive closed and moved to its recently renovated house in the Regierungsviertel (Government Quarter) in the Neustadt, much closer to the center of town. It should open in the new/old location near the river next month.  
One tram stop to the north lies the small Stadtarchiv for Dresden. The reading room with its modern furniture lies on the fifth and top floor, with a large (shaded) skylight to let in the sunlight (indirectly). To the right is a view from the stairwell looking south, toward the river and the Neustadt. Train tracks ran right by the back of the building, so we could often hear trains and whistles while we read our old documents.

The Sächsische Landes- und Universitätsbibliothek (SLUB) occupies the ground floor and two underground levels on the campus of the Technische Universität Dresden, my host institution. Great earthen bunkers covered in grass and trees were erected around this university library, giving it a protected (defended?) feel. I snapped the shot below one evening when it had been raining. It seemed to me like the students’ umbrellas had cropped over their lockers like so many colorful mushrooms. I came here to look at microfilm of the local newspapers and to scan old books with the BookEyes (PDFs weigh a lot less than copies and are better for delicate books).

A couple of days I worked at the library of the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden. Although the building is mostly an aseptic white with dark floors, the library is much warmer, with lots of wood for the book shelves and desks. Unfortunately, that library closed without warning for renovations in February, and it did not reopen before I left the country. I hope that I was able to get what I needed last winter.

A last site in Dresden was the Institut für Geschichte der Medizin (Institute for the History of Medicine). They have a small library of books, some or which aren’t even in the online catalog with the rest of the university library's holdings. I photographed promotional materials for the Lahmanns Sanatorium-Bad Weiβer Hirsch in their conference room, which also contained several cases of old medical instruments, like the one in the photo to the left. The ladies here were extraordinarily friendly, and when they found out my last day with them happened to be my birthday, they bought ice cream cake and rote Grütze (red berries sauce) so we could celebrate!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Left Behind

This post--the last about my travels--is the counterpart to the one I published last September on packing to leave for Europe. As always, it is amazing how much stuff one can collect in (almost) a year, in my case mostly papers and books (see photo). I ended up lugging about 25-30 pounds of belongings from Berlin through Poznan to Warsaw. I thought two weeks' worth of clothing was plenty to pack, so I was surprised to come home and discover I had an entire bureau and a small closet full of clothes! Over the next couple of weeks I will post a final few retrospective entries about living and researching in Germany, which will bring this first phase of my blog to an end.

After packing to leave Berlin at the end of July, I made two lists: one of things that I acquired in Germany, and one of things that got "left behind." Here they are:

Bible (Die Gute Nachricht)
bike pump
CDs with scans of documents
2 DVDs (one a gift, one I purchased, unfortunately both Region 2)
expensive air mattress I bought for the cave-camping trip on Christmas Eve
external harddrive (I was starting to get panicky about losing my photo collection, which is too big for the free online storage sites)*
Handy (= cell phone) and charger
USB stick
vegetable peeler

bank statements (I had to print these out every month, or the bank charged me a fee for mailing it)
bicycle and bike lock (sold online)
drying rack for laundry
the "little pot" I bought to cook oatmeal, soup, and single dinner servings 
lunch box (worn out)
2 pairs of sneakers (1 worn out, 1 too small)
pair of dress shoes (worn out)
pair of khakis (tangled in my bike chain one too many times)
shower poof
Tupperware I bought in Germany (what I brought over with me I carried home again)
umbrella (broken by the wind)
vase for the dozen red roses DH sent when things got stressful over the summer
wicker basket my Christmas present from DH came in (fruit and more fruit: does he know me, or does he know me?)

Although Dear Husband traded me for a larger suitcase on one of his visits, and he even carted home some winter clothes, photocopies, and books for me, when packing up I still found myself with juuust enough carrying capacity. Or rather, capacity to stuff my belongings into an enclosed container and drag or otherwise lug it behind me. I still had my winter coat, a lighter and a heavier jacket, my bicycle helmet, and a steamer basket that I didn’t use as often as I thought I would, since I usually ended up cooking my vegetables with the potatoes in a little olive oil. For the trip through Poland I also had an extra bag of apples, snacks, and rolls with what was left of my meat and cheese. I figured I had already paid for this food, could eat it whenever I was hungry, and wouldn’t have to worry about factoring as many meals into my budget of Polish zlotys. Although I am used to buying just as much food as I need for a week, I discovered that I am reeaallly bad at estimating how long toiletries like shampoo and shower gel last. At least I was able to repack the rest of my laundry detergent into a little juice bottle. I opted not to mail anything home, because I found that even a not-very-heavy small-medium box could cost 30 Euros (= $40) to mail to the States. So because books are heavy (= expensive), and because I have heard horror stories of research notes getting lost at customs, I would have ended up mailing back clothes and lugging the books and a ream of copies anyway. Cheapskate me would rather endure the sweat and blisters than pay the money. As it was, I ended up paying over 100 Euros in luggage fees for the privilege of traveling with all my stuff.

*--The external harddrive made the journey in my suitcase. I sat in an exit row, and a thought occurred to me while reading the emergency landing info: "If the plane goes down, I lose my suitcase; that means in order to save 10 months' worth of research photographs, I would have to take my laptop, which is against the rules. I may not "meet the requirements" for sitting in the exit row after all!"