What Bravery Looks Like

More power to you, Mo Asumang. Those neo-nazis, shown at the beginning of this video, were clearly too terrified to speak with you.

Posted in America, assimilation, current events, Germany, lives of others | 1 Comment

Oedenburg Castle, Bavaria

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Not far from the Ammersee in southern Bavaria lies a hill upon which the ruins of Oedenburg Castle are found. It was a small hilltop fortress, mostly a tower judging from the size of the hill. I have been looking at the region by way of the Bayerischer Denkmal Atlas which shows the exact locations of all sorts of historical landmarks in Bavaria. (Special thanks to fellow blogger Zeitspringer for bringing this online atlas to our attention.) // Nicht weit vom Ammersee in Südbayern liegt ein Hügel, auf dem man die Ruinen von Ödenburg Castle vorfindet. Es war eine kleine Festung vorwiegend aus einem Turm bestehend – wie aus der Größe des Hügels zu schließen ist. Ich habe mir das Gebiet im Bayerischen Denkmal Atlas angesehen, der die genauen Standorte von allerlei historischen Sehenswürdigkeiten in Bayern zeigt. (Vielen Dank an den Kollegen und Blogger Zeitspringer der uns auf diesen Online-Atlas aufmerksam machte.)
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Above, how it may have looked (image found here)… // So mag die Burg einst ausgesehen haben …

IMG_1957…and how it looks today. // …und so sieht sie heute aus.

Earliest found mention of the castle in written records dates back to the 11th century and allegedly belonging to a Count von Abenstein. When the nobles died out, robber barons used the castle for its excellent views on all sides. (Two main Roman roads crossed here at Raisting, and they may well have been used into the High Middle Ages as trade routes.) By the 16th century it was already a ruin. The trees took over sometime after 1960 (we met a man on the hill who could remember, as a youth, sledding down the bare slope in winter.) // Die älteste vorgefundene Erwähnung der Burg in schriftlichen Aufzeichnungen stammt aus dem 11. Jahrhundert, in der sie angeblich einem Grafen von Abenstein gehörte. Als die Adligen ausgestorben ware, verwendeten Raubritter die Burg wegen ihrer hervorragenden Aussicht in alle Himmelsrichtungen. (Zwei wichtige Römerstraßen kreuzten sich hier bei Raisting, und sie sind wohl auch im Hochmittelalter als Handelswege benutzt worden) Im 16. Jahrhundert war die Anlage schon verfallen. Bäume überwucherten irgendwann nach 1960 den Platz (ein Mann den wir auf dem Hügel trafen, erinnerte sich, das er noch als Jugendlicher, dort auf dem damals freien Abhang im Winter Rodeln ging).

An article about the fortress in the Augsburger Allgemeine mentions an old local legend, similar to other old legends about other old fortresses around these parts: the castle was later occupied by robber barons who, one night, celebrated a recent conquest with revelry. The folks down in the village heard shouting and clanging through the evening right up until the stroke of midnight, at which point all was suddenly still. The next morning, their curiosity took them up the hill, where they found that the entire castle and its inhabitants had been swallowed up by the earth overnight. // Ein Artikel über die Festung in der Augsburger Allgemeinen erwähnt eine alte Legende, die jenen über anderen alten Burgen in dieser Gegend ähnelt: Das Schloss wurde später von Raubrittern, die eines Nachts, den kürzliche Raubzug mit einem Gelage feierten. Die Leute unten im Dorf hörten Geschrei und Klirren durch den Abend bis um Mitternacht, dann war alles plötzlich still. Am nächsten Morgen führte sie ihre Neugier auf den Hügel, wo sie feststellten, dass das gesamte Schloss und seine Bewohner über Nacht von der Erde verschlungen worden waren.

IMG_1954All that remains today is this round wall of earth, circling what is said to have been the tower’s dungeon. That probably gets the attention of the schoolchildren who are brought here on field trips. // Alles was davon heute übrige ist, ist dieser runde Erdwall, der den Platz umgibt von dem man sagte, es hätten sich dort Turm und Kerker befunden. Das wird wohl die Aufmerksamkeit der Schüler, die auf Exkursionen hierher gebracht werden, auf sich ziehen.

Posted in archaeology, Germany, history, nature, theater | 1 Comment

Note to self: find more cheerful subjects for blog…

Over two weeks have passed since that Germanwings pilot deliberately crashed Flight 9525 into the French Alps, taking 149 passengers and crew with him. The news cycle is mostly done with the speculation over the pilot’s illness, motives, personality disorder, but the story is still brewing in my thoughts, due to one particular passenger, Maria Radner. She was one of two opera singers on the plane, having just closed a production of Siegfried at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, flying home to Düsseldorf with her husband and their young son.
I didn’t know her. Never met her, until now had never heard her sing. But the opera world is small, and only 1 or 2 degrees of separation stand between most of us singers, so I learned after the fact that we had a handful of mutual friends. // Mehr als zwei Wochen ist es her, dass der Germanwings Pilot absichtlich den Flug 9525 in der Französisch Alpen zum Asbturz brachte, wobei 149 Passagiere und Besatzungsmitglieder mit ihm umkamen. Des Nachrichten mit Spekulationen über den Piloten, Krankheit, Motive, Persönlichkeitsstörung sind nun großteils erörtert, aber die Geschichte geht mir persönlich noch immer durch den Kopf, wegen eines bestimmten Passagiers, Maria Radner. Sie war eine von zwei Opernsängern im Flugzeug, die gerade eine Aufführung von Siegfried im Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona abgeschlossen hatten. Sie flog zurück nach Hause, nach Düsseldorf, gemeinsam mit ihrem Mann und ihrem kleinen Sohn.
Ich kannte sie nicht. Ich traf sie nie und bis jetzt hatte ich sie nie singen gehört. Aber der Opernwelt ist klein, und nur über maximal ein oder zwei Bekannte kennen sich die meisten von uns Sängern. So erfuhr ich, dass wir eine Handvoll gemeinsame Freunde hatten.
I don’t want this post to be about me, and so I will try to keep it as universally pertinent as possible — if any wisdom can be gleaned from this tragedy after the fact, maybe it’s this:
It’s not easy to eschew competition as a singer, it being a naturally competitive field. We jockey for position, we judge each other (sometimes kindly, sometimes mercilessly), we make sacrifices in order to “stay in the running”, because the career demands them. Many singers are single, or divorced. Men seem to have it a little easier, but “having it all” as a successfully employed opera singer with a marriage and family or otherwise steady relationship occurs only when both partners are prepared to give a lot, and even then it’s a crap shoot.  How do you know you are making the right life decisions? You don’t. You never do. Even in hindsight, many of us surely wonder, as I do, if we may have done something differently in our pasts. // Ich kannte sie nicht. Ich traf sie nie und bis jetzt hatte ich sie nie singen gehört. Aber der Opernwelt ist klein, und nur über maximal ein oder zwei Bekannte kennen sich die meisten von uns Sängern. So erfuhr ich, dass wir eine Handvoll gemeinsame Freunde hatten.
Diese Beitrag soll sich nicht mit mir befassen, und so werde ich versuchen, es so universell relevant wie möglich zu halten – und wenn man irgendein Erkenntnis aus dieser Tragödie ziehen kann ist es vielleicht dies:
Es ist nicht leicht, den Wettbewerb mit anderen Sängern zu meiden, es ist von natur aus eines sehr Wettbewerbsorientiertes Genre. Wir rittern um unsere Positionen, bewerten uns gegenseitig (manchmal freundlich, manchmal gnadenlos) machen Opfer, um ” im Rennen  zu bleiben “, weil die Karriere das verlangt. Viele Sänger sind Singles oder geschieden. Männer scheinen es ein wenig leichter zu haben, aber “alles zu bekommen” als erfolgreiche Opernsängerin mit einer Ehe und Familie oder anderweitig festen Beziehung funktioniert nur, wenn beide Partner bereit sind, viel zu geben, und selbst ist es noch reinen Glückssache. Wie erkennt man ob man die richtigen Entscheidungen im Leben trifft? Es geht nicht. Niemals. Auch im Nachhinein fragen sich sicherlich viele, wie ich, was in der Vergangenheit anders gemacht hätte werden sollen.
And so, here was Maria Radner, who seemingly did “have it all”. She’d already had her Metropolitan Opera debut, in 2012, at age 30. An international career followed, the Bayreuth debut scheduled for this summer. Husband, first child, spectacular career in bloom.
To those of us who will never experience that kind of glory, it falls to us to simply look around. You may be never see your dreams fulfilled, but you are alive. Would you trade? Of course not. So look around at what you have, and make every day count. You can never know when, or how,  the journey will end. // Und hier war nun Maria Radner, die anscheinend “alles bekam”. Sie hatte bereits ihre Metropolitan Opera Debüt im Jahr 2012, mit 30. Eine internationale Karriere folgte, das Bayreuth-Debüt war für diesen Sommer geplant. Ehemann, erstes Kind, spektakuläre Karriere in voller Blüte.
Für diejenigen unter uns, die nie diese Art von Ruhm erleben werden, bleibt nur uns einfach umzusehen. Mag sein, daß wir nie die Erfüllung unserer Träume sehen, aber wir leben. Möchten Sie das tauschen? Natürlich nicht. Also freuen wir sich an dem, was wir haben, und nutzen wir jeden Tag. Man kann nie wissen, wann oder wie die Reise endet.

Posted in current events, Germany, lives of others, opera, singing | 2 Comments

In Memory Of A Girl

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In memory of Ilse Brüll
Born 28 April 1925 Died 3(?) September 1942
and in memory of all those children of Innsbruck who were victims of this time

Ilse Brüll, a Jewish girl, attended school here in Wilten from September 15, 1935. She met her death in September 1942 at Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

From Ilse’s last letter to her family, August 30, 1942: “Please tell my parents and relatives of this letter and that they are not worry…”

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The story of Ilse Brüll is one of the saddest in Innsbruck’s Third Reich history. She grew up in an assimilated Jewish family in Anichstrasse in the center of town, her father Rudolf Brüll had a furniture and upholstery business. After the November 1938 pogrom (Kristallnacht) the family looked for ways to leave the country and emigrate to America, but without success.

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Ilse Brüll and her cousin Inge Brüll were sent with the Quaker Kindertransports to the Netherlands, expecting to meet up later with their parents. At first brought to a refugee camp there, they sometimes entertained fellow refugees at events, by donning traditional Tyrolean clothing and singing duets. They were brought later to a convent with other children, and learned Dutch.

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The Kindertransports brought Jewish children out of harm’s way to he Netherlands and Great Britain. When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1942 they immediately began rounding up Jews, and demanded that the convent hand over any unbaptized Jewish children. It seems that Ilse had had the opportunity to be baptized but refused (Inge’s mother was Roman Catholic, and Inge had been baptized as a baby.)

Inge recounted in a taped interview that the convent felt it had no choice — if they had disobeyed the order, the entire colony of 200 children would have been disbanded. Ilse was taken to Westerbork Camp in August 1942 (Anne Frank’s family was just settling into the hidden apartment in Amsterdam, but would also pass through here 2 years later) before “most likely” continuing on to Auschwitz to be gassed. She was 17.

Ilse’s parents, Rudolf and Julie Brüll, were interned in Theresienstadt but survived, and returned to Innsbruck after their liberation. Rudolf Brüll fought for and eventually reclaimed his furniture shop, and was president of the Jewish Community in Innsbruck until his death in 1957.  Ingeborg Brüll died in 2011, also in Innsbruck.

Information in German here images 2, 3 and 4 from here. Image 1 by the author.

Posted in assimilation, Austria, Germany, history, Innsbruck, lives of others, memory

Weekend Mountain Blogging

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Hohenwerfen Castle, from a train window.  I’ve been to this pile of rocks a couple of times in the past, when I lived somewhat closer to it. The last time was by invitation of a colleague on her birthday —  a tour of the castle, lunch and a falcon show. There is a falconry on the premises.

Wikipedia tells me that the castle has been used as a location for the 1968 film Where Eagles Dare as well as the 2003 Ashton Kutcher film Just Married.  (Tja!) It also supplied the backdrop for a scene in The Sound of Music  (it’s just a bit of a drive down from the town of Salzburg).

And, since we’re on the subject of Salzburg and films, the Salzburg Museum is featuring a photo exhibit right now called Help! The Beatles in Salzburg — Photographs by Christian Skrein. The photographs document the band’s visit for a location shoot in the Obertauern Region (Why did they fly all the way to Austria for that sledding scene? It may have been the only snowy, mountainous area where they wouldn’t be dogged by fans. In fact one of the groups which came out to meet them held up signs which said “Beatles Go Home”.)

Posted in Austria, current events, Mountains, music, travel

Euro-exotica, or The Reason I Don’t Read Expat Lit

In the recent New Yorker article Northern Lights: Do Scandinavians Have It All Figured Out?, Nathan Heller describes Michael Booth’s book “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” (Picador) as

 

“essentially observational; it aspires to a comic genre that might be called Euro-exotica. The form was well established by the time Twain published “The Innocents Abroad,” in 1869, and it has been carried through the twentieth century by writers as varied as S. J. Perelman and Peter Mayle. It usually involves a witty, stumbling narrator simultaneously charmed and bemused by the foreign nation he encounters. He is a naïf but not a boor: he wants to do everything right, but he is hamstrung by his ignorance of etiquette, by his squeamishness around unwelcome foods, and—this being Europe—by the daily, soul-crushing throes of bureaucracy. Euro-exotica is generally poured in a confectionery mold, light and tart, but its core is an assertion of the narrator’s cultural power. Change the balance of the recipe slightly—make it, say, about the bumbling adventures of a Guatemalan farmer in Florence—and the cookie hardens. Can you believe how these people do things? the Euro-exoticist asks, with the courage of his own convictions. In this sense, Booth’s book is as much about Anglo-American power as it is about the Nordic way.”

(Bolds mine)

Ah yes, the bumbling adventures. Finally an explanation of why I don’t like perhaps 80% of expat blogs (from my own observations I’d say more like 90%, but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to all those I haven’t yet read.)
I felt compelled to comment after yet another of those All The Ways Expat Life Will Change You articles turned up on social media. There may well be parallels in other cultures (there are German television shows about Germans living abroad, for instance) but I think that what Heller describes belongs to the citizens of privileged English-speaking countries. (In my opinion it stems from a larger genre of what I’ll call “lovable idiot” lit, where the narrators stumble through all sorts of cultural or societal faux pas and yet are loved in spite of their imperfections, or perhaps because of them. Think  Bridget Jones’ Diary.) David Sedaris played with this genre, so did Bill Bryson. (I don’t mind when Sedaris does it, because his wit plays well in any location.)

In a discussion of this topic someone said that assimilation is not a goal of expats. It was always a goal of mine, however, if not to be considered a local (impossible anyway*) then to be accepted as part of the local landscape. I realize that for some people this is not desirable, and they maintain their American culture out of dislike for the local one as well as a love of their own. But I imagine those people are not reading Euro-exotica either. They’re probably reading 50 Shades of Grey.

 

 

*In my college German course we read a short story by Jànos Bardi titled Der Hunne im Abendland or The Hun in the West. I cannot find it online but the story is about a man, a “Hun”, who leaves his eastern homeland for modern western civilization. He buys western clothes, trades his local wine for something like whiskey, starts smoking western cigarettes,  and when he is invited to a party he rails on about all the things the locals talk about — politics, some soulless entertainment gossip, the usual things. After he leaves the party, the host makes some remark about him being a nice guy. The hostess ends the story with “Yes, but he’s such a Hun!”

Posted in America, assimilation, blogs, culture, Life Abroad, literature, lives of others, media, travel | 2 Comments

Hardy’s Map

While packing for a long train trip to Styria, I pulled a couple of books of the shelf to help pass the time. Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” was I book I supposedly had read in high school — although I couldn’t for the life of me remember what happened after chapter one, and it’s likely I really didn’t read it at all since none of it seems familiar now, beyond the Reddleman.

But what really surprised me was this map.

egdon-heath-map1It’s not a real place, or rather it’s a composite of places near Dorchester, real or renamed,   and re-ordered for the convenience of the story. Egdon Heath figures so prominently in the book that it’s been treated as a literary character in several analyses. Of course it has a Roman road, partially a modern road and partially remains of a track through the heath.  An ancient barrow (or grave mound) also features as a setting for several meetings.

Posted in art, literature | 2 Comments

Teriolis ≠ Tirol

Continuing in the looking-up-one-thing-and-finding-the-tip-of-the-iceberg vein, I recently began looking into an assumption I had made a while back — that the name Tirol was derived from the Roman fortress Teriolis (from which the village of Zirl takes its name). It turns out that this is completely unsubstantiated, and that the name Tirol came to these lands by being ruled by the Earls of Tirol, who in turn took their name from their home, the castle Schloss Tirol, by around 1141.
Whence the castle got its name remains a mystery. Wikipedia mentions that tir meant territory or land in both Latin and Old Irish (Celtic), and that earlier written versions of the name include de Tirale and de Tyrols.

Ah, that mysterious “y” which one finds in the name when written in English! I had always wondered about that.

Then, poking around for anything on the internet concerning the origin of the name, I came across this interesting treatise (de). (I am not sure what to make of it, exactly — it reads a bit like Tolkien’s backstory in the appendices of “The Lord of the Rings”. It also shares some word-for-word passages with this.) The author (if he is the author) postulates that the rocky hill on which the castle sits had been taken in the early middle ages by conquering Germanic tribes, who named it in honor of the Germanic god Tyr (en) (aka Ziu*, both connected in turn to Zeus deus, deva, and our Tuesday). He adds that before the castle there had been an early Christian church on the site, and it is known that those early Christian churches often were built right atop pre-Christian holy sites. So it’s possible that the name Tirol (or Tyrol) is a very old, pre-Christian one.

The first Earls of Tirol were apparently Bavarian (Bavaria was running the place at the time) but they adopted the name of their castle rather than their family name, which lends a little credibility to the theory that the place name had some ancient meaning. Which nobody would have remembered by the 12th century.

The author also mentions a very curious book called Das erfundene Mittelalter (“the invented middle ages”) by a “chronology critic”, who claims that all the years between 614 and 911 didn’t exist, that everything purported to have happened in that time, didn’t, because of some sort of massive calendar jump. Scientists and archaeologists have debunked this theory.

And, completely unrelated to these places: the name Tauern, given to the Alpine mountain region of Salzburg and Carinthia, is evidently connected to the name of its earlier inhabitants, the Taurisci. After the Battle of Telamon in 225 B.C.E., the beaten Taurisci were allowed to resettle further southwest at what is now called – wait for it — Torino, or in English, Turin.

*Ziu and Zirl sound suspiciously alike. Is it not possible that, the Romans perhaps having latinized an already-given Raetian name for that hill there (now the Martinsbühel), the two names might indeed be related, by way of Ziu? The Roman name for Wilten, Veldidena, is thought to have come from a pre-existing name. Did the Raetians share any linguistic origins with their northern neighbors? One might assume yes, as Germanic and Celtic were both Indo-European. And gods are completely transferable, as history shows us.

Posted in archaeology, assimilation, Austria, Germany, history, Italy, language | 3 Comments

Weekend Mountain Blogging

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Impressions of a walk in one of my favorite patches of forest.

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There’s something sinewy and fluid about this spruce’s upended roots. A wood-sprite, perhaps, giving me the eye.

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Stacks of rails; there’s maintenance work going on (which seems to happen a lot, right at this place.)

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A line of young aspens at the edge of a clearing. Or they could be birches, it’s not easy to tell without leaves.

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Art is where you find it, and the forest is full of art materials.

As I set out, the day was sunny and calm. Within an hour the weather had turned, the wind picked up, and then the forest decided that our visit had gone long enough.

Posted in art, Austria, Mountains, nature | 3 Comments

A Stone Marker on the West Bank of the Ammersee

Sometimes the act of looking up one thing takes me to another things, and then something else altogether. This post, for example.

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This is a path on the west bank of the Ammersee between Utting and Schondorf. The stone column seen on the left bears information about a Roman-era bath house with living quarters, which stood here between the 2nd and 4th centuries C.E.
The building was made from volcanic tuff, brick, wooden posts and mosaic, and its walls were painted with frescoes. It had living quarters and bathing facilities, including a changing room (apodyterion), and baths with hot (caldarium), warm (tepidarium), and cold water (frigidarium), achieved with an underfloor heating system (hypokauste).

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This home-spa belonged to a very nice villa and farm (villa rustica) which once stood a little further up the hill. Situated conveniently near both the east-west Via Julia (Augsburg – Salzburg) and the north-south Via Claudia*, the villa had access roads leading to connecting roads on high ground west of the lake and to the Lech valley further west. It would have provided impressive views of the lake and the mountain range beyond.

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According to the plaque, the foundations were excavated in 1924 by one Dr. Blendinger along with his students. Dr. Heinrich Blendinger was director of the nearby boarding school Landheim Schondorf. In 1934 he took over the über-elite Schule Schloss Salem (Salem Castle School) in Baden-Württemberg, just north of Lake Constance. That school has kind and grateful words about Blendinger on their website, giving him credit for the school’s survival through the Third Reich years. A scholarship is given in his name.
According to other sources, Blendinger was not so much “keeping Nazi influence at bay” as he would have one believe from his published memoirs, but an excellent educator who also had impeccable Nazi credentials, and who took over direction of the school after Hahn’s very Nazi successor made a mess of things. All in all one gets the impression he was, if not quite Oskar Schindler, something like that. Former students remembered that under Blendinger’s administration, the school had no racial-idealogy studies, no mandatory wearing of the swastika, and they greeted each other with “Guten Tag” and not “Heil Hitler”. That alone says much about the climate in the school, constantly under threat of being dissolved and turned into a military school.

Somewhat related to the topic: Christoph Probst, member of the resistance group White Rose, attended Landheim Schondorf at age 17 in 1936. As did (around 12 years earlier) Helmuth Graf von Moltke, who had assisted the White Rose in getting flyers to the Allies for distribution over Germany. Another White Rose sympathizer, Jürgen Wittenstein, attended Salem Castle School during Blendinger’s tenure there. He is living in the United States.

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*The plaque mentions the Via Claudia as being the road “to Brenner”, which is not clear. The actual Via Claudia ran further west of here along the Lech River and over the Alps at the Reschen Pass. The road now called Via Raetia, which is much closer to this place, does go over the Brenner Pass but was built around 100 years later, and seems to have had no name at the time. It is possible that the new road then took over the official route name, much like highways do today, but I haven’t seen that before in connection to these two roads.

Posted in archaeology, Germany, history, lives of others, memory, travel | 2 Comments