Sunday, September 28, 2008

Amis in Deutschland

We were in Düsseldorf on Saturday and enjoyed a perfect autumn day along the Rhine. Düsseldorf is NOT a part of the Ruhrgebiet and in spite of its proximity to Essen, its character is very different. Traditionally a very wealthy city, Düsseldorf is known for the long shopping Königsalle with its tree lined canal. A block to the southeast is Heinrich Heine Platz, the entry to the Altstadt and the promenade on the Rhine.

I was struck by the presence of so many Americans underway yesterday. We saw more than one group of the ever-present missionaries from the LDS church. They are easily recognized from a distance with their stylish attire and the telltale black nameplates. Also on the streets of the Düsseldorfer Altstadt were (relatively) young Americans looking to register voters for the coming election in November. Shouldn't these guys be working the neighborhoods of Houston or Chicago? It must be nice to sign up for volunteer work and wind up with the Düsseldorf beat, whether you're winning votes or souls.

Being a thoroughly responsible citizen, I've already done the paperwork for the November election. I'll get a letter in the mail soon from Cache County and I'll be able to cast my vote (or as we sometimes say in Utah, "spit into the wind") by absentee ballot. We returned home to Essen at the end of a long day, thinking about the upcoming election and we raised a glass of Düsseldorfer Altbier to the second Article of the U. S. Constitution and the Electoral College.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Today I finally got started on some paintings in the studio. Getting things up and running has taken longer than I expected, but I guess I expected that. Now that most of my logistical problems are solved, I plan to stick to a more regular schedule for my work week. It's a big space, and I need to have more than just two paintings underway to fill it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Unanticipated Expense #0013: Klempner

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I'm trying to remember what I was doing in 1971. High school in Wilton, Connecticut... Mr. Adams for "Introduction to Poetry?" We read Hamlet, I'm sure of that at least. But was I watching Bonanza? Bonanza has real significance for me. During the 60's, it came on after Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color on Sunday and I never got to stay up that late on Sundays. The rest of the family could gather around the electronic hearth with Hoss, Hop Sing and Sheriff Coffee, but I'd be exiled upstairs, under the covers with a flashlight and the latest in an unending series of Hardy Boys mysteries. I was a voracious reader in those days and unfortunately I rarely find a book now that grabs me the way The House on the Cliff did. One exception was a book I read about ten years ago by Ottfried Preußler named Krabat. Krabat was published in Germany in 1971 and translated to English soon after, winning an award as Notable Book of 1973 from the American Library Association.

I was unaware of Krabat in the early 70's and at that age I was mostly watching television after midnight. The New York market had three unaffiliated stations and was a treasure trove of old Honeymooners episodes as well as shows like The Outer Limits and One Step Beyond. The latter two shows built my interest in the supernatural, setting the stage for books like Krabat. It's based on a Serbian folk tale and tells the story of an orphaned fourteen year old who accepts a position as an apprentice in a mill, only to discover after he's committed himself, that the mill is actually a school for the black arts.

Krabat is a book that transcends categories. Although it was published as young adult fiction, I found it a very mature treatment of the classic coming of age story. It's part mystery, part love story and a parable of political seduction. It was immediately successful in Germany, winning awards there, as well as in Poland and throughout Europe. Karel Zeman made a Czech cartoon version of the book in 1977 and the voice of the character of the Master was spoken by Lorne Greene. Well, not really. When the film was dubbed in German, the voice of the Master was spoken by Friedrich Schütter, a well known voice because he spoke all of Lorne Greene's roles in Germany, including Ben Cartwright on Bonanza. In a very real sense, the voice of Schütter, who is presumably rarely seen by the viewing public, becomes Lorne Greene.

Now my arrival in Germany coincides with the opening of a German film version of Krabat, directed by Marco Kreuzpainter. As far as I know, Lorne Greene has no connection with the current version but I'm planning to be there at the premiere in Essen, at the Lichtburg Theater this coming Tuesday. I went to buy my tickets as soon as I unpacked my suitcase, but the showing was already sold out. Still, I'll be there for opening night when all the stars walk by on the red carpet. I'll be in the crowd, humming the Ponderosa theme.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Throughout the entire Ruhrgebiet are the remains of what was formerly a powerful industrial culture: buildings, coke ovens, rail lines, canals, etc. Today the mines are shut down and steel production is only a tiny fraction of what it once was. The remaining infrastructure represents the Ruhr's greatest challenge and most valuable asset. From Zeche Zollverein in Essen to the Duisburg Landschaftpark, the infrastructure needs to be repurposed, removed or renovated. A great example the successful repurposing of a post-industrial building is very close to Berliner Platz, just on the edge of what you might think of as the core of the city. I'm attending a course through the Volkshochschule that meets there.

The building, formerly owned by AEG Kanis, is now called the Weststadthalle. The original construction is still visible under a glass and steel facade that was installed when the building was completely renovated in 2002-03. It's a fascinating example of the inventive use of abandoned industrial buildings, revealing both the Bauhaus inspired old brick facade, as well as the immaculate glass curtain that reflects landscape and sky. My class is in the half of the building that houses the Folkwang Musik Schule and the contrast between the 21st century facade and the 19th century interior is spectacular.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Building Studio Furniture

With the dollar at about half it's 2001 value against the Euro, I can't afford luxuries like tables and chairs. But I've already gotten some great donations and on Monday I went to the lumber store with Jens. Carpentry, for me, is normally a process that involves several small (but painful) injuries and lots of cursing, primarily in Italian and Swedish. But things went really well today and I found I hardly needed to draw on my limited knowledge of those languages. Next challenge is Boesner for canvas and paint.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


The Bahnhof here in Essen is being renovated. A row of trailers has
been set up along the street east of the building and the shops
normally found on the level below the train tracks are doing business
like a bazaar in Cssablanca. A city needs no special excuse to
renovate its most public building, but Essen has a good one. In 2010
Essen will be the Cultural Capital of Europe.

You're probably familiar with the fact that in marketing, most
descriptive titles mean exactly the opposite of what one might expect. Why does the purveyor of a popular malt beverage in the US call the
drink "Real Genuine Authentic Draft Beer?" Because it isn't draft
beer. If it were, they wouldn't have to use all those adjectives. And
when you read the large orange letters on a bag of bread that say
"FRESH!" you know that the bread is certainly not fresh. In fact, we
could roughly translate the word "fresh" as it is used by American
marketers to mean "preserved."

It's a little that way with the "Cultural Capital" designation. Essen
isn't the cultural capital of Europe, and we all know it. I doubt
there could be agreement about what the actual cultural capital would
be, but Paris, London, Barcelona & Rome would probably all get more
votes than Essen. Never the less, the European Union in all their
wisdom saw that it would be good to bring some attention (and more
importantly, commerce) to Europe's second string. So each year a city
in Europe is selected as the "Cultural Capital" and in 2010, it's Essen.

Residents of Essen, and those of us who are only temporary residents,
but passionate supporters, know that some will question Essen's
selction. Reputations can be slow to die, and in many circles, Essen
is still thought of as a dingy industrial city without any redeeming
features. Those of us who know and appreciate the Ruhrgebiet invite
those doubters and snobs to take a flying leap at a rolling Berliner.
We are looking forward to what I'm sure will be a great celebration
and some well deserved attention for a real diamond in the rough.
Albeit, a diamond with a real ratty old Bahnhof.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


We landed September 1 and have been in Germany about 24 hours now. The Wohnung that we chose, based on a few pictures, a month ago in Logan is perfect. The building was built before the Second World War, when this area was centered on a huge freight train station just up the Rüttenscheider Straße. The station is long since closed, the tracks torn up. Now the old station is called Giradet Haus and it's the home of restaurants, shops, artist's studios and professional offices. There are lots of archival photos of Rüttenscheider Straße from that period and it was clearly a main boulevard. Now the streetcar line is underground and auto traffic is limited to one lane, so it's a street for strolling, with cafes spilling out onto the sidewalk when there's slightest hint of sun.

The best part: we're only a few blocks from a small coffee roaster who does an outstanding Italian espresso roast. Closed Mondays but number one on my list for Tuesday.