Saturday, 8 February 2014

Goethe Was No God: A Bilingual Novel

Once upon a time, most literate Germans acted as though Johannes Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1834)was God Almighty. They regarded what he wrote as another Gospel from on high.And there's no doubt he was a great writer. His "Faust" (at least Parts I and II were landmark in World Lit: Part III was another sort of puzzle, a kind of message from Hell!) Anyway, in the late twentieth century, the old G could do no wrong. I think this Goethe worship had something to do with the shame that followed the Nasty Nazi decade of Adolf Hitler.

In any case, along came one Italian lawyer named Ettore Ghibellino who wrote a sensational book entitled "Goethe and Anna Amalia: A Forbidden Love"(Weimar, Dr. A.J. Denkena Verlag, 2012), and the heretofore Godlike Goethe was back down on our everyday earth, with a very tacky reputation as a Lady Killer.

Anna Amalia was a widow of great mental prowess: she encouraged promising writers like JWG and sponsored the theatre culture that gave his ilk a public voice. But a common citizen, no matter how gifted, didn't mess with the dead Duke's lady. That was risking execution. So G and and AA went underground with their forbidden love. And they used a lady named Charlotte von Stein as their secret keeper. She delivered messages between JWG and AA. Except that passages in the letters were written in Italian and Latin which CvStein didn't know!

Meanwhile, back on earth, JWG took up with a lovely blue collar gal named Christian Vulpius. For eighteen years they shared a marital bed with no license of marriage! It was a common scandal. Everybody knew about their forbidden love, but no one talked about it. Until Napoleon's troops invaded Weimar. 

One night a soldier with a rifle knocked on Christiana's door, and JWG pissed his pants in terror. He called his lady down to the door where she told the French soldier to get the fuck out of there! He did. And the next day G married CV! They even had a son together, one August, whose rep as a "bastard"  was stricken by the two decades delayed marriage. JWG went on with his weird sexual life, chasing publicly a 17 year old beauty at age 83! Wowee. No God acts like that. And so it goes in the tangled sex life of a great writer.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

My Favorite Weimar Art Gallery

Visiting the GalerieHebecker for its dual exhibit (Schillerstrasse 18, until 2/15/14) reminded me of my first art assignment in 1948 at my hometown Jesuit University of Detroit. The priest teaching the course gave us our first assignment: go downtown to the new Detroit Institute of Arts and find a work you really like and explain why it appeals to you. My choice was “The Liberated Slave”, reminding me powerfully of the not yet released Detroit Negroes.

I get the same sense of challenge from Hebecker in the four to six shows they present each year. Michael Hebecker founded the gallery in 2002, but his daughter Susanne took over when he died in 2008. (Her brother runs another family gallery on the Kramerbr├╝cke in nearby Erfurt). 

The current show, dubbed “Red and Black”, contrasts the black and white style of Karl Ortelt (1907-1972) with the richly colored style of Fritz Keller (1915-1994). Both served in the German Army during the First World War, and both were jailed in Great Britain for several years after the war in the ‘40s. But the similarities end there.

Ortelt’s portraits were frontal views of ordinary people, a man and a child, a married couple, and a couple with a small child, celebrating. Keller’s rich colors teem with energy, the realities in the frames being often obscure but nonetheless eloquent. I’ve been since then to all the greet museums of the world, the Louvre in Paris, the National Gallery in London, the many Smithsonians in Washington., the Kyoto in Japan. Even the brilliantly retrieved Gotha Museum nearby. 
Part of the Hebecker’s power lies in their brilliantly edited brochures. And catalogs. And the friendly presence of their staff. Like that Jebbie priest in Detroit 66 years ago who made an esthetic fanatic of me with his “simple” assignment, Ms. Hebecker and her Hungarian mother are the sweetest guides I’ve encountered in my 87 years. Bless them and their open-minded, second floor display area.