Friday, 11 September 2009

Berlin Literaturfestival 2

Yesterday the conversation with Katharina Hacker at the Hungarian Collegium, a splendid new International Style building with the words Szabadság (Freedom) and Szerelem (Love) in 1950s-style block capitals before it. Not a big audience but then we are a long way out of the festival centre and up against a variety of other events. The conversation itself fine, with an Anglo-German interpreter. Some eight of my poems had been translated - three rather wonderfully, as far as I could tell (and so others said) by Jan Wagner. I do in fact have a publisher in Germany - Lux Books - but they are still wanting to finance a translator, so nothing may happen - as was the case with my Italian book, though in that case all the translations were done, but the publishing house shut down. So there are miscellaneous poems in various languages from French, Italian, Dutch, German, Romanian and Hungarian, but very little substantial, except the nice Romanian book. I read the eight poems with brief introductions, Katharina reading the German versions first.

Well, that's enough about me, as they tend to say in very boring conversations. As to Berlin it improves each time. Yesterday we called in at the nearby kinderladen - a small private nursery where, in this case, some eleven children spend the day when their parents are at work. Set up in 1968, in the spirit of 1968, it is an old shop adapted into a children's paradise with a sandpit, a slide, games, books, music and food. Deeply civiised, useful and fun, I don't suppose such places would slip by the various inspections and checks required in rather more paranoid and mean-spirited England.

There is, I think, a good spirit in Berlin, at least in those parts of Berlin I have experienced. It is probably why people, including a great many artists, like to come here. It's full of life.

However, last night was pretty sleepless, so today was a little punishing, albeit in the nicest possible way. Once up, we made our way to the Hamburger Bahnhof, the ex-railway station, where we met a friend, Caroline, the restorer, who showed us round. It is a vast space in which to show modern and contemporary art. I am already a great Anselm Kiefer fan, but now I have fallen in love with Dieter Roth's work too. He has an enormous room where a ramshackle construction, improvised out of a variety of throw-away things, combined with plants and real (though in this case missing) rabbits. It's Fluxus on a Brobdingagian scale. Or, if you like, Anselm Kiefer with jokes. That's it above. It is sheer delight, like a toy that is constantly in development. Kiefer is about history and responsibility, Roth - here, at any rate - is about play and energy.

Elsewhere, much Warhol, some Kiefer, Bruce Nauman, Robert Rauschenberg - you name it. And heaps and heaps of Joseph Beuys. You have never seen so much felt and fat and blackboard and gauntness.

Much of the collection was in the possession of the Nazi Friedrich Flick , though it is all mixed in with the rest of the collection now. The most relevant Wiki paragraph goes as follows:

In 1997 Oxford University rejected a £350,000 donation from Gert Rudolph Flick to endow a professorship in Human Thought at Balliol College, Oxford, after a campaign by university staff and the Jewish community.

The attempt by Friedrich Christian Flick to display his art collection in Zurich in a museum to be built by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, was rejected by the Swiss authorities. In September 2004, the collection was exhibited in Berlin at the Hamburger Bahnhof gallery over the protest of Jewish groups.

Good for Oxford! The art is the art, an innocent hostage in this.

Then on to a show, chiefly of Joseph Albers, whom I used to think a cold fish, but who now strikes me as a serious, lyrical, if austere poet of the minimal. Let one of his homages to the square be the faintly glowing red full stop to this post.

No comments: