…just don’t mention the war…

Two weeks in Bavaria was definitely not part of the original plan, but things have conspired against us. Through the generosity of our friend Nicky, we have a place to crash in Munich and he’s been showing us around, driving to many Bavarian breweries where I’ve been sampling all the dunkles I can find.

But I must admit I’m weary of sitting around with people who are eating pig knuckles and roasted baby animals. It’s meat, meat meat at every meal. Sometimes meat is the lightest option available on the menu, as the vegetarian stuff is full of butter and cheese. I’ve been living on salty pretzels and beer and now my extremities are swollen from water retention.

Edie is back in the Netherlands, trying to get some work done on the Something’s Brewing piece at the University of Utrecht. Bob and I will be joining her in less than a week. Apparently on her way to Utrecht via train someone threw themselves in front of the tracks. As she was in the first car right behind the driver, she saw the driver go into shock. This must happen a lot, as when M and I were traveling to Vienna someone threw themselves on the tracks and I felt it go “bump”. When this whole piece of Edie’s comes off, in whatever form it takes, it will be an heroic piece of art making, no lie.

Earlier in the week, we trudged up the mountain to Neuschwanstein, the castle which inspired Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” castle in the heart of Disneyland. I’d already been there and I preferred it last time as the winter fog softened its plastic-looking, 19th century edges. There were so many tourists, I bailed on the tour. While everyone else went inside I waited and watched the stream of humans going in and out, many of them American or Japanese tourists in bright, casual clothes that made them look like children– engaging in a second-hand fantasy. All aberrations removed from the fairy tale in favor of the most mundane of happy endings.

Stern conformity still hangs heavy over Munich, despite locals’ insistence that “the past is history” and that Bavaria is part of a tolerant, modern EU state. The uneasy pact with the past is all too present. And this brutal history is all too similar to what it is happening in my own country. In school, history always seemed to stop at the Nazi invasion of Poland– the summer would come before we ever got Korea or Viet Nam.

One person my age I’ve met here said she was too young to remember the war, so why talk about it all the time? But how can I not think about it when my own government cynically uses the holocaust and the “good war” as a metaphor for their bloody and bankrupt foreign policy?

At the start of our visit to Bavaria, were in the little house in Rieder, in the countryside, with my friend Nicky. After the war, this house sheltered men coming home from the front, wanderers lost in the chaos after surrender. We cooked on the wood burning stove and watched a cat stalking through the grass. Everything was green and lush outside. Cows luxuriated in the fields, their bells ringing. Poppies nodded in the wind and I still thought of war. It was impossible to be there and not feel the surreality of peace. I wonder about the ambiguity of this place, so near Dachau– idyllic and terrible at the same time. Nicky is full of stories from the woman, his mother-in-law, who grew up in the country house. She said that after the war you would see all these children running around wearing red trousers. Their mothers had cut up the Nazi flags. Got to use them for something.

Before Edie left, we went to the Haus der Kunst and I was amazed by the architecture– the old glass building was rebuilt in a heavy neoclassical style by Paul Ludwig Troost, according to Hitlers vision (himself a mediocre painter). The iron doors and massive columns support the roof’s clean, soulless planes. Some buildings give themselves away, and insist on the past even through present reinvention– the Haus der Kunst is such a place. Ivy has tried to grow over the surface, leaving dead veins to mark the cold stone– which resembles more a giant mausoleum rather than an art museum. The pictures of the Degenerate Art Show, hung in a corridor by the toiletten, revealed the Nazi’s mythopoesis of hatred. Perhaps one of my fascinations with WWII is that it always seems so shockingly allegorical.

The Haus der Kunst was currently showing Georg Petel’s Baroque sculptures of crucifixions and meaty Saint Sebastians. I peeked at the catalogue and the stuff seemed Mannerist in its purposeful distortions and risks. I would assume he was working from corpses as the tortured bodies of his sculptures were obsessively rendered. I’ve had enough in-your-face-meat to last me for a while, so I skipped out on that and instead sat watching the Gilbert & George video, a preview of their upcoming show which is now at the Tate. It was in English, and as I listened to them finishing each other’s sentences, I was surprised at their sincerity. Why had I thought they would be ironic and distant, speaking in riddles? Gilbert is Italian but has been with George in Spitalfields for 40 years now. They are Londoners, and I understand their work now, more than before, because now I am a Londoner, too. Unlike Munich, London makes room for the passionate eccentric, the willful iconoclast. How I miss it.

One thought on “…just don’t mention the war…

  1. Wow, that whole red shorts from Nazi flags image is amazing. I bet the kids, especially the country kids, just went on living and playing as if nothing had really happened. I can imagine what it must have been like to live or grow up in Germany during the war. It’s the idea of growing up after the war, aware of it, but not really old enough to take the same meaning as those who were old enough to understand what was happening, that’s weird to me.

    George Takei (Sulu) has given great interviews about being really young and interned during the war in a camp on the edge of a swamp. To him the wartime was magical, filled with all of the freedoms and explorations that are normal to childhood. He always apologizes a bit before he says it, but he basically describes being young and interned as one of the happiest times of his life.

    It’s funny, while Hitler wasn’t an imaginative painter, he was pretty competent. Whatever the limits of his abilities as a painter were, he was a far better painter than some of the kids I see coming out of grad school, high on undeserved praise and flush with their parents hard earned money.

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