Berlin is a very flat city, but did you know that Berlin has a hill? And there’s an artificial waterfall running down it, which gets turned off in winter to stop the pipes freezing! But in the summer, it’s on and the sight and sound of running water from the top of Viktoriapark in the middle of the city is something to be savoured.
This month, a wholehearted double recommendation for you: Simon Winder’s Germania and Danubia, packed with anecdotes and revelations, by an author with a clear fondness for the many idiosyncrasies and oddities of Germany and Austria – and by one who shows that they’re not so very different to Britain, after all…!
Dutch citizen, Willem Arondeus was gay man, painter, novelist and art historian, who did all he could to impede the Nazis in their occupation of Holland. He authored periodicals calling upon fellow artists and workers to commit acts of civil disobedience and to resist the occupiers wherever possible. Alongside others, including the lesbian musician Frieda Belinfante and Stedelijk Museum curator Willem Sandberg, Arondeus began to prepare false documents for Dutch Jews, allowing them to conceal their true identity. When the Nazis started closing in on the plot, Arondeus duped guards on duty at the Amsterdam Public Records Office and bombed the building, destroying countless files. He was among a dozen resistance fighters shot within a week of the attack, and in his last known words (a letter from prison as he awaited execution) he implored: ‘Let it be known that homosexuals are not cowards.’
I would like to recommend the movie, ‘The Invisibles’ by Claus Raefle from 2017. It’s a part documentary, part dramatisation film that depicts the fates of some of the approximately 7000 Jewish Germans who went into hiding in Berlin during WWII. Footage of interviews with four of the survivors is intercut with dramatic re-enactments to tell a remarkable story of courage and tenacity.
A book that is more than deserving of its bestseller status, Norman Ohler’s ‘Blitzed‘ is an examination of drug addiction in Nazi Germany. The book’s real fascination lies not in its graphic depiction of Hitler’s long-suspected habits, wrought from the medical notes of Dr. Theodor Morell, but in the revelation of what Ohler calls a ‘doping mentality’: the consistent intoxication of the German people through readily-available methamphetamine during the years of WWII. Painstakingly researched, this book certainly might prompt you to re-examine the history of the Third Reich.
Dr. Gisele Freund (1928-2000), Jewish artist from Berlin-Schöneberg, student at the ‘Frankfurt School’ of sociologist Theodor Adorno, considered photography integral to political activism. Freund first photographed her fellow socialist students to document their mistreatment by Nazi thugs. In March 1933, Freund followed her friend, sociologist Walter Benjamin, in fleeing to Paris, with strips of photographic negatives hidden under her clothes. She went on to live with the lesbian couple Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia Beach, owners of the famous Parisian bookstore ‘Shakespeare and Company’. In 1947, Freund became the first woman to work for Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photography agency, Magnum, and would famously photograph Frida Kahlo, Man Ray, Simone De Beauvoir, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and the most elusive James Joyce. The USA denied her a visa for her leftist views in 1954, and she was ejected from Argentina after publishing photographs of Evan Perón bedecked with opulent jewels. In 1980, Freund became the first woman to receive France’s ‘Grand Prix National des Arts.’