Arts & Culture

The New Germany

So I am living in Germany under somewhat unusual circumstances. That is, I’m living in a castle. The castle is called Schloss Solitude and was built in the 18th century by Duke Karl-Eugen. It was actually his summer home and … Read More

By / October 22, 2008

So I am living in Germany under somewhat unusual circumstances. That is, I’m living in a castle. The castle is called Schloss Solitude and was built in the 18th century by Duke Karl-Eugen. It was actually his summer home and party palace, as it was just up the road (some 30 miles) from his main palace in Ludwisburg. Apparently he’d throw extravagant parties here in the summer, bringing everybody to the palace from Ludwisburg by horse-drawn carriage. Rumor has it the path was covered in salt – fake snow – to make it seem, well, Christmasy, I guess. In July. Oh, to be stupidly rich.   Anyhow, they’ve converted the cavalry part of the palace into studios for artists. Every two years some 2000 artists from various disciplines are invited to apply for a long-term residency here. I was one of 70 accepted (as a writer) and given a studio and a flat for 8 months, plus a stipend of 1000 euro per month. Life is pretty, well, castle-y here. It’s 30 minutes from the city of Stuttgart, in the middle of a forest, on top of a hill. So it’s quiet. I sleep well. I write, read, and in the evenings I hang out with artists from all over the world: Brazil, Poland, Indonesia, Mexico, Austria.  What else. There’s a fridge full of German beer. I walk in the forest, write poems on birch bark. No, I don’t do that. But the time to read, to write, to talk to other artists is invaluable. There is an important exchange here that goes on – many collaborations (of various kinds) begin in these castle walls. And the amazing thing is this international residency is paid for by the Baden-Wurtenberg government. I don’t know too many other countries where the state gives 1.5 million euro a year to an institution to bring artists under-35 from all over the world to make art. Sometimes there are openings of fellows’ work. There are readings, film screenings, and art festivals where people from Stuttgart come to visit. I’ve started a soccer league, and San Francisco-based artist Joshua Greene and I started up a Jewish Jogging Club together (current membership consisting of two). We throw parties, too, of course. There is something of the camp feel to this place – I mean summer camp. Some of my best experiences have been meeting German writers of my generation. The talks about history are what impress me the most. There is an awareness of history and politics that I find fascinating – a curiosity and compulsion lacking in many circles I’ve traveled in before. Given what’s gone on here the past century, the Germans of my generation have inherited a bizarre and difficult outlook on the world. My writer-friend Benjamin’s father survived Dachau, and his grandfather (on his mother’s side) was an SS-commander of a village in Ukraine.  It’s no wonder he’s a writer. Often talk turns to politics between Benjamin and I. The other day we were talking American elections. He can’t understand the big deal made about the potential next American president’s personality. “Here, in Germany, we don’t want exciting characters. We want someone who can run the country well. And who cares if Obama is an exciting speaker? We all remember what happened the last time when we had a leader who could speak passionately.” Of course, Germans have a huge obsession with Obama, as we saw in the crowds for the Berlin speech this past summer. In fact, it is often lamented that the rest of the world gets a raw deal in these matters – America affects everyone and everything so much, yet we don’t get to vote. We’re relying on Joe-the-not-plumber to decide the fate of the world. And so on and so forth. Germany in the 21st century really is an incredible confluence of forces – artistic, political, intellectual. Perhaps it is its complicated history that has made it so artistically open here. People talk about a renaissance, especially in Berlin (and especially within Germany’s wildly innovative theatre scene). Renaissance or not, I have found myself surprised to say this: I like this country and I like being a writer here.  I’ve said this openly to other Jewish artists I’ve met during my time in Germany and they echo this sentiment – there’s a growing number of American Jews and Israelis moving to Berlin. It’s a good place to be an artist right now. And we Jews who are returning, temporarily or permanently, can quickly brush up on our German, made easy, of course, by the Yiddish we were taught by our grandparents.

Jonathan Garfinkel, author of Ambivalence: Adventures in Israel and Palestine, is guest-blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week. Stay tuned.