Archive for the ‘Literary Pics’ Category

My love of Theodor Storm’s C19th novellas is well-documented on this blog, as is my admiration for his English translator, Denis Jackson, whose generous response to my Meet the Translator feature (1, 2, 3) is probably the German Literature Month highlight that will never be surpassed.

Last month I finally got the opportunity to visit Storm country, although with only 3 days, there was not enough time to visit a hallig or wander out to Hattstedt, the setting of Der Schimmelsreiter (Translated by Jackson as The Dykemaster). I did, however, walk 4km along the Husum dyke to the North Sea.


View of Husum from the dyke

Storm, famously called Husum the grey town by the sea.  Well, there wasn’t much greyness in the 3 days I was there.  Husum presented itself most colourfully, and it would appear I’m not the only person to think so.


The colourful town by the sea

With a harbour teaming with restaurants and bars serving wonderful fish dishes (best meal of the holiday for €7.00), centuries-old houses and cottages, many decorated with roses or lavender in bloom, and a café serving cakes to die for (my favourite find of the holiday), Husum is a lovely little place.

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It is, of course, made entirely special through its links to Theodor Storm, who lived just around the corner from my accommodation (literally!) . The tourist office makes it easy for those on a Storm pilgrimage, having designed a walk taking in 34 mostly Storm-related sites.  Here are a few highlights.

Firstly places where Storm lived and died.

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Secondly settings in Husum appearing in Storm’s novellas.

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The second set demonstrates the indivisibility of Storm’s narratives and the local landscape.  While Storm’s stories put Husum and the surrounding area on the map in the C19th, they continue to contribute to the success of the area down to this day. 14th September 2017 marks the bicentennial of his birth and Husum will be celebrating its most famous son with style. I’ll party along with the new Denis Jackson translation of Storm’s novella Grieshuus: Chronicle of A Family, which was pre-ordered just as soon as I heard about it!



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It all started with the publication of Hamish-Haswell Smith’s An Island Odyssey. (See my review on Shiny New Books.) and the irresistible pull of Island 14, Staffa,  the lure of Fingal’s Cave.  Staffa is uninhabited – now – and it is necessary to travel via Mull.  So, one fine sunny weekend in June, bags packed, appropriate reading material excavated from the TBR, where this fine anthology has languished for some 3 years, off we set.

Looking out to the Sound of Mull

It was an inspired choice of reading material.  As the editor Kevin MacNeil says in the prologue “I believe the poetry in this anthology is among the best that the UK has produced since the beginning of the 20th century.  Even the most objective critic will appreciate that a high proportion of the finest and most important poems of recent years have had a connection with one or other of the Scottish isles: Sorley MacLean, George Mackay Brown, Iain Crichton Smith, Edwin Muir, Hugh MacDiarmid.  And although all those “big” names are male, I hope this collection will go some way to remedying that gender imbalance, as it also showcases the strength of the great female island voices, so often underrated.”

Besides balancing gender, this anthology also spans language containing compositions originally written in English, Gaelic and Scots. The Gaelic poems are translated into English, but the Scots ones are not.  This, I thought an oversight, for Scots really isn’t that easy to read. I may have lived in Scotland for 25 years, but I haven’t picked up enough of the vernacular to understand some of the longer poems.  The poems I did understand were delightful and true companions as I meandered my way around just 2 of the 800 Scottish Isles.  They chart island culture and its loss through emigration of the younger generation to the mainland.  They chart the landscape of human emotions as well as the landscape of the islands themselves, and it was this theme that stood out for me during my first trip to the Inner Hebrides.


(Myles Campbell – translated from Gaelic)

Islands rise from the sea,
their foundations hidden
in ancient experiences.

Islands are in and out of time,
guides for the wanderer,
or submerged in time long gone.

Some are well established,
high and dark in the flood.
No storm will affect their well-formed front.

Some in lava and sulphurous grief,
sea children of torn heart.
And others, icebergs, coldly moving in the water.

Some will stand silent,
lonely – inwardly as rock –
unassuming in the heat of the day.

And there is an island in the dusk,
assured, dark, and repelling,
its foundations in a fading time.

And this island in the sunset,
island watching another island.
You decide your own form.

These tangible differences between the islands were clearly demonstrated on the trip from Mull to Staffa.

The leafiness of Ulva

The basalt stacks of Little Colonsay 

The Dutchman’s Hat of Bac Mór

 The sight of Bac Mór on the horizon and this poem are now permanently fused in my mind.

Slate, Sea and Sky 

(Norman Bissell)

An island on the rim of world
in that space, between slate, sea and sky
where air and ocean currents
are plays of wild energy
and the light changes everything.

And finally to Staffa, formed by the same slow-cooling volcanic activity as the Giant’s causeway.  Spectacular.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.


Staffa – Entrance to Fingal’s Cave

Staffa – Basalt Columns

Staffa – Hexagonal formations

Staffa – Fingal’s Cave


Inspiring.  Certainly something to sing about. If you want to invent a lyric to Mendelssohn’s overture, feel free.

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Lotte Kestner may have visited Goethe in Weimar in 1816 and Thomas Mann may have imagined the outcomes in his novel, Lotte in Weimar, but Lizzy spent 4 wonderful days there last summer.  It was, and will no doubt remain, the highlight of 2013.  So to end German Literature Month III on a high, let me recreate it in an A-Z.  Albeit an incomplete A-Z, one which will be completed when I return next summer!

Anna Amalia Behind every good man is a good woman and it appears that behind all the literary giants that inhabited 18th and early 19th century Weimar stood patroness of the arts, the Grand Duchess Anna Amalia, whose library is one of the wonders of the modern world (imo).

Many of the books in this beautiful library were originally owned by Goethe and Schiller.  In order to protect these fragile treasures, only 50 visitors are allowed in on a daily basis.  You have to be up bright and early to nab yourself a ticket!

Bauhaus A craft and fine arts movement, founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar.

I should really talk about Weimar Classicism but I found myself more fascinated by Charlotte  von Lengefeld (Schiller’s wife), Charlotte von Stein (Goethe’s lover), and Christiane Vulpius (Goethe’s mistress for 18 years before becoming his wife.)

Dumplings (Thuringian) Served with almost everything.  Very tasty with black beer stew!

Eckermann Goethe’s secretary and fellow fan of Weimar.  Penned the following,  which is my poem of the month.

Glücklich Weimar! – Von den Städten allen
Bist du, Kleine, wunderbar bedacht;
Man wird stets zu deinen Toren wallen,
Angezogen von der heil’gen Macht;
Und man wird nach großen Männern fragen,
Die in schönen Zeiten hier gestrebt,
Und mit edlem Neid wird man beklagen,
Dass man mit den Edlen nicht gelebt.

Frauenplan 1 Perhaps the most famous address in Weimar?  Who lived in a house like this for over 50 years?


None other than Johann Wolfgang von Goethe The colossus of German literature who also left an indelible stamp on the city of Weimar itself.

Johann Gottfried Herder Philosopher, theologian, poet and literary critic.  His literary theories influenced Goethe to develop his own literary style … The rest they say is history.

The river Ilm which flows through Weimar and is surrounded by the beautiful Park an der Ilm, designed by Goethe.

As Weimar launched its summer festival, I was lucky enough to spend a lovely sunny evening attending an open-air jazz concert in the market square.

Bernd Köstering has written a crime trilogy set in Weimar.  Not translated into English.   I hope to read the first two before returning to Weimar to pick up the third.

The Liszt School of Music was a source of unending delight.  Music of all kinds to be heard whenever passing by and with benches conveniently situated outside its walls, it was possible to enjoy many free mini-concerts.  The jazz concert I attended was given by students from this school.

The Market place is a veritable suntrap and is surrounded by drinking establishments of one kind or another, which makes it a perfect place for meeting up, sunning oneself and chilling down with a cool beer all at the same time.

Napoleon Bonaparte passed through Weimar in 1806 and played a not insignificant part in persuading Goethe to marry his mistress.  See V.

Ottilie – a character in Goethe’s Elective Affinities, based on Minna Herzlieb, an 18 year old girl with whom Goethe fell in love in 1807 when he was 58 and married for only one year.  Hmmmm….

Pushkin I need to find out more about how a bust of Pushkin comes to reside opposite the home of Charlotte von Stein …

Here’s a question for you?   What is Goethe doing with Schiller’s Skull?  I’ll leave you to research that but if you find the answer you’ll discover that Schiller’s coffin which lies next to Goethe’s in the ducal vault does not contain his bones at all.

Residenz am Schloß The oldest cafe in Weimar and a favourite watering hole of mine.

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller who lived in a house like this.

Weimar 2013

It’s not as grand as Goethe’s abode but had he lived beyond the age of 45, he may have acquired similar standing and wealth.  I always felt that Schiller had the potential to transcend Goethe’s brilliance.  Their relationship became a genuine friendship (despite Schiller’s cruelty to Goethe’s mistress) and Goethe was gutted when Schiller died.

The centre of Weimar is testimony to this friendship,  with the iconic statue of the two men dominating the Theaterplatz.

U – Pass.

Christiane Vulpius, Goethe’s live-in mistress for 18 years and mother of his 5 children,  of which only one survived to adulthood.  He married her in 1806 only after her quick thinking saved his life after their house was pillaged by Bonaparte’s troops in 1806.  Even then she could not go into society with him.  She was not his social equal and was despised and rejected by the Weimar court.  But Goethe must have been fond of her (despite his womanising ways – see O). He wept bitterly upon her death in 1816.  Upon which, Schiller’s widow commented: “It grieves me that he should shed tears for such objects.”  That must be a contender for catty comment of the century.

The Thuringian Rotbratwurst is another tasty treat and the proportions of the sausage in this picture are not exaggerated in the least.

X – another pass, although that won’t surprise you.

Y can I not find an entry for this letter?

And finally. Stefan Zweig’s reaction to visiting Goethe’s House  in October 1922.

Dann – ins Goethehaus … ich möchte ein Jahr hier bleiben, … Und alles bis ins Letzte lesen und studieren.

and then to Goethe’s house … I’d like to stay here for a year  … And read and study everything in the finest detail (translation mine)

Precisely.  Expect a number of Weimar related reads between now and next summer.

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I found them in Steinau an der Strasse in the grounds of the Grimm brothers’ childhood home.

Unhappy chappies these days, who have issued the following resolution:

We are furious and concerned.  We are protesting against treatment that dishonours dwarves.

We’d been warning her for years – but what does the stupid girl do?

Bites the apple!  But she lands on her feet once more.  Bags herself a royal wedding with all the trimmings.

And what do we get?  We weren’t even invited.  That’s a fact!

But worst of all?  Who will now cook, wash, sew, knit, clean and make our beds?

An offended male union.

(Catch up with other Grimm characters here.)


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Nestled in the hills of Hessen is the tiny village of Bergfreiheit, home to the seven dwarves.  On the day of my trip, the mine was closed. Neither were the famous inhabitants to be found at Snow White’s house. I caught up with the dwarves and Snow White as they were meandering merrily across the meadow.

Hi ho!

From a distance they appear carefree.  Can’t have that, said the wicked witch.  I’ll sort Grumpy out.

Some people have no idea how to travel light!

Having warmed up, it was time to get serious.

No apples today, Snow White. Would you like a peach?

This madness was induced by Karen Duve’s subversive tales in Grrrimm published last year to coincide with the Brothers Grimm bi-centennial.

Ever wonder what  made Grumpy that way?  Or whether Snow White was as pure as the driven snow? Did the wicked stepmother really exist?  Did Snow White and the Prince live happily ever after?  Your expectations will be turned upside down because Grumpy’s narrating and telling it as it really was.

My favourite in this 5-story collection is Der geduldige Prinz (The Patient Prince), Sleeping Beauty retold with a focus on the prince, who loved her but who was fated was to be outside the castle walls at the moment of her encounter with the spindle.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Sababurg

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Sababurg

The only thing he can do is look after himself and wait out the 100 years.  By which time, he must don not one, but two, vests before mounting a donkey to ride off to claim his bride.  Does he, despite his face looking like a Kohlrabi mit Frostschäden (a frost-damaged turnip) succeed in his quest?  Unexpectedly so thanks to many unexpected adventures and character changes.

The 5th story, the longest, is Little Red Riding Hood for the Twilight generation.  The big bad wolf is still on the prowl ….


and he/it/they are werewolves.  Never were the sexual/Freudian undertones in the original so clear.

These stories are clever and more than a little sardonic.  I love the small detail of the two vests mentioned above, tucked effortlessly into a subordinate clause but evoking  an vivid picture of a doddery Don Quixote-like adventurer.  As for the negotiations that took place after Sleeping Beauty’s curse had been pronounced ….negotiations?  Yes, indeed and they are hilarious.

Duve’s previous novels, Rain and This is not a Love Song (reviewed here), have been translated into English.  Someone should translate these stories too.  They may be Grrrimm but they’re grrreat!

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I’ve just spent a couple of weeks on the Brother Grimm Straße in Germany. It was a great opportunity to catch up with some characters to find out how their careers are progressing ….

Snow White now runs a nursery ….


and Rapunzel is a hair-stylist.


Red Riding Hood has escaped the clutches of the big, bad wolf and become the producer of (some lovely, if I may say so) sparking wines.


However career change is not de rigeur. Because the rats are still scurrying,


the Pied Piper continues to play his hypnotic tunes.


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Continuing my exploration of the West of Scotland in this glorious spring weather  ……

Here we are approaching the Isle of Arran, Brodick Castle nestled in the trees, and …

Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran

….. captured for posterity, I finally set foot on one of its islands after 22 years of living in Scotland. 

It really was a special day,  probably the best day weatherwise that we’ve had for years!  I’m not too impressed with the bus service – one bus every 2.5 hours (!) Even so we managed to tour Brodick Castle and its beautiful country park.

Brodick Castle - Entrance View

Brodick Castle Gardens - View from Castle Entrance

I’m afraid the literary links were scarce,  though I did find a host of golden daffodils.  Wordsworth, not the Scottish bard, I’m afraid.

Golden Daffodils

Unexpected German connections emerging …. a Bavarian summerhouse overlooking the Firth of Clyde built by the 12th Duke of Hamilton for his German bride, Princess Marie of Baden.

Bavarian Summer House

Bavarian Summer House - Pine Cone Ceiling

The interior ceiling bedecked with pine cones sourced from the castle’s gardens.

We moved further north to the Isle of Arran Distillery. (The focal point of any visit to any Scottish island, surely). 

Isle of Arran Distillery

Tucked in beneath the peaks, miles from anywhere ….our arrival was mistimed.  We missed the start of one tour and the next was full.  There was nothing for it but to sample the produce and enjoy a wee dram while waiting for the bus back.  The distillery on Arran is Scotland’s newest and the only distillery with a licence to print a picture of Robert Burns on its produce.  (See we got the to Scottish literary link eventually. )

The Burn Malt

There’s obviously something in the water because the wildlife came down from the hills seeking refreshment for themselves. As Burns himself said Freedom and Whisky Gang Thegither.

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