From Berlin to New York: the origins of Blue Note

From Berlin to New York:  the origins of Blue Note

There was still a fortnight to go when the postman handed me an early Christmas present.  Out of the blue, and unprecedented, I was the lucky winner of a competition. The prize was a copy of Uncompromising Expression by Richard Havers, a massive, magnificent and beautifully-illustrated book published by Thames and Hudson (who awarded me the prize) to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the coolest and best-known label in the history of jazz. With the book came a poster and a 5-CD box set of 75 singles released by Blue Note in the past 75 years. Continue reading “From Berlin to New York: the origins of Blue Note”

Germany: monuments and memories

Germany: monuments and memories


Among the gifts I received for Christmas was Neil MacGregor’s hefty Germany: Memories of a Nation. Having listened to the radio series and visited the accompanying exhibition at the British Museum, it was a welcome one.  So far, I’ve only had time to read the opening chapter, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the text does not consist simply of a transcript of the radio scripts.

Instead, the book – though it closely follows the pattern of the thirty radio episodes – has provided MacGregor with the opportunity to extend and enhance both previous versions of the material.  It’s a handsome book, lavishly illustrated – whereas the BBC website accompanying the radio broadcasts was not. Compared to the 100 Objects website, this time the BBC did not even illustrate all thirty ‘objects’ that were the main subject of the radio episodes, let alone the many other objects, buildings, etc, to which he referred during his talks.  Moreover, the text is prefaced by some excellent maps, illustrating the shifting boundaries of the ‘German lands’ – one of MacGregor’s main themes. Continue reading “Germany: monuments and memories”

Germany: Memories of a Nation

Germany: Memories of a Nation

This week Neil MacGregor’s superb series for BBC Radio 4, Germany: Memories of a Nation, reaches its conclusion – fittingly timed to coincide with Germany’s Schicksalstag, or Fateful Day, the ninth of November. In our lifetime it’s the opening of the Berlin wall on 9 November 1989 that we all remember. But, strangely, a succession of significant events in German history have occurred on 9 November. In 1938, in the Kristallnacht, synagogues and Jewish property were burned and destroyed on a large scale; in 1923 it was Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch, marking the early emergence of his Nazi Party on Germany’s political landscape; in Berlin on 9 November 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and two German republics were proclaimed – the social democratic one that was eventually known as the Weimar Republic, and Karl Liebknecht’s Free Socialist Republic; further back, in 1848, the year of revolutions, on 9 November Robert Blum, the democratic left liberal leader was executed by Austrian troops, leading to hopes for a united, democratic Germany being extinguished for another half century. Continue reading “Germany: Memories of a Nation”

Kathe Kollwitz’s ‘Grieving Parents’ at Vladslo: ‘Seed Corn Must Not Be Ground’

Kathe Kollwitz’s ‘Grieving Parents’ at Vladslo: ‘Seed Corn Must Not Be Ground’

Even though I’d been there on two previous occasions, there was one place to which I had to return before I finished my brief exploration of the memorials and cemeteries of the western front.  In Flanders, near to Dixmuide, north of Ypres, there is a German military cemetery where the son of the artist Kathe Kollwitz is buried.  It was there, in 1932, that Kollwitz’s memorial to her lost son was unveiled, consisting of the figures of herself and her husband grieving for the loss of their youngest child.  It is, I believe, one of the finest – and most deeply moving – artworks created in response to the devastation of the First World War. Continue reading “Kathe Kollwitz’s ‘Grieving Parents’ at Vladslo: ‘Seed Corn Must Not Be Ground’”

Judith Kerr, the tiger, and the pink rabbit that Hitler stole

Judith Kerr, the tiger, and the pink rabbit that Hitler stole

One of the best things about being the parent of a young child was being able to read children’s books.  Like countless parents in the last 40-odd years, among the books we read to our daughter when she was small were Judith Kerr’s books – the Mog series and The Tiger Who Came To Tea. When older, Sarah would herself read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, and so I had a vague notion that Judith Kerr’s own story was bound up with the horror of Nazi Germany.

When I saw a trailer for this week’s Imagine – in which Alan Yentob accompanied Kerr as she  revisited Berlin, the city where she grew up and which she was forced to flee as a nine-year old as the Nazis closed in on her father, an outspoken opponent of the Nazis – I was compelled to watch. Continue reading “Judith Kerr, the tiger, and the pink rabbit that Hitler stole”

Alone In Berlin: resistance is futile?

Alone In Berlin: resistance is futile?

To read Every Man Dies Alone, Fallada’s testament to the darkest years of the 20th century, is to be accompanied by a wise, sombre ghost who grips your shoulder and whispers into your ear: “This is how it was. This is what happened”.
– Liesl Schillinger, New York Times Book Review

Every Man Dies Alone is the original German title of the novel by Hans Fallada published in English as Alone in Berlin, which I have just finished reading.  The novel was published in German in 1947, only a few months before the author’s death.  It is extraordinary that this excellent English translation by Michael Hofmann only appeared in 2009. Continue reading “Alone In Berlin: resistance is futile?”

Kathe Kollwitz Pieta in Berlin

I wrote yesterday about my visit to Berlin ten years ago. One sight that left a lasting impression was  the Kathe Kollwitz Pieta in the Neue Wache,  a Greek temple-like building on the Unter den Linden. When the wall fell, this memorial to the victims of fascism was transformed into a new national memorial with this replica of Kathe Kollwitz’s  ‘Mother and Her Dead Son’. The inscription reads, ‘To the victims of war and tyranny’. It seems a fitting theme for a post on this day. Continue reading “Kathe Kollwitz Pieta in Berlin”

Wings of Desire

I’m ready
Ready for the laughing gas
I’m ready
Ready for what’s next
Ready to duck
Ready to dive
Ready to say
I’m glad to be alive
I’m ready
Ready for the push…

-U2, ‘Zoo Station’

Berlin on TV tonight  – the 20th-anniversary celebrations.  I made my own in the company of two magnificent works inspired by the city in the period just before and just after the Wall came down: U2’s Achtung Baby and Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire. Continue reading “Wings of Desire”

Visiting Berlin on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Wall

Brandenburg Gate - 10th anniversary celebration clear-up

Clearing up at the Brandenburg Gate after the 10th anniversary celebration

Ten years ago today I flew into Berlin on the inaugural flight of Virgin’s budget route from Manchester, landing at Schonefeld Airport. I wanted to be in Berlin on the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Wall, and arrived just as they were clearing up after the previous night’s festivities. So today I thought I’d post a few photos I took on that visit, supplemented by one or two others. Continue reading “Visiting Berlin on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Wall”

9 November 1989: ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’

Though nothing will drive them away
We can be heroes just for one day
We can be us, just for one day

I can remember
Standing by the wall
And the guns, shot above our heads
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall

And the shame was on the other side
Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes just for one day
We can be heroes
We can be heroes just for one day

– Heroes, David Bowie

On 9 November 1989, three days before this iconic photograph was taken, the East German government – amid some confusion – announced that anyone wishing to visit the West would be granted a visa. Ecstatic crowds surged at the Berlin Wall and guards were left with no choice but to open the various gates and checkpoints. That night ended  forty years of division between East and West Berlin. I was born three months into the Berlin blockade and airlift; on the night of 9 November 1989 I watched as Newsnight broadcast the amazing scenes from Berlin, a five-year old daughter asleep upstairs, dreaming, perhaps, of a brave new world. Continue reading “9 November 1989: ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’”

A kiss seals Honecker’s fate

A kiss seals Honecker’s fate

Twenty years ago today, massive demonstrations in East Germany finally bore fruit when Erich Honecker was forced to step down as party leader. Tension had been building in East Germany for weeks. In August Hungary had removed its physical border defences with Austria, and in September more than 13,000 East German tourists in Hungary escaped to Austria.  This set began chain of events.  East Germans flooded the West German embassy in Budapest and refused to leave. This triggered  similar events in Czechoslovakia. The East German authorities allowed the East Germans in the Prague embassy  to leave for West Germany, providing that they used a train which crossed East Germany on the way. Continue reading “A kiss seals Honecker’s fate”