Apologies for the lateness of this post, but as I have been out of the country I think I have a fairly good excuse.
Last week, to avoid my pile of essays which are currently tucked away where I can’t see them, I ran away to Berlin for a few days. This post is largely an explanation of why this was definitely relevant to my coursework and not just a jolly to the continent.
Over the last term I have been studying Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, a fantastic novel by a German writer who taught at UEA before his death in 2001. The book is about one man’s journey to find out about his past after discovering that as a child he was evacuated out of Prague to escape the Nazis. It was originally written in german and is obviously about a very dark time in Germany’s history, something that would have been personal for Sebald, so I have worried that something might have been lost in translation, that some of the power is reduced when read in a different context. Rereading it in Berlin felt special because like the novel, the city walks a fine line between remembering and respecting its past whilst trying to break away towards a new future.
Sebald was also known for his use of photos throughout his novels, blending reality with fiction. So, whilst in Berlin I went to an exhibition of Vivian Maier’s photographs; she was a street photographer in Chicago and New York during the 50’s and 60’s, who without any training managed to take beautiful, professional quality photographs of everyday life.
None of the subjects of Maier’s photographs would have had the chance to see these pictures, many of them didn’t even know they were being photographed. The uncanny thing about these images is that they all have what Roland Barthes termed, ‘a certificate of presence’, each photo inspires a story in your head, and yet these are all real moments… long story short, it got the little grey cells in the brain thinking over ideas for my essay.
Besides capturing professional quality photos of the streets of US cities, Maier was also an early supporter of the selfie – something that was much harder to do without the aid of a front facing camera.
If you’d like to know more about her there is a documentary which can probably be found online called, ‘Finding Vivian Maier’. Whilst I haven’t yet seen it myself it has won quite a few awards so I imagine that it’s pretty good.
Besides pretending that this was a totally justified research trip, I also spent a day on Museum Island (only 9 euros for a student!), and attended a meet-up called ‘Hacks and Hackers’, which is designed to bring together journalists and those who work in the tech industry. (Not the usual thing I do when on holiday, but I was staying with my friend Lucy who was one of the organisers.) Data journalism wasn’t something I was even aware of before so it was very enlightening, even if some of the technical language went over my head.
Berlin is a great city for students, there are lots of student discounts, endless places to explore, and, if you’re into that kind of thing, some of the best clubs in the world (apparently).
Lastly, I’d like to thank Lucy and Nick again for being the best hosts imaginable, thank you for sharing your home and your city with me.
Until next time, auf widersehen!