…Mahler 3 tonight (Deutsche Symphonie Orchester – Berlin) and Der Rosenkavalier tomorrow (Staatsoper).

The view from the top corner of Section E-Left at the Philharmonie:


That’s slightly lower and around towards stage right than my last seat at the Philharmonie, and I have to say I liked this one a little better.  Good view of the orchestra, almost to the point where you felt a part of the group, looking out at the audience (maybe that was just me – I miss playing so damn much).  Didn’t help that Mahler 3 is one of those great horn pieces, and the horn section were all playing 103s (well I couldn’t tell with the first two – they might have had 503s).

Aside: realized tonight that you can always tell who’s playing an Alex from a distance, not by looking at the bell diameter, not by spotting the flipped change valve, but by watching them empty the water out. The Alex being the quirky instrument that it is – for starters, the change valve reverses the airstream through the valve section – there’s a specific order to how you empty it out, and it’s pretty distinctive, especially when you don’t have an aftermarket water key like I do.

The guy playing 6th had what looked like my horn’s twin, and it sounded like he had the same flaky Db. Being a professional, his sounded a hell of a lot less flaky than mine – of course, that might have been because he didn’t have to blend in with a bunch of damn Holton 179s and Conn 6Ds (which is 90 percent of my problem).

The icing was the performance by one of the best mezzos anywhere, Anne Sofie von Otter. Of course, because she’s something like 6 foot 2, they had to put her on a podium behind the second violins, which essentially made her 7 feet tall – I sort of wish I had a picture just for the scary factor.

All of that, however, wasn’t even the best part. The conductor, who doesn’t use a baton, somehow lost a cuff link during the final movement – I have no idea how, no idea when – and then near the end, when the music got a bit more emotional and he was waving his arms a bit more, his french cuff fell out of his jacket sleeve and unfolded over his hand. Of course, this was his right hand, his denoter, and from my vantage point, I got to watch him try and jam the cuff back into his sleeve every 15 seconds or so, whenever his left hand was close enough to make it somewhat surreptitious. No such luck, and he ended the concert with at least 8 inches of white fabric hanging out of his right sleeve.

I haven’t had that much fun since the great MacNamara cummerbund creep of ’98.


Here’s the short version:




Smoking gun!


Other people doing work for me (but old enough to count as “primary source”)!

Well, the good news is that the newspaper clipping files have contained a lot of really good stuff (always nice to have someone else doing the work for me). Of course, this means that I’ve done nothing but transcribe newspaper articles for the past three days. I am glad that I went out and bought a small German keyboard to help with the typing:


No more umlaut- and eszett-cramps for me, then, but still, typing for 6+ hours solid every day starts to wear on you, and I’m only halfway through the clipping files (actually, today, I made it through something like 1/8 of one clipping file). It doesn’t help that I’m looking for the really long articles, the exposes and such that have a lot of good info in them – short articles aren’t all that useful at this point. (I’m really happy when I find english-language articles, though, from the NYT or Times or Guardian, because in the Anglosphere, we put our newspaper archives online, where articles can be searched and printed off, and therefore I don’t have to transcribe them…somebody ought to tell the Germans…)

I am getting to the point, though, where I could just write my presentation for next April’s ESSHC and be done with it (but where’s the fun in that – the whole point of conference papers is to be typing away like mad until 5 minutes after the expected turn-in time).

However, I still need to find some way to look through additional newspapers. Unfortunately, the clipping files only go up to 1957 (I think the guy in charge of them must have keeled over from the glue fumes), so that leaves a bit of a gap until the end of my research. I’d also like a few citations from Germany’s major news magazine, Der Spiegel, to help round things out. Looks like I’ll be warming up the microfilm reader after all – but at least those can do printouts.

German Beer(s) of the week…

18 September 2009


Yes, it’s a full liter of beer, and yes, I’ll be drinking it all tonight (hopefully) as a public service for those who have never had a Berliner Weisse (and honestly, you couldn’t even get this stuff at Holiday Market, so I know you haven’t). Granted, Black Lotus did have that raspberry weisse on tap last winter sometime, and that was pretty good, but this is the home of Weisse, so we’ll see how it stacks up.

What is it? Well, a low alcohol (3% abv) beer made with barley and wheat (hence weisse, same as a weissbier down in Bavaria) and a peculiar strain of yeast that gives the beer sort of a sour taste.  Trying the beer from the blue bottle in the middle (“the original”), I can see what they mean – a clean feel (not malty at all) but with some pretty weird yeast esters (I’d love to get this yeast and toss it in with some cider). However, it’s not undrinkable (an important point later), and I actually really like it straight like this. To be honest, it’s pretty easy-drinking, and given the low abv (and probable malt bill), it’s the best damn light beer I’ve ever had.

Now, here’s the thing about weisse – at some point, Berliners decided that they didn’t like the sour-tasting beer, and that what it really needed was some extra sweetness and flavor, and so they started tossing in a shot of flavoring syrup when the beer was served (not all that different from how some, mostly older, Germans will toss a shot of bitters, like Jägermeister, into a glass of beer).  Gradually, the two most common flavorings became red (raspberry) and green (something called waldmeister – forest-master), and anywhere that serves Weisse in the city will have those two options. Now you can even buy the beer with the flavoring already bottled in, hence the two other bottles in the picture.

Moving onto the red stuff, it’s actually not bad, and not sickly sweet like I expected. Apparently fake raspberry flavor in Germany isn’t as fake as fake raspberry in the US. Surprisingly, it’s a little more sour-tasting than the original, and it has a strange, almost breakfast-cereal aftertaste (must be the combination of malt and fruity flavoring…)

I can’t say the same nice things about the green stuff.


Not only does it look positively awful (and this coming from a person who really likes the color green, of course), but the flavor is inexplicable. It’s not quite gag-you bad, but it’s not particularly good, either. It has about the same level of sweetness as the raspberry, but where that was a good surprise with the red stuff, it’s not that exciting here. It’s pretty rare that I can’t finish a beer, but this one just doesn’t seem worth it.

Final verdict – just drink the damn stuff straight, but if you must, red is far superior to green.

After 11 days in the Landesarchiv, 64 typed pages of notes (single-spaced, too!), 30 handwritten pages of notes and another 60 copies requested, I’m taking a day off.  Well, sort of – I’ll be using it to catch up on my online course grading, so that I’ll be completely caught up after the Angel-caused backup of the first two assignments. Of course, I wouldn’t be taking a day off the archive work if I weren’t feeling really good about the research.  I finally found that file I was hoping existed – the one with the complete yearly reports on refugee issues – and while it wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped (earlier years were mostly statistical reports, less than years like 1958 or 1959, which had long explanations for tables) it was still really useful.  I now have a complete narrative of the years 1950-1961 from the Berlin administration’s point of view, and I’ve even stumbled onto a few nuggets that will occupy prime spots in my dissertation, including an anecdote that allows me to bring in a little Heinrich Issac (here’s to you, Paul Barte!) right at the beginning of chapter 1.

Also, if I’m really excited on Monday, it’s because the file I requested today is also ridiculously helpful. I was paging through one of the finding aids yesterday when I realized that one section of the city’s press office kept a file of newspaper clippings, organized by topic. Three whole folders were labeled as dealing with refugees, and if they’re half as useful as they should be, I might have to spend a lot less time paging through microfilms at the Staatsbibliothek looking for the occasional mentions. Right now, I’m feeling that all I really need to break this dissertation open are a few newspaper articles and some corroboration of the Berlin stuff I’m finding in other states (Lower Saxony, here I come) and in the federal archives. I’ve got the public opinion stuff already, I have all of the international attention covered and with it the social science research stuff.

I really don’t know how the heck some people can do this kind of research for months at a time.  At the rate I’ve plowed through catalog references, I’m thinking budgeting two months in Berlin was a pretty pessimistic approach. Hopefully I won’t run out of time in Koblenz, though by that time I hope I’m just filling in gaps – I’m a bit surprised at how much of what’s in the files in the Berlin archives consists of copies of Federal-level communications and meetings.  That means there’s a lot of stuff I shouldn’t need to worry about when I get to Koblenz.


Flipping through files…flipping through files…hey, that name looks familiar!

No, I have no idea who he is, other than the chair of some sort of cultural committee, and he only appeared in this document and the next one, a list of attendees at an advisory council meeting.

Just because I haven’t written much lately about my time in the archives doesn’t mean that time is going badly. Rather, it’s probably going too well. The first few days at the LAB I found a few nice little tidbits that will have a small place in my dissertation: the original plan for a reception camp in Spandau, the organization of a quarantine camp for TB patients to prevent them infecting other refugees (no flying to West Germany for them), Ernst Lemmer calling an esteemed urban planner “a good man, but also something of a psychopath.”

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, through Friday, I managed to find a massive amount of material that goes to the heart of my research, much of which I transcribed directly into my computer from the German files (I did order about €25 in copies, but that was just to save me from another whole week of transcriptions).  These included yearly, half-yearly, monthly, and half-monthly reports of refugee arrivals (today, actually, I found the daily reports for several months, but beyond the statistics, there wasn’t much interesting there).

Reams of good information, but really well hidden in a lot of other, not quite as useful files. Now, the ongoing S-Bahn catastrophe has forever buried the caricature of Germans as well-organized and efficient, but this filing thing is still surprising to me: why are the 1957 and 1958 yearly reports in two completely different archival sections? I’ve even tried to figure out which government department compiled the reports, but whoever did, they didn’t label any files “material collected while compiling yearly refugee reports, 1952-1960” (actually, if they did, and it showed up on my desk tomorrow, I’d probably cry – and consider taking out another student loan to copy the whole damn thing, and then just going home to Cleveland).

The centerpiece of a lot of the stuff I’ve collected over the past week is the debate over the so-called ‘rejected’ refugees – those who were determined to have no political or safety-related rationale for fleeing East Germany. For as much attention as they’ve received in the German books on this period (and English-language books are still pretty rare), they seem to have been the subject of a huge debate within Berlin’s city administration and between the city and the west German government, punctuated with a lot of rhetoric calling these individuals – German citizens all – “illegals” (I love it!). Needless to say, I’ve got my paper for next year’s ESSHC in Ghent completely mapped out, and with it a good portion of the third chapter of my dissertation.

Yeah, so I’m feeling good about that – well enough to celebrate over the past weekend with Philharmonic tickets and a bottle of Berliner Kindl Pils:


It’s a pretty average German pilsener – solid malt flavor, but not that rich (kinda like what Bud and MGD would probably taste like if they used 100% barley), with a good, though not particularly memorable, hop flavor. Not as tasty as the bock, but it’s a totally different kind of beer, and to be honest, neither one of them is what Berliner Kindl is really known for…

I’m working up the guts to try that, and the first thing I’ll have to do is choose a color (red or green)…

The view from my seat…

12 September 2009


View from section K of the Philharmonie, not long before the Berlin Philharmonic played a great concert of Berg, Dessau, and Shostakovich.

Pretty much the coolest thing ever.

1959: Some guy in the American mission in Berlin can’t figure out what the heck is going on during the refugee screening process in Berlin.  Tells this to his subordinate, who goes out and writes a two page memo laying it out very nicely.  Subordinate sends it over to the city administration for fact-checking, and they make a copy and file it away.

2009: I’m writing a dissertation chapter on the refugee screening process in Berlin.  I open a file in the Landesarchiv, and right there, in English (of all languages), is this exact memo.

Yeah, it was that kind of day in the archives (sure as hell made up for the 1.5 km walk from the nearest U-Bahn station).


I don’t know…it just sorta happens…