…but I finally got my first German haircut.

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Have I had better haircuts? Yes. Cheaper? At €10, not since the $5 ‘110 Special’ at the Court Street Regis in Athens. Will I be seeing David the day after I get home in December? Definitely. At least it’s out of my ears (and be glad I don’t have a ‘before’ picture of the back of my neck…)

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Yes, it’s a board game based on The Pillars of the Earth (one of my all-time favorites, and at least partly to blame for the four years of my life spent studying medieval history).  Strategy-type card/board games like this are really big business in Germany (think Settlers of Catan, another game I’d love to play if I could find people to play it with), and the fact that this one won the 2007 Spielerpreis (actually kinda prestigious) means that it’s probably pretty good. Unfortunately, of course, it’s in German, which probably means that it would eventually occupy the space underneath the CSI board game on our shelf (as in, played even less).

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Finally, an evening where it’s not cold and rainy (in fact, just cold), and I can go out and see all of the buildings lit up for the annual Festival of Lights in Berlin. Yep, they don’t even bother to translate it into German – no idea why. There’s stuff all over the city, but tonight I just walked down the main street in the central district, Unter den Linden. Mostly, it gave me a chance to mess with the various manual exposure times and aperture settings on our Canon point-and-shoot.

Started off at Pariser Platz, with the Brandenburger Tor:

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Unfortunately, the only tripod I had was a mini Gorillapod, so almost all of these pictures were taken from bench level, where I could keep the camera steady. Even so, as long as random people didn’t wander in front of me too much, most of the pictures turned out decently.

On Unter Den Linden, the linden trees were all lit up in different colors, too:

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I even took a few looking straight up from the benches:

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At the other end, the cathedral had this really cool projected-pattern thing going on, but it was really hard to photograph. I messed around with settings for a good ten minutes before I finally got something decent and decided to move on (the benches around there are all stone, and really cold):

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That probably would have been even cooler if they’d turned off those lights in the second floor windows…

Finally, I got a ton of pictures of the TV tower in different colors with my gorillapod wrapped around a railing 30 feet above the river Spree (thankfully, the camera didn’t fall in)…

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That’s all, now back to work.

Hannover

12 October 2009

Well, I’ve been in Hannover for a day now, and I can record a few first impressions:

One, I love this kind of city. Berlin is fun and all, but I’m much more of a medium-city guy than a big-city guy. It’s nice being in a city where everything is close – from my hotel overlooking the market square and old city hall, it’s less than 1 km to the rail station, or two subway stops, and maybe 500 meters to the archive (I could take the subway one stop, but honestly, it’s not really worth the fare unless there’s four feet of snow on the ground). That and the entire main shopping area consists of the 12 blocks square or so between here and the station, all of which is pedestrian zone. For all of its size, Berlin is a lot more decentralized, and the peculiarities of its history have kept it from developing the sort of pedestrianized commercial area that every other German city (and town, and most every village) has. Yes, it’s a bit provincial, and no, it doesn’t have the kind of cultural offerings that make Berlin so great on weekends, but as a native Clevelander, that’s a bit more in my comfort zone.

Two, the archive is great. I do wish I were doing a bit more work here, but I can see coming back someday and going through this archive with the same fine-toothed comb I was using in the Landesarchiv Berlin. On the whole, they’re even more laid back than the LAB, too – you submit your file slips, they bring you the files at your table (!) and when you want to keep something overnight, you just put it on a shelf and mark it with your name. That and one of the archivists  bent over backwards to help me out today, getting a whole stack of files ordered and delivered from an offsite storage facility 12 km south of here in less than three hours. When you only have three days in a place, that’s unbeatable service – much appreciated, and someone is getting serious thanks in my acknowledgments (now if I only had a way to figure out her name!).

Tomorrow will be the marathon of my entire research trip – Tuesdays and Thursdays the archive is open from 8 AM to 6:30 PM, and my goal is to stay the entire day (well, minus a quick trip out for lunch). I was there for 7.5 hours today, but more than 10 will be a real test of my sitting in one place and typing skills.

On my way to Hannover later, but for now, the weekend’s alcohol update…

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This week it’s Kloster Scheyern, which has a full-window display at the local drinks shop. It’s a Helles (a light colored, but not quite light) lager from what is presumably a monastery near Munich, and if that label were a bit clearer, you could make out that the monastery has been around since 1119 and that they know a bit of Latin. Granted, the beer hasn’t been around since 1119, but even so, it has an interesting character. It’s a bit more bitter than I expected, but without excessive hops flavor – to me, that indicates that their yeast is contributing something to the final product (which I like). It’s just enough to make you think that downing four or five would be a really bad idea, which isn’t that bad of a thing, given that – like most German beers – it comes in a 500 ml bottle.

Bonus, from Friday (and yes, I have half a bottle left)…

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It’s a Messmer Grauburgunder, from the Pfalz (near where I’ll be next month), which illustrates two of my favorite things about German wines in Germany. One, they’re really inexpensive, even given alcohol taxes – this bottle was less than 7 Euros, which translates to about $10, maybe a bit less if you can work out the differences in tax rates. Two, you know when the Germans put Grauburgunder on their wines, they’re not aiming for the pinot grigio market. Even though they’re made from the exact same grape, almost everything else about the finished product is completely different. While not as well-balanced as a really good Alsatian pinot gris, this grauburgunder is pretty solid, and not particularly acidic. Not a terrible choice for a cool and rainy weekend in northern Germany.

#1 (and pretty much the only thing that I could really use less of) – unnecessary classification. I hadn’t run into any classification issues in Berlin the first five weeks, but once I started to request files from the Department of Internal Affairs this week, that changed. Now, I have no problem with certain sorts of classification – there are good reasons to keep things private while individuals are still alive, for example – but I can’t stand it when archives and government departments keep stuff under classification without any real rationale.

Case in point – I requested some files on Monday, for delivery Tuesday. Tuesday morning there was a note on my stack in the records room that one of the files was under classification, and I’d have to file an application stating my research aims to be granted access. I did that, and fully expected to get the files on Wednesday. Good news is, I did – when I showed up, the regular records guy wasn’t there, but his assistant was, and gave me a whole stack of records, some of which were marked protected until 2030 (which tells me they’re under the 60-year protection, unlike most of my files, which were under 30-year). But I have them, and I spend the entire day transcribing things, making notes, etc.

When I go to take them back, at 4:30, the regular archive guy was back, and he got irritated with me, because I apparently wasn’t supposed to be using them because my application hadn’t been approved yet. Of course, I did explain to him that it was his assistant who had retrieved the files, which meant that he couldn’t be too irritated with me, but it also meant that the sections I had marked to photocopy weren’t going to get copied until I could get the form approved (not to mention that I hadn’t quite made it through all of the files, either).

Extra paperwork is, of course, only a mild irritation. The really irritating thing about the whole episode was that most of the material in the files were duplicates of stuff I saw three weeks ago in the files of the Department of Social Affairs. Clearly, anyone who looked at the files could see that there was no reason to keep them classified, but for whatever reason, they won’t be completely public for another 20 years.

Oh well – if nothing else, I do have my transcribed notes (they’re not taking those away from me). I’m hoping I don’t have any similar problems next week in Hannover – with only three days in those archives, and a whole list of files to check out, I really don’t have time for stupid archive stuff.

Well, it’s either finish up my grading or write a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for a week now. Blog wins, mostly because my students, while quite good at regurgitating facts they’ve read, are pretty bad at actually reading the question we’ve asked them to write on.

Not that I have that much to write on from the archive. I picked up another 18 Euros worth of photocopies and I need to order a few more. I’m busy filling in gaps in the source record – I’m beginning to think that the second guy to hold the position of Senator for Labor and Social Affairs was either exceptionally lazy or had poor organizational skills. I have a ton of stuff from his predecessor, and a good bit from later in his term, but there’s a period of two or three years where sources are still pretty light on the ground. Good news is, the stuff from the early part of the ’50s is so great that it will basically dominate the planned chapter, with the second half of the decade being more about settling into a routine that (conveniently) didn’t require as much paperwork or discussion. That’s what we call historiography!

That said, I did do some interesting things outside of the archives, so here goes – the last week or so in pictures:

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Staatsoper! I was in the second ring, in the last section to the right (stage left). I couldn’t see that well, though, so I took advantage of the house only being half full to move a section toward the middle. Rosenkavalier was great (as a horn player, there’s not another opera I’d rather play, with perhaps one exception – see below), though I thought that the mezzo singing the title role (Octavian, the male romantic lead, played by a woman, who spends two thirds of the opera dressed as a man playing a woman – one of the reasons it is, indeed, a comedy) didn’t quite have the power required of the part, and was overshadowed by the two sopranos playing the female romantic leads (it’s a happy love triangle, yet another part of the comedy). Ironically, Anne Sofia von Otter, who I saw singing at the Philharmonie the previous night, was apparently a hell of an Octavian, and since she was, of course, something like 7 feet tall, I can see why. But who cares, because in the end, it’s all about the horns.

Continuing in the music theme, I saw Alex Ross, music critic for the New Yorker, speak at the American Academy of Berlin on Thursday. I bought a second copy of his book for him to sign, and we had a nice chat about being historians.

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That will go with my newly signed Neil Gaiman books (thanks Abby, though I’m a bit jealous that you guys got to go see him talk..)

Then, I went to another concert, this time at the old theater in the middle of the city:

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Acoustics were interesting (they did add some plexi deflectors around the stage to get some focus, but the place has a high, flat ceiling, giant chandeliers, and a whole lot of carvings on the walls – it’s always going to be a bit quirky.

Now, what’s really cool about this place is that it was built as the royal playhouse, the theater where the king would go see the newest plays and (until the opera house was built two blocks away) operas. That’s how it came to be the location of the premiere of von Weber’s opera Der Freischütz, which probably beats out Der Rosenkavalier as my favorite based on two parts, the hunting chorus (an extended duel between 8 horns and men’s chorus) and the opening of the overture (along with the March from Symphonic Metamorphoses, one of the two best horn quartets in the symphonic repertoire).

This is important, because the Rundfunk-Sinfonie Orchester opened the concert with the overture from Freischütz, which was 10 times better live than I’ve ever heard it on a recording. That was followed by some nice pieces by Henri Dutilleaux, a 20th century French composer, that probably would have been a lot better if they’d been a bit shorter and less earnest about their subject matter (part of the second piece was the singer singing the entire text of a letter from Alexander Solzhenitsyn to Mstislav and Galina Rostropovitch – in a hundred years, all the program notes in the world won’t be able to explain why that’s so important). Of course, in the second half, they played Symphonie Fantastique (correctly, I might add, with piston cornets – why is this such a difficult thing in the US…cornets and trumpets are different instruments, and when composers write a cornet part, it shouldn’t be played by somebody from the third trumpet section).

Unfortunately, none of these pieces required the use of this organ.

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Damn.