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…


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)…


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:


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.


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:


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.



…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.