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Posts Tagged ‘Berlin’

Facts First: An Interview with Michele Zackheim

March 28, 2014 | by

last train to paris

From the cover of Last Train to Paris.

Michele Zackheim’s new novel, Last Train to Paris, follows the adventures of Rosie Manon, the fearless foreign correspondent for the Paris Courier. Spanning the better part of a century, from 1905 to 1992, the story takes us to the Paris and Berlin of the midthirties and early forties, during one of the most fascinating and shameful periods in modern history, the years leading to World War II. Zackheim was moved to write the novel following a strange discovery—in the thirties, her distant cousin was kidnapped and murdered in France by Eugen Weidmann.

I spoke to Zackheim via e-mail and telephone over a period of three months. Our conversations touched on her family history and writing methods, and the formidable research she brought to her new novel.

All of your books share a certain preoccupation with World War II. Why?

My family lived in Compton, California, an area that was declared vulnerable to an enemy attack. I was only four years old when World War II ended, but I remember small details—a brass standing lamp with a milk-glass base that was lit at night while my parents listened to the menacing news on the radio. The sound of night trains, which ran on tracks a block away. And of course—and this is hard to admit—my only sibling was born in 1944. Because I was the eldest, and because before her birth I had already experienced grim hardships, an intense sibling rivalry was born. I have to assume that she became part of my unconscious interest in war. These memories, along with the emerging news from concentration camps after the war, and my parents’ outraged and mournful whisperings in Yiddish, created an unconscious anxiety that I’ve been making work about all my adult life.

You wove the story of your cousin’s murder through your novel. Was the expansion and departure from the initial incident a natural progression for you?

I often start out writing nonfiction. But there’s a problem. It’s boring for me not to embellish—actually, it’s no fun. Read More »

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Off the Grid

June 13, 2013 | by

Roosevelt_Stadium_night_2

As they do every year, the prestigious Cal Hi Sports magazine, an influential prognosticator for gridiron talent, made a list in 1994 of the top prep quarterbacks on the West Coast. Among them were Kevin Feterik at Los Alamitos, who would end up starring for QB-haven BYU; Cade McNown, a lefty from Oregon who later stewarded UCLA’s mini-dynasty; Brock Huard from Puyallup, Washington, who started as a freshman for the University of Washington and is now an ESPN analyst; a Michigan-bound senior from San Mateo named Tom Brady; and me.

At Beverly Hills High School I was that Johnny B. Goode character with “Golden Boy” sewn into the back of my letterman jacket. My favorite t-shirt read “Football is Life, the rest is just details,” and that was an understatement. I wasn’t the fastest or strongest kid, and, with my frame (6’1”), I’d never be considered anything but tiny at the college level, so I determined to be the smartest player in the game. And I studied like a Manning, becoming a geek of the game, a savant who could quote you strings of statistics like a cabalist. In contrast, the only thing I remember from my actual classes at the time is a sign one teacher had mounted near the clock in their room. It read: “Clock watchers, time will pass, will you?” I did, but barely. My devotion to the game was total.

So when, five years later, six months after quitting football for the second and final time, I woke up on a park bench in Berlin with no map, and no itinerary, I had no idea who I was.

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Letter from Berlin: In the Cut

February 12, 2013 | by

Fabian,

Fabian

One morning my first summer in Berlin, I woke up alone in a park with a piece of sweaty plastic wrap around my forearm. I still had the tattoo. I still didn’t have my keys.

Fabian had given me the tattoo lying in his bed the night before. We met in a club thirty-six hours earlier, on Sunday afternoon, after I tried to pick up his roommate, a brooding Austrian boy with shoulder-length blond hair who was sitting alone away from the dance floor. He had a homemade tattoo of a sword on his wrist. His roommate had made it, he said, and did I want to meet him? They both turned out to be straight, and we spent the rest of the day dancing together and sharing our drinks and our cigarettes and whatever else we had.

Another Sunday afternoon dancing at the same club, a Portuguese friend stopped me and asked, “Americans come here for the freedom, right?” Another Sunday there, a Scottish boy asked me if I moved to Berlin “just to have fun.” Usually in these situations I say, “I guess so.” Nobody with pupils that size could have patience for a real answer. Read More »

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Kleist’s Crime Blotter

January 8, 2013 | by

On the afternoon of October 1, 1810, people started gathering in front of Berlin’s Hedwigskirche, where a new paper would be selling its first issue. By evening the crowd had grown so large that guards were posted to maintain order. The whole city, it seemed, had turned out for the launch of the paper, the Berliner Abendblätter. Even the king had asked for a copy.

Officially, the Abendblätter was edited anonymously. Among the city’s literary elite, however, it was widely known that the paper was written almost single-handedly by Heinrich von Kleist, a young writer. Kleist’s plays and novellas were written with exceptional elegance, but were preoccupied with rape, war, and natural disaster. Kleist had once enjoyed the patronage of Goethe, but after a disastrous theatrical collaboration the two writers found it impossible to continue working together. Goethe admitted that his protégé filled him with revulsion and horror, “as though a body nature had intended to be beautiful were afflicted with an incurable disease.”

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Susanne Kippenberger on ‘Kippenberger’

March 13, 2012 | by

Martin Kippenberger in Venice, 1996. Photo by Elfie Semotan.

In 1997, when Martin Kippenberger died of alchohol-related liver cancer at the age of forty-four, Roberta Smith opened her New York Times obituary by writing that Kippenberger was “widely considered one of the most talented German artists of his generation.” In fact, outside of a subset of fellow Conceptual artists and prescient gallerists, he was not considered at all. At the time of his death, a museumgoer might have recognized a blurred Richter or a grim Joseph Beuys while being totally unfamiliar with Kippenberger’s hotel drawings, the now-famous series of doodles on hotel stationary.

Although his life was a fast burn, the creation of his reputation has been a slow cementing, set by an extensive 2006 Tate Modern show, a U.S. exhibition that came to MoMA in 2009, and now a biography, released by J&L Books.. Kippenberger: The Artist and His Families is written by Susanne Kippenberger, the artist’s youngest sister and a journalist at the Berlin daily Der Taggespiegel, and translated from German by Damion Searls. It is both a profile of a mad art star and a fascinating history of the bohemian scene in Germany before the fall of the wall. When Ms. Kippenberger met me at City Bakery recently to discuss the book, she did not, as her brother might have, jump on top of the table and pull down her pants then force me to stay out all night drinking.

I saw the Tate show in 2006 and left astounded by the incredible amount and range of work created by someone who died so young. The retrospective included the massive installation “The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘America’,” which is an ersatz sports field filled with desks and chairs; the ironic self-promotional exhibition posters; punkish figurative paintings; self-authored catalogues; and sculptures. I was surprised to find, reading your book, that when he was alive his art seemed eclipsed by his renown as a personality.

Yeah, people thought, He doesn’t do anything. He just sits in bars, throws parties, and talks and drinks and puts on a show of himself. Read More »

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