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The Answers to Walter Benjamin’s Riddles

December 11, 2014 | by

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Last week, we published a transcript of one of Walter Benjamin’s radio broadcasts for children from 1932. It had thirty brainteasers in it. Here are the answers: Read More »

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A Crazy Mixed-Up Day: Thirty Brainteasers

December 4, 2014 | by

Walter Benjamin credit Doyle Saylor

Image: Doyle Saylor

From 1927 to early 1933, Walter Benjamin wrote and delivered some eighty to ninety broadcasts over the new medium of German radio, working between Radio Berlin and Radio Frankfurt. These broadcasts, many of them produced under the auspices of programming for children, cover a fascinating array of topics: typologies and archaeologies of a rapidly changing Berlin; scenes from the shifting terrain of childhood and its construction; exemplary cases of trickery, swindle, and fraud that play on the uncertain lines between truth and falsehood; catastrophic events such as the eruption of Vesuvius and the flooding of the Mississippi River, and much more. Now the transcripts of many of these broadcasts are available for the first time in English—Lecia Rosenthal has gathered them in a new book, Radio Benjamin. Below is one of his broadcasts for children, including thirty brainteasers. (Want the answers? They’re here.)

Perhaps you know a long poem that begins like this:

Dark it is, the moon shines bright,
a car creeps by at the speed of light
and slowly rounds the round corner.
People standing sit inside,
immersed they are in silent chatter,
while a shot-dead hare

skates by on a sandbank there.

Everyone can see that this poem doesn’t add up. In the story you’ll hear today, quite a few things don’t add up either, but I doubt that everyone will notice. Or rather, each of you will find a few mistakes—and when you find one, you can make a dash on a piece of paper with your pencil. And here’s a hint: if you mark all the mistakes in the story, you’ll have a total of fifteen dashes. But if you find only five or six, that’s perfectly alright as well.

But that’s only one facet of the story you’ll hear today. Besides these fifteen mistakes, it also contains fifteen questions. And while the mistakes creep up on you, quiet as a mouse, so no one notices them, the questions, on the other hand, will be announced with a loud gong. Each correct answer to a question gives you two points, because many of the questions are more difficult to answer than the mistakes are to find. So, with a total of fifteen questions, if you know the answers to all of them, you’ll have thirty dashes. Added to the fifteen dashes for mistakes, that makes a total of forty-five possible dashes. None of you will get all forty-five, but that’s not necessary. Even ten points would be a respectable score.

You can mark your points yourselves. During the next Youth Hour, the radio will announce the mistakes along with the answers to the questions, so you can see whether your thoughts were on target, for above all, this story requires thinking. There are no questions and no mistakes that can’t be managed with a little reflection.

One last bit of advice: don’t focus on just the questions. To the contrary, keep a lookout for the mistakes above all; the questions will all be repeated at the end of the story. It goes without saying that the questions don’t contain any mistakes; there, everything is as it should be. Now pay attention. Here’s Heinz with his story. Read More »

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Entirely New Problems

May 6, 2014 | by

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_-_Bogenschützen_-1935-37

The Archers, 1935-37

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_-_Snowy landscape_-_1930

Snowy Landscape, 1930

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_-_Tavern 1909

Tavern, 1909

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_-_View_of_Basel_and_the_Rhine 1927-8

View of Basel and the Rhine, 1927-28

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_-_Violett House in frront of a snowy mountain_-_1938

Violet House in Front of a Snowy Mountain, 1938

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_Self portrait as a sick person_1918-1

Self-Portrait as a Sick Person, 1918-19

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_Sitzende_Dame_(Dodo)_1907-1

Sitting Woman, 1907

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_Spielende_nackte_Menschen_nakedplayingpeople1910-1

Naked Playing People, 1910-11

Kirchner_-_Bündner_Landschaft_mit_Sonnenstrahlen

Landscape in Graubünden with Sun Rays, year unknown

Kirchner_-_Selbstbildnis_als_Soldat 1915

Self-Portrait as a Soldier, 1915

Vier_Holzplastiken_1912

Vier Holzplastiken, 1912

Apropos Sadie’s piece about “degenerate art”: today marks the birthday of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, one of many German expressionist painters whose work the Nazis filed under that dread “degenerate” rubric. Kirchner, who was born in Bavaria, suffered a breakdown when he was serving in World War I; he was plagued with health problems for the rest of his life, and spent much of his time in Davos. In 1937, the Germans destroyed or sold more than six hundred of Kirchner’s works; from Switzerland, he wrote,

Here we have been hearing terrible rumors about torture of the Jews, but it’s all surely untrue. I’m a little tired and sad about the situation up there. There is a war in the air. In the museums, the hard-won cultural achievements of the last twenty years are being destroyed, and yet the reason why we founded the Brücke was to encourage truly German art, made in Germany. And now it is supposed to be un-German. Dear God. It does upset me.

In 1938, fearing that Germany would annex Switzerland, Kirchner shot himself. The Kirchner Museum, in Davos, offers a fifteen-page biography of the artist—a remarkable, if sorrowful, read, full of suffering and exile. I was struck foremost by this prefatory note—intended to introduce his 1922 exhibition in Frankfurt—which Kirchner wrote himself under the pseudonym Louis de Marsalle. It finds the painter somewhat desperately planting the idea that he’s reinvented himself, that his illness, and his new life outside Germany, have only bolstered his work. He seems bent on convincing himself of his success as much as anyone else:

The bleak and yet so intimate nature of the mountains has had an enormous impact on the painter. It has deepened his love for his subjects and at the same time purged his vision of everything that is secondary. Nothing inessential appears in the paintings, but how delicately every detail is worked out! The creative thought emerges strongly and nakedly from the finished work. Kirchner is now so taken up with entirely new problems that one cannot apply the old criteria to him if one is to do justice to his work. Those who wish to classify him on the strength of his German paintings will be both disappointed and surprised. Far from destroying him, his serious illness has matured him. Besides his work on visible life, creativity stemming solely from the imagination has opened up its vast potential to him—for this the brief span of his life will probably be far from sufficient.

 

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