Monday, 27 February 2012

Shakespeare in German



Shakespeare is quintissentially English, no? After all, he was born and died on St. George's Day, and introduced around 1,700 new words to the English language. But Shakespeare's legacy is worldwide, and his works have been translated into, and performed in, over 90 languages. Not least was Shakespeare a favorite of the early German Romantik 'Sturm und Drang' movement, to whom he was an inspirational genius who showed a way out of the creatively tired mire that drama and literature had found itself through adherence to the ideals of Greek 'eternal verities'. Or to put it another way, 18th century neoclassical theatre (mainly French) was becoming old hat and boooriing, whereas Shakespeare's mixing of comedy and tragedy, of high and low litearture, of potraying Royals and artisans on the same stage, well it was all a shot in the arm that Western  European culture needed. German translations and performances quickly ensued, and his model of expression was held up as an authentic folk-based art-form that would eventually lead the Romatiks into forging their own 'authentic' Germanic culture and sense of nationalism.

Shakespeare in German translation provides an opportunity in reinterpreting his work that is missed by English audiences. We have to sit through plays still performed in Elizabethan English, which can be quite difficult for us to comprehend and indeed puts a lot of people off appreciating Shapespeare's plays. German audiences however have the benfit of experiencing a performance in modern Hochdeutsch, and the translator can bring out nuances that pass English speakers by.

Here are a handful of Shakespeare's more familiar lines re-interpreted into German, but be aware that the exact wording differs from translation to translation:

Die Art der Gnade weiß von keinem Zwang. - Der Kaufmann von Venedig
The quality of mercy is not strain'd. - Merchant of Venice

Alles ist nicht Gold, was gleißt
Wie man oft euch unterweist. - Der Kaufmann von Venedig

All that glitters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told. - Merchant of Venice


The German translation means more of the sense 'how often you have been instructed (or trained) that it's not always gold, that which glitters.'

Wenn ihr uns stecht, bluten wir nicht? Wenn ihr uns kitzelt, lachen wir nicht? Wenn ihr uns vergiftet, sterben wir nicht? Und wenn ihr uns beleidigt, sollen wir uns nicht rächen? - Der Kaufmann von Venedig
If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? - Merchant of Venice

Apart from the discovery that 'kitzeln' is the verb to tickle someone, I like the better meaning of 'beleidigt' = 'offend', i.e. a perceived, subjective snub rather than an objective, legal 'do us wrong'.

Wenn Musik die Nahrung der Liebe ist, so spielt fort. - Was ihr wollt
If Musicke be the food of Love, play on - Twelfth Night or What You Will.

I like the use of 'Nahrung' here as emphasising 'nourishment and sustenance' rather than just stuff you put in your face.

Was ist ein Name? Was uns Rose heißt,
Wie es auch hieße, würde lieblich duften;- Romeo und Julia

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet; - Rome and Juliet


Zum Teufel beider Sippschaft! - Romeo und Julia
A plague on both your houses! - Romeo and Juliet

Or in German 'To the Devil (or to Hell) with both clans!'

So süß ist Trennungswehe. - Romeo und Julia
Parting is such sweet sorrow. - Romeo and Juliet

A great word there 'Trennungswehe', which could be usefully absorbed into the English language. It means 'the woe of parting', where 'woe' (Wehe) is a physical pain (die Wehe can also mean a labour contraction).

O Romeo, Romeo, warum bist du Romeo? - Romeo und Julia
O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? - Romeo and Juliet

I like the German translation of this because it uses the word 'warum' = 'why', and not 'wo' = 'where' as many English speakers might interpret the line. In context though it is definitely 'why' - 'why are you a Montague?', a member of the rival family, which means she cannot be allowed to love him. To be honest though, 'wherefore art thou' has a wondeful old-fashioned floweryness to my mind that the direct German lacks.

Mitbürger, Freunde, Römer hört mich an: ... - Julius Cäsar
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears ... - Julius Caesar

In German 'Fellow citizens, friends, Romans, listen to me!'. Not as poetic as 'lend me your ears', but 'Mitbürger' = fellow citizens (and in first place) sounds more intimate and meaningful than the more abstract 'coutrymen'.

Mord rufen und des Krieges Hund’ entfesseln. - Julius Cäsar
Cry, ’Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war. - Julius Caesar

The German translation cries for 'murder' - homicide - rather than just a bit of chaos.

Brutus, auch du? - Julius Cäsar
Et tu, Brute? - Julius Caesar

As it is in Latin, I don't know why the German translations don't just keep this famous phrase as it is. But it does show the common, friendly-term, meaning of 'tu' and 'du' that English has lost.

Die ganze Welt ist Bühne
Und alle Fraun und Männer bloße Spieler. - Wie es euch gefällt

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players. - As You Like It


Der Narr hält sich für weise, aber der Weise weiß, dass er ein Narr ist.- Wie es euch gefällt
The Foole doth thinke he is wise, but the wiseman knowes himselfe to be a Foole. - As You Like It.

Es gibt mehr Ding' im Himmel und auf Erden,
Als Eure Schulweisheit sich träumt, Horatio. - Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. - Hamlet, Prince of Denmark


The German word 'Schulweisheit' means more like 'school-book learning' or 'erudition' rather than the rather fuzzy 'philosophy'.

Die Dame, wie mich dünkt, gelobt zu viel. - Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark
The Lady doth protest too much, methinks. - Hamlet

Interesting use of 'gelobt' - from 'geloben' meaning to vow or plight something - rather than a direct translation of 'protest'. In English, the modern use of 'protest' is 'to object to something', but in Shakespeare's time it meant to make a solemn oath or vow. Nowadays the phrase is misquoted and misused as 'methinks the lady doth protest too much'. In the context of Hamlet, it is evident that Queen Gertrude means it in the sense of that the queen in the play is over-stating her oaths of loyalty to her first husband (in the play) to such an extent that it looks like artifice. Ironically of course, without giving too much away the plot of Hamlet.

Etwas ist faul im Staate Dänemark! - Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark! - Hamlet


Sein oder Nichtsein, das ist hier die Frage. - Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark
To be, or not to be: that is the question. - Hamlet

I like how in German you can easily create a noun out of the verb 'sein' = 'to be', and then put 'nicht' = 'not' in front of it to make it an opposite noun 'das Nichtsein' = 'a thing that is not-being'.

Noch einmal stürmt, noch einmal, liebe Freunde! - König Heinrich V
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more! - Henry V

Rather boringly, 'stürmt' is from 'stürmen' = 'to attack' or 'to storm', and has none of the sense of filling the breach in the city walls of Harfleur with English dead.

Das erste, was wir tun, laßt uns alle Anwälte töten! - König Heinrich VI
The first thing we do, let's kill all the Lawyers! - Henry VI

Doppelt plagt euch, mengt und mischt!
Kessel brodelt, Feuer zischt. - Macbeth

Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble. - Macbeth

Literally: 'doubled troubles, mixed and blended / cauldron bubble, fire sizzle'. Or something like that.

Mich jucken die Daumen sehr,
Etwas Böses kommt daher. - Macbeth

By the pricking of my thumbs,
something wicked this way comes. - Macbeth

Fort, verdammter Fleck, fort, sag ich! - Macbeth
Out damned spot! out, I say! - Macbeth

Leben ist nur ein wandelnd Schattenbild,
Ein armer Komödiant, der spreizt und knirscht
Sein Stündchen auf der Bühn und dann nicht mehr
Vernommen wird; ein Märchen ist's, erzählt
Von einem Blöden, voller Klang und Wut,
Das nichts bedeutet. - Macbeth

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. - Macbeth

Nun ward der Winter unsers Mißvergnügens
Glorreicher Sommer durch die Sonne Yorks; - Die Tragödie von König Richard III

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York. - The Tragedy of King Richard III

Interesting that Shakespeare's pun of 'son' and 'sun' has not been maintained, and yet 'Sohn' and 'Sonne' don't sound that dissimilar. But without the exact homonym, 'Sonne' does make more sense to the sentance (i.e. the Sun making a Winter into Summer) whilst still preserving the symbolism of the Sun being the symbol of the House of York.

Ein Pferd, ein Pferd, mein Königreich für ein Pferd! - Die Tragödie von König Richard III
A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse! - The Tragedy of King Richard III

Ich bin ein Mensch, gegen den man mehr gesündigt hat, als er sündigt. - König Lear
I am a man more sinn’d against than sinning. - King Lear

Wir sind aus solchem Stoff wie Träume sind,
und unser kleines Leben ist von einem Schlaf umringt. - Der Sturm

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, 
and our little life is rounded with a sleep. - The Tempest

Die Welt ist meine Auster. - Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor
The world's mine oyster. - Merry Wives of Windsor

Die Kurs der wahren Liebe nie reibungslos. - Ein Sommernachtstraum
The course of true love never did run smooth. - Midsummer Nights Dream




Friday, 24 February 2012

Repent! The End of the World is Nigh!

I like how the two are looking both ways before crossing the road.

Spotted near Oberbaumbrücke

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Hot Stuff!

A cold day, and yet it's the booth on the right that has two people in it:

Spotted on Warschauer Straße

Berlin Street Art - Kreuzberg

I love street art, whether it has been commissioned from internationally renowned urban artists to brighten up a firewall, or surreptitiously created under the cover of darkness Banksy-style. Sometimes I even like graffiti, that most debased of street art - when it has been done wittily and/or creatively rather than just a scent-spray mess of egotistic aerosol paint. 

Below are examples of street art that caught my photographer's eye on a walk between Cottbuser Tor S-Bahn station and Oberbaumbrücke. The walk was in the company of other English-speaking Berliners with an interest in photographer - sign up here if you want to join us!

Astronaut by Victor Ash
Mariannenstraße
Here's Johnny!
Heinrichplatz
HanfHaus
Oranienstraße
Sheep 10
Oranienstraße
Still Not Lovin' Toutists
Oranienstraße
Peace in the Middle East
Oranienstraße
Lollipop
Oranienstraße
Core Tex
Oranienstraße
Manteuffelstraße

Nature Morte by Belgian artist Roa
Manteuffelstraße
Nature Morte by Roa
Die Seele brennt und im Herz Eiszeit
The souls burns and there's an ice age in the heart
Eiszeit Kino Zeughofstraße
'Wall' by Italian artist Blu
Köpernickerstraße
Köpernickerstraße
Rounded Heads by Nomad
Oppelner Straße 
Yellow Man by the twins Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo
Oppelner Straße
The Lads by London Police
Cuvrystrasse
Cuvrystraße
Brothers by Blu
Cuvrystraße
More by Blu
Cuvrystraße
Hourglass by Blu
Oberbaumstraße
Leviathan by Blu
Oberbaumstraße


Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Pergamon Museum, Berlin

The Pergamon Museum (das Pergamonmuseum) is one of the must-see museums of Berlin, and probably of Europe. Taken together with the other museums and galleries of art and sculpture on Museum Island (die Berliner Museuminsel), plus the adjacent Museum of German History (das Deutsches Historisches Museum), it forms part of an impressive ensemble of historical, archaeological, and cultural interest to rival the Musée du Louvre or the British Museum. No wonder that Museum Island is on the Unesco World Heritage list.

The treasures on display could have been much greater: at the end of the Second World War much of the Museum Island collections were broken up and either looted or taken away for safe-keeping by the Soviets (depending on your point of view).

That's quite apart from the even greater number of treasures that were bombed to smithereens by the Allies during the war. If it wasn't for them being stored in packing cases beneath the flak tower at Berlin Zoo, almost everything could have ended up as just so much rubble to add to add to Berlin's Teufelsburg, and provide archaeologists in the far future something to puzzle over when they found large depositis of fragmented Grecian and Roman urns mixed with Egyptian mummies.

Though many of the former artefacts have found there way back to Berlin, there still remains a great deal that is stored in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, the Hermitage Collection in St Petersburg, and in private collections 'acquired' by the liberators of Berlin. To the victor, the spoils, if not the 'Fallen Madonna With the Big' ... never mind, you're too young to know that reference.


The Pergamon Museum was built in 1930 to house monumental reconstructions of  Classic era architecure excavated in Turkey and brought to Berlin at the end of the nineteenth century; notably the Hellenic Greek altar and friezes from the acropolis of Pergamon (hence the museum's name), and the Roman Market Gate of Miletus. In addition, you can also see there the 575BC Ishtar Gate and Procession Way from Babylon, and the 8th century Mshatta Facade from a residential desert palace of the Umayyad Caliphate in Jordan. Be re-assured though that unlike the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon of Athens now at the British Museum, the Pergamon collections were either legally acquired and paid for or gifted. Or so they say. I've seen 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' so I have a good idea what these German archaologists were like.


The Pergamon Museum is actually three museums in one: the Antiquity Collection, the Museum of the Near Middle East, and the Museum of Islamic Art (which apart from the Mshatta facade also has numerous items of exquisite pottery, metalwork and tapestries). The architectural reconstructions are spectacular starting points, which you can follow up with the more human-sized artefacts in the nearby Altes, Neues, and Bode museums. There you will also find much from Ancient Egypt (including the bust of Nefertiti), Byzantium, Troy, mediaval Europe, and lots more.

Be warned though: the entrance price isn't cheap (13€ as I write), and could well eat up an afternoon - and that's without also visiting the temporary Pergamon Panorama by Berlin artist Yadegar Asisi which is seemingly housed in a gasometer in front of the Pergamon museum (also 13€, or 18€ together with the museum ticket). You should also be warned not to go on a busy Saturday in high season, as it is a popular place with coach parties of everyone from visiting Japanese Handball teams to American Missionaries of Scientology.

Better, I think, to get a three-day pass to all the Berlin SMB museums (19€, Panorama not included) and see them at your leisure. Or, get an annual pass as we did (40€), and visit all the museums as many times as you want over a year (special exhibitions like the Panorama not included). [I could at this point launch into a rant about how until recently all the Berlin museums stayed open later on a Thursday, and entrance was free, but I won't. There, aren't I good to you?]

All that said, if you only have the time and inclination to visit one museum, visit the Pergamon!

(But hurry if you are reading this in 2014: the altar exhibition will be closed from October 2014 for three years for restoration.
If you are reading this in 2015 - tough.
If you are reading this in 2016 - is the Internet still going then?)


Below are a few of my photo impressions of the Pergammon (all copyright me. Click for bigger).

On the steps of the Pergamon altar
'Athena' depicted on one of the friezes. I really love those wings and the serpent's coils.
Close-up of a horned, man-eating lion on a frieze.
I am reminded that St John of Patmos referred to Pergamon as the place where Satan lived and had his throne (Revelation 2:13).

Headless statue in the altar area. I really should listen to the audio guide and perhaps discover who it is. The audio guides are available in English by the way, and are included in the entry price (so no excuses).



Entrance to the Temple of Athena from the Pergamon acropolis. Why the woman on the steps and the unrelated attendant have both chosen to pose for me in that similar way, I don't know.
Colossal statue of Athena Parthenos. Love those ionic columns in the background.
Bull's head and swags of foliage.
And my shadow.



Part of the Market Gate of Miletus. 17 m high and 29 m wide, and too big for a photo to do it justice.
Balcony facing the Market Gate.
Statue of a Roman Dude. Very 'Life of Brian' I thought.
Roman ancestor of Thing from the Addams Family?
You walk through the Market Gate of Miletus, and immediately find yourself at the Ishtar Gate from Babylon. The eigth gate to the inner city, built by order of Nebuchadnezzar II in 575 BC. The gate was actually a double gate, and this is the smaller, frontal part. The larger part was too big for the museum and is in storage at the museum!
The blue stone is actually lapis lazuli. That's the incredibly rare pigment that was used in the Rennaissance to make the heavenly blue paint for e.g. the Madonna's robes. The more blue you see in a painting by the old masters, the richer the patron, so you can imagine how costly these gates were. And this is just one gate. And you haven't seen the Processional Way yet!
And here's a small part of the partial reconstruction of the Processional Way up to the gate. It is decorated with prowling lions, companions to Ishtar, which protected the street leading to the temple in the inner city. 

Ceramic frieze of ancient Babylonian/Assyrian warriors.
Assyrian reliefs in shadow.
Colossal Assyrian 'Lamassu' - part man, part lion, part eagle guardian.
The museum of Islamic Art has many examples of incredibly beautiful, richly ornamented glazed porcelain, such as this detail from a prayer niche (mihrab).
Carved rock-crystal pitcher, made for the court of the Fatimid rulers of Cairo, Egypt around the late 10th century or early 11th century AD. Incredibly, it was first valued at £100 when it was first put up for sale at a Somerset auction, believed to be a cheap French claret jug. When it was realised what it actually was, it fetched £3.2 million in auction at Christie's in October 2008.

A stunningly beautiful Arabic astrolabe.
Detail from an ivory hunting horn.
Stylised bull's head sculpture. By this time I have become overwhelmed by the number of amazing objects and I have forgotten which period in history or culture I am in. Time for a cup of coffee.


There is much more than I have photographed here to discover at the Pergamon museum. At the risk of sounding like I am in the employ of the Berlin tourist board, I urge you to visit it next time you are in the city.




Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Die Neue Synagogue vs der Teufelsberg

Sometimes in Berlin you see the most unexpected parallels in architectural style. Here, compare the New Synagogue with the former US litsening station on Teufelsberg (Devil's Mountain):

click for bigger