The Watcher: Germany

For my Kreuznach relatives my trip was regarded as a natural step in my educational process. My field may be art history, but I’m afraid I didn’t feel drawn to the truly scholarly way where regardless of what else of interest the town might hold, all that mattered was the one painting by the artist I was supposed to be researching.

Würzburg, with my grandmother and aunt, and the places my mother grew up in, came next. On the way, we went through rain and mists. The steam from the train rushed to the ground and tried to embrace the near trees and houses but try as it might, it vanished always just before reaching its goal. Through dark hills and valleys where mists rise from each vale, silhouetting endless groups of dark pointed firs. Traveling alone by train I once more became a watcher.  I was also aware that in this cold and rainy weather my clothes were not nearly warm enough – in NY one is never outside long enough to need real protection, but here it is all day out in the wind.

In their true German hospitality, Onkel Robert, the first of the relatives I meet, is also an art historian. It is his duty to take me around to the important sites that haven’t been bombed into rubble in this part of Germany. Vierzehnheiligen, a pilgrimage church, isolated in the countryside, came through the war intact. For the first time I could understand the airiness and light, and even joy, of rococo with its gold and white. Of course, that was why my professor at NYU had me do a paper on the rococo. Still, I find it a contradiction to the more serious German approach to art and life, although Bavaria, as is often the rule in south versus north, is more emotional.  But wait, they tell me, till you see the rococo in Munich. When I do, I am overwhelmed by the curlicues and gold that covers every inch of wall and ceiling. Definitely not my style. As if the artists were trying too hard to impress the humble worshipper.

Much as I loved my grandmother and the afternoon coffee and cake sessions, the “Gemütlichkeit”, and felt at home, well, to tell the truth, I felt too much at home and realized it was time to move on. The American Consulate in Munich provides student papers for study in Italian museums. The secretary made some remark that the Italians were a gayer people – and come to think of it Munich was not particularly gay. I think I’m getting fed up with museums. There’s a certain futility to wandering from one room to the next and telling myself I’m supposed to be “learning”. It was different in France where my heart went out to the Romanesque. Or, perhaps also, that I had such excellent company.

So off to Italy, where it would hopefully be warmer. Wasn’t Italy supposed to be the land of sunshine and “the land where lemon blossoms blow”?

Yes, time to move on and I was off to Florence. By myself.

To be continued . . .

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