THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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57 posts categorized "Popular culture"

18 June 2018

Flag Day celebrates the new ‘Maatjes’.

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The famous ‘Maatjesharing’ is here again! Like the Scandinavians the Dutch celebrate the arrival of the first ‘Nieuwe’, or ‘virgin’ herring, in the month of June.

Herring2 RB.31.c.551
The herring. Illustration by Ebenezer Albin from Roger North, A treatise on fish and fish-ponds (London, [1825?]) RB.31.c.551

It all started last week with the traditional auction of the first barrel of ‘Nieuwe’ brought ashore. The auction raised a whopping €78,000 for charity

Over to London where on Friday the very first ‘London Haring Party’ (deliberately ‘haring’ , not ‘herring’) was held at the Dutch Church in Austin Friars in support of the Dutch Centre . The auction of a barrel of herring there did not quite make €78,000, but the £525 it did raise wasn’t at all bad. Congratulations to the Dutch Centre!

Then came the moment everyone had been waiting for. Sure, the bitterballen were very nice, don’t get me wrong, but everyone was gagging to get their teeth into some herring!

You may get an idea about just how desperate we had all become from the photos below, taken about half a minute apart from each other, if that. The beer flowed freely and the live band sang Dutch hits. What’s not to like. I look forward to next year already.

Herring2 herringIMG_8673

Herring2 goneIMG_8679

Such a shame I couldn’t be in Scheveningen on Saturday to celebrate the 71st ‘Vlaggetjesdag’, which
opens the season for ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’. Fishing boats are decked out in colourful bunting, or flags (hence the name ‘Flag Day’) and the Dutch colours are everywhere, as is herring and other fish.

It is a real ‘street food festival’, with that very Dutch way of eating a herring that you won’t see anywhere else in the world. The way to do it is to take the whole herring by the tail, bend your head backwards and let the salty fish, well coated in a thick layer of chopped raw onions, slither down your throat. Yummy!

Herring2 eatingherring
The proper way to eat Dutch herring. (Photo from Flickr by wht-rotterdam.nl (no copyright indicated))

If this sounds like a bit too much, just ask for a ‘broodje haring’ (a herring roll) and you’ll be fine. That’s your weekly ration of Omega 3 and 6 sorted.

During the festival local women stroll around in their traditional finery, golden pins in their white caps, necklaces of red coral held by a golden clasp and a pastel green shawl.

Herring2 Scheveningencostume
Women in traditional Scheveningen costume, from Elsa Valeton, Dutch costumes (Amsterdam, 1959). 7745.bb.42

Herring has been a staple food for the Dutch for centuries. In the early days of the Dutch Golden Age herring was the bread and butter of the Dutch economy, in more than one sense. Due to wars, in particular the Anglo-Dutch wars of the mid-17th century, herring fishery declined in the Netherlands. It was not until the 19th century that it picked up again.

In his Overzicht der geschiedenis van de Nederlandsche Zeevisscherijen, Anthony Beaujon describes the ebb and flow of the Dutch sea fisheries over time. He wrote it first in English as ‘History of Dutch Sea-fisheries’, and submitted it as an entry to the competition launched on the occasion of the International Exhibition on Fisheries held in London in 1883, one of the largest exhibitions held at that time. Beaujon won the competition and later translated his book into Dutch. Strangely enough we hold the Dutch edition, but our catalogue does not show a record for the English edition. It may well be included in one of the many other titles published on the occasion of this exhibition

Herring2BeaujonTtlp
Title page of Anthony Beaujon, Overzicht der geschiedenis van de Nederlandsche Zeevisscherijen (Leiden, 1885.) 7290.e.11

Donald. S. Murray’s book ‘Herring Tales’ is a more recent history of herring and probably a bit more readable than Beaujon. His is a fascinating story of herring that connects Dutch, Scandinavian and British culture, perhaps more than anything else.

HerringtalesMurrayP1100623
Cover of Donald S. Murray’s Herring Tales: how the silver darling shaped human taste and history. London, 2015. (DRT ELD.DS.80434)

There is a third celebration that involves herring, white bread and butter which takes place in October, so I’ll be back with more about herring then.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Studies, Dutch Language Collections.

25 May 2018

More Mountains with Wild Men

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A year ago my colleague Barry Taylor wrote a post for this blog about a wild man being seen in the Hartzwald in Bohemia and commented on an anthology of wild men (RB. 23.a.24200). This brought to my mind associations with regions that I am very familiar with and that are dear to me.

The mention of Hartzwald and wild men made me smile immediately: I am from the Harz Mountains in the north of Germany; and in the forests there is a little town by the name of Wildemann.

Harz Wildemann 10260.e.14 View of the town of Wildemann, from Carl Gottlieb Horstig, Tageblätter unsrer Reise in und um den Harz  (Leipzig, 1805) 10260.e.14.

Here I recall several bemusing conversations with colleagues about the name of my home region, all based on the mutual misunderstanding of the geography and word play: “I am from the Harz Mountains”, I’d say. “Ah, you are from the Hartzgebirge?” would be the response – yet one of us would mean Bohemia, the other Germany.

Both mountain ranges, the Hartzwald in Bohemia, and the Harz in Lower Saxony, in central Germany, between the rivers Weser and Elbe, are indeed similar medium range mountains, of similar geological age. They are covered in forests, with pine trees and other conifers being the predominant trees. Hence the name Har(t)z, which derives from “Hart”, as the Harz mountains were also known until the later middle ages, meaning “mountain forest” and “Harz”, meaning resin, the viscous secretion of plants and of conifer trees in particular. And, in their remoteness and sparse settlement, they’d lend themselves to being home and origin of myths and fairy tales, - as well as being ideal refuge and hideaway of whoever might need it (wild men included).

In the case of Wildemann the place name points more to the tales and legends of the local mining community, and the imaginary names the local miners would give to their settlements and mine shafts.

Harz Wildemann mapWildemann and district with a plan of the neighbouring mine. The shaft on the bottom right is labelled with the name ‘Wilder Mann Stolln’. Detail from Prospecte des Hartzwalds nebst accurater Vorstellung der auf selbigem gebräuchlichen Bergwerks-Machinen, Ertz-und Praege-Arbeiten … ([Nuremberg, after 1729]). Maps K.Top.100.44.

According to the folk tale, a “wild man” was seen along the banks of the river Innerste, now the location of the small town of Wildemann. The tale describes him as a tall man, a giant, who also had a companion, a giant lady, and, in defence, was swinging a tall fir tree, as his weapon. The miners tried to capture him at have him questioned by the Earl in Brunswick, but the wild man died in transport. Along the river banks, where they had first seen him, a rich lode of ore was then discovered.

The Harz in North Germany was location of a rich mining industry, with gold and silver mining, and later, ore mining active from 968-1988, one of the richest and longest mining traditions in Europe. Thus this wealthy mountains became a region where kings and emperors like residing – the city of Goslar has an Emperor’s palace, where the travelling court of the kings and emperors would hold court – and this might be the reason, such significance of these rich, green, wild forests, that King George III took an interest in the region. There were ‘Four views of the Harz Forest’ in his collection, now in the British Library as part of the King’s Library.

Harz Hübichenstein

 Philipp Ganz, Der Hübichenstein: ein Kalkfelsen bey der Bergstadt Grund am Harz. … ([Germany, ca.1770-1790]). Maps K.Top.100.45.1.a.2. 

And of the mining village-town of Wildemann there is a map:

Harz Grund und UmgegendPromenaden-u. Ortsplan von Grund u. Umgegend… ([1891?]) Maps 29890.(14.) Wildemann is towards the top right-hand of the map.

How gold and silver were first discovered in the Harz Mountains is worth telling – and then there is yet another wild man with a realm in a kingdom of mountains and pine forests, back in Bohemia: both stories will bring us back to mountain tales and legends.

Dorothea Miehe, Subject Librarian (Arts and Humanities), Research Services.

Further reading:

Marie Kutschmann, Im Zauberbann des Harzgebirges: Harz-Sagen und Geschichten (Glogau, 1889) YA.1990.b.8289.

Harz-Sagen. Ausgewählt und herausgegeben von K. Henninger und I. v. Harten. (Hildesheim, Leipzig, 1921). 12411.eee.14

 

23 April 2018

La Diada de Sant Jordi: a History of Saint George’s Day Celebrations in Catalonia

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Happy St George’s Day, everyone! Today England celebrates the feast of its patron saint, but the day is also celebrated in Portugal, Georgia, Russia, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Palestine and some regions of Spain. In Catalonia, there are special events for what is known there as La Diada de Sant Jordi. Customs include giving presents of roses and books, so the streets today will be full of wonderful smells and colours!

The Catalan version of the Saint George legend recounts how the brave knight was willing to give his life to save a princess. The young girl had been selected by chance to be fed to a fearsome dragon besieging her small kingdom. The knight rescued her from the beast’s claws by killing it with his spear.

St George (MS Royal 19 B XVII)
Detail of a miniature of George killing the dragon, with the princess kneeling, from the Legenda Aurea (Paris, 1382) MS Royal 19 B XVII, f. 109r

According to legend, when the drops of dragon’s blood fell on the ground, they turned into roses. The knight picked one, handed it to the princess, and together they lived happily ever after. The story also says that the rose re-blossoms with new energy every April, which helps explain why the festival to commemorate the knight’s deeds takes place in this month.

Ultimately, however, the legend of George slaying a dragon and rescuing an innocent maiden is a medieval addition to the story of a much older historical figure. The origins of the festival go back as far as 23 April 303 AD when the Romans beheaded a soldier named George who had previously led a battalion under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. His crime? Refusing to obey the Emperor’s orders to persecute Christians. His punishment was martyrdom.

The story of this Christian knight quickly attracted veneration, with a wide range of fantastic births and different legends attributed to the Saint, who was canonised in the 7th century. His cult gradually spread through the Catalan region until, in 1456, he was officially named the patron saint of Catalonia.

St George Bernat Martorell
Bernat Martorell, Saint George Killing the Dragon, c. 1434/35. (The Art Institute of Chicago; Image from the Google Art Project via Wikimedia Commons)

Sant Jordi celebrations in Catalonia can be traced back at least 300 years, with the Palau de la Generalitat already hosting a Rose Fair on the day by the 15th century. This mediaeval celebration was dedicated to weddings, betrothals and marriages, and custom dictated that a man should buy a red rose for his wife, as a symbol of his passion.

In 1456, the day became an official festival, but in the early 18th century, with the fall of the city of Barcelona and the ascension of the Bourbons to the Spanish throne, it began to lose its devotees. It was not until the end of the 19th century, with the Renaixença, that Sant Jordi’s day regained its strength and vitality to vindicate the historical and cultural heritage of Catalonia.

The revival of the day was consolidated at the beginning of the 20th century thanks to the Mancomunitat de Catalunya. At this time, an effort was made to revitalize Sant Jordi traditions, which not only appealed to feelings of patriotism and sentimentality, but also directly benefited the publishing sector, as we will see below. Under Franco’s regime, however, Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy was annulled and Sant Jordi celebrations were prohibited. Nevertheless, following the death of the dictator, the day regained its characteristic festive brilliance.

St George Goigs Cup.21.g.6(56)
Goigs en llaor de Sant Jordi, martir 
(Vilanova i la Geltrú, 1964) Cup.21.g.6.(56.) A poem in praise of St George, adapted from an older source by Ricardo Vives i Sabaté with music by J. Maideu i Auguet

The festival’s original association with books dates back to the 1920s, when the director of the Cervantes publishing house, Valencian writer Vicent Clavel i Andrés, approached the Barcelona Official Chamber of Books and the Publishers and Booksellers Guild to organize a festival promoting books in Catalonia. The date chosen was October 7 1927.

When the International Exhibition was held in Barcelona in 1929 booksellers took it upon themselves to go out into the streets, setting up stands to display their new publications and encourage reading. Their efforts met with such success that they decided to establish an annual Book Day. However, they changed the date to 23 April to coincide with the anniversary of two great authors’ deaths: Cervantes and Shakespeare.

St George Oda cover
Above: Cover of Jordi Arquer, Oda a Sant Jordi (Mexico City, 1943), no. 233 of an edition of 500 copies. Below: opening with the author's signature and a memorial dedication to Shakespeare and Cervantes; the poem, published by Arquer in exile, was intended to mark 23 April.

St George Oda dedication

Since its first inception, the festival has brought energy to Catalan publishing and continues to provide great support for the sector today. It has had such a significant impact that in 1995 UNESCO’s General Assembly declared 23 April as World Book and Copyright Day.

Sant Jordi is Catalonia’s primary patron of lovers, taking precedence even over St Valentine. Traditionally, a man gives his beloved a single red rose with an ear of wheat, and women give their lovers a book. These days, however, you will also see women receiving books, and men roses.

Why a single red rose and an ear of wheat? According to tradition, this gift combines three symbolic characteristics: the single flower represents the exclusivity of the lover’s feeling, the rose’s red colour symbolizes passion, and the ear of wheat stands for fertility. These are the elements that make it a good gift for a loved one on a special day like this.

Noemi Ortega-Raventos, Cataloguer, Gulf History

13 April 2018

Esperanto – not what you thought?

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Today is the opening day of the British and Pan-Celtic Esperanto Conference in Aberystwyth.

EsperantoBlogoceltic-dragonLogo of the Conference

Esperanto speakers? You’re probably thinking there can’t be many of them – and moreover that the few who do exist are probably crazy as well. Yes, you’re right that they are far fewer in number than the people who are learning English or, these days, Chinese. But how many are there? The truth is that nobody knows. If the figure of “more than 100,000” is good enough for Encyclopaedia Britannica, far be it from me to contradict it by giving my own estimate.

In any case, we can confidently say that there are a few million Esperanto speakers scattered throughout the world. If there weren’t, the Esperanto Wikipedia would not now be the 32nd largest in terms of the number of articles (as recorded in June 2016). Not to mention the 1.6 million learners who have signed up for the Esperanto courses with the language-learning site Duolingo

Esperanto speakers are everywhere. The World Esperanto Association has members in over 120 countries. Esperanto speakers can also be found in the sort of places where you would never think of looking, such as East Timor and New Caledonia, and there are fascinating stories about the development of Esperanto in various countries, from China to the Czech Republic. The British Library’s Esperanto Collections reflect the history and diversity of the Esperanto movement and its publications.

EsperantoBlogHistoriesMontage
 Books from the British Library Esperanto Collection on the Esperanto movement in different countries and regions

Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, belonged to those 19th-century visionaries who dreamt of universal brotherhood, peace and understanding. But during the very first World Congress in Boulogne-sur-Mer in France in 1905, a more practical group came to the fore, asserting that Esperanto was just a language, a means of facilitating international communication, and had nothing to do with airy-fairy dreams of a better world.

These are not the only divisions among Esperanto speakers. There are those who are working for it to become the world’s universal second language, and those who are happy for it to remain a niche interest and prefer to concentrate on developing its cultural potential. This second approach has a name: Raŭmismo, the Rauma movement, after the Finnish town where the World Esperanto Youth Congress  was held in 1980.

As a world-wide phenomenon the Esperanto community is exposed to many influences. During the last century numerous special-interest groups were founded, contributing to a truly colourful panorama. One of the earliest was the International Union of Catholic Esperantists. But unsurprisingly the Catholics were followed by the Protestants, then by the Orthodox Christians, to say nothing of Buddhists, Ōmoto (a Japanese religion), Muslims, Bahá’í and Mormons. Naturally, in response to all this religious activity the atheists could not fail to put in an appearance – but oddly enough, there is no Jewish association at the moment, although there is no lack of Jews in the movement as a whole. All these diverse groups have found common ground between the Esperanto movement and their own ideals.

EsperantoBlogoKoranoCxapitro1Opening ot the Koran in Esperanto translation: La Nobla Korano, translated by Italo Chiussi (Copenhagen, 1970). YF.2009.a.5354

Afterwards came the Communist Esperanto speakers, the Socialists, Anarchists and other splinter groups who even fought in the Spanish Civil War, but now are more likely to fight amongst themselves. At the same time professional associations came into being, who used Esperanto as their working language and published specialist periodicals. You may be surprised to learn that there are doctors who discuss surgery in Esperanto.

MedicinaInternaciaRevuo1974
Cover of  Medicina Internacia Revuo. (July 1974)  5533.51000

 Then there are the railway workers, the journalists, the ecologists, the feminists and numerous others. Teachers are particularly important in a movement whose aim is to teach a language. Their association is the International League of Esperantist Teachers.

EsperantoBlogoKunvojagxuCover of Paul Gubbins, Kunvojaĝu: Internacia kurso de Esperanto (Pisa, 2006). YF.2008.a.23702

You might well ask yourself what all these diverse groups have in common. In fact, there is something.

The first general trait is being interested in “the other”. Esperanto was born with the aim of facilitating communication between people speaking different languages, and so curiosity about other cultures is part of its DNA.

EsperantoBlogoIntervjuoj Books of interviews with Esperantists wordwide about their reasons for learning Esperanto

The second trait is tolerance. No one cares if you support some cranky fringe movement; you will be accepted anyway. The Esperanto-speaking world is open to groups who may be subject to some rather odd looks in the rest of society. Nobody in the UK now finds anything remarkable about being a vegetarian, but that was not the case as recently as the 1960s. The British Esperanto movement contains a higher proportion of vegetarians than society as a whole, as was shown in Peter G. Forster’s study The Esperanto Movement (The Hague, 1982; X.0900/323(32)). Homosexuals were welcome in the Esperanto movement at a time when homosexuality was still a crime in many countries.

In the 130 years since the first book in Esperanto was published, Esperanto speakers have been creating their own culture of novels, poetry, songs and jokes. Hundreds of thousands of books have been published, both translated and original. Many Esperanto authors are known for their writing in their own languages as well as Esperanto, for instance the British writer Marjorie Boulton

  EsperantoBlogBeletraAlmanako

Literary serial Beletra almanako (New York, 2006-). ZF.9.a.7847

Musicians singing in Esperanto can be heard online (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27BP5sXwuTs), and many of the thousands who have started learning with Duolingo create videos for YouTube. You will also find many Esperantists on social media platforms.

EsperantoBlogoKajtoKajto (Ankie van der Meer and Nanne Kalma from Netherlands) singing at the London Esperanto Club (Photo by Olga Kerziouk).

And finally, the last trait that all Esperanto speakers share, whatever their backgrounds or beliefs, is their love for the language itself and for the Esperanto-speaking community. For many couples Esperanto has even become their family language, particularly when they belong to different nationalities. They chat in Esperanto over the dinner table and use it to talk to their children.

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics at La Sapienza University in Rome, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto / Anna Lowenstein,  Esperanto author and journalist

Further reading

Esperanto in the New York Times: 1887-1922, edited by Ulrich Becker. (New York, 2010).YD.2010.a.12499

Roberto Garvía Soto. Esperanto and its rivals: the struggle for an international language. (Philadelphia, 2015) m15/.11262

Esther H. Schor, Bridge of words: Esperanto and the dream of a universal language (New York, 2015). Waiting for shelfmark.

Geoffrey  Sutton, Concise encyclopedia of the original literature of Esperanto, 1887-2007  (New York, 2008). YC.2008.a.12495

09 March 2018

Mr Inkblot’s Academy – A Polish Children’s Classic

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Each generation of children has its own favourite book which defines their childhood. For children growing up in Poland in the 1950s and 60s it was a book about a school for wizards called Akademia pana Kleksa (‘Mr Inkblot’s Academy’) by Jan Brzechwa, first published in 1946.

AkademiaCover1960Jan Brzechwa, Akademia pana Kleksa (Warsaw, 1960) X.990/537

The book tells the story of incomparable eccentric Ambroży Kleks (Ambrose Inkblot), headmaster of an equally nonpareil school for wizards based in Fairylandia at the very end of Chocolate Street. Fairylandia lies not far off but is not that easy to find unless one is invited and guided there, just as one day an unhappy, bullied 12-year-old boy, Adaś Niezgódka (Adam Contrary), is by a learned blackbird which communicates words by dropping their first syllables.

Inkblot MathewMathew the blackbird on the phone

The school is a three-storey building with classrooms, refectory and dormitories, and the top floor, to which there are no stairs, housing all Mr Inkblot’s secrets. It stands in the middle of a large unkempt park, surrounded by a wall lined with iron gates leading to other fables. Nobody knows how many of these gates there are, but all are locked with silver locks, and Mr Inkblot keeps the keys in a silver casket.

The 24 boys in the school – all of whose names begin with A – are taught by Mr Inkblot the subtle art of wizardry in subjects ranging from inkblotography and letter-spinning to un-breaking broken things. Mr Inkblot also helps the boys improve their dreams by selecting the best of them from dream-reflecting mirrors at each boy’s bedside: He also cooks for them: brightly-coloured beads which turn to delicious soups and juices, but also huge roasts, prepared with the help of a magnifying pump. But he can cook anything a boy can fancy by painting the dish with his magic brush. He himself gets by on hair-growing pills but loves flavoursome colours and for elevenses treats himself to a handful of butterflies, a special kind which he plants and grows like beans.

Inkblot clockMr Inkblot examining the broken clock

Mr Inkblot, who knows and sees everything, is the epitome of goodness and always tries to make everyone happy with themselves. He is a tall man, though he can control his size with the magnifying pump, making himself teeny-weeny for going to bed. He has a mop of hair gleaming with all colours of the rainbow and a vast bushy beard as black as soot. He wears an old-fashioned velvet frock coat with a lemon-bright waistcoat full of pockets, the contents of which could easily fill three rooms.

Inkblot expeditionMr Inkblot taking his pupils on a school expedition

Jan Brzechwa, started writing Mr Inkblot’s Academy in 1944, when war was still raging outside the window of his Warsaw flat. As a Jew he was hiding on the ‘Aryan’ side, somewhat contrarily, by not hiding at all and trying to live a ‘normal’ life. Writing was for him a way to escape the horrors of war by sticking to what he was good at: writing children’s stories and rhymes. He was an acknowledged master of the art.

Yet the horrors seeped into the narrative, most vividly in the story of Alojzy Bąbel (Alois Blister), a boy-marionette brought to Mr Inkblot for schooling by Philip the barber, Mr Inkblot’s nemesis. Mr Inkblot brings Alois to life but the boy grows wickeder and wickeder, spewing hate and destruction, until he has to be dismantled. This enrages Philip, who steals Mr Inkblot’s secrets, sending him and his Academy on a course to total annihilation. Not surprisingly, given the circumstances surrounding the creation of Mr Inkblot’s Academy, Brzechwa originally named the wicked boy Adolf, but, wanting to protect the innocence of his young readers, or just driven by his wicked sense of humour, changed the name to that of Hitler’s father, thus neatly blaming it all on the parents.

Inkblot Alois BlisterMr Inkblot bringing the boy-marionette Alois Blister to life.

The character of Mr Inkblot also had his real-life counterpart. Franz Fiszer was a real character, legendary in the literary circles of pre-war Warsaw. A Socrates and a Falstaff, a practicing metaphysician and the last of true alchemists, if by such we mean not quack-chemists but serious searchers for the philosopher’s stone, Fiszer dined and drank during legendary symposia, which convened spontaneously wherever he sat at a table. It would be an inconsolable waste if Franz Fiszer were to recede into oblivion without a trace. Luckily for him his memory has not been totally blotted out – he transmogrified into Mr Inkblot. Thanks to Jan Marcin Szancer – another Polish Jew hiding in occupied Warsaw, who created Mr Inkblot’s definitive image much as E.H. Shepard did for Winnie-the-Pooh – Fiszer/Mr Inkblot became a great friend to generations of Polish children.

InkblotFranciszek_FiszerPortraitPortrait of Franciszek Fisher by Aleksander Żyw. Reproduced in Roman Loth, Na rogu świata in Nieskończoności, wspomnienia o Franciszku Fiszerze (Warsaw, 1985) YA.1988.a.1331

Mr Inkblot’s Academy was the first of a trilogy, followed by Mr Inkblot’s Travels and ending with Mr Inkblot’s Triumph, which rounds up the story with Adam’s graduation from the Academy and his last journey with Mr Inkblot in search of the disappeared tribe of Fairytalers (and his own parents). It all ends well – despite continued machinations by Alois Blister – with Adam’s engagement to a lovely girl named Reseda.

Inkblot Adam and ResedaAdam and Reseda

The books’ enduring promise of escape, renewed interest in Mr Inkblot and his academy when Poland was drowning in the greyness of the martial law imposed in 1981. Three films made in the 1980s relaunched the imperishable Mr Inkblot’s career and brightened the years of yet another generation of Polish children, and perhaps not just Polish, as the films were shown on European television well into the 1990s. One can only wonder why Mr Inkblot’s Academy’s film potential was discovered so late. Brzechwa himself wrote film scripts, among them an adaptation of another classic, The Two who Stole the Moon, the horrid twins of the title played by Kaczyński brothers, later president and prime minister of Poland. Sadly, an earlier project of turning Mr Inkblot’s Academy into a Hollywood film came to nothing, even though it was scripted by Erika Mann, daughter of Thomas. Although her treatment was the first English version of Mr Inkblot’s Academy, and can be read online via the website of the Münchener Stadtbibliothek, there has never been a published translation – a challenge perhaps for a publisher today?

Wiesiek Powaga, Polish translator

 

27 February 2018

Women on brooms and more such raging.

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Every child knows that the humble broom is the transport medium of choice for wizards and witches. They use it to fly to the Witches’ Sabbath, although other magical forms of transport are used, too. Why has the image of a witch on a broom taken such a firm hold in our culture? Why a broom and not a bread peel, or a cooking pot, or a pig, or even a cat?

According to art historian Renilde Vervoort two engravings by Pieter Bruegel The Elder were instrumental in imprinting the image of the witch on a broomstick (and her cauldron and black cat) in our collective imaginations.

Images of witchcraft in the 15th-century Low Countries were rare, which may go some way as to explaining their impact. Vervoort lists seven major works with such images produced in the Low Countries between 1420 and 1560. One example of a work that influenced Bruegel greatly is a pen-and ink drawing by the 15th-century painter Hieronymus Bosch, owned by Bruegel who greatly admired Bosch.

The drawing (now in The Louvre) depicts nine women playing around with sticks and brooms and other household utensils. Bosch clearly pokes fun at the silly old women, who are jumping and running about, trying very hard to get airborne, not succeeding very well. The striking thing about this drawing is that there is not a broom in sight, apart from one very short one, held over the shoulder by one of the women.

BroomsticksYF2012a4427JBosch
Hieronymus Bosch, Nine Witches, drawing in ink (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Reproduced in Renilde Vevoort, Vrouwen op den besem en derghelijck ghespoock (Nijmegen, 2012) YF.2012.a.4427

As an aside, this could also point to the belief that witches did not so much use broomsticks, or other sticks for that matter, to fly to the Sabbath, but to conjure up spirits and demons who would take them there. This belief might explain at least in part the origins of the wand.

Broomsticks Discorse
A witch and her familiars, from A Discourse of Witchcraft as it was Acted in the Family of Mr Edward Fairfax ... (18th-centurt English Manuscript) Add, Ms, 32496

Enter Bruegel. His engravings ‘St. James Encounters Hermogenes’ (1565) and ‘The Fall of the Magician Hermogenes’, copies of which are held in Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, make a lasting impression on anyone who sees them. They are full of weird and wonderful creatures, very ‘Bosch-like’.

Both engravings have the legend of St. James’s encounter with the magician Hermogenes as subject, a story that was well-known in the Middle Ages. However, nowhere in the story is there any mention of witches, therefore no earlier representations depict any. Bruegel’s does.

‘St. James Encounters Hermogenes’ shows witches on broomsticks, flying up into the air via the chimney, where they join two other witches fighting each other.

BroomsticksYF2012a4427Bruegel1
Pieter Bruegel The Elder, ‘St. James encounters Hermogenes’. Reproduced in Vrouwen op den besem ...

‘The Fall of the Magician Hermogenes’.  shows only one witch who flies away on a broomstick, which she holds upside down.

BroomsticksYF2012a4427Bruegel2
Pieter Bruegel The Elder, ‘The Fall of the Magician Hermogenes’. Reproduced in Vrouwen op den besem ...

It is unclear where Bruegel found his inspiration for the way he represented the legend of St. Jerome and Hermogenes. It may have come from a performance of the Three Apostolic Plays, by the Antwerp Chamber of Rhetoric ‘The Violets’, which showed witches and magicians. What we do know is that his fellow artist, engraver and printer Hieronymus Cock (1518-1570) commissioned the works, most likely also providing the framework for them. Cock must have expected to find a market for the prints. He was right and it is also probably due to the high reputation of both men that the prints spread rapidly, thus establishing the fairly new concept of a witch on a broom.

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Portrait of Hieronymus Cock. from Joris van Grieken, Hieronymus Cock: the Renaissance in print (New Haven, 2013) LC.31.b.12817

This concept remains a standard feature in depicting witches and witchcraft to this day.

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A 20th-century witch. Woodcut by woodcuts by Nicolaas Johannes Bernardus Bulder from Kornelis ter Laan, Groninger overleveringen (Groningen 1928-1930) X.950/26593.

Witch trials more or less ceased altogether in the Low Countries around 1600, although people from surrounding areas would sometimes find their way to the small town of Oudewater, to be cleared of any accusations in their own countries.

That, however, is a topic for another post.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

18 August 2017

Devil, Rascal, Love Machine? The Afterlives of Rasputin

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One of the exhibits in our current exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is a cartoon from the satirical magazine Novyi Satirikon. It shows the religious mystic Grigorii Rasputin sitting on a throne, gazing out with his trademark intense stare. Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra crouch at Rasputin’s feet while the German Kaiser Wilhelm II stands behind the throne.

Rasputin Novyi Satirikon
Novyi Satirikon
,  No. 23,April 1917. RB.31.c.900

This reflects the popular view at the time that Rasputin had undue influence over the Russian royal family and that he and the German-born Alexandra plotted against Russian interests during the First World War. The same belief is reflected in a Japanese cartoon of the period, which shows the Tsarina, Kaiser and Rasputin (in the guise of a demon) sitting conspiratorially round a table.

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Cartoon from Itō Chūta, Ashurachō (Tokyo, 1920-21). ORB.30/757 

But one interesting point about the Novyi Satirikon cartoon is that it was actually published in April 1917, four months after Rasputin’s death (and two after Nicholas’s abdication). Such a caricature would of course have been hard to get past the censors while Rasputin was alive and enjoying the patronage of a still-intact monarchy. But it is striking that, even after his death and the fall of the monarchy, his image was a powerful enough symbol of corruption to make the front page of a satirical magazine.

This is an early example of Rasputin’s afterlife in propaganda, history, conspiracy theory and popular culture. Rumours and legends – such as his wartime plotting and the belief that he and Alexandra were lovers – had grown up before his death but afterwards they were given ever freer rein, with stories of a criminal youth, of wild parties and orgies in St Petersburg, of hypnotic powers, and of an almost supernatural resistance to his murderers’ poison and bullets.

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‘Rasputin's Diary’, a White Russian propaganda leaflet published in Rostov-on-Don (private collection)

A look at some of the books about Rasputin in our catalogue give an idea of his reputation. Titles describe him as ‘Holy Devil’ (10790.pp.22.), ‘Prophet, Libertine and Plotter’ (010795.aaa.7.), one of ‘Twelve Monstrous Criminals’ (06055.ee.17.), an ‘All-powerful Peasant’ (010795.a.52.), ‘Satyr-monk and Criminal’ (10796.aa.37.) and ‘Rascal Monk’ (10796.a.28.). This last was by the thriller-writer and conspiracy theorist William Le Queux who, perhaps thinking that ‘Rascal’ might sound rather playful, followed it up with the more strongly titled The Minister of Evil.

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William Le Queux, The Minister of Evil (London, 1918) 010795.a.9. 

However lurid and fanciful some of their claims, these works were presented as factual – even George Sava’s bizarre Rasputin Speaks (London, 1941; 10795.p.27), supposedly Rasputin’s own story told to Sava through a Russian spirit medium. But of course Rasputin made his way into works defined as fiction too, beginning as early as 1923 with Ivan Nazhivin’s Rasputin (English translation New York, 1929; 010795.aa.66). Since then he has featured in everything from straightforward historical novels to elaborate conspiracy thrillers where he wields supernatural powers or works evil from beyond the grave. More recently Rasputin has appeared in graphic novels, usually in his more fantastical guise as in the Hellboy universe or Alex Grecian’s Rasputin series  (vol. 2, 2016 at YKL.2017.b.2935).

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A selection of Rasputin-related fiction from the BL collections

Rasputin appeared on film even before he appeared in fiction, starting in 1917 with The Fall of the Romanoffs, featuring Rasputin’s former ally and later antagonist, the Monk Iliodor, as himself. The 1932 film Rasputin and the Empress led to a lawsuit from Prince Felix Yusupov, one of Rasputin’s assassins, and his wife Irina, angered in particular that a character believed to represent Irina was portrayed as Rasputin’s lover. A curious, if indirect, aspect of Rasputin’s legacy is that the lawsuit resulted in the introduction of the now-familiar disclaimer in film credits that the characters ‘bear no resemblance to living persons’.

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Some of the press coverage of the Yusupovs’ libel case, reproduced in Sir David Napley, Rasputin in Hollywood (London, 1989) YC.1990.b.3188.

Of course Rasputin is a gift for any actor with a powerful presence and intense gaze – step forward, among the Brits, Christopher Lee (Rasputin the Mad Monk, 1966), Tom Baker (Nicholas and Alexandra, 1971) and Alan Rickman (Rasputin, Dark Servant of Destiny, 1996). While the latter two are straight historical dramas, the first is at the lurid end of the scale. But perhaps the nadir of Rasputin’s film career is the 1997 animation Anastasia in which he returns from limbo (with a wisecracking bat sidekick) to pursue the surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia.

In Anastasia, Rasputin gets to sing, as he also does in at least three operas: Rasputin’s End (1958; F.1256.q) by Nicolas Nabokov, and two works simply entitled Rasputin by Jay Reise (1988) and Einojuhani Rautavaara (2003). He has been sung about too, perhaps most famously in Boney M’s 1978 hit ‘Rasputin’ which immortalised him for a generation as ‘Russia’s greatest love machine’. But 45 years earlier Allie Wrubel and Joe Hoover had come up with a similar concept in ‘Rasputin, that Highfalutin’ Lovin’ Man’ (VOC/1933/WRUBEL).

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Rasputin surrounded by women, reproduced in Rasputin goes to Hollywood.  His elite female admirers were fascinated more by Rasputin’s  mysticism than by any supposed sexual magnetism.

Reputable modern non-fiction tends to reject the more lurid stories about Rasputin or to engage seriously with their origins and likely veracity. However, as so few facts are known about parts of Rasputin’s life and so many things reported as facts cannot be proven or otherwise, we can never know the whole truth. Clearly he was not the evil mastermind depicted by many writers, nor was he the kindly and slandered saint recalled by his daughter Maria in her two books attempting to clear his name of any scandal or wrongdoing. But even for those who seek a balanced and scholarly view of the real Rasputin, there is much fascination in exploring his enduring afterlife in popular culture.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

The exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website

06 March 2017

French entertainment in the Evanion collection: from Robert-Houdin to La Foire du Trône

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The current British Library exhibition ‘Victorian Entertainement: There Will Be Fun’  starts with a poster advertising the day performances and ‘Soirées Fantastiques’ of French magician Robert-Houdin, ‘The Father of Modern Magic’. After the Revolution of February 1848, which deposed the French King Louis Philippe, Robert-Houdin went to London where he performed at the St James’s Theatre in the summer of 1848.

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       Poster for Robert Houdin, ‘Soirées Fantastiques’, St. James's Theatre, Piccadilly. 1848 (Evanion 528)

The third part of the show involved a Levitation Illusion, called ‘Escamotage de Robert-Houding Fils, Suspension Etherenne’, which is illustrated at the bottom of the poster. The trick is still used nowadays by street performers throughout the world. In this performance, starring his own son, Robert-Houdin associated the trick with the use of ether, claiming that he had discovered a new marvellous property of the substance: its inhalation would make the boy’s body as light as a balloon, allowing him to float in the air with only a stick as a support.

Robert-Houdin was an inspiration for Evanion, the London conjuror and ventriloquist who started performing in 1849 and whose collection of ephemera related to Victorian entertainment, magic and performance is currently on display in the exhibition.

Among the French items in the collection  several posters advertise performances held at the Foire du Trône in Paris in the 1880s. They show the diversity of the attractions held at this fair, dating back to the Middle Ages, which still takes place every year around Easter. The fair used to be held by the Abbey of Saint-Antoine and was called ‘Foire au Pain d’Epice’ because of the gingerbread made by the monks for the occasion.

The Fair owes its name to its location, a square in the East of Paris which used to be called ‘Place du Trône’ after the throne erected there as part of the celebrations for the wedding of Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Spain in 1660 (depicted in L’entrée triomphante de leurs majestez ... dans la ville de Paris... (Paris, 1660) British Library 37/604.i.22.). During the French Revolution, it became the square of the Toppled Throne, ‘Place du Trône renversé’, where a guillotine was set up, and it was later renamed Place de la Nation.

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“Le lundi de Pâques à la foire aux Pains d’Epices”, Le Journal Illustré, 16 April 1893 (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

In an engraving printed in Le Journal Illustré of 16 April 1893, crowds of adults and children wander through the fair and its tents; open air activities include, from left to right, the selling and throwing of confetti, snack selling, giant effigies, musicians, a game of balls, an air balloons themed Ferris wheel, and the Hammer game.

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Examples of Foire du Trône attractions featuring in the posters collected by Evanion include races accompanied by military bands and riding lessons for the general public at the Hippodrome (1881, Evanion 593, pictured above).

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Poster for Rothomago.  Foire du Trône, 1881. Evanion 1257

It also included performances of Rothomago, a fairy spectacle in 3 acts and 16 tableaux (including the Enchanted Twig, the House of the Devil, the Speaking Talisman, and the Genius of the World, finishing with an Apotheosis illuminated with electric light ‘even during daytime’), with painted backgrounds, cardboard sets and exotic costumes. The exuberance of this dramatic love comedy exudes from the illustration at the centre of the poster, peopled with characters of different dress and status, from the majestic fairy standing at the top of a jungle temple, to the lovers at the centre of the scene.

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Poster for the wax museum, “Grand musée français de sujets en cire”, Champ de Foire, Paris, 1881. Evanion 594

The ‘Champ de Foire’ was a space for the display of curious, instructive, entertaining or terrifying exhibits, like the Great French Museum of Wax Characters, focused on contemporary military and religious figures. It included life-size effigies of the sovereigns of Europe, and the tribal chiefs of Zululand, with an action scene showing the recent dramatic death, in 1879, of the young prince Napoleon (son of the emperor Napoleon III), who had joined the British troops in the Anglo-Zulu War. The show also displayed models of the most famous contemporary criminals. The author presents himself in the tract as an accredited and serious ‘artist’, who uses historical accessories (costumes and arms are ‘300 to 400 years old’) and distances himself from fairground entertainers and charlatans: his ‘gallerie’ is not designed to entertain the idle, as one needs to be ‘vraiment intelligent’ to appreciate its riches, though three ‘explicateurs’ will guide visitors.

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Poster for the glass-weaver, “La fileuse de verre”, Foire du Trône, Paris, 1887. Evanion 1271

The fair featured the Glass Weaver, a ‘famous artist’ who would make her ‘chefs-d’oeuvre’ in front of the public, producing a variety of objects such as carafes, test tubes, crystal flowers, and wonderfully long threads of glass (1887). The illustration shows how craft making becomes a performance: rays of light emanate from her head and she works at a table, behind a glass screen, surrounded by clouds of smoke and flanked by two monumental lions.

The Foire du Trône hosted a variety of shows and performances, from the technologically sophisticated, like cinematographic projections, which started in the 1890s, exalting the wonders of modern science, to the more modest, like the Living statues act, with street artists dressed and made up to impress the crowds (see the backstage preparation of ‘Golden men’ in 1893).

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La baraque de la Goulue, à la Foire du Trône; reproduced in Lautrec par Lautrec., ed. Philippe Huisman and M. G. Dortu (Paris, 1964). L.R.409.p.5.

The fair held many stands and entertainments tents. In 1895, Toulouse-Lautrec painted two panels for the oriental booth of La Goulue (‘the Glutton’), Louise Weber, a cancan dancer who had gained fame and wealth by performing at the new Moulin Rouge cabaret which opened in Montmartre in 1889. In the left panel La Goulue, dances at the Moulin Rouge with her partner, the tall and gaunt Valentin the Désossé (‘the Boneless’); in the right panel she performs a ‘danse mauresque’, belly-dancing accompanied on the piano, next to two characters in oriental costumes. Unfortunately, her show at the fair was a failure and eventually closed down.

Throughout the 20th century, the Foire du Trône remained a major venue for popular entertainment: its atmosphere was captured in the 1920s and 1930s by news agencies like ‘Agence Rol’, ‘Meurisse’ or ‘Mondial Photo-Presse’ and in the 1950s and 1960s by famous photographers like Doisneau, Izis, or Depardon.

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Above: Coronation of the Queen of the Foire au Pain d’épice, 27 avril 1922 , Agence Rol (Bibliothèque nationale de France); below, Crowds at the fair, April 1924 
(Bibliothèque nationale de France

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On the Bibliothèque de France Gallica Website you can listen to recordings of songs and music of the Foire du Trône, like Jean Nivel’s ‘Pots-pourris de marches, valses, tangos, boleros, javas, polkas, slow, fox’, from 1955, or Jean Bérard playing his barrel organ in the 1960s.

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator, Romance collections.

References:

Parade: la Foire du Trône, 1936-1947, photographies, Marcel Bouvet; présentées par Gérard Gagnepain (Pont l'Abbé, 2006).

Le cirque d'Izis: avec quatre compositions originales de Marc Chagall. Préface de Jacques Prévert (Monte-Carlo, 1965). LB.31.c.1694

Rosolen, Agnès, De la foire au pain d'épice à la foire du Trône (Charenton-le-Pont, 1985) Awaiting shelfmark



 

16 September 2016

I was there when Jäki licked Iggy Pop’s leg: Punk in Germany

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Gudrun Gut, drummer and bassist in German punk bands such as Din-A Testbild, Einstürzende Neubauten, Mania D. and Malaria, says she was there when Jäki Eldorado (née Hildisch) — ‘Germany’s first punk’ — licked Iggy Pop’s leg during a Stooges gig in 1977. Purely a publicity stunt according to Jäki, but one that would provide an iconic punk photo.

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Jäki Eldorado licks Iggy Pop's leg (Image from mutantmelodien)

A decade after 1968, punk adopted a more chaotic and ‘publicity stunt’ mentality that had ‘nothing to do with social criticism’, Jäki suggests in Jürgen Teipel’s ‘docu-novel’ Verschwende deine Jugend (p. 66). He continues: ‘Punk Rock was so interesting precisely because there was no longer any ideological baggage. You could go crazy. Party. You wouldn’t care if someone walked around with a swastika or if someone else supported the RAF [Red Army Faction]’. Cyrus Shahan, in his Punk Rock and German Crisis: Adaptation and Crisis after 1977 (New York, 2013; YC.2014.a.10231) explains the phenomenon thus: ‘whereas student movements of 1968 and German terrorism both sought to establish (theoretically, violently) their own conceptions of a just, utopian society, punk was decidedly invested in an endless dystopia of the present’ (p. 2). Shahan echoes Eldorado in saying later, ‘Punk did not want to establish a new order to stave off chaos of the past. Punk wanted chaos. Punk did not want to erect barriers between fascism and the present. It wanted to tear down the present’ (p. 13).

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Cover of Jürgen Teipel, Verschwende deine Jugend (Frankfurt am Main, 2001) British Library YA.2003.a.21455

While ‘punk in Germany was not English punk’ (Shahan, p. 11), punk bands in England did to some extent spark the creation of a German punk culture and music scene – arguably predominantly in Düsseldorf – in the summer of 1977. Alfred Hilsberg, contributor to Sounds magazine and owner of the labels Zickzack and What’s so funny about, calls English punk in England the ‘trigger’ for him to do something similar in Germany. Describing the performances he saw in London in 1976, he says, ‘it really blew me away that such a thing was possible: this eclectic, crazy cluster of people. There was a violent element of course. But that was only a game. It clearly wasn’t serious when they waged war with one another’ (Teipel, p. 28). This inspired Hilsberg to organise the first punk concerts in Germany, bringing over The Vibrators and The Stranglers. ‘Although, The Vibrators only half-count as punk. It was more rock,’ he says, ‘but at the time no one really knew what punk was’ (Teipel, p. 28).

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The Ratinger Hof, a pub in Düsseldorf where the first punk performances in Germany took place (photo by Ralf Zeigermann from Wikimedia Commons)

Punk was a term that didn’t carry a solid definition sonically or aesthetically, an idea which blurred at the margins and incorporated or appropriated a broad range of references. In A Cultural Dictionary of Punk (London, 2009; YC.2010.a.8548), Nicholas Rombes, in line with Hilsberg’s understanding, labels The Vibrators a 60’s-influenced ‘pop-punk’ group: ‘Bands like The Vibrators cultivated the open spaces that more radical bands like the Sex Pistols cleared, making possible a longer arc for punk and a deliberate future in the face of No Future’ (p. 296). That ‘arc’ is evident in their recent resurfacing in Berlin’s Cassiopeia Club, nearly 40 years after their first gig in the city.

Frank Z, guitarist and singer from Abwärts, remembers The Vibrators’ second gig in Germany, in Hamburg’s Winterhuder Fährhaus — what Hilsberg calls a ‘nice place all round, the kind of place you went for tea and cake’ (Christof Meueler, Das ZickZack-Prinzip: Alfred Hilsberg – ein Leben für den Underground, Munich, 2016; BL copy in process). Frank Z again: ‘the singer [Ian ‘Knox’ Carnochan] was a proper skinhead. He came on stage – and then the first available person on the front row got a boot. Right in the face [Aber voll in die Fresse]’ (Teipel, p. 28). Axel Dill, the Abwärts drummer, corroborates: ‘they played for ten minutes – and then with a few brawlers, which they had brought with them, they set off into the crowd and started a huge fight. It was a full-on battle. All the furniture was flying through the air. Everyone was beating everyone. That was their concept’ (Teipel, p. 28). But Moishe Moser, an associate of Hilsberg’s and The Vibrators’ road manager on a later German tour, provides evidence of the band’s softer side. On the last night of the tour he went to give the band their share of the proceeds before realising that the money wasn’t there: ‘Then, The Vibrators clubbed together so that I could get a taxi home. That was the beginning of a friendship that is still going today’ (quoted by Meueler).

Style was undoubtedly influenced by the fashion in the English punk scene, something also focused on in the British Library’s ‘Punk 1976-78’ exhibition. Peter Hein – another pretender to the title of ‘first German punk’, and singer in Charley’s Girls and Fehlfarben amongst other bands – says as much: ‘to become punk was a totally conscious decision. I saw a picture in the New Musical Express – with jacket and paperclips and kid’s sunglasses. And I thought: ‘I’d like to look as good as that.’ So I wandered about just like that. Kid’s glasses, paperclips on my jacket collar.’ Amidst the chaos of the ‘No Future’ punk ethos, Peter Hein does appear to leave some room for thought into his own future. In another supposed – but presumably not wholly applicable – borrowing from England, Hein avoids alcohol during his years of creativity. This is, for him, in contrast to American bands who subscribe to a drug-fuelled lifestyle:

We were the juice-drinkers. At the time I drank no alcohol. Punk was a straight movement for us. […] We were against the druggy-bands. Against the pisshead bands. We were absolutely England-oriented. The Americans we never took seriously because their punk-rockers took drugs. That was not cool.

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Peter Hein, playing with the band Fehlfarben in 2006 (Picture by Ulf Cronenberg from Wikimedia Commons)

A bizarrely sanitized life, then. And, even more bizarrely, one inspired by our punk scene so closely associated with precisely the sort of intoxication Hein refuses. In the nostalgic accounts of German punk protagonists, there is a sense of openness and acceptance, where anything goes, but without a stereotypical radicalism. Jäki Eldorado says as much when he suggests that, whereas in England there may have been a radical break with what came before, in Germany there was a more fluid merging between hippy and punk movements: ‘when I started working in Dschungel [a punk record store], I even had long hair still’ (Teipel, p. 27).

Pardaad Chamsaz, Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library and University of Bristol

The free exhibition Punk 1976-78  continues in the British Library’s Entrance Hall until 2 October

05 August 2016

80 Years Ago: the Berlin Olympics in Words and Pictures

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Tonight, and for the next two weeks, the eyes of the world will be turned on Rio de Janeiro for the ceremonies and contests of the 31st modern Olympic Games. 80 years ago, the focus was on Berlin, where perhaps the most notorious of modern Olympiads was well under way. The 1936 Olympics had been awarded to Germany before the Nazis came to power, but the new regime, despite initial suspicions about the internationalist spirit of the Olympic movement, quickly adopted the Games as a showcase and propaganda vehicle for the ‘new Germany’.

Olympia 1936 Posters
German posters for the 1936 winter and summer Olympics, reproduced in Die Olympischen Spiele 1936 in Berlin und Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Hamburg-Bahrenfeld, 1936)  British Library Cup. 408.l.28

Much has been written about the 1936 Games and the surrounding controversies. The British Library, of course, holds a wealth of material, both British and German, on the topic, but we also have a number of German books published at the time to celebrate the Games. 

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Vignette from Olympia 1936 und die Leibesübungen im nationalsozialistischen Staat (Berlin, 1934)  X.625/172.

Despite its title, the large-scale Olympia 1936 und die Leibesübungen im nationalsozialistischen Staat was published ahead of the Games and so has little to say about the actual event. Most of its 687 glossy pages are devoted to the history and current state of Olympic sports in Germany. The authors claim to identify Germanic folk traditions at the root of many popular sports, and emphasise the importance of sport in building a healthy nation. Chapters have titles such as ‘Handball – an ancient German sport’ or ‘Physical education as a national-political task’, and most end with fiercely patriotic exhortations and celebration of the ‘German fighting spirit’.

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The 26 Olympia-Hefte with their cardboard slipcase. RF.2016.a.30.

Serving a similar purpose, but aimed at a more modest audience, is the series of 26 small Olympia-Hefte, pamphlets issued in the run-up to the games by the ‘Propaganda Committee for the Olympic Games’ and available for 10 Pfennigs each from party offices, workplaces and sports clubs. A brief historical introduction to the Olympics (Heft 1) is followed by 23 pamphlets focusing on individual sporting disciplines in the past and present, ending with a plug for the ‘Strength through Joy’ organisation (Heft 25) and a glossary of sporting terms (Heft 26). The idea was to encourage the general public to take up sports themselves, something today’s Olympic host countries still seek to achieve among their citizens.

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Cover of
Von Athen nach Berlin: Führer zu den Olympischen Spielen Berlin 1936 (Duisburg, 1936) YA.1996.a.20027

Another modest-looking production is the guidebook Von Athen nach Berlin. Its title and striking cover refer to the torch relay, an invention of the 1936 Games which endures to this day. Although in many respects a practical guide, complete with blank tables where the names of medallists in each event can be filled in, the publication also sets a strong propaganda tone: an essay on the ancient Olympics describes their Greek founders as ‘an Aryan people’, and later the author exhorts his readers to show foreign visitors that ‘we are once more a united people … knowing only one goal: Germany.’

P1090172Title-page of Olympia 1936 die XI. Olympischen Spiele, Berlin, und die IV. Olympischen Winterspiele, Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Berlin, 1937) 7915.w.24., with the much-reproduced image of Hitler and Olympic officials entering the main staduim in Berlin

The books in our collections which were issued after the Games tend to be somewhat less overtly propagandist in tone. For example, souvenir albums Die Olympischen Spiele 1936 and the two entitled Olympia 1936, record events and results with little comment as to the nationality or race of the medallists, and none can ignore the fact that Jesse Owens was the outstanding athlete of the Games. Some, however, acknowledge this through gritted teeth: So kämpfte und siegte der Jugend der Welt (Munich, 1936; 7915.w.16) pointedly emphasises the race of Owens and other black runners almost every time they are mentioned, and adds details of the best white and European performers in the events won by black and American athletes. And casual ideological asides can appear in unexpected places: one of the Olympia 1936 publications explains how much work had to be done to cleanse Berlin of run-down and ugly bulidings, ‘the remnants of the Marxist regime.’

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Jesse Owens and the German long-jumper Luz Long, from Die Olympischen Spiele 1936 in Berlin und Garmisch-Partenkirchen 

All these books are also well illustrated. Indeed, in the case of Die Olympischen Spiele 1936, published by the Reemstma tobacco company,  the whole point was to fill in the album with pictures bought  with vouchers given away in cigarette packets. But perhaps the finest illustrated book, although smaller and less lavish in format, is Was ich bei den Olympischen Spielen sah, by the Games’ official photographer, Paul Wolff. Here the focus is as much on the experience and challenges of photographing the games as on the actual events, and Wolff includes an appendix listing the technical details of each picture. The photographs included are a mixture of action pictures of the sporting events, artistic images of the stadium and ceremonies, and informal shots of athletes, spectators and technicians. Wolff’s interest in the technology of recording the Games reflects another theme common to most of the books: a pride in the technical achievments which enabled the Berlin Games to be broadcast around the world and individual events and performances to be judged with greater precision than ever before.

Technische Geräte Olympia 1936
A starting pistol and a camera for filming photo-finishes: the latest technology as shown in  Die Olympischen Spiele 1936 ...

Many of the features of these books – pride in a nation’s achievement in hosting the games and in the successes of the home team – are common to every host country's recording of their Games. But the abuse of Olympic ideals by a repressive fascist regime give these books a particularly sinister spin, and remind us why the 1936 Olympics will remain particularly notorious in the history of the Games. 

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

More information about some of the items mentioned here, and a bibliography of modern and contemporary books on the 1936 Olympics can be found on our archived Sport and Society webpages.

 

Olympic Bell 7915.w.24.
The Olympic Bell, one of the major symbols of the 1936 Games, with its motto ‘Ich rufe die Jugend der Welt’ [‘I summon the youth of the world’]. Image from Olympia 1936...