TRAVEL PURSUITS – Germany: a paradox of the sublime and the barbarous

This June Classical Pursuits travels to Dresden, Weimar, and Berlin, all once part of the Soviet Bloc and now part of a reunified Germany. Each city has a unique story to tell about a different aspect of German history:  its triumphs and failures, and its vibrant culture in today’s flourishing country.

Germany, the incubator of some of the world’s most sublime literature and ground-breaking scientific discoveries, was also the center of one of the most brutal political regimes in history, bringing down destruction not only on other nations, but on itself as well. Contemporary Germany, now a leader of the European Union, is still coming to terms with its place in modern history, with how it canmove forward and still acknowledge its sometimes troubling past.

DRESDEN 800-year old Dresden was known as the Jewel Box due to its Baroque and Rococo splendour until it was flattened by Allied bombers at the end of World War II. Painstaking restorations of the city have taken place both before and after the German reunification in 1990. Dresden has regained importance as one of the cultural, educational, political, economic and “greenest cities in Europe. You can view a  fascinating film clip of the Volkwagen Transparent Factory, one of the most innovative and beautiful manufacturing plants in the world, situated in downtown Dresden.

Reading: We will discuss Günther Grass’s 2002 novel Crabwalk. Grass uses the worst maritime disaster in history to examine Germany’s past and present, while hinting soberly at its future.

WEIMAR  Weimar may be small but for hundreds of years it was the spiritual centre of Germany, home to the great poets Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller. The original Bauhaus movement was founded in Weimar by Walter Gropius, with artists Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee teaching in the Bauhaus school.  Weimar is most often recognised as the place where Germany’s first democratic constitution was signed after the First World War, giving its name to the Weimar Republic period in German politics, of 1918–1933. Many places in the city centre have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Reading: We will discuss  Faust Pt. 1, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s retelling of the classic Faust legend and the crowning achievement of his literary output. Faust sells his soul to the devil for knowledge.

BERLIN  Long in the cross-hairs of history, Berlin staged a revolution, was headquartered by fascists, bombed to bits, sandwiched between East and West with a literal and metaphoric wall ripping it in half, and finally reunited – and that was just in the 20th century!

Famous landmarks such as the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and what’s left of the Berlin Wall are like a virtual 3-D textbook in a city where you’ll find history staring you in the face every time you turn a corner.

Since the Reunification in 1990, Berlin is now once more the capital of all of Germany and one of Europe’s great cities, brimming with creativity, optimism, and modern zeitgeist. The German capital boasts no less than six renowned orchestras, including the Berliner Philharmoniker, three world-class opera houses, over 1500 theatres and stages, more than 175 museums and collections, and roughly 300 galleries . Here is a film clip of the East Side Gallery, the longest preserved stretch of the former Berlin Wall. It is the largest open-air gallery in the world created by artists from all over the world after the collapse of East Germany.

Twenty years after its post-Wall rebirth, Berlin is a scene-stealing combo of glamour and grit.

Readings: “The Use and Abuse of History,” by Friedrich Nietzsche
The Wall Jumper by Peter Schneider

In each of these three cities, we will discuss some of Germany’s richest literature. Some of the questions we will explore are:

• What  do Germans of different ages – young, middle-aged, and old –  think about the role their country played in the history of the 20th century?
• How do Germans think about the position of prosperity and leadership  that their country holds in the European Union? What is their perspective on the United States and Canada?
• What are the  lingering effects of the many years during which Germany was a divided country?
• Why has Berlin emerged as such a vibrant, cosmopolitan center of art and culture?
• Where can you get the best black bread?

A few spaces remain on our trip, MADE IN GERMANY: Tales of Three Cities. June 11-25, 2011. Register now to join discussion leader, Don Whitfield and trip host, Ann Kirkland. Warm thanks to three Classical Pursuits veterans who helped plan this trip: Helga Hermann, Hannelore Krome and Barbara Zabel.

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