Physical Dramaturgy: Ein (neuer) Trend?

Dramaturgie im zeitgenssischen Tanz ist ? positiv gemeint ? ein heies Eisen. Idealerweise sind Dramaturginnen und Dramaturgen whrend der Erarbeitung eines Stcks die besten Freunde der Choreografen. more more



A St. Moritz pilgrimage

Novelist Thomas Hettche travels to the Swiss resort of St. Moritz in search of the elusive spirit of the place that has drawn tourists for over a century

The hotel entrance lobby is a hubbub of muted voices. Guests are returning from a day's skiing. At the reception, there are still a few sweaty, more mature citizens, looking a little out of place in sports clothes. But in the lobby people are freshly showered and have changed into pink polo necks, corduroy trousers and blue shirts. Young girls, who a few minutes earlier had been trudging through the snow, wearing helmets and dragging ski poles, now push little wooden baby carriages, trimmed with lace and braid, holding dolls with heads made of the finest bone china.

Behind an arc of high windows that curve apse-like into the great outdoors, bare larches and slim pines stand erect, stretching skywards, while the guests drink tea and unpack their holiday reading. The ladies read Nadolny or, now that he's just turned eighty, Siegfried Lenz. Grandparents play with their grandchildren. And where is Daddy? Is he phoning the office? Or dashing down the slopes for one last time today? One thing is certain: he'll be back in time for dinner. But in his absence, the son and heir stands blond and curly-haired at a little table he can barely see over, his mother handing him a glass of schwappel, the organic apple-drink from Möhl.

Lobby of the Waldhaus Hotel. All photos courtesy of the respective hotels.

Everything is in its proper place. I am the exception. I am not supposed to be here, in the Waldhaus Hotel in Sils Maria, but somewhere in St. Moritz, the reason for my journey. I was assured it was a mere two hours' walk, along the edge of the lakes, to get from one town to the other. Unfortunately, the lakes have disappeared. So, too, has the valley. I set off to make my way to the memorial stone that marks the spot where Nietzsche, in the summer of 1881, came up with the notion of eternal recurrence. It soon becomes clear to me that I should have taken more seriously the famous note in "Ecce homo", which reads "6,000 feet beyond man and time". I have barely started down the snow-covered path through the wood – one that makes me wonder if I have happened onto the toboggan track mentioned in the hotel brochure – when I am hit by a merciless wind that whistles cold and hard across the mountain spreading a cloak of snow flurries.

Only a tree-covered hill peers out of the whiteness which I would like to identify as the famed peninsula that Nietzsche was so fond of, but I cannot determine the location of the lake. Here and there life buoys protrude from the snow. Abandoned Nordic ski tracks intersect. Disheartened, I stop by one of the benches that seem to be strewn at random instead of describing the edge of the lake, and I pull the collar of my thin overcoat up over ears and nose. Etched into the backrest in Swiss dialect: "this is the bear's bench".

Terrine of duck liver with a vanilla muffin. Followed by beef broth, deep-fried pike with a confit of organically grown lemons, small oven-cooked potatoes and leaf spinach. A trio of Isola baby goat – roast leg and shoulder and a small home-made sausage - corn gnocchi in melted cheese, glazed carrots and parsnips sticks. Why parsnips, I wonder? Unavoidably, they make me think of Scrooge McDuck who in the German version by Erika Schmidt, is served a parsnip pudding as the epitome of gastronomic horror.

Dessert is a timbale of quark mousse with lemon and blackberry mousse, cherry ice-cream, pastries and pralines. After dinner at the bar, I ask the Zurich lawyer what makes St. Moritz so special. He says he has been staying at the Waldhaus Hotel with his family for the last twenty years. "The reliably fine weather, the grandiose backdrop of the Alps, the predictable snow fall and the champagne fresh air 1,800 metres above sea level." But it's all changed.

What does he mean? I ask.

In the old days, one was more among one's kind. "In those days, people didn't just run in and out of the Palace Hotel. The Palace was like a bank emporium. It took courage to cross the threshold."
And today?
Oh today! The gaunt lady with liver spots on her bony hands, balancing a glass of port by her face, waves dismissively.
"These days, grand hotels are in the hands of patrons!" As toys. For prestige. The Palace belongs to the Americans, the Arabs own the Carlton, and the Kulm is owned by the Niarchos shipping family.
"Isn't one of them a friend of Paris Hilton?"
The old lady closes her eyes in mild disgust. "Used to be," she says, "Used to be."
"And what about the guests?"
The people from the old days are still all here. "But one tries to elude the democratisation of luxury, you understand." She gives me a penetrating look and takes a tiny sip of port.
"The Sixties jet set that allied themselves with the tabloids – they're the reason that the really wealthy stay invisible these days."
How is that possible, I want to know.
"None of them are in the hotels any more," she explains.
"Where then?"
In their villas. On the slopes of the Suvretta. "I can see a hundred billion dollars when I look up this mountain."
"A hundred?" The Zurich lawyer interjects. Double-breasted suit with gold buttons. A kerchief adorned with golden mussels peeps out of his breast pocket. "That's reached as soon as Bill Gates flies in."

Palace Hotel

The windows in my room open onto the valley and St. Moritz. But I see nothing: no the famous peak, no lakes, no land. The light of the mountain station pours out through snow and fog, the valley floor a billowing white surface. Nietzsche writes to his mother: "The thermometer in my room reads 8 degrees Réaumur. And with biting winds and the most capricious weather, which is unpleasant and "nachtheilig" for the people of the Engadine". I lie in bed and think: What a wonderful word – nacht-heilig. (Nachtheilig is the old spelling of nachteilig, meaning detrimental. But nacht-heilig translates as night-holy - ed.) To grasp what 8 Réamur actually means, all I have to do is put the little book to one side, slip out of bed and inspect the thermometer by the window. Just as it did a hundred years ago, it shows the temperature in both Réaumur and Centigrade scales. Nietzsche had it easy, I think to myself and drop to sleep.

Next morning it is still snowing. The light is diffuse. I order breakfast in bed and put Nietzsche aside. Instead, I start reading a novel from the hotel library with the promising title of "St. Moritz Sun". A handsome Ullstein edition, with Art Nouveau decoration from 1910. "Morning, shortly after ten," I read, "a light flashed just left of the huge mound of snow on the far side of the lake. Moments later, the whole valley between Silvaplana and Campfér was bathed in sunshine. The golden wave rolled nearer and nearer, enveloping the rotunda of the new Segantini Museum and the first villas of the village. It overflowed into the summer resort asleep in the snow, the baths, it reached the majestic winter hotels, the Palace Hotel, the Kulm above, illuminating at last the bright yellow facade of the seven-storey Grand Hotel.

Little by little, the sun invaded all four hundred windows and woke the last of the late sleepers, the sky a deep blue, the jagged mountain tops a bluish white, and not a cloud in view. The chill of night dissolved into whitish veils of mist, and the wide, white snowscape bathed in the sunlight under its evenly spread coverlet of snow, where only the racetrack, shovelled clear, betrayed the outlines of the lake deep beneath the ice. Jangling teams in harness swept up the winding paths to Belvoir, drawing behind them whole trains of laughing, shrieking tobogganists crouched on their sledges. The ice rinks that served as tennis courts in the summer were filled with figure skaters and beginners of all ages practising diligently. On the roads to Campfér, beyond the baths and the Ober-Alpina, the first skiers started to appear."

In contrast to this Paul Oscar novel, it is early April and between seasons in St. Moritz. At the end of March, everything shuts down and re-fitting starts immediately. There are three months to prepare for the summer season. There is talk that Suvretta House will spend twenty million francs on reconstruction. The Kulm Hotel is celebrating its 150th anniversary. The hotel has invested over a hundred million francs in the last 15 years.

The heavens cannot decide between snow and rain, and they are certainly not thinking about clearing. The blind hulks of the grand hotels hunker mutely as winter fades. Next to the tower of the Palace Hotel, a crane is going up. All roads are blocked by the parked vans of bricklayers and swimming pool experts. The shop windows of the Via Serla, where everybody gathers during the season, have been emptied, and the galleries have long since sent their pictures back to Zurich. Only the pharmacies now look like jewellers, with small green boxes marked "Robidog". St. Moritz may be as dirt-free as Singapore, but as Die Weltwoche once declared in disgust, this village's gully-like streets "have the musty odour of a tunnel."

Nonetheless, I trudge up to the Hotel Kulm and down to what is left of the ice rink in Celerina, wait in vain for fur-coated blondes at the praline counter at Hanselmann and slither across sticky snow to the revolving door of the Palace Hotel, which is draped against the cold. I look for Sir Norman Foster's Chesa Futura, for the Segantini and the Berry Museum, climb up to the Suvretta House and head back down to St. Moritz Bad, to survey the displays of sales items in the shops. The columns of St. Borromäus parish church are economically assembled from discs and barrels like an Anker construction kit. Hotel architecture camouflaged as an early Christian basilica. I stand in the shelter of a bus stop and gaze up at the mountain through the sleet. Nothing remains of the village as it once was. The light is dull and the sky hangs low over the valley.

On the journey back in the bus, with the tourists in their helmets and overalls, I feel we are all astronauts on our way to the shuttle launch pad. On all sides, the windows are so pasted over with dynamically tumbling, hopping, jumping, jubilating figures that you can barely catch a glimpse of what is outside. The windscreen wipers laboriously shovel aside the heavy, wet snow. Puddles form around the astronauts' feet on the black, bobbled floor of the bus. "Next stop is Chamfer Guardalej." Tschamfair Ladalei. Tscham Fair La Dalei. Tschamfairladalei: the announcement an incantation of such smooth softness that not even the recorded voice can destroy. Where are we flying to?

The barman places two long-stemmed schnapps glasses on the counter.
"So, how are things? Do people still go to the Palace," I ask him. "You must know your way about here."
"Yes, of course," he says quietly. Always. But the sort of people we get has changed a great deal in the last four or five years.
In what way? The Russians! "Oh yes?"
He nods earnestly. "At first," he says, "there was the demimonde. Now we get a broader cross section of Russian New Money. Very good guests."
"What does that mean?"
"They spend more. And that's what matters with tourists."
"All that matters here is money." The Swabian architect, I met the evening before, leans forward, holding his cigar over my head. "Ask about the Villa Böhler! You must ask about the Villa Böhler if you want to understand how mercenary and corrupt the Engadine valley is."
His breath, which strikes me in the face, smells very strongly of fruit schnapps. A very fine fruit schnapps. He raises one of the two glasses and drinks to my health.
"What do you mean?" I parry.
He stares, mocking and blasé, as only a drunk can.
"Do you know the Villa Böhler?" He doesn't wait for my answer. "A modernist incunabulum!" Built in 1917 by Heinrich Tessenow. Absolutely minimalist, absolutely simple." He tilts back his mighty skull and inflates his cheeks with the smoke of his cigar. "Simply magnificent."
"And? The house had the misfortune to end up next to a new house belonging to Freddy Heineken, the Dutch brewer. He bought it and wanted to knock it down."
"And what then?" I ask again.
"Listed building, negotiations, back and forth, but Heineken won't give up. In the end, it comes down to a referendum.
"And? The people of St. Moritz decide that the building has no architectural value worth protecting."
"Oh yes. The bulldozers arrived that very night."
I nod and empty the second of the two glasses with the balloon-shaped bulge on the long-stemmed base. The architect is already waving his cigar to attract the barman's attention.

"I'm sitting here, 1,892 metres above sea level and this finds expression in that one feels utterly intoxicated by the air and unbound by all the weight of the earth. Like yer hoverin'. It is, I might add, the very antithesis of Kampen on the Isle of Sylt, but in quality, quite identical. St. Moritz is all you could offer me after Kampen," as Siegfried Jacobsohn, publisher of Weltbühne, once said to his writer Kurt Tucholsky. The friendly waiter fills the etagere on the little table by my armchair with pastries.

Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin, Gottfried Benn and Paul Celan, Max Frisch and Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Marcel Proust and Ernst Bloch – the list of authors who have written about the Engadine is long. But the more I read about St. Moritz and the more I adapt to the rhythm of the hotel with its unchanging daily pattern – from bedroom to dining room to reading room to lobby – the more St. Moritz disappears from view. Seen from the Waldhaus Hotel, it becomes an inscrutable, artificial phantasm. And nothing I saw on my walk makes it any more real.

Suvretta House

I read of Nijinski's final dance in Suvretta House in the winter of 1918. The war had just ended. At first, Nijinski merely sat there looking at his audience, until some of them became uneasy. "The little horse is tired," he reputedly said. And then he danced. The following day in Zurich, Professor Bleuler diagnosed incurable schizophrenia. I read a poem by Karl Kraus about a trip to the Fex valley and a much-quoted letter from Rilke. It seems to him, he writes, "as if the admiration of our grandparents and great grandparents (...) had helped shape these places." They had everything, he wrote, and in "luxury editions."

But there are things you find here that are only rarely quoted in the luxury editions. One example is Stephan Zweig's manuscript of 1916, "Among the Carefree" in which he described, with revulsion, the pleasures of the carefree hotel guests in the middle of the Great War. "Now and then one eavesdrops on what people are saying. French, German, Italian, English – these carefree people have no homes and they come from everywhere. They have no fathers, no brothers, no spouses who are dying – one can see it on their easy lips." From what vantage point should one observe this place? I read what Benjamin writes: "Sometimes when I see the mountains like this, I wonder what on earth culture is there for." I read Georg Kaiser’s letter in which he imagines Jesus visiting a spa resort. "It is harrowing to watch Jesus, unable to walk because of the nails through his shoes, being pushed through the hotel lobby in a wheelchair. He has white gloves on his hands."

"There is a danger that people only buy accommodation at historic hotels like ours for special occasions." Director Urs Kienberger, the third in the family line to manage the hotel, smiles cautiously.

Grandfather Oskar took over the hotel shortly after it was established in 1908 and managed it into the fifties. He was in charge of the first winter season in 1924. His son Rolf had the swimming pool built in 1970, but otherwise was careful to undertake only modest improvements. As a result, the hotel benefits today from the public’s delight at staying in one of the few five-star hotels from the era of the Grand Hotels to have survived more or less in its original form. Urs Kienberger talks softly as he describes how he and his brothers and sisters played in the hotel as children. And the protocol they had to observe. Never use the main entrance. Don't ask to be served. He shows me the corner where the rocking chair stood and where as a child, he used to read, hidden from the guests.

The smile lingers on his face as he looks around the entrance lobby with his bright eyes. "People seek out a setting like this for weddings and similar occasions, to bring back something prestigious, if only for a short time, a sense of a lost grandeur. But we want people here to be themselves. To have a feeling of being at home."

But why would you want take your holiday at home? Surely you go on holiday to get away from everyday life. Or perhaps that isn't true. Do people go on holiday to find themselves, so to speak, in a home away from home? Perhaps that is what lends such enduring fascination to "Nietzsche in Sils". The presence of someone for whom being here was both a physical and spiritual necessity. As Adorno writes, this landscape exhales "no mediocre humanity. It is charged with the pathos of Nietzsche's remoteness, because it was here that he hid himself away." Which summer visitor doesn't toy with the idea of climbing above the tree line, and even the Waldhaus gives cautious assent to the conservative revolution.

I am sunk in the armchairscape of the hotel lounge, its plush-pink and ice-blue like the water of a warm bath in which guests sit submerged up to their shoulders, either engaged in muted conversation or merely ruminating on the passing of time. The forty-something lady who always wears boots is here again. You hear her hard step before you see her. Bare-shouldered as ever in one of her serial jackets. By now I am familiar with the gesture she makes when she eventually tosses off her little cape, exposing her shoulders, like a matador throwing all the tautness of his being into the scales of death. In good moments, you want to believe her. Your register her serious look and the deep lines around her mouth. Her painfully tanned skin. The skin on shoulders is soft and older than that on her face.

Or the man with the boyish haircut over there. In his fifties. A neck-hugging dark blue tank top which allows just enough space for the knot of an equally dark blue tie to peep out. One of those broad-hipped men. His mouth a small, collapsed crater. Next to him, his wife. Black, very thick hair which she wears tied back with a black velvet band. A broad pearl necklace as neck-hugging as his pullover. They are travelling with his mother who talks incessantly, while her son and his wife do not exchange a glance. Here, in the hotel lounge, the Belle Epoque society found its utopia. Here they could afford to indulge in equality because the strategy of exclusion practised by the Grand Hotels in the vanishing point of the upper Engadine functioned so perfectly.

View from Suvretta House

Time and again, I read about the famous summer season of 1911. Twenty-nine degrees for weeks on end. The lists of guests, which hotels used to publish with pride, list a cross section of Europe’s better society. For security reasons, an undercover police officer is engaged. Then the outbreak of war in 1914. Guests fall over each other in their haste to leave. The local visitors' paper writes: "We have to bid farewell for this season, an early, melancholy farewell, the heart full of sorrow and grief, but also anger and shame at the collapse of old Europe’s much vaunted civilisation."

Where does it come from, this stubborn insistence that St. Moritz is still the place to be after all those years? The tourist board's "St. Moritz Press Bulletin" reports that the last winter season saw the number of private jets flying direct between Moscow and St. Moritz rise by 65 percent. According to Samedan airport, the export of luxury goods purchased in St. Moritz has risen considerably. Capri and St. Moritz are planning a strategic alliance: for more than one hundred years, these two holiday destinations have attracted a similar clientele. In the booming Chinese province of Shenzhen, they are building a "St. Moritz City." What is it that people find here, 1,856 metres above sea level? Is it the proximity of the sky? The snow, the cold, the peace, the pure air? Or is it a sense of their own impermanence?

"The untouched world beyond the timber line," Adorno writes, "stands in contrast to the view of nature as a source of consolation, of warmth, created for the benefit of mankind; it already betrays what the cosmos looks like." I love this "already". It wrenches us into the cold of outer space. This "already" provides a glimpse of what awaits us, and it's not an alpine meadow. For "the prevalent image of nature is limited, bourgeois, narrow, calibrated to the tiny zone in which life, familiar from history, thrives." An alternative image of nature, one might argue, would not be nature for us but something quite different. But it is clear what Adorno had in mind, and he continues: "The country path is cultural philosophy."

But actually, here in the Engadine, that cosy view does not ring true. This may have something to do with the fact that St. Moritz is not actually beautiful. And never was. I sit here in Cafe Hauser and drink "men's tea". In bygone days, so I've read, this is where the local high society would parade. Today, they serve "men's tea" and "women's tea". Men's tea includes sarsaparilla root, carob, ginger, cinnamon, barley malt, damina leaves, tragacanth liquorice, stevia, fennel and pepper. Women’s tea contains cinnamon, ginger, orange peel, fennel, dandelion, cloves, liquorice, pepper, cardamom.

With the demise of the idea of the Grand Hotel, St. Moritz as a way of life was plunged into spiritual agonising that lasted for decades, ending only when the Shah of Iran – himself an icon of the so-called jet set – decided to move out of the Grand Hotel. It was only the sprouting of villas on the Suvretta hillside that provided St. Moritz with a new, ordered social structure, and a societal model embodied, as in the era of the Grand Hotel, in its architecture. However, the Via Brattas and the Via Dim Ley up on the slope, now dotted with nuclear shelters, swimming pools, squash courts, private cinemas and garages are not streets for flaneurs. This new St. Moritz is open only for fitness trainers, nannies and the deliverymen of the local delicatessen suppliers Glattfelder or Geronimi.

It is hard not to feel scepticism about the greedy, intoxicating rapture provoked by the landscape of the Upper Engadine and its precious St. Moritz. Until, that is, one understands that rapture is inflamed by a very particular dialectic between nature and human intervention. On the one hand, this fevered focus arises from the singularity of an artificial landscape that purports to be pure nature, but is in fact one of the earliest tourist mise-en-scènes of nature in the Alps. On the other hand, it also reflects how a visitor to the area is confronted not only by a form of nature that is inhumane, although man-made, but, also, by the most inhumane attribute of human society: wealth. The Grand Hotel itself is now that distant glacier on which one could blissfully pass away in a daydream.

In the edition of the "Baedeker Guide to Switzerland and the adjoining regions of Italy, the Savoy and the Tyrol" that Nietzsche took with him on his trips to the Engadine, the Engadine Kulm is described as "an extensive pile of buildings at the upper end of the village, with a fine view and every convenience for both summer and winter, patronised by the English and Americans; high charges, pens. from 10 ½, fr. in summer from 3-10, in winter from 1-7 fr. The landlord possesses an old Italian copy of the Sistine Madonna, which may be inspected on weekdays between 2 and 3." But such distractions are just one reality of this place. The other, dark aspect of this landscape, whose atmospheric conditions Adorno picked up on immediately, does have something to do with the Grand Hotel, but also with its luxury.

Hotel Kulm

The "Upper Flugihaus" as the parent house of the old-established von Flugi family was one called – used to house resort guests at a time when there was no other accommodation in St. Moritz. Later it traded as Pension Faller until Johannes Badrutt bought it and renamed it Hotel Kulm because it was situated at the culmination – the highest point – of San Murezzan. And, in the end, that is what gives it its renown. It is the point from which in 1885 the English first flung themselves down the mountain, bellies on sledges, obsessed with nothing but the idea of acceleration.

I remember having read that the tourist board of the municipality of St. Moritz grew out of the St. Moritz spa association, which had in turn been formed out of a committee, set up in 1864, for the beautification and expansion of the cemetery. I cannot get the ghosts of the jet set out of my head. On the homepage of the St. Moritz Bobsleigh Club is a picture of an ageing playboy Gunter Sachs at the inauguration of a corner which was named after him, climbing into the bobsleigh as the "pale ryder" in a floor-length fur coat. The Bob and Cresta Runs are older than the railway, whose viaduct crosses over them. I am reminded of the picture of Captain Henry Pendell, a highly decorated veteran of the Boer War, who bled to death in 1907 when his toboggan flew from the course of the Cresta Run. The jet set is written into this region because speed is the natural measure of an empty landscape. And with it, death. It seems to me that since the second half of the 19th century, life at St. Moritz has been determined by the phantasm of the English sportsman. And he is also the revenant who livens it up.

When the first Anglo-Saxon tourists invented winter sports in the Alps out of sheer boredom, they created an entirely new figure in Europe's natural landscape. Unlike the mountain guide, the poacher or the hunter, the sportsman, who mounts his sledge in search of speed, is not sacrificing himself for others, but for himself alone. All he's after, and all that will remain of him, is the record. For all his aristocratic bearing, he remains a democrat. Or an autist, if you prefer. Most emphatically, a bachelor. For what he is putting at risk – at least in that class of society from which this town draws its clientele – is genealogy. He is the hero who forswears the propagation of his line. The inherent sex appeal of such behaviour was recognised and reactivated by the jet set of the sixties: not for nothing was this a movement of sons.

Room in the Waldhaus hotel

And while I observe the how parents wait for and receive their young in the Waldhaus as they return from skiing, suddenly it seems conceivable to me that I am attending a sort of rehearsal. An initiation which is actually the real reason why, for more than a hundred years, people have constantly come back here, to the timber line. Because of the experience of sharing, for a few moments, the freedom of the hero whose spirit so thoroughly pervades this town. This, I think, must be what fathers show their sons here. In the icy cold of a delicious moment of freedom, they pilgrimage back like salmon to the place of their conception.

Tonight, too, it is snowing. I sleep badly, as I do before any journey. I stand for a long time, looking out of the window at the flickering lights piercing the snow from high above, caterpillar tractors preparing the night slopes for the next day. Even the artists, I think staring into the night, yearn for danger. The Engerdine painters like Segantini, or Berry for example, who, every autumn, had his canvasses transported up to Julier pass and firmly anchored down, and spent the winter painting, living in a simple hospice. In a blizzard, he would tie himself fast, forming a counterpoint to the racing skiers, in the hope of experiencing something that quite literally slips away from the sportsman, time and again.

The next morning, Felix Dietrich – Urs Kienberger’s brother-in-law and deputy director of the Waldhaus Hotel – shakes my hand and wishes me bon voyage. For a brief moment, it has stopped snowing. Unreal light over Lake Sils. The mountain peaks in a white haze. I would have liked to see the Roman columns on Julier pass. But for now the time has come to leave the sleet and the valley of mists; the post bus is already plummeting down into Bergell, headlong into the spring, and in an instant, the sky clears.

In Soglio, in the Palazzo Salis, I lunch in a cavernous, empty dining room. The surly waiter is black-haired, thin and tetchy, and for the first time I have a feeling that is to return frequently: how much I miss the Waldhaus. One last glance into the small wintry baroque garden where Rilke spent a summer, before taking the path through the chestnut woods down to Castasegna. Endless stone steps, through the thick forest, mossy, dark and dank. The white mountains form the high horizon behind green woods of the valley. Old women smile in greeting. In their front gardens, the bright pink tips of the hip-high magnolia bushes. It smells of charred wood. In the small walled gardens, palm trees. Cats on sunny stones and delicate overhanging balconies in arm's reach, if you stretch a little.


Thomas Hettche (homepage) is a German writer, born in 1964. He has received numerous international literary prizes for his novels and translations.

The text originally appeared German in the July / August edition of DU magazine.

Translation: Peter Bild.

Get the signandsight newsletter for regular updates on feature articles. - let's talk european.

More articles

Me and my Kindle

Monday 6 December, 2010

TeaserPic Ebooks are becoming a serious alternative to their papery predecessors. Does this mean we are on the verge of a fundamental shift in the medium of the book and its contents? Author, retired German Literature professor and enthusiastic ebook convert Ruth Klüger leads the way into the almost weightless future of reading.
read more

Not in our name!

Monday 23 November, 2009

The path of gentrification has, more often than not, been paved by artists. But Hamburg's creative community wants to jam the economic development machine instead. Here is their manifesto.
read more

Organic or bust

Wednesday 24 January, 2008

The Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg is the playground of the new Germany. But unless you fit in, life can be tough among the beautiful creatives of a gated community that needs no wall. By Henning Sußebach
read more

I am a Goggomobil

Friday 18 May, 2007

Germans are said to be a bit obsessed with their cars - sleek, robust, fast. But the cutest thing to ever grace the autobahn had other virtues. In view of the green future where Germany is a small car nation, Georg Klein sings praise of the Goggomobil.
read more

Paris pop paradise

Wednesday 14 February, 2007

Paris is the anti-Berlin. While the world's writers and artists are flocking to the ugly German capital, personalities like Sofia Coppola and Jarvis Cocker are drawn to Paris to pursue their work in freedom and impeccable style in front of perfect facades. By Eckhart Nickel
read more

A perfect place for a revolution

Monday 20 November, 2006

"This year I was struck by the number of articles saying you should do absolutely nothing on your holidays. We Poles have fully embraced the credo 'time is money,' and become a nation of workaholics." Taking the experts at their word, Edwin Bendyk searches for perfect idleness in post-communist Poland.
read more

What to do with Mother?

Wednesday 1 November, 2006

Mother's friend E. can't move her hands. Mr W. scalded himself in the shower. Mrs A. fell down in the kitchen and Mrs H. was trapped among thorny roses. Perhaps it's time to get Mother to a safe place. In coming decades the number of over-80s will grow from three to ten million, more than one third of whom will need care. But where? And how? Susanne Mayer looks at why we are overtaxed when Mother or Father become care cases.
read more

"Nix Aldi - Picaldi"

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

The Berlin cut-price label Picaldi has cornered the jeans market for hoodies, dolies and rappers. By Johannes Gernert
read more

Bionade: the triumph of a guiltless pleasure

Wednesday, 18 October, 2006

There's no quenching German thirst for the organic lemonade in a Bionade bottle. The factory can't meet demand and has sent Coca Cola packing. Cornelius and Fabian Lange describe the rise of the Bionade empire out of the ashes of the failing Peter brewery in what was once a failing region in Germany - soon to be home to the Bionade valley.
read more

Always caviar

Thursday 7 September, 2006

Compared with their permatanned clientele, the chefs appear pale and lost in thought. The look of people who spend sleepless nights melding creative relationships between marinated Barbary duck and puff pastry with ginger. Margrit Sprecher on the annual pig-out in the mountains that is the St. Moritz Gourmet Festival.
read more

Patriots of a new stripe

Wednesday 28 June, 2006

Infected with World Cup fever, Germans seem to be swelling with a strange new feeling: patriotism. Writer Thomas Brussig admits that he too has been painting his face red, black and gold and reassures his compatriots that being proud to be German is healthy, good and by no means mandatory.
read more

Who will win the World Cup?

Wednesday14 June, 2006

Brazil is the obvious favourite. But what about the others? England has Wayne Rooney. Argentina is on a high wire between agony and ecstasy. The Netherlands will have to turn into a team of murderous sadists if they are to win. And Switzerland's card is the "principe melange". Eight writers rate their country's chances of victory.
read more

The return of the "principe melange"

Thursday 8 June, 2006

The FIFA World Cup kicks off tomorrow in Germany. In the last of our series by authors explaining why their country will win, Benno Maggi also tells exactly how Switzerland will become world champion.
read more

The Spanish Apocalypse

Wednesday 7 June, 2006

It will be an apocalyptic day when Spain wins the World Cup, says writer Guillem Martinez. But it might as well fall this year as any.
read more