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15/03/2005

From the Feuilletons is a weekly overview of what's been happening in the German-language cultural pages and appears every Friday at 3 pm. CET.. Here a key to the German newspapers.

Frankfurter Rundschau, 15.03.2005

David Hermann staged Monteverdi's Baroque opera "Orfeo" at the Bockenheimer Depot theatre in Frankfurt, with singers wearing masks of pop stars. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Madonna, John Lennon, Elvis Presley. Fine, but was it necessary? For Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich, it was "worth the try. More than that, it put the mythical subject in a special light, justifying the most audacious interpretations when they are staged with penetrating earnestness." But the real novelty of the performance was "the new way Montiverdi's music sounded. The 'historicising' approach, the aristocratic strangeness of a highly artificial, elaborate, feudally coded language, falls away. When Charon (played by Magnus Baldvinsson with lusty, sonorous burliness) lifts his guitar like a shield against Orpheus, the accompanying organ stop sounds like a guitar riff. And Orpheus's agitation suddenly has all the shrill exaltation of a rock star's wailing. The paradox is made all the more striking by the very 'authentic' performance of conductor Paolo Carignani and his musicians (strings by the Museumsorchesterstreicher, winds by 'Ecco la musica' and the 'Vivi Felice Barokmusikprojekte')."


Süddeutsche Zeitung, 15.03.2005

Taiwanese author Chen Yu-hui writes of growing up on the "small island of the gods" and her feelings for the Big Brother on the mainland. "As children we all loved China. We loved to paint the two characters 'middle' and 'kingdom'. And in geography we gobbled up the names of the Chinese holy mountains and rivers. But we never learned a thing about the mountains and rivers in Taiwan." Even her country's name gave Chen problems. "We have many names for our country, but no identity. Ask our foreign minister, who has a different visiting card for each occasion because of pressure from the Chinese. How about 'Formosa'? Sounds harmless. Or 'Chinese Taipei', the official name for the Olympic Games? At film festivals it has to be 'Taiwan, China'. But my favourite is 'Customs Area of the Pescador Islands', used by the WTO." Chen supports Taiwan's independence, but "I say it in the careful Taiwanese way. I am for 'invisible independence'. But when I travel through China, it's better not to say it, to avoid disputes with the otherwise cultivated and clever young intellectuals. One time I blabbed that I was pro-independence, and the smart university professor from Beijing with a taste for Dolce & Gabbana shirts and BMWs looked at me with pity. 'Why do you want to be independent?' Regardless of what I said, he started talking in the first person plural. 'We have no other choice, we have to bomb Taipei.'"


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 15.03.2005

Thomas Demand (pictures) lives in Berlin, but he never had an exhibition in his home town like the one now on at the New York MoMA, writes Niklas Maak: "People from Berlin must travel to New York to discover one of their most interesting artists". Maak describes vividly how Demand builds paper models based on well-known photos. "Demand began in 1993, working mostly from photographs in newspapers or books. He works with cardboard and glazed paper, making ever more elaborate, often life-sized models of rooms or landscapes. He has created unbelievable cardboard worlds in his Berlin atelier – all of which disappeared immediately afterwards. Demand takes one photo of each of his models, then destroys them. In so doing he resembles the Baroque masters of ceremony, who also went to incredible efforts to create fantastic backdrops for ceremonial feasts, perfect illusions that only lasted for a moment."

Today begins the 94th German Librarians Day. On the occasion, Constance librarian Uwe Jochum writes a plea against the digitalisation of libraries, which he sees as a fashionable flip-side to the "grotesque financial undernourishment" of German libraries: "One should know that the library system at Harvard University has an annual acquisitions budget of 26.5 million dollars and a staff of over 1,300, while the national library in Berlin – Germany's most important library – has to make do with a budget of barely nine million euros and a staff of 815. Berlin would place somewhere in the middle of American university libraries, between place 40 and 50. Outside Berlin, things look different. Committed new libraries like the one in Bielefeld, or historical institutions like in Heidelberg would find themselves beyond the pale of the American university library ranking, which has 113 places.


Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 15.03.2005


Georges Waser reports that the Scots are seeking amnesty for Macbeth. Roughly 20 Scottish parliamentarians, headed by Conservative Alex Johnstone, claim that Shakespeare's representation of Macbeth as a "bloodthirsty monster guilty of murdering the king" is wrong. Basing their claim on the work of American professor John Beatty, the patriots believe Macbeth was a "good, Christian King", and demand that the thousandth anniversary of his birth be named the "Year of Macbeth". The group back up their claim with historical facts: "King Duncan was not stabbed in the Iverness Castle – as the play suggests – but died on the battlefield at Pitgaveny. And Macbeth ruled for 17 years thereafter – a very long time for a ruler in the early Middle Ages, proof that Macbeth enjoyed the full respect of his people." The Macbeth fans are not deterred by the fact that Shakespeare's characterisation was based on the writings of several medieval Scottish historians. These belonged to the rival clan, they say. Waser notes that this new angle on Macbeth is not motivated by patriotism alone, but could promote further tourism as well. The parliamentarians have proposed a "Macbeth heritage trail" through Northern Scotland which would wend through places central to Macbeth lore such as Luphanan, where Macbeth was relieved of his head by Malcolm or MacDuff (the debate rages on) and Forres, where the witches met and where the happy hiker can now pick up such delicacies as Macbeth pork sausage, Macbeth beef steak or Macbeth venison cutlet at "Macbeth's Butchers of Forres".


Die Tageszeitung, 15.03.2005


Götz Aly has responded to J. Adam Tooze's critique of his book "Hitler's Volkstaat" (see In today's Feuilletons of 14 March 2005). Accused by Tooze of having grossly miscalculated the German financing of the war, Aly writes: "The question here is of the tax burden to Germans in the time from September 1, 1939 to May 8, 1945, how the war budget was put together and how the relationship between war revenue and borrowing is to be assessed. I estimate the share of external war income – income from the occupied territories, forced labour and persecuted Jews – to be roughly 70%. Tooze estimates it to have accounted for 25% of the war expense. This difference is easily explained. I am talking of war revenue and he is talking about the total costs of the war. This confusion forms the basis of his polemic. As everyone knows, revenues and costs don't always add up, especially in war."


Die Welt, 15.03.2005

Forget the cult of youth. "Old men of letters are dominating public discourse!" This is the conclusion Ekkehard Fuhr draws from the Ranking of Great German Thinkers, which economist Max A. Höfer assembled based on a survey of data banks and Internet entries. First place is occupied by Günter Grass (author), second place Harald Schmidt (television host), third place Martin Walser (author). The average age of the top hundred thinkers is 67.

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