Tag Archives: Industrialization

Chemical Decadence: Pfisters Mühle on Stage in Stuttgart

In a 2012 interview on NPR religion scholar Elaine Pagels suggested that the enduring appeal of the Book of Revelation is that it provides a language that has been useful to movements of all sorts of political stripes since the early Christian era. “[P]eople who longed for justice have always felt that the book speaks to us now and we are now on the cusp of that great change,” she observes to Terry Gross. In appropriating the rhetoric of apocalypse, more recent environmentalist camps are in that sense only the most recent iteration of a longer tradition. In tactical terms, apocalyptic rhetoric can be a double-edged sword, as when those parties with a vested interest in the ecosocial status quo attempt to portray their adversaries as so many Chicken Littles. But as I sat in the Stuttgart State Theater recently watching their stage adaptation of Pfisters Mühle, I was reminded of the particular pleasure that can be taken when the material of Revelation is effectively deployed.

The stage version follows the plot and conventions of Raabe’s novel: Ebert Pfister and his bride Emmy are on a honeymoon at the Pfister family mill in the weeks before its destruction to make way for a new factory. Ebert sets about writing his “Sommerferienheft,” recounting how the factory Krickerode opened up upstream, how the hydrogen sulfide killed off the fish in the stream and released a stench that drove everyone away and ruined the mill. The play develops the humor of its source material: in a novel concerned also with the status of the image in the era of its mechanical reproducibility, the characters gather before a nineteenth century camera mounted upon a selfie stick. On the other hand, the humor is layered on top of the play also explores the commonplace that the memory as narrated in the text itself is somehow dangerous. When we arrive at the description of the degraded stream for instance, the dead fish rise up from the stage to haunt the characters in the present.

Everyone is a partisan in the world, as a line from the story reminds us, and Pfister’s Mill is in many ways an exploration of how nature ultimately loses out to the various ideological commitments of everyone in the years after German unification. Adam Asche, the natural scientist who helps the Betram Pfister in his court case against Krickerode in spite of his stated wish to pollute every river, stream, and bubbling spring in Germany, is in this sense different from the other characters only in his openness about his own partisan loyalties.

The play imagines modernity as an era of chemical decadence – decadence being, of course, a close relative of apocalypse. At one point Adam Asche falls into a vat of his own toxic brew. It overtakes his body and he breaks out dancing to Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” which is, I might add, a well chosen anthem for this particular story. Lippoldes, meanwhile, the novel’s living anachronism, dances down the throat of the enormous industrial drainage pipe that is the play’s main set piece.

Out of principle I find comparing adaptations to their source material to be like comparing apples and oranges, but all the same the stage adaptation gives the “where do all the pictures go?” speech to Ebert. The speech is core to the novel’s thinking about art and aesthetics in an era when nature is yoked into the process of industrial production. But the melancholy discomfort that comes with going to an art exhibition in modernity is not Ebert’s, it’s Emmy’s. Ebert dismisses it, and then later appropriates it, but what strikes me about Emmy is that she makes some very incisive observations about how urban and industrial modernity affects our perception of the world. Interestingly, it is a circumstance that has often been either missed in the reception history or has received very little comment.

Finally, the production makes a bizarre choice that I’ve never encountered before in theater. After over two hours we had something like a forty minute intermission to allow for a set change for a kind of tableau vivant. When the intermission began without a curtain, I was actually very confused. Was the play over? In the end it seemed a very ham-fisted solution to the medium’s technical limitation.

On the Poetic Status of Conservatism

There’s a point in Theodor Adorno’s essay “In Memory of Eichendorff” when he arrives at the issue of Eichendorff’s own conservatism. The essay, let us first recall, was originally a radio speech broadcast in 1957 to mark the 100th anniversary of the poet’s death (official German culture loves these sorts of anniversaries). What is at stake for Adorno is actually the appropriation of the German cultural past as part of the restoration of the Adenauer years. “But if anywhere, it is in poetry that the status of conservatism has changed in the extreme” (57). Unlike post-war conservatism’s investment in a bad status quo and a thoroughly discredited notion of tradition, historical conservatism of Eichendorff’s kind comes from a value of something abiding against “emerging barbarism” (57).

I cite this because the authors I work with also cling to a politics that seem to invite much less sympathetic readings. Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukács memorably described Adalbert Stifter as the “classical author of the German political reaction,” argued that for all of his insight, Wilhelm Raabe was too bound by his social and political limitations to understand his time, and Theodor Fontane’s aestheticization of the nobility was a symptom of political “halfwayness.” (Granted, these judgments are all from Lukács’ most Stalinist period, in which, in spite of Adorno’s polemic, he still produced fantastic and provocative essays.)

The image of Fontane improved after Lukács’ essay with the publication of the letters to Georg Friedlaender, where Fontane has much sharper criticism of the nobility. And Raabe? A first encounter with Raabe through Die Akten des Vogelsangs (recently translated as The Birdsong Papers) might not give the impression of someone who had a portrait of Bismarck in his study, one that hangs there still today.

One position might be to separate the author from the politics, a move that I endorse as part of any critical practice. But that doesn’t obviate the conservative politics or conservative aesthetics in the works themselves. Like Schiller, Stifter sees art and aesthetics as means by which humanity moves from a condition of “is” to “ought.” But unlike Schiller, that is not a move that everyone can make. So in his novel Der Nachsommer (Indian Summer), which is a story about an aesthetic upbringing, only a select few enter the Rose House. In Stifter’s essays and in his stories there is little of the enlightenment universalism of, say, Goethe’s Iphigenie in Taurus (another favorite text of the post-war West German restoration). And while the “fiction of the alternative community” that Jeffrey Sammons sees at work in Raabe has a certain sexiness, then as now it remains a politically ambivalent fiction at best.

Adorno’s reading of Eichendorff’s conservatism could be applied to many of the conservative authors of the 19th century. One of the most striking aspects of Stechlin, for instance, is the extent to which the conservative and even reactionary characters seem to have insights into contemporary reality than the more liberal, “world-open” characters who subscribe to a benign cosmopolitanism. But there’s more to be gained from such a reading than that. Where Lukács tends to look for the social and political value of Raabe and Fontane in spite of their politics, Adorno is sensible to the more useful dialectic at work in the historical conservatism of one like Eichendorff. We see it also in the environmental thematic in Raabe. His novels don’t critique environmental depredation from a position that values nature as something best respected as sovereign and inviolable, but from a skepticism of and perhaps even resistance to destructive bourgeois ideologies of progress. And that is what we mean when we talk about the text’s conservatism. Jeffrey Sammons makes this point when he notes that ecology is one the “conservative values [that] have been revived in the most progressive minds” (272). And that leads us to how these texts might help us to think outside of the restrictive categories that contemporary American political discourse operates in: reading – and teaching – these texts allow us to explore alternative political constellations that existed in historical reality, to empathize with and even value the potential for alternatives in a politics that seems to antithetical to the very term, and to open ourselves up to the realities revealed by political frameworks outside of our own political commitments.

Theodor Fontane and the Tachyonic Antitelephone

Early in Fontane’s novel Der Stechlin Dubslav and Gundermann are engaged in a discussion of the telegraph. I was revisiting this passage and thinking about it in connection with issues of relativity and causality in Robert Musil’s novel Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften.

The conversation begins with Dubslav commenting that the brevity mandated by the form of the telegram has eroded language.

Kürze soll eine Tugend sein, aber sich kurz fassen heißt meistens auch, sich grob fassen. (GBA-EW 17 : 28)

Brevity’s supposed to be a virtue, but saying things briefly usually means saying them coarsely. (CHE 17)

Gundermann, a reactionary bourgeois who makes a living turning Brandenburg’s trees into planks for Berlin’s hard wood floors, seizes on these remarks to take a pot shot at the Social Democrats. The erosion of language is a “Zeichen der Zeit” (“sign of the times”) and “Wasser auf die Mühlen der Sozialdemokratie” (GBA-EW 17 : 28-29) “water on the mills of the social democrats”; CHE 17). Dubslav reverses himself in the face of Gundermann, and balances his criticism of the telegraph with something that he finds more praiseworthy about the technology.

Schließlich ist es doch was Großes, diese Naturwissenschaften, dieser elektrische Strom, tipp, tipp, tipp, und wenn uns daran läge (aber uns liegt nichts daran), so könnten wir den Kaiser von China wissen lassen, daß wir hier versammelt sind und seiner gedacht haben. Und dabei diese merkwürdigen Verschiebungen in Zeit und Stunde. Beinahe komisch. Als Anno siebzig die Pariser Septemberrevolution ausbrach, wußte man’s in Amerika drüben um ein paar Stunden früher, als die Revolution überhaupt da war. (GBA-EW 17 : 29)

When you get right down to it though, it really is a marvelous thing, this science business, this electric current. Tap, tap, tap and if we had a mind to (even though we don’t), why we could let the Emperor of China know we’ve gotten together here and were thinking about him. And then all these odd mix-ups in time and hours. Almost comical. When the September Revolution broke out back in seventy in Paris, they knew about it over there in America a couple of hours before there even was a revolution. (CHE 18)

Dubslav’s complaint about the telegraph was concerned with its effects on language. He speaks in favor of a notion of industrial progress, but his admiration for the sciences and technological innovation is less about technology as such and more about the telegraph’s effect on spacetime. He imagines the telegraph as a tachyonic antitelephone, a hypothetical device capable of sending information faster than light thereby causing a paradox of causality. The compression of space and time with modern technology is something that crops up again and again in the literature of the late nineteenth century, one sees it especially in the way that train travel is described. The experience of the accelerating train in many of Raabe’s texts, for instance, is often a metaphor for the experience of time in modernity. But the paradox of causality Dubslav describes is different. It is not merely that “the time is out of joint,” as Hamlet famously put it, but that it is out of joint to the extent that temporal relations are suddenly reversed.

The connections between global and local that the telegraph makes possible do more than simply establish a parallel between the lake and communication technology, rather the telegraph reproduces technologically the mythic properties ascribed to the lake (i.e. the fact that it responds physically to seismic activity anywhere on the planet). Dubslav’s example of the news of revolution echoes the revolutionary symbolism of the lake. The possibility of sending a telegram to the emperor of China more explicitly articulates the imperial side of the openness to the world that Melusine espouses. The lake, after all, connects to Java, “mit Java telephoniert” (GBA-EW 17 : 64; “has a telephone line direct to Java,” CHE 43). Both raise the specters of German colonial presence in Qingdao and New Guinea. The empire functions here as Edward Said argues it does elsewhere in nineteenth century literature, “as a codified, if only marginally visible, presence in fiction” (63), and I would add, is another important component of the novel’s geographic imagination.1 The telegraph, in short, is a physical manifestation of global networks of domination and a reproduction of the lake’s chthonic global connections.

The tachyonic antitelephone was the most intriguing discovery of this passage. Einstein’s theory of relativity was still eight years away or so when Stechlin appeared in book form. A common (mis)perception of German realism holds that the literature of this time did not rise up to the status of “world literature” that one finds in the “great” novels of England, France, or Russia in the latter half of the nineteenth century, although Fontane is in this regards supposedly the great exception. But Fontane is not the only German author of this period with the sensitivity and perceptiveness to anticipate, say, a tachyonic antitelephone.


1Said also draws the comparison of the presence of empire to the presence of laborers. “To cite another intriguing analogue, imperial possessions are as usefully there, anonymous and collective, as the outcast populations . . . of transient workers, part-time employees, season artisans; their existence always counts, though their names and identities do not, they are profitable without being fully there” (63-64). The analogy might also be applied to the notably marginal – albeit no less significant – absence of the glass workers at Globsow.

A Literary Scavenger Hunt in the Ruins of Fontane’s World: Das Eierhäuschen and Spindlersfelde

A few more photos of my literary scavenger hunt in and around Berlin this summer.

Ruins of the Eierhäuschen, Berlin, Germany, August 2013

On our last day in Germany we visited the ruins of the Eierhäuschen. The history of this tavern and Biergarten goes back to the 1840s. The current structure was put up in the 1890s. It was a popular destination for daytrippers on the Spree in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At some point the property became connected to the Spreepark, an amusement park in GDR times. After the fall of the wall the park and the Eierhäuschen, at that time a “Volkseigener Betrieb” fell into private hands with the general liquidation of the former East Germany. The new owner went bankrupt, and fled to Peru when he got caught up in a drug smuggling affair. It has since been caught in legal limbo, and so the building falls apart while preservationists try to find a way to save the building. Fontane’s novel Der Stechlin portrays just such an excursion. In typical fashion for the nTower of Eierhäuschen, Berlin, Germany, August 2013ovel and for Fontane generally, it’s talk talk talk, but the conversation yields some interesting glimpses into the characters’ environmental unconscious (as I argue in my dissertation chapter on the subject).

Facade of Eierhäuschen, Berlin, Germany, August 2013

“Ach, Frau Gräfin, ich sehe, Sie rechnen auf etwas etrem Idyllisches und erwarten, wenn wir angelangt sein werden, einen Mischling von Kiosk und Hütte. Da harrt Ihrer aber eine grausame Enttäuschung. Das Eierhäuschen ist ein sogenanntes “Lokal”, und wenn uns di Lust anwandelt, so können wir da tanzen oder ein Volksversammlung abhalten. Raum genug ist da.” -From Theodor Fontane “Der Stechlin” (GBA 166Front Door of Eierhäuschen, Berlin, Germany, August 2013)

“Dear me, Countess, I see you’re counting on something idyllic in the extreme and expecting something between a kiosk and a cottage when we get there. You’re in for an awful disappointment. The Egg Cottage is one of those things they call a ‘pub.’ And if we have a mind to, we can even dance there or hold a public gathering. There’s plenty of room there.” Fontane “The Stechlin” CHE 116.

Berlin Bear, Eierhäuschen, Berlin, Germany, August 2013

Not far from the Eierhäuschen are the ruins of the Spindlersfelde factory. In the nineteenth century this was a major industrial laundry facility on the banks of the Spree. It has since fallen into ruin. Because I lack the machismo and the courage for proper urban exploration, this was as close as I got.

Spindlersfeld Ruins, Berlin, Germany, August 2013

Many of the outlying Spindlersfeld buildings have been re-purposed as apartments. It seems that the main building itself will soon share in that fate, if this banner is to be believed. The factory shows up in the Egg Cottage section of Stechlin. SpindSign for Spindlersfeld Rejuvenation, Berlin, Germany, August 2013ler and his factory were also the inspiration for Adam Asche in Pfisters Mühle. In Stechlin, the daytrippers take a stroll over to the factory before settling in for drinks at the Eierhäuschen.

“An dem schon in Dämmerung liegenden östlichen Horizont stiegen die Fabrikschornsteine von Spindlersfelde vor ihnen auf, und die Rauchfahnen Spindlersfeld Ruins, Berlin, Germany, August 2013 (2)zogen in langsamem Zuge durch die Luft.” Fontane, “Der Stechlin,” GBA 168.

“On the eastern horizon, already filled with a twilight glow, the factory chimneys of Spindlersfelde rose up before them and long banners of smoke moved in slow puffs across the sky.”


“Was ist das?” fragte die Baronin, sich an Woldemar wendend.
“Das ist Spindlersfelde.”
“Kenn ich nicht.”
“Doch vielleicht, gnädigste Frau, wenn Sie hören, daß in eben diesem Spindlersfelde der für die weibliche Welt so wichtige Spindler seine geheimnisvollen Künste treibt. BesSpindlersfeld Ruins Berlin, Germany, August 2013ser noch seine verschwiegenen. Denn unsre Damen bekennen sich nicht gern dazu.” Fontane, “Der Stechlin” GBA 168.

“What’s that?” asked the baroness, turning to Woldemar.
“That’s Spindlersfelde.”
“Don’t know the place.”
“Perhaps you do after all, dear lady, especially when you hear that in this very Spindlersfelde, none other than that most important gentleman of the world of ladies’ fashions, Herr Spindler himself, conjures his mysterious arts. Or better yet, his secret arts. Because our lady friends don’t care to admit their dependence on them.” Fontane “The Stechlin” CHE 117

“Ja, dieser unser Wohlthäter, den wir . . . in unserm Undank so gern unterschlagen. Aber dies Unterschlagen hat doch auch wieder sein Verzeihliches. Wir thun jetzt (leider) so vieles, was wir, nach einer alten Anschauung, eigentlich nicht thun sollten. Es ist, mein’ ich, nicht passend, auf einem Pferdebahnperron zu stehen, zwischen einem Schaffner und einer Kiepenfrau, und es ist noch weniger passend, in einem Fünfzigpfennigbasar allerhand Einkäufe zu machen und an der sich dabei aufdrängenden Frage: ›Wodurch ermöglichen sich diese Preise‹ still vorbeizugehen. Unser Freund in Spindlersfelde da drüben degradiert uns vielleicht auch durch das, was er so hilfreich für uns tut.” Fontane “Der Stechlin” GBA 168.

“Why yes, of course, that benefactor of ours, whom we . . . in our ingratitude are pleased to keep quiet about. But this business of keeping quiet has something forgivable about it too, you know. These days, unfortunately, we do so many things which according to an older point of view we really ought not to do. It’s not proper, I think, to stand on the platform of a horse car between the conductor and some delivery woman with baskets on her back, and it’s even less fitting to make all sorts of purchases in a fifty-pfennig bazaar and silently pass over the question that keeps forcing itself upon one, ‘What is it that makes prices like this possible?” Theodor Fontane “The Stechlin” CHE 117.

Spindlersfeld Ruins, Berlin, Germany, August 2013 (3)

A Literary Scavenger Hunt in and around Braunschweig

I was in Germany this past summer doing some archival research.  When I wasn’t poring over ancient drafts and letters, I was out and about visiting some of the places that turn up in one form or another in the fiction.  Obviously none of these places match the imagined places in the literature one to one, but then principles of literary criticism shouldn’t always spoil our fun.  Here are a few pictures of places in and around Braunschweig that turn up in Wilhelm Raabe’s works.The Braunschweig Palace, Braunschweig, Germany, June 2014

First on the tour is the Braunschweig “Palace.”  The Raabe collection is here, part of the Braunschweig city archive.  The current building is modeled on the residence of the Dukes of Braunschweig, which was completed in 1841. The original building was badly damaged in the firestorm of October, 1944 and the ruins were demolished in 1960. From the 1960s until the last decade the site was a large public park. In the 2000s the city decided to build a copy of the palace. To raise the funds, the city sold the park in spite of public protests. Today the north side houses the city museum and archive, the south the city library, and the main entrance leads into the “Palace Shopping Arcade.” From my seat in the archive I was able to watch shoppers pull into the parking garage.

This is the Oker River.  In the Middle Ages it ran straight through the center of town, but now at least the above ground portion runs in a moat around the old town.  I’ve already written about Braunschweig’s water problems at the end of the 19th century here and here.The Oker River, Braunschweig, Germany, July 2014

Braunschweig’s former train station now houses a bank.. The building served the city into the 1960s, and has since been converted into a bank. If we accept that Die Akten des Vogelsangs is set in Braunschweing in this period (which we can’t really, but as I said about the principles of literary criticism):

“Es war eben ein anderer Zug, ein Vergnügungszug, angelangt, und ein Gewühl aufgeregten und dem Anschein nach sehr vergnügten Volkes, das unserer Stadt und ihrer hübschen landschaftlichen Umgebung seinen Besuch zugedacht hatte, quoll uns daraus entgegen. Der Morgen war schön, die Sonne schien, ein fröhlicher Schenktisch war von einem sorglichen Komitee errichtet worden: die fremden Liedergenossen oder Sangesbrüder kamen nicht nur mit ihrem musikalischen Hoch, sondern auch mit viel Durst bei uns an, und eine einheimische Blechmusikbande brach mit schmetterndem Hall zum Willkommen los: die Stadt und Residenz hatte sich sehr vergrößert und verschönert seit dem Tage, an welchem Mr. Charles Trotzendorff sein Weib und sein Kind aus ihr weg und zu sich holte, und der jetzige Bahnhof, von welchem ich nun die Frau Nachbarin, die Mutter des Freundes, nach Hause führte, stand damals auch erst auf dem Papier und lag noch auf den Tischen der Fürstlichen Landesbaudirektion.” (BA 19: 312-313)Former Train Station, Braunschweig, Germany, June 2014

“Another train pulled in, a tourist train, and a mass of excited and apparently happy people, who had come with a mind to pay our city and its lovely surroundings a visit, flowed out and towards us. The morning was lovely, the sun was shining, a cheerful drink table had been set up by an interested committee: the singing crowd did only only arrive with their musical cheer, but also with considerable thirst, and a local brass band brook into a piercing tune of welcome: the city and residence had been greatly expanded and beautified since the day Mr. Charles Trotzendorff summoned his wife and child away, and the current train station, from which I led my dear neighbor, the mother of my friend, home, had only just appeared on paper and was still lying on the tables of the court building offices.”

The Kohlmarkt in Braunschweig. In order to facilitate traffic to the train station, the city cleared knocked down some of the historic structures on the west side of the square. The historical marker from Der Kohlenmarkt, Braunschweig, Braunschweig, Germany, June 2014which I learned all of this didn’t have much to say about the people who lived there, but in Raabe’s novel “Meister Autor” the narrator meets a city planner who tells him:

»Es hat uns noch keine Nivellierung so viele Mühe verursacht als diese hier,« sagte er, »aber dafür wird auch keine der neuprojektierten Straßenanlagen die Stadtbevölkerung in ihrer Vollendung so sehr überraschen und erfreuen wie diese. Den Kanal hinter den wackligen Mauern füllen wir natürlich aus, da haben wir dann noch die Rudera einer alten Stiftung, die müssen selbstverständlich weg. Die alten Damen verlegen wir vor das Tor in eine gesunde, wahrhaft idyllische Gegend, und so kommen wir hier aus dem Mittelpunkte der Stadt in gradester Linie zum Bahnhofe, — ohne daß zu dieser Stunde ein Mensch in diesem hier umliegenden Gerümpel irgendeine Ahnung davon hat. Es ist wundervoll!«

“‘There has never been a levelling that has caused us as much trouble as this one,’ he said, ‘but for that none of the newly planned streets will surprise and cheer the denizens of this town quite as much as this one. We’ll fill in the canal behind the tumble-down wall, and that leaves the spinsters’ home, obviously that will have to go. We’ll move the old ladies beyond the gate in a healthy, truly idyllic area. Thus we’ll be have the straightest line possible from the center of town to the train station, and no person in this heap around us will even have a clue about what’s going on. It’s wonderfull!” (BA 11 : 76).

     This is the SchunteThe Schunter, Braunschweig, Germany, June 2014r north of Braunschweig.  Pfisters Mühle was based off of a lawsuit that began when pollution from the beat sugar factory at Rautheim made its way into the Wabe, then the Schunter, effectively shutting down the mills at Bienrode and Wenden.

Former Bienrode Mill, Braunschweig, Germany, July 2014

This is the mill at Bienrode that was involved in the suit, at least what’s left of it.  The mill was finally shut down in the 1960s, and in the 1980s it was converted into an apartment building.  ObWabe Stream, Polluted by Rautheim, Kleidersellerweg, Riddagshausen, Braunschweig, Germany, July 2013 (3)viously there is not much to look at these days.

This is the Wabe stream along the so-called Kleidersellerweg.  The Kleiderseller is a group of prominent Braunschweig citizens who meet for a Stammtisch.  In Raabe’s day they followed this route to the Grüne Jäger, a restaurant and tavern in Riddagshausen, now officially part of the city of Braunschweig.  Pfisters Mühle began when Raabe noticed the degradation of the Wabe on his way to the Kleiderseller’s Thursday night meet-ups. 

This is the Grüne Jäger.  It is actually a very pleasant place, and a welcome stop in the middle of a bike ride through the countryside around Braunschweig.

Grüner Jäger, Raabe's old hangout,  Riddagshausen, Braunschweig, Germany, July 2013 (2)

The former sugar factory at Rautheim. The Duchy of Braunschweig was the center of beet sugar production going back as far as the 1830s. Krickerode Wilhelm Raabe’s “Pfisters Mühle” is modelled on Rautheim.  The factory was in operation from the mid 19th century until after the Second World War.  From Pfisters Mühle:Former Beat Sugary Factory, Rautheim, Rautheim, Braunschweig, Germany, July 2013

“Jenseits der Wiese erhob sich hoch aufgetürmt, zinnengekrönt, gigantisch beschornsteint – Krickerode! Da erhob sie sich, Krickerode, die große, industrielle Errungeschaft der Neuzeit, im wehenden Nebel, grau in grau, schwarze Rauchwolken, weiß Dämpfe auskeuchend, in voller “Kampagne” auch an einem zweiten Weihnachtstage, Krickerode!” (BA 16 : 99)

“Beyond the field rose high Krickerode, with its high towers, battlements, and gigantic smokestacks. There it rose, Krickerode, the great accomplishment of the modern industrial age in the shifting fog, gray in gray, black clouds of smoke, white steam billowing out, even on the second day of Christmas in full “campaign,” Krickerode!”

A few photos of the remains of the factory.  Some of the buildings currently house a few small businesses, although as far as I could tell, other structures stand empty.  I was hoping to get a shot of the drainage pipe that leads into Wabe for the sake of showing people the most famous drainage pipe in German literature, but the vegetation was too thick to find it.

Former Beat Sugary Factory, Rautheim, Rautheim, Braunschweig, Germany, July 2013 (4)

Former Beat Sugary Factory, Rautheim, Rautheim, Braunschweig, Germany, July 2013 (8)

Former Beat Sugary Factory, Rautheim, Rautheim, Braunschweig, Germany, July 2013 (13)

Former Beat Sugary Factory, Rautheim, Rautheim, Braunschweig, Germany, July 2013 (16)

Wolfenbüttel is not far from Braunschweig.  I took a pleasant bike ride out there one day.  Lessing’s house is there, and the library is world famous.  But of course I made my way out to the suburbs to visit the Weiße Road to Weiße Schanze, Rote Schanze in Stopfkuchen, Wolfenbüttel, Geramny,  July 2013Schanze, on which Raabe modeled the Rote Schanze in Stopfkuchen.

The Weiße Schanze now stands surrounded by single family homes, a process that is already visible in Raabe’s novel.

The people who named the streets here are well aware of the area’s claim to literary fame.  There is also a street named for Wilhelm Brandes, who wrote the first noteworthy study of Raabe’s life and works.


And here is the Weiße Schanze.  Evidently it is a Biergarten now, although it wasn’t open when I showed up.  In the novel, the Saxon Prince Xaver bombarded the city from this point during the Seven Year’s War. I did not get close enough to look for the guard cat the narrator encountered. His description of the rote Schanze:

Weiße Schanze, Rote Schanze in Stopfkuchen, Wolfenbüttel, Geramny,  July 2013“Noch immer derselbe alte Wal und Graben, wie er sich aus dem achtzehnten Jahrhundert in die zweite Hälfte des neuzehnten wohl erhalten hatte. Die alten Hecken im Viereck um das jetzige bäuerliche Anwesen, die alten Baumwipfel darüber. Nur das Ziegeldach des Haupthauses, das man sonst über das Gezweig weg und durch es hindurch noch von der Feldmark von Maiholzen aus gesehen hatte, erblickte man heute nicht mehr. … Eine Römerstraße, auf der vor, während und nach der Völkerwanderung Tausende totgeschlagen worden waren, konnte im laufenden Saeculo nicht mehr überwachsen und von Grasnarbe überzogen sein wie die alten Radgleise und Fußspuren, die über den Graben des Prinzen Xaverius von Sachsen auf dem Dammwege des Bauern zu der Roten Schanze führten.” (BA 18 : 49-50)

“The same old trench and rampart, as good today in the second half of the nineteenth century as they were in the eighteenth. There it was, the same rectangular hedge enclosing the farm, the same old treetops. But you used to be able to see the tiled roof of the main house from the Maiholzen fields over and through the branches, and now you couldn’t. … Not even a Roman road, where countless thousands had been slaughtered before, during, and after the migrations, could have looked more grassy and overgrown today than those old ruts and footprints on the embanked way leading over Prince Xaverius of Saxony’s trench to the farm at Red Bank.” (“Tubby Schaumann, 189-190).

Further afield, I stopped in at Raabe’s birthplace Eschershausen on the way to Amelungsborn, site of Das Odfeld.  Raabe loved to pun on his own name (“Rabe” with one “A” means “raven”).  His study is decked out in a raven motif, his novels and stories are conspicuous for their avifauna, and his fans have a history of getting in on the fun.  To wit, this whimsical mobile in Eschershausen, which is turned by a small stream beneath.

Finally, Kloster Amelungsborn.  It has a beautiful garden that I could not recommend highly enough.

Kloster Amelungsborn, Site of Odfeld, Amelungsborn, Germany, July 2013

One of my favorite scenes in any Raabe novel happens early in Das Odfeld.  It is the strange battle of the crows that presages the destruction during the battle the following day:

“Vom Südwesten her über den Solling stieg es schwarz herauf in den düstern Abendhimmel. Nicht ein finsteres Sturmgewölk, sondern eine Krähenschwarm, kreischend, flügelschlagend, ein unzählbares Heer des Gevögels, ein Zug, der nimmer ein Ende zu nehmen schien. Und vom NordIMG_9742en, über den Vogler und den Ith, zog es in gleicher Weise heran in den Lüften, wie in Geschwader geordnet, ein Zug hinter dem andern, denen vom Süden entgegen.” (BA 17 : 26).

“From the southwest above the Solling black rose into the bleak evening sky. Not dark storm clouds, but a swarm of crows, screeching, beating their wings, an uncountable army of birds, a column that never seemed to come to an end. And from the north, above the Vogler and the Ith, the same in the skies, ordered like a squadron, one column after another towards the one from the south.”

Maps: Illustrating the Economic and Material Background of German Realism

The theoretical problems that underpin both the critical discourse and the literary production in the era of German realism can be very surprising for an audience schooled on the Victorian novel.  When I first encountered German realism myself, it seemed to me to be not realism at all.  How can literature be “realistic” while at the same time be committed to a process of transfiguration (Verklärung)?  Doesn’t the German verb itself, verklären, imply a moving away from realistic representation?  These questions might be naive, but they were my basic point of departure.  Since I had mostly dealt with the Anglophone canon in school, when I thought of “realism” I thought of Dickens’ London.  I associated the term with the kind of misere that Theodor Fontane specifically rejects in his essay “Unsere lyrische und epische Poesie seit 1848” (147-148).1 This is not to say that the authors of this period simply ignored the changing reality of German in this period.  Early in Adalbert Stifter’s Der Nachsommer (Indian Summer, 1857), for instance, Heinrich Drendorf visits a valley filled with factories and carefully studies the production processes there.  But this scene occupies all of a paragraph, and in the next he’s off studying plants.  My initial question might have been summed up as: “where have all the street urchins gone?”

This and other questions evolved into the basic problem that my dissertation seeks to address. The problem boils down to a basic aporia that has puzzled me about German realism since the start, namely the contradiction between the programmatic realist imperative to portray the world in a way that is objective and poetically transfigured (verklärt) and the increasingly prosaic character of that world.  After several years of formulating and re-formulating a question that might be sufficient to drive a dissertation, what I really want to know is this: what happens to a realist program of aesthetic transfiguration when an industrial mode of production has transformed the environment to such an extent that it no longer lends itself to poetic representation?

In the spirit of Frederic Jameson’s injunction to “always historicize!,” we might actually look at what was going on in the physical world at the time that the literature was written.  Here are three maps of Cologne that make visible the material basis of the theoretical questions my project raises.

Cologne 1807 2This first map is a representation of Cologne in the year 1807.  The city has been under French control since 1794, the year prior Napoleon had dissolved the Holy Roman Empire and issued Prussia a stinging defeat at Jena-Auerstadt.  There is no bridge over the Rhine.  The surrounding areas show little development, and the city walls clearly delineate the boundary between city and country.

Here is another map of Cologne, this time from 1845.  Cologne has since fallen under Prussian control, and the Catholic/Protestant divide within the expanded Prussia has caused no small amount of tension. There Cologne 1845are a few distinct changes in the landscape.  We now have a bridge over the Rhine, and railroads extend at least up to the city walls.  Nevertheless, the city’s physical makeup hasn’t change all that much.  The wetlands on each bank of the Rhine to the south of the city still appear to be in place.

Compare this to the Cologne 1893following map of Cologne from 1893.  Within one human lifetime, the city has radically changed.  The railroad network is much more extensive, and settlements like Nippes have been transformed into dense areas of industrial development.  The wetlands on the left bank of the Rhine have also vanished, and “nature” can now be found in the lovely “Stadtwald,” adjacent to Braunsfeld and Lindenthal.

These maps speak volumes about the historical processes underway in Germany after 1848 and especially after 1871.  These processes are there even in the texts that are truest to the tenets of programmatic realism.  Taken together, there is an interesting story to be told here, one that, I believe, may not be so alien to an English language readership after all.

1.  Reprinted in Plumpe, Gerhard (ed.). Theorie des bürgerlichen Realismus: Eine Textsammlung. Stuttgart: Reclam Verlag, 1997. 140-148