Category Archives: Germany

My Home Library: The German Expressionist Poets

It was absolutely normal for me to read “beyond my age”, so to say. When I was seven, I read Oscar Wilde’s tales, Voynich’s Gadfly, and the ancient myths. The book in Russian that you see in the photo was printed in 1990, so it was around the age of 10 that I first read the poems by German Expressionists. Being rather savvy for my age, I knew at least one of them by name: it was Bertolt Brecht, although as we know he did not remain an Expressionist for too long, just as Boris Pasternak moved on from Futurism fairly quickly. Back then I was, erm, thrilled to be able to read certain words that would be considered foul language (I understand now it prepared me for reading Henry Miller on the Moscow Underground a decade later). I remember being particularly impressed by the poetry of Gottfried Benn. However, he wrote truly lyrical poems, as well:
Gottfried Benn – Asters
Asters—sweltering days,
old entreaty, spell,
the gods shed timid rays,
an hour upon the scale.
Once more the golden flocks,
the sky, the light, the veil.
What breeds the familiar flux
of wings before they fail?
Once more now the lust,
the rush of roses, and you—
the summer’s leaned to watch
the swallows skirt the dew,
and once more does not falter,
sure dark precedes new light:
the swallows drink the water
and fade into the night.
Another poet I took a notice of (thanks to a brilliant Russian translation by V. Toporov) was Georg Heym. You can browse his poems in German here.
Georg Heym – Der Hunger
Er fuhr in einen Hund, dem groß er sperrt
Das rote Maul. Die blaue Zunge wirft
Sich lang heraus. Er wälzt im Staub. Er schlürft
Verwelktes Gras, das er dem Sand entzerrt.

Sein leerer Schlund ist wie ein großes Tor,
Drin Feuer sickert, langsam, tropfenweis,
Das ihm den Bauch verbrennt. Dann wäscht mit Eis
Ihm eine Hand das heiße Speiserohr.

Er wankt durch Dampf. Die Sonne ist ein Fleck,
Ein rotes Ofentor. Ein grüner Halbmond führt
Vor seinen Augen Tänze. Er ist weg.

Ein schwarzes Loch gähnt, draus die Kälte stiert.
Er fällt hinab, und fühlt noch, wie der Schreck
Mit Eisenfäusten seine Gurgel schnürt.
Георг Гейм – Голод
Торчит у шавки в горле, точно кость
Кровавая… Синюшным языком
Собака лижет клочья трав с песком,
А голод пробурил ее насквозь.
Разинута, как семивратье, пасть.
Огонь сочится каплями в живот
И жжет его… Покуда пищевод
Как лед не станет, распалившись всласть.
Все как в тумане. Солнце лишь пятно.
Печь пышущая… Квелая луна
Перед глазами пляшет. Надо прочь.
Как чернота, зияет белизна.
Ошейником тоски сдавила ночь
Дыханье. Только сдохнуть суждено.
(Перевод – В. Топоров / Translated into Russian by V. Toporov)

Colloquialisms and Salutations: A German Headmistress Bans “Hallo”

Image: DPA via Spiegel.de

To maintain my languages, I try to listen to the radio and read the press. The Internet access means that I can dedicate as little as 15 minutes every day to this. So, this Sunday I read a story in Spiegel.de about a headmistress  from Passau, Bavaria who banned “Hallo” and “Tschüs” in her school. From hereon students must use “Grüß Gott” and “Auf Wiedersehen” in their daily exchanges.

The peers of Petra Seibert generally support her, stating that her decision has sense, pedagogically. However, whether or not school students can abide by this decision, and what impact it may have regionally, remains to be seen. As far as Spiegel’s online readership goes, majority didn’t find the idea amusing: “Tschüs, Frau Rektorin! Sie sind unhaltbar” gained most votes (“Tschüs, Frau Headmistress! You are intolerable”).

Naturally, I wonder if anything like this could happen in a Russian school. I don’t contemplate English schools, simply because I never knew British students exchanging the French “Salut!” or the Russian “Privet!” In Russia, the situation similar to that in Passau in Northern Bavaria is quite possible, if only because the Russians are good at picking up various foreign words. I know for a fact that in 1980s “salut” (with all letters pronounced) was very wide-spread, as was “ciao”. Now “hello” or “hi” is most commonly used, sometimes augmented by a typically Russian diminutive suffix, “-yushk-” or “-ushk-“: “helloushki”, “hiyushki”.

So, could a Russian headmistress ban “hello” from being used as a salutation? I think so, yet, as in Passau, it’d remain to be seen how long the measure would stay for.