And then RTs Leland Orser three times




Admission: I’ve always been a little uneasy about the things Orser says about Berlin, but here he really steps over a line. This show isn’t going to “reinvent” or “reinvigorate” a city that needs neither of those things. History has let Berlin, like Germany, reinvent itself; and as far as vigor goes, there’s no shortage of it in Berlin.

~ by Servetus on October 8, 2016.

20 Responses to “And then RTs Leland Orser three times”

  1. I wonder if he meant he hoped the PERCEPTION of Berlin would be reinvented and reinvigorated…. of course, that’s not what he said, so what do I know.

    • I’ve been wondering if I am going to say anything about this whole question, because it’s really complicated and there are so many toes to step on and I am not that eager to do so. My time would probably be better spent talking about tropes in the representation of Berlin and pointing out how the city might seem to be a character to watchers who are unfamiliar with the backgrounds against which they are filming.

      IMO, Berlin doesn’t really have a perception problem except in the eyes of two groups of people and Orser spent a lot of time talking to another group of them this year. In fact, although it’s a crazily interesting city, particularly in the modern period, it does not have a history on the scale of London or Paris, or for that matter Budapest or Prague. However, it is one of the most exciting places to be in Germany or Europe today and this is widely known in Europe, if not perhaps to Orser. A lot of creative people have moved there, including a lot of Americans (also perhaps not known to Orser). It is a central destination for college age students and visitors of all nations — it can be hard to find an affordable hotel there in the summer (although Orser was there in winter, so perhaps he doesn’t know this, either).

      When he speaks in such voluble terms about reinvigorating Berlin — something it does not need from him and would not get from a TV show in any case — I sense that he is speaking about his reactions to something else entirely and a change that he has experienced. But there again I am stepping on toes to attribute certain things to him; it is his business. I’m also not very interested in him personally or as an artist. I just find the way he puts it frustrating to listen to, although not unfamiliar.

      [ETA: I edited this and removed a line of incorrect information.]

  2. I think this is well put. I would love to hear more about the tropes that you mention- but only if you would like to, of course.

    I admit that I was aware of Berlin as a young, “happening” place in Europe. My impression was that it was partly due to all the myriad change from the Wall falling (not to say more than I actually know, of course😉. Interesting how cultural perceptions can be so variable, and important to be aware of, really.

    • I would like to; I just never would have thought that being unemployed would be so time consuming🙂

      • Are you wondering how you ever had time to work??😉

        • I am. Although it’s actually made me ponder this point that has been coming up in the feminist press about “emotional labor” a little more deeply. In essence, I think a lot of what is being talked about there is just a consequence of being a human. We have to listen to people, etc. But it’s become apparent to me that I could really fill my days nonstop with nothing but emotional labor, and when I begin to work again, no one will be doing some of the things I am doing right now.

          It also makes me wonder how parents stand the sports schedules of teenagers. I find it strenuous to follow my nieces’ games — not sure how I would / could do it if employed full time.

  3. I know lots of people who traveled for vacations all over Europe and beyond, but not to Germany, until within the last 8 or 9 years or so – and then it was Berlin. Hot destination. Of course, they have one common denominator in that they are Jewish. The reviews were mixed ( these were not young people, they skipped the party boats and the clubs), loved a lot of the architecture, museums, dining, and, independently commented on how many memorial or commemorative spots there were throughout the city marking events, atrocities or something to do with the Holocaust. “wherever you turned” was one comment. For some, it was a bit too much, but they got the message. Ironically, they never had an issue, or delayed visiting Romania, Hungary or Austria. I, myself, have only been to Munich, and then briefly, passing through for two nights.

    • so: cards on the table — I really thought Orser is Jewish. Guess he fooled me. Googled just tonight and he isn’t. However, I read him in this clip and somewhat throughout as having that subtext (for “stigma” read “the Shoah” and for “reinvigorate” read “rehabilitate / redeem”). I get the feeling he went to Berlin with preconceptions, was surprised by what he found, met some actual Berliners, and now wants to proclaim that the country is clean again. I stress that that is only my reaction to him.

      And that’s a very Jewish subtext. it’s just a thing, American Jews didn’t really visit Germany unless they had a really good reason (this was the concrete reason my relationship with The Physicist ended). Just like many American Jews won’t buy a Volkswagon or wear Hugo Boss. I also have the feeling it’s changing but only slowly, and as you say, in the last decade or so. Not least because it really is an important place now for things like avant garde art. Broken down housing there was so cheap after 1989 that a lot of artists went there mainly for that reason.

      Berlin has spent a lot of time and money in the last 25 years or so dealing with its Holocaust history. Not just on the huge monument or the Jewish museum, both of which are dumbfounding, but in a lot of really creative memorial building. Like there are little metal stones in the sidewalk all over the place called “stumbling stones” that have the names and dates of deportation of people who lived in the houses behind the sidewalk. Statuary and memorials at train stations where Jews were gathered for transport. Weird little museums that commemorate factories where Jewish children were hidden and that kind of thing. It really is everywhere you look. It’s something I can get defensive about when people tell me about how Germans “are” about the Holocaust, because no country involved has spent this much time, money and energy trying to come to terms with the past (there’s a German word for that, “Vergangenheitsbewältigung”).

      • I thought he was Jewish also, until I looked it up ( I also hoped he was from Queens or NY, as his character is). Yes – it’s those stumbling stones – they were referenced, and the tinier memorials which were unexpected – not the large, formal memorials. They seemed to understand,intellectually, that modern day Berliners and Germans were acknowledging, and maybe felt some guilt – and that was appreciated – but it was too much for American Jews who grew up hearing about it, to be actually faced with reminders every place. I think it helped suck some of the enjoyment out. OTOH, I was surprised to learn some years ago, when a friend visited Russia for some Jewish/social work sort of conference or sponsored trip, that the largest percentage of Russian Jews chose to emigrate to Germany above all other destinations.

        • This was because the German government heavily subsidized their immigration — gave them a really good deal including several years of full support, better than the deal given to so-called “Spätaussiedler” — people who lost German citizenship involuntarily during the 20th century, or their descendants. After 1989, there were only 25,000 Jews in Germany and someone in government somewhere said essentially, ‘we’d better fix that.’ I knew a lot of those people (when I reference hanging out with Russian immigrants in Germany, taht’s who I am talking about).

          It created a sort of black market in a few Russian cities for falsified Jewish documentation — so the joke was that for the first time in history it was advantageous to be a Jew. It also had odd manifestations, insofar as the “Russians” (who didn’t like to be called that) took over a bunch of the older synagogues and there were accusations in several cities of Russian mafia influence. It also heavily fed the emerging movement for liberal Judaism in Germany at the time. A very interesting thing to watch.

          It probably also didn’t hurt that there’s a sort of guarded or grudging admiration for Germany among many Russians (alongside the persisting anger over WWII).

          • In the end, Jews want the best deal. It was practical. Russians took over the neighborhood I grew up in and the two surrounding – but I don’t know if they’re mostly Jewish.

            • lol, doesn’t everyone want the best deal?

              I think the short term prospects in Germany were better for Jews; I am not sure that the long-term prospects were better there than in the US. But at some point the US throttled the number of Russian Jews it was letting in. And Israel was everyone’s third (or lower) choice, although Israel took essentially anyone.

        • re: “too much Holocaust” — it’s another thing I could write a book on. I’m in absolute agreement. it’s not something that needs to be constantly underfoot, IMO. It’s well meant but I don’t think ti’s good for Germans, either.

          • We never want to forget, but we don’t want to be reminded. It’s GenXers and younger who need to know now. I worked on my Synagogue’s Jewish Film Festival and I’m in a Woman’s Jewish Book Club – rules for both – NO HOLOCAUST FILMS OR LIT.

            • There’s a real danger when Holocaust veneration turns into the whole of Jewish identity (either from inside or outside). There are some interesting studies of this problem / phenomenon, including the whole question of how it factors into the assimilation of even non-Jewish immigrants in Germany today. It also seems unquestionable to some observers that the rejection in some quarters of refugees from the Middle East has a relationship to the (over-)stress on Holocaust memory.

              • Because it could appear that Germany is letting enemies of Jews in?

                • No. I think in the western part of the country there is a certain amount of Holocaust memory fatigue that takes the form of “we did our bit, why should we have to have these people here?” The German state was relatively supportive of Israel financially, too, which has bolstered a kind of Left anti-semitism as discomfort with the situation in Palestine grows.

                  In the former East Germany it’s more complex because the official government ideology was that the GDR was unrelated to the Holocaust; that it wasn’t caused by Germany but by capitalism and so on. The BRD accepted financial / political responsibility as a successor state of the Third Reich but the GDR did not. So there was a different kind of denazification / re-education that took place there, and the whole guestworker thing that happened in West Germany didn’t happen there either, and so the “we don’t want the foreigners here” movement is stronger there but has different origins. In that light it’s interesting that Angela Merkel grew up in the former East.

                  But in any case, in some segments of German society, esp in the West, you occasionally encounter a sort of “memory fatigue” about the Holocaust that gets politically instrumentalized to the detriment of current political results.

          • When I was a teacher in an upper middle class Jewish school district on Long Island, we had to teach a thematic unit to 9th graders on the Holocaust. It was social Studies and Literature. It included Eli Weisel’s Night, something, I think called The Children of Terezin and a gruesome film of newsreel footage. Some other things, too. No problem – The parents wanted it. At the same time, we taught a thematic unit to 8th graders on Alienation of Youth, which included a book of essays and poems written by Black children, called “The Me Nobody Knows.” There was one poem in which something like “the fat Jewish Landlord” was mentioned. The parents went ballistic. It was the toughest parents’ night I ever had.

            • It’s such hard terrain to navigate.

              One issue that I felt strongly in Germany when I was teaching bar/bat mitzvah was that the curriculum needed to include some Jewish history besides the Bible, the Holocaust and Israel. I was shot down every time. We spent soooo much time on the Holocaust. My issue was that I felt that the students needed some markers of Jewish identity and history that weren’t about persecution and destruction. This is really easy in the US and very difficult in Germany. It was even harder for the children of the Russian immigrants because they were (on top of everything else) uprooted from their original context.

    • Jewish subtext, not subject

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