Friday, March 27, 2009

My Lunch in Dresden

In the Summer of 1984, one of the places I stopped was Dresden, Germany for lunch after a tour of the city. The tour was punctuated with the tour guides judgmental snarl, "This was BOMBED by the AMERICANS!" We were a bus of 60 American kids that were in the late teens, born in the mid or late 1960s. It was a real temptation to take it personally, but excuse me for saying at the time, "We were not even born yet, give us a friggin break!" We would get similar sentiments from another East German tour guide on our tour of East Berlin. She would claim that they left the ruined buildings up as a monument to the Allied bombings. Right.

What I remember of lunch was that they had this liqueur, digestif of sorts that smelled like it could run a car. Don't get me wrong, I love liqueur, especially lithuanian honey liqueur, or rasberry liqueur. A tiny sip confirmed that I had no business with the stuff and I handed it over to one of the guys on the tour that seemed less discriminating. Passing on the digestif would happen in Prague. It just seemed to be the right thing to do.

The East German guides did have a point. Our country did firebomb the hell out of Dresden. In fact I was reading Vonnegut on the trip and he actually spent time in a bunker while it happened. It was horrific. In 1984, we had Reagan as President who was certainly hawkish and calling the Soviet Union the Evil Empire. The thing is, despite the verbal digs, they needed our cash and so they let us in.

My story of my short time in Dresden came up when I thought of artist Otto Dix, an expressionist from Dresden. I bring up Otto Dix, because he is a great example of how art was affected by World War I. Dix was also a part of was called by the facists as degenerate art, which I prefer. Otto Dix comes up because there is a show I want to go to, but can't, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art called, Shell Shocked: Expressionism After the Great War, Today.
Extraordinarily resilient, German Expressionism was profoundly changed by World War I (1914-1918), which first enthralled and then devastated the “generation of 1914” throughout Europe. The young German artists initially welcomed the “Great War” as a grand adventure. But this euphoria soon yielded to pacifism and outright political protest in opposition to a war that was taking a heavy toll in such unprecedented battles of attrition as the Somme and Verdun. Departing from the arcadian landscapes and anguished probing of the individual psyche of early Expressionism, artists now conveyed political protest and communal utopia visions of a new humanity.
These artists lived through WWI and were surrounded by maimed vets, war widows, economic decline, and the whole world punishing them for the war itself. Dismemberment, distortion, death, and destruction were familiar to these artists and they faced it head on in their work. The work is often described as grotesque, but it is really is a time where all you had left was to portray the world how it felt to many. There is a German proverb, "“A great war leaves the country with three armies - an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves”

No comments: