Christian Diemer

Christian Diemer

Christian Diemer, 28, is from Rottweil in South Germany. Having studied musicology, arts management, and composition in Weimar, he is now writing from Berlin and obscure spots in East Europe, where he is currently working on his PhD thesis about traditional music in Ukraine. 

Sunday, 20 February 2011 09:30

Musica franca?

„The Role of Music in Building the EU“ is a title that promises a lot.

Erna Hennicot-Schoepges’ lecture „The language of art and music“ doesn’t keep it. In fact the 69 year old pianist, educated in Brussels, Paris, Salzburg and Luxembourg, knows both sides: from 1999–2004 she was minister of culture, higher education, research and public works in Luxembourg, and then worked as a member of the European Parliament (2004-9). But in her speech the good and noble ideals suffer from insufficient and biased argumentation.

Yes! – music is a wonderful thing. Yes! - there is scientific proof that music, more directly than other forms of arts or communication, affects the brain’s emotional centre. Yes! - there have been studies in Berlin elementary schools suggesting a positive correlation between instrumental music education, intelligence and social competence. And of course one cannot appreciate enough a highly decorated (retired) politician vouching not only for better music education in general, but also for the delicate imparting of contemporary classical music. But does that really suffice to emphatically declare music is a language that all mankind understands, all mankind is unified by and that it is the language that a multilingual and fragmented EU can be built on?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011 16:20

Karl-Erik Norrman and the European project

From 14th till 20th of February E&M author Christian Diemer will be one of about 60 selected international participants attending the academy "Arts as Cultural Diplomacy" at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) in Berlin.

The ICD is a cool thing. Mark C. Donfried, its founder and director, is a cool guy. The participants, having travelled to Berlin from all over the world (including Nigeria, Mexico and Australia), must be a cool group. But is Karl-Erik Norrman a cool guy as well? The Swedish ex-ambassador to Spain is the second speaker at the prestigious gathering's opening ceremony.

Talking about Sweden, he is reserved and a bit ignorant. The Swedish myths: the bizarre notion of Bergmanesque melancholy, ABBA, H&M, and IKEA. The Swedish facts: a rich country with a formidable social welfare system. A country that has lived 500 years of history without occupation (though occupying others) and 200 years without war. Why would such a country need cultural diplomacy to sell itself to the rest of the world? Sweden sells just as it is!

Talking about Europe, Mr. Norrman becomes more ambitious. In response to the criticism that Europe is merely an economic and political project run by technocrats and bureaucrats in Brussels, the retired ambassador established the European Cultural Parliament. Following the message of the late violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin that "the artists need a parliament", by now 160 musicians, painters, philosophers, sculptors etc from over 43 (!) European countries are giving their input on what Europe could become beyond politics and economy. Members are eligible from countries such as Azerbaijan or Iceland. "It almost breaks my heart to say that Canada is not a European country, when we have so much in common with them as well!"

Thursday, 03 February 2011 15:15

Louis, Max and Freddy

The French, not the Greeks, invented today's Europe and did so through bloodshed and tragedy. Rejecting the feudal-absolutist class society, realising the ideas and values of the enlightenment, 1789 was the birth of what would become a commonly shared notion of democracy and human rights throughout Europe. Yet 1789 also proved how dramatically a supreme moral vision can turn into its opposite through its very implementation – likewise a dilemma of persistent relevance. A German poet was early in grasping that, and tried to lead France on his alternative path to democracy: Friedrich Schiller.

Friedrich Schiller lived in Weimar. This sleepy little town was never a place for revolutions. On a court building of the little duchy of Schiller's time, a bon-mot of Kurt Tucholsky now reads: "Due to bad weather conditions the German revolution took place in music." And even that was still a far cry from 1789: when in France human rights were proclaimed in the name of "liberté, égalité, fraternité" (liberty, equality and brotherhood), it would still take almost a century for any German sense of "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit" (unity and justice and freedom) to become reality.

At the time when the Bastille fell, many prominent intellectuals in all the German territories and duchies were enthusiastic about what was happening in neighbouring Paris. Close friends of Schiller's were among them, and he himself had been counted as one of the most progressive thinkers of the enlightenment era and an uncompromising critic of feudalist despotism. But he also seemed to be uncertain; especially when the prison's governor, who had been granted a free pardon, was murdered and his head carried through the streets of Paris. When Schiller's colleague Körner explicitly inquired about his opinion on the revolution in a letter, he left the question unanswered in his reply.

Photo: Copyright free
Friedrich Schiller, 1793

Then the French revolutionaries appointed Schiller honorary citizen of France, in acknowledgement of his novel Die Räuber. That was on the 26th of August 1792. One week later 1,500 royalist prisoners were massacred in Paris. King Louis, degraded to common citizen Louis Capet, was put in jail. Soon Maximilien de Robespierre, president of the National Assembly, would proclaim "the despotism of freedom in the struggle against tyranny", and his ally Antoine St.-Just would state: "a republic is based on the complete extermination of anything opposed to it." Now Schiller was not just unenthusiastic, he was sincerely worried.

In the early days of 1793, he seriously planned to travel to Paris and make a fiery speech in front of his new fellow citizens. His plan was to stop the execution of the imprisoned monarch by convincing the members of the National Assembly of his vision on how their revolutionary goals could become reality; that only the aesthetic education of man could create a society that could implement the ideals of enlightenment on a non-violent basis!

Abandon the guillotine, rush to the theatre, experience how the lovely and the sublime catapult your mind into a free play between reason and the senses, within a state of disinterested pleasure! Watch and behold the beautiful and become a freer, better human being!

He wrote that in 1799, and his Letters on the aesthetic education of man can be considered a bright antithesis to the bloody rebirth of European democracy in France. Instead of Tucholsky's teasing of the Germans, Schiller envisioned a revolution not in the arts but through the arts.

But Friedrich Schiller was not there to save Louis Capet. The King's head rolled on the 21st of January 1793, a "measure of welfare", as Robespierre had called it. Robespierre's own head followed on 28th of July 1794. Schiller stopped reading French newspapers because these "slaves of the brutes" disgusted him.

Still I remain curious about what Robespierre's reaction would have been had Schiller really shown up at the National Assembly. The passionate poet spoke in a strong Swabian dialect.

Saturday, 15 January 2011 10:23

Mickiewicz and me

I live in Weimar. Maybe you have heard of it. It is the town of Goethe and Schiller. The cradle of German culture and one of the numerous cradles of European culture. Every day I pass by their statue, standing sentinel on the theatre square: there they are, Schiller the dramatic, Goethe the classic, the two poet-friends, genius up above, tourist below, zoom in, click, go.

Every day I pass by trees and bushes, quiet, babbling and burbling waters behind, a gravel path around the back of the city castle, and there he is. Or rather his head in bronze, and I passed by many times before deciphering the inscription below: M-I-C-K-I-E-W-I-C-Z. Never heard of it. Later at an East Europe seminar I learnt it’s pronounced not like „Micky“, but like "Miez", the sound a German cat is said to make. Never heard of him, how could I?! The Polish Goethe! The neighbour's poet-duke! 

Born 1798 near Nowogródek (nowadays Belarus), educated in Wilna (Vilnius, nowadays Lithuania), exiled in Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Odessa and Paris with intermezzi in Berlin, Venice, Florence, Naples, and Rome, deceased in 1855 in Constantinople while raising Jewish troops for Poland against Russia under a French mandate – a magnificent specimen of European biography!

So what was his œuve a specimen of? Poland, primarily. With his magnum opus Pan Tadeusz (published 1834 in Paris) he created the national epos for the state that did not exist during his life-time. Meanwhile, his Ksiegi Narodu Polskiego i Pielgrzymstwa Polskiego ("Books of the Polish people and the Polish pilgrimage", 1832) was a unifying signpost to Polish expatriates throughout Europe, and his dramatic cycle Dziady ("Funeral ceremony", first parts 1823) was scrupulously persecuted and confiscated by the occupying powers in Poland.

But the Romanticist with an eye for the humiliated and insulted had the big picture in mind, and to him the liberation wars were a pan-European phenomenon: "Europe's situation", he wrote in 1849, "is of the kind that it is unlikely that only one people for itself could embark on the path to progress; it would risk to be destroyed and at the same time to ruin the common cause." In 1848 French professors dedicated a chair to him, "the great Mickiewicz, whose words lead the worlds together, seemed to constitute a federation between orient and occident sounding from the Collège de France to Asia".

Perhaps the mystery of the bust in Weimar lies in a chance meeting, in 1828 he passed by the then village-like capital of Weimar, a politically meaningless but culturally ambitious duchy. It is here that he met Goethe, one of the greats of German and European Culture. Maybe the two had a nice chat on the idea of a "federation of free citizens and nations", grounded in a commonly shared culture and system of values, as Mickiewicz once wrote. The Polish romanticist was one of its forerunners for sure.

Photo By Most Curious [CC-BY-SA-3.0]

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