The city of Magdeburg (pop. 240,000) in central Germany is an odd mixture: a number of showstopper architectural highlights of truly global signficance, a few pockets of liveliness, a great deal of ugliness, and next to no charm. Here I will show the bucket-list essentials that every architecture fan needs to know about, plus a few fascinating odds and ends
Magdeburg was 90% destroyed in World War II which of course means only 10% of the buildings are from before 1950 or so. Walking around you would hardly know the city is over 1,200 years old and was gloriously, opulently beautiful and prosperous before the war. The oldest documentation of the city is from 805 (not a typo!) and a few decades later it was a center of power of the Holy Roman Empire.
This is the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery in Berlin, the second-largest in Europe with 115,000 graves on 100 acres. There aren’t any graves of people who are at all well-known in the U.S. but quite a few names are well-known in Germany such as founders of major department stores and publishing companies, writers, artists and musicians. It is still in use. Weissensee is the name of the neighborhood in Berlin and means White Lake. I uploaded a short video here.
Some parts of the miniseries “Unorthodox” about the woman who escaped from a Hassidic sect in Brookyln was filmed a block away from me, namely, the apartment where her mother lives. Incidentally it was designed by a really, really horrible architect who also was one of Berlin’s most popular from the 80s to 2000s. He specializes in sharp pointy angles, awkward geometric shapes forced into screeching juxtapositions, an aggressive rejection of proportion and harmony, and railings made of thin metal rods bent into ugly forms with lots of gaps and protrusions for entangling limbs, purses, shoulder bags, and children’s heads.
Next to the apartment building is a school he designed which a newspaper called a “chronicle of scandals”: construction took eight years, leaving a trail of bankrupt companies and water leaks and a bill almost twice what was budgeted. However this is normal for Berlin so it wouldn’t be fair to blame him alone. All that was years before they had any idea a wing would have to be completely shut down and barricaded in 2017 after less than 20 years of use, due to deterioration, holes in the walkways big enough for a child to fall into, lack of fire exits, and still more leaks, forcing the students to eat lunch in their classrooms and the cancellation of German-language classes for immigrants which were held there. The school is in one of the city’s most desirable and prosperous neighborhoods, by the way, but it has armed guards due to intractable ongoing problems with violence.
Anyway… that all has nothing to do with the Unorthodox show. Here are photos showing the parts that were filmed just down the street from me. Click on the photos to enlarge. In each pair, the one on the left is a screenshot from the show and the one on the right is a photo I took myself. These are all scenes from when she goes to visit her mother; it’s literally about one minute’s walk from my door. In the last one it’s a little less clear but you can tell by the awnings.
I just learned that the Netherlands has a long history of paper cuts, the artworks made by cuttiing one single sheet of paper. There is barely any information on them available in English so I have gathered together a few highlights. (Incidentally I also just found out there is a Jewish paper cut tradition going back 500 years. China, of course, has a much more extensive and better known tradition, which inspires many contemporary practitioners in the West.) One Dutch paper cut artist who I like a lot is Hil Bottema (1913-1968), who also did some graphic design.
My favorites are her New Year’s cards. These are printed items based on, or in the style of, paper cuts, rather than the cuts themselves. Click images to enlarge.
Postage stamps by Bottema and pages from an informational booklet that accompanied them. The stamps are for Christmas and other fall and winter holidays and have a surcharge that benefits children’s charities.
We were in New Haven and rural New England just before the Coronavirus started getting bad in the U.S.. Everything was gorgeous, the food was great – I was nearly weeping at all the agrodiversity and local produce and small producers even in the smallest towns, which Berlin doesn’t have – and the people were without exception friendly. The pictures look a little gloomy because this was “mud season”, the time in March that locals as well as guidebooks agree is the only bad time to visit. The beautiful snow has melted, the trees are bare, spring hasn’t started, mud is everywhere, and most sights and many shops and restaurants are closed or have very reduced hours – only in March. On the other hand there are no crowds.
Pictures of the excellent Yiddish Book Center in Amherst are here.
This is the Yiddish Book Center which lies four hours north of New York City in Amherst, Massachusetts, adjacent to Hampshire College. It’s really great and you should visit it. It’s an archives, museum, and cultural center, housed in a gorgeous new building recalling a rural eastern European village. A big draw for me was Shtetl in the Sun: South Beach, Miami 1977-1980, an exhibition of photographs of Jewish retirees from the time before Miami Vice and the city’s transformation into an art-collecting mecca/playground for the global elite who own private jets.
Vienna is picture-postcard gorgeous.. I haven’t yet uploaded my photos of the intact storefronts from pre-war times, of which there are a few, including the shop signs, and there are even a couple from the 1950s and 60s, which are extremely rare since probably none from that time have ever had historic landmark designation. I did see lots of Klimt and Schiele but did not take pictures because those are easy to find on line.