Ressemblance | Germany
first part of this documentary essay on the deep-rooted historical and cultural links that tie Europe and Latin America together.
Translations to Spanish and German here.
What happens is always so far ahead from us, that we can never catch up with it and know its true appearance.
Excerpt from W imię, a film by Malgorzata Szumowska.
In February 2013 the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) invited me for a second time to take part in a documentary project. My first German experience as a grantee had taken place earlier, between 2006 and 2007. As a part of this second experience I would visit six cities. I first landed in Berlin, where I met Clara, a sociologist about to finish her PhD, and Julia, an artist who uses her own personal life as a material for her artwork. I then arrived in Braunschweig, a one-hour road trip from Berlin, where I met three engineering students, and from there I traveled to Karlsruhe. It was there that I met Mariela, who was working on her doctorate degree in physics, and three other engineering students: Juan, Manuel and Maxi. My following destination was Jena, during which time I visited Weimar. In Jena I sat down with Damián, who had won a scholarship to finish up his doctorate in philosophy, and in Weimar I met Carlos, who was about to finish part of his doctorate in architecture. From Jena I took a train to Rostock, where I was to meet again with Clara, the sociologist I had already been in touch with while in Berlin. I eventually returned to Berlin and close out my trip by interviewing Alejandro and Lucía, a couple; she was working in her doctorate in philosophy; he, a doctorate in geology.
Why was I there? I wanted to ask these travelers about their wishes and their fears; I wanted to get a sense of what they thought about the past, the present and the future.
Why was I there? I wanted to ask these travelers about their wishes and their fears; I wanted to get a sense of what they thought about the past, the present and the future. I focused on migration, both to examine immigration in my own country and to find, while in Germany, some of the roots of Western civilization itself. In my travels I hoped to be able to narrate, both in words and in drawings and pictures, a bit of the expatriate experience — and these students were to be my personal guides on this journey.
Clara spoke with verve about her favorite philosophers, particularly her most beloved one: Carlos Astrada, an Argentine philosopher who had moved to Germany in the 1920s to study philosophy in Freiburg. She also mentioned Heidegger because of the cabin he had had outside of town that she had been able to visit.
She told me about her PhD thesis: the first Peronist government and its reception of German Philosophy, most notably Heidegger’s, and how this corpus of ideas was interpreted amidst the Argentine cultural milieu of the time. It also dealt with the arrival of German philosophers in Argentina and what visions they had for the country.
“How ideas travel,” she said, “that interests me, and how they are being interpreted.”
The coal stove took up an important place inside the room. The Kohle led the conversation to the war. Berlin is in constant change, but the mere presence of coal transports me back to the past. In the middle of our conversation, Julia told me she had found a receipt back from the 1940s, somewhere inside a closet. “I wonder what these walls might have seen,” she said, as we drank tea almost nonstop.
Once Fernando stopped boasting about his projects, he did say that Braunschweig was famous for being the town that had handed Hitler his German citizenship.
Back in the hotel, I worked for some time, and googled Hitler+Braunschweig.
Later that night I had something to eat at a Chinese restaurant down the block. The sign said Büffet-Haus, Auguststraße 12; I thought, this couldn’t let me down. Plus they would give me one of those fortune cookies I like so much. Eventually, when the moment came to crack it, I looked forward to the little printed motto kept inside. It said: “Sometimes, travelling to new places can bring great transformation.” [有时候，到新的地方旅行会带来巨大的转变]. I paid, gathered my things, and left.
A bunch of Karlsruhe grantees.
Manuel, inside something.
Maxi’s and Stefan’s — the Chileans’ — robot.
Talking to Manuel while taking the bus back from the KIT.
A yellow castle in the distance.
A drawing of Juancho.
The KIT secret.
The croak of ravens.
A Coca-Cola sign at the station. It said: Alles jetzt. Nichts später.
Damián was telling me about his philosophy PhD project; he talked about Napoleon and the Battle of Jena, the French Revolution, Hegel: those were the topics of his work.
He excused himself because he had to get back to work, although he did tell me I should head for Lobeda, a Soviet city of standardized apartment blocks built during the time of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or DDR, somewhere outside of Jena.
Off I went.
When I arrived in Weimar, I got in the bus that would take me to Buchenwald. The road went through a snowy forest and, after ten minutes, I was able to get a glimpse of the monument the Russians had built to honor their fallen.
I was supposed to meet Carlos at the Denkmal of Goethe and Schiller, just opposite the Bauhaus museum. Though having just arrived from Buchenwald as I had, my body was somehow still there in that field.
Carlos was eager to show me around the places he frequently visited and walk me through some of Weimar’s most distinctive landmarks. We arrived at the Hotel Elephant and stood right in the middle of the Marktplatz. He pointed his finger at the balcony where Hitler used to deliver his full-square speeches. “He used to stay at this hotel while in Weimar,” he said. As I stood there, I thought of Buchenwald once again and remembered the picture of the Bauhaus party I had seen at the museum entrance. The people in the picture were holding signs; I still cannot forget the words printed in them: Leidenschaft [passion], Katastrophe [catastrophe], Pause [interruption], Spannung [tension]. I would have liked to hold a sign of my own — perhaps one that simply said Whansinn [madness].
How could a country capable of producing these brilliant philosophers, those artists and bright poets, have conceived National Socialism?
How could that have happened?
I felt trapped and alone as I stood there in the middle of that square, lost in a welter of feelings. It was as if I couldn’t think clearly anymore. How could I describe what went through me back at that moment? One tries to understand the horror, but how can you? Is such a thing even possible?
And why had I chosen Germany once again?
How could a country capable of producing these brilliant philosophers, those artists and bright poets, have conceived National Socialism? How could that have happened?
But now, looking back, I wonder: who am I to speak about what happened in that particular moment of history?
I looked back at Carlos, as if rousing from a trance, and I felt happy because he was still there by my side. That was when I fully realized that these grantees were my guides, different versions of my own self, shepherds in an unforeseeable itinerary.
The city was empty. Humidity and snow persisted and, together with other things that I was vaguely able to identify as coming from Germany’s DDR past, all of it had a melancholy touch.
I wanted to get to the sea and stand by that sea shore, that of the Ostsee, the Baltic Sea. So we headed for Warnemünde. From the train I was able to briefly see and photograph the famous Sunflower Tower, which Clara pointed out to me. During the rest of the journey to the coast, recurring thoughts on war, Communism, and intolerance kept coming back to me. The 1990s fable built around the coast brought that gloom-filled era forward to my present time. “Germany lived the twentieth century intensively,” Clara said.
I felt an unsettling silence and quietness there, the landscape so calm that I was filled with both fear and peace juxtaposed. As I looked up and to the right, I saw a large cruise ship approaching quietly. Clara’s voice shook me from my despond.
“Germany lived the twentieth century intensively,” Clara said.
I started planning my last few days in Berlin. Ale and Lucía, a couple of grant holders living in Charlottenburg, were expecting me that day.
As I was in west Berlin, I had already checked that I was quite close to where my Oma had been living for the last three years. After having lived with her parents in Argentina since the age of ten — all of them having escaped the Nazis — she decided she wanted to go back home and spend her final years in Germany. Her address was written on my notebook: Teplitzer Str. 10, speak to Frau Schrott.
As I returned I sat in the bus. My faced glued to the bus window, I let myself be borne back. Quiet, I watched the blizzard outside and the landscape slipping by. I knew with a deep sadness that I would never see her again, and I missed her even in that moment, even though she was still alive.
Lass uns Freunde bleiben Bar
The final day went by smoothly; I spent the first part of it packing my belongings. At night I was supposed to meet Osvaldo, an Argentine artist who had been living in Berlin since the 1980s.
During dinner, as I was showing Osvaldo some of my work, he spoke to me incisively: “You believe in something,” he said. I didn’t know how to react or what to say; his comment shook me. I immediately asked myself: What do you believe in, Jimena? But without time to explore that thought further, I jumped back into the conversation.
That night, as I tossed and turned in bed, I couldn’t set that statement over dinner aside: To believe in something … In what? I didn’t know; all I had were these fragments of history I had been gathering and collecting during my journey. I felt worn out. Eventually I felt it was better not to firmly believe in anything anymore, but rather to entrench myself behind the barriers of art.
Museo del Prado
When I arrived in Madrid all of it was different. The weather, the people, the light. I felt I had come out of an inside to reach an outside.
I took advantage of the flight stopover to finally see Velázquez’s Las Meninas and Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, arguably two of the most disturbing works of the history of art.
As I was contemplating The Garden of Earthly Delights, I couldn’t help but think about the hundreds of years that separated me from the painting and the artist, and everything that had happened in history between those years. I thought of that paradise and that hell, those tiny figures, dozens of cheering, suffering little bodies; the Weimar Republic; the Shoah.
When I stood in front of Las Meninas, I thought about the shadow of doubt that paintings always cast. The painting radiates an unknowability that is only magnified by the enigmatic figure of a questioning Velázquez, painted there as if to say something, a gaze as inquisitive as God’s in Bosch’s Garden of Eden.
I went out, moved by that magical moment that involves getting as close as possible to a work of art so as to examine the brush strokes or those little cracks produced on the surface of any ancient painting… that type of mute communication that flows between people that have lived in different centuries; in different places.
Ezeiza International Airport
As I disembarked, I was immediately struck by the heaviness and humidity of the weather: a Buenos Aires tradition. It hit me immediately, and I realized the Madrid sojourn had been nothing but a brief respite.
It was early in the morning; the taxi driver and I chatted all the way. As he looked at me through the rear-view mirror he told me he was an avid Kafka and Dostoevsky reader and that he felt that, like their many characters, he too was undergoing a process of internal change.
We arrived. He left me at my doorstep, handed me my luggage and revealed almost shyly that smile of his again, this time to tell me: be free.
More about the process of Ressemblance by Jimena Passadore.
Texts & Photographs. Jimena Passadore
Translation (Spanish-English). Nicolás Dojman
Copyeditor. Nick Sifuentes
Trailer. Miguel Baratta & Pablo Baez
Many thanks to Lorena Goldberger Prieto