Archive | January, 2018

A book proposal

16 Jan

As some of you may remember, I have wanted to expand my writings about “my” German women into a book–their fascinating stories should be told. Recently, the film historian Thomas Elsaesser discovered my blog about Fr. Kern, and was kind enough to send me photographs of her from the 1930s. (Please see Elsaesser’s page about the Martin Elsaesser Foundation at http://www.martin-elsaesser-stiftung.de/.)  This serendipitous correspondence provided the necessary impetus for me to go ahead with this project. Here is the book proposal I have submitted to an interested publisher. I would appreciate any comments.]

Title:  Three German Women: Personal Histories from the Twentieth Century

Author(s): Erika Esau

Publication type:

(Monograph/Series volume/Edited collection/other):  Monograph

Subject:  German Cultural Studies, Women’s Studies

Estimated manuscript delivery date:  January 2019

Number of words:  35,000 maximum

Has the proposed title been published elsewhere in the same, or a similar form?

A small segment of the section on Anna Spitzmüller has been quoted in Hermann Weissgärber, You Can’t Copy Tradition:  A view on the eventful history and bilateral work of the Austro-American Institute of Education from 1926-2016, vol. 1, Vienna 2016 (ISBN 978-3-7412-1906-1).

Rationale for publication:

This project began when I learned of the death of Maria Steinberg, a woman who had worked as a volunteer in my library until she was 86. She had such an interesting and historically significant life story, and I could not find any but the briefest of obituaries for her.  I kept thinking that her story should be told, as an example of the battles and successes faced by intelligent women confronted with the conflicts and explosive events of  20th-century Europe.

The decision to tell her story made me remember the other women in my life whose fascinating stories have also never been recounted. I then realized that other women who had inspired me came from my German-speaking life:  Irmgard Rexroth-Kern, a journalist and Wellesley graduate who I met while on my Fulbright in Darmstadt in 1973-74; and Fr. Dr. Anna von Spitzmüller, my art history teacher in Vienna in 1969-70, who was in the 1930s the first female curator in Vienna.  The lives of these three women serve as emotional mirrors to the amazing changes and tumultuous history of the 20th century.

Their stories tell of the hardships, struggles, and victories of intellectual women in this era. The three women were related to men who played a role in European cultural history, men who received a relatively prominent place in history books and online sites, and at least gained recognition through obituaries that outlined their achievements. These women, in contrast, received very few public accolades for their equally important achievements. All of them (one of them was Jewish) had to endure astonishing hardships during World War II. In focusing on these stories, I hope to place them in the context of the times, in Germany and Austria, and to highlight the way in which traumatic choices were imposed on ordinary people (even well-educated and socially prominent ones) by political and social circumstances over which they had no control.

All of my previous writings have been decidedly academic; the work closest in tone to what I will write here is the biographical sketch of the collector LaVera Pohl in my catalogue, German Expressionism at Lawrence University: The La Vera Pohl Collection (Appleton, Wisconsin 1988). While I want to retain the more personal voice of my blog entries in writing about the women, I will also ground these subjects in an academic framework, with a chapter focusing on some overarching themes: intellectual women’s roles in European society and culture, the fate of Jewish culture in Germany and Austria, and specific historical background describing the incidents affecting the women’s life trajectories (e.g., Irmgard Kern’s escaping Berlin bombings to give birth, Dr. Spitzmüller’s work with the Monuments Men, Maria Steinberg’s father’s position in the Reichstag).

The academic literature of this period is, of course, vast, much of which serves as a scholarly foundation for the book.  Of particular pertinence, I mention the following:

Petra Unger. Frauenspaziergänge:  Entdeckungsreisen durch Wien. Vienna 2012

Tim Bonyhady. Good Living Street: Portrait of a Patron Family, Vienna 1900. New York 2011

Maja Haderlap. Engel des Vergessens. Göttingen 2011

Marjorie Perloff. The Vienna Paradox:  A Memoir. New York 2004

Karen Hagemann, Jean Quataert, Gendering Modern German History, New York 2008

Angela Thompson.  Blackout:  A Woman’s Struggle for Survival in Twentieth Century Germany. 2012

Anonymous. A Woman in Berlin:  Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary. New York 2006

Edgar Feuchtwanger. Hitler, My Neighbor. New York 2017

Fritz Stern. The Politics of Cultural Despair:  A Study in the Rise of German Ideology. Berkeley, CA 1974.

Anton Gill. Dance Between the Flames: Berlin Between the Wars. 1970

Ehrhard Bahr.  Weimar on the Pacific: German Exile Culture in Los Angeles and the Crisis of Modernism (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism) Berkeley, CA 2008

 Table of contents:

(Please include at least one sample chapter or writing sample as an Appendix to this form)

I. Introduction

II.  Women in the Tumult: Stories of Beauty and Endurance

III. From Berlin to California:  Maria Weber Steinberg (1920-2013)

IV.  Kernel’s Brilliant Career:  Irmgard Maria Rexroth-Kern (1907-1983)

V.  A Child of Empire:  Anna von Spitzmüller (1903-2001)

VI. Appendix:  Translation of Irmgard Kern’s 13-part “Autobiografie eines jungen Mädchens” in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, July 1934.

Who do you feel is the main audience for this work?

Those interested in stories of the Weimar period in Berlin, German women’s biographies, history of Germany 1920-1970, and memoirs of Viennese culture.

 What are the existing competitor titles?

I would say that Angela Thompson’s Blackout (2012) and Marjorie Perloff’s The Vienna Paradox (2004), as well as her recently released Edge of Irony: Modernism in the Shadow of the Hapsburg Empire (Chicago 2018) would be closest in subject matter.

What makes the proposed title different?

These stories encompass a broader range of topics than either memoir, and offer  specific stories about one of the participants in the events that Perloff discusses in her most recent book, as well as women directly connected to historical events in Weimar Berlin and World War II in Germany.

Where the publication might be promoted, when published?

I would imagine that any of the places that promote books on German and Austrian culture would do, as well as ones specializing in women’s studies. Two specific sources also come to mind:

1) Film historian Thomas Elsaesser, whose family knew Rexroth-Kern and her husband in the 1930s and who has just produced a film about his famous relatives, has written to me:  “At some point early in 2019 we will be working on Rexroth’s literary estate, and it would be wonderful, if by then your book/study of Irmgard Kern were also to see the light.”

2) Hermann Weissgaerber, Director of Amerika-Institut in Vienna, where Anna Spitzmüller taught, has already published a small segment of my writing on Fr. Dr. Spitzmüller (see above), and would be overjoyed to have a more comprehensive publication about her to promote.

What networks do you have to support this?

Followers of my blog, my website, Facebook, and connections through my work with the Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I would also consider as “networks” the contacts mentioned above, Thomas Elsaesser and Hermann Weissgaerber.

Author biographies: 

(Please detail (or attach as a separate document, or include a link to a webpage) your main academic credentials, including publication history)

Curriculum vitae sent by email as a separate document.

Appendix:

Links to blog entries already written:

Maria Steinberg:

https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/maria-and-other-german-speaking-women-of-influence/

https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2015/10/16/more-on-maria/

Irmgard Rexroth-Kern:

https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/frau-rexroth-kern/

https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/frau-kern-part-ii-germany-and-the-war/

https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/footnote-frau-kerns-obituary/

Anna von Spitzmüller:

https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/spitzi-part-i-my-memories/

https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/spitzi-part-ii-her-life/

 

 

 

 

What a crazy trip!

9 Jan

So we have finally made it home to Pasadena, after driving about 3500 miles in 2 weeks, the last stretch from Sacramento to home through a death-defying torrential rain storm–the first significant rainfall  in SoCal in a year, and one that is now causing all kinds of mudslides and flooding in the areas affected by the fire. Before putting this wild ride to bed, I’ve just gotta share a few more weirdnesses that took place along the way.

Get this: so we drive from Chico to Sacramento on Saturday, and park at our old friends the Detwilers’ house–we had a lovely visit with them while we stayed in their “little house”. (The pictures above, by the way, are from Chico–perhaps more on that later. Suffice it to say we had a lovely, if wet, visit in this college town, and could very easily live there if it comes to that!) Our car is parked on the street outside their house in the upscale part of town where they live. We bring in everything in the car except a plastic bin of gifts and books and notebooks in the trunk. We forget to lock the car’s front door when we at some point go out to retrieve a coat later in the day. In the morning, I go out to get another book, open the trunk, and notice that things seem to be a in some disarray, but assume G. had just messed stuff up when unloading. We go out to visit a realtor, and I notice that the glove compartment is open; again, I just assume we’ve forgotten to close it. When we get back to the house after a few hours, Peter is all excited: their neighbors about 4 houses down the street, by chance seeing Peter, ask if he knows any George visiting, because another neighbor walking her dog in the early morning has found on her lawn a passport for someone named George!!  Yep, it’s G’s passport. We then realize that we had left our passport wallet, with ALL FOUR of our passports in that plastic bin in the trunk, and finally twig to the fact that someone, probably kids, had indeed rifled through all our belongings, looking for whatever they could find of value.  Sigh…Apparently this is a common occurrence in Sacramento, going down rows of cars looking for any that are open and taking what they can find.  Surprisingly, I have never heard of this method of thievery, much to Peter’s astonishment.

We then started looking down the entire street to see if we can find the other missing passports (they took nothing else, even leaving a pair of binoculars). Sure enough, we found the wallet, with one other passport in it, under a truck a few feet away, and George found my two passports still tossed in the trunk.  Whew….Of course, we still felt like idiots, and a bit amazed that this whole set of what Jung would call “synchronicities” led to our car being uncharacteristically unlocked on the very night that little mischief-makers hit that street to carry out their vandalizing activities.  And in a more positively serendipitous example of synchronicity,  Peter just happened to be out as the neighbor was working in her yard, asked him if he knew a George, and she knew the neighbor who had found the passport in the first place.  This is what comes of living in the same neighborhood for decades, and knowing one’s neighbors.  We were then able to go down to the dog-walking neighbors and thank them for retrieving the passport and going to the trouble of trying to contact us. She had even searched for George’s name online, had found our website, and written to us!  A synchronistic world indeed!

20180108_160355.jpg

On the Grapevine, January 8 2018.

This was just one in a string of wild occurrences on this trip–from having to detour in Utah down to New Mexico to get to Colorado, forgetting our computer bag in Utah, George losing his debit card, and having to drive home in the first rain to hit the state in months. We were trying to get home quickly because George has a bad tooth, and was anxious to get to his dentist’s this morning.  (He also has the toddler’s cold that we have been passing around the family now for weeks.) He got up bright and early, drove down to the office–to find that they had no power because of the rain storm!  They were all sitting around in the dark, unable to see any patients. We’re still waiting to hear from them as I write this.

A wild ride, yes?  Finally, the feral kittens that we so dutifully got neutered and released back into their colony have, apparently, not figured out how to hunt or be good feral cats. They just sit at our back porch, bleating for food all day.  Oh, dear, not quite what we expected to happen by having them fixed….Welcome to 2018!  In the end, though, nothing was life-threatening, all resolved itself with no trauma except financial, and we made it back in one piece.  Let the wild rumpus begin!

20180109_091300.jpg

 

 

Southwestern peregrinations

5 Jan

 

 

Our plans for the 2017 holidays began with a fairly simple set of decisions. We rented our house to friends who were keen to see the Rose Parade, and then had to find an inexpensive way to be elsewhere for two weeks.  We were going to go up to my sister’s place near Yosemite for a week, while they drove their RV (or five-wheeler, or whatever the behemoth is) for a nice little holiday stay on the coast in Ventura.  Then for another week we would head up to Chico and Sacramento–places still on our list as possibilities in the “where could we move to that we would like and can still afford?” contest.

Then all Hell broke loose: the fires that have devastated so much of Southern California burned down my sister’s vacation spot, and they couldn’t find another place to go! Not wanting to impose on them while they were at home, and still thinking we should try and save a little money by finding amenable accommodation, we resigned ourselves to do what we had vowed never to do again: to drive to our kids in Denver during the winter. So on December 23, we set out on the shortest route (via Las Vegas), with the intention of stopping in our favorite mid spot of Cedar City, Utah, then crossing through the mountains to arrive in Lakewood, Colorado, on Christmas Eve evening, in time to see the near-two-year-old grandson open his presents on Christmas morning. Despite the driving, this seemed a very nice alternative, as long as the weather held.

Traffic to Las Vegas, through the desolate California desert, was, as always, insane: bumper-to-bumper cars and impossible drivers urgently trying to get to the casino tables. As soon as you hit Nevada, the traffic suddenly opens up, but until then, it’s stop and go and frustration. Max points out, correctly I think, that this is because California has no desire to make the highways easy to get to Vegas, taking all that money out of the state. We eventually made it to Cedar City and got to our hotel, having had no weather problems at all.

That evening we checked the forecasts for I-70 going through the Colorado Rockies at Vail Pass. Eeek! An unexpected blizzard had closed down the entire pass! Not even cars with chains were getting through! What to do?  Briefly, we considered turning back and prevailing upon my sister to put us up. Then we started scouring the internet maps for alternative routes that might have had reasonable weather conditions. Finally, in the realm of making lemonade out of lemons, we decided to head south, through Arizona’s Navajo Nation, past Monument Valley (where all those John Wayne/John Ford movies were filmed! Remember “The Searchers”?), onto Four Corners, and into Farmington, New Mexico, where we would stop for the night before driving into Colorado for another 8 hours before reaching Lakewood on Christmas Day evening.  Since this was a part of the country we had not yet experienced, we were actually excited to have an excuse to make this rather extended detour.

The roads were completely clear all the way to New Mexico, and we arrived in Farmington with no problems, having seen some interesting desert landscapes and even a few Native Americans on horseback.  The only distressing incident:  when we got to the hotel, we realized that we had somehow forgotten a bag in Cedar City–the one with BOTH of our computers in it!  In 40 years of travelling, we have never done anything as bone-headed as this kind of oversight. We were so distressed by this forgetfulness that we started to think we should hang up our travelling spurs. To our great relief, we called the hotel and found out that we had left the bag in our hotel room. While it took a few days to arrange because of the holidays, we were able, for a not completely impossible price, to have it delivered to Max & Dottie’s house by UPS. By this time, of course, our idea of having an inexpensive holiday had gone out the window, and I was forced to remember my father’s favorite saying: “Never worry about anything that money can fix.”

The journey from New Mexico  through Colorado involved the only hairy bit of driving, as we forgot that there were inevitably going to be mountain crossings. Fortunately, by the time we got to La Manga Pass, the sun was shining brightly and the iciest parts of the road had melted.  This being Christmas Day, we saw very few cars on the road, and everything (outside of a store on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation!) was closed. When our Colorado friends later learned of our route, they told us that we would have been in great trouble if the weather had turned, since there are no services along most of those highways.  Luck was on our side, and we made it to the family’s house before Christmas dinner!

 

It was so worth the effort!  Such a treat to see our beautiful, precocious little grandson, who, despite one epic toddler meltdown, was throughout a delight–devouring books, learning new words every day, and being mischievous enough to make us laugh. Poor exhausted parents are doing a fantastic job of turning him into a civilized empathetic creature, even if they aren’t sure they are.  Both Max & Dottie had the holiday virus that their child had so generously shared with them and has now passed on to us. No matter: we cooked and ate, and read stories and took walks in the freezing Colorado landscape. It was grand, with memories that will last (although I imagine Lyle is still too young to remember them when he’s older). Nothing can take the place of a two-year-old’s little kiss and a “Bye bye, Grammy!” with a wave as we departed.

 

In our only venture outside the Lakewood house, we did manage finally to meet our friends Don & Cyndy at one of the real “destinations” of Denver, the Clyfford Still Museum. Don is an avid aficionado of the place, and could tell us all about how this incredible collection of one man’s oeuvre came to be in Denver, with an admirable building created specifically for the collection. Still, who was notoriously cantankerous, had held on to most of his works, reluctant to sell them; they were languishing in a barn when he died. His wife, with the collusion of his nephew living in Denver, amazingly persuaded the city fathers to acquire 95% of the paintings the artist ever did, and to make this museum to house them.  Well worth a visit!

 

Having already planned to be in Chico on January 2, we reluctantly departed Lakewood on New Year’s Eve Day, deciding to take the northern route back to California–on Interstate 80, crossing southern Wyoming and Nevada. and into the Sierra Nevada range. Getting to I-80 involved driving through a foggy whiteout through the Poudre Valley shepherded by a 16 wheeler–fascinating if scary–but once we were on the freeway we had absolutely clear skies, if cold temperatures, for the entire route. We spent New Year’s Eve night in a lovely little apartment in North Salt Lake, then drove on to the phantasmagoric glitz of a Reno casino for the night of New Year’s Day (don’t ask why). This itinerary meant that we experienced the desolate expanses of southern Wyoming and middle Nevada, a journey that can only cause tremendous admiration for those early pioneers who crossed these wastelands in the mid-19th century, having no idea what was in store for them. That any of them made it is miraculous. (For a fascinating account of one of the first crossings, read John Bidwell, the founder of Chico, by clicking here: Gold Hunters of California. The First Emigrant Train to California )

I was elated when we finally crossed into California and saw trees again!  We stopped in the artsy little gold town of Nevada City for lunch–and were able to sit outside in the sun on January 2! This is, of course, not good news–the mountains really should have more snow by now–but we were so happy to be warm again. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the main street, to compare with the 1856 daguerreotype by Starkweather that I included in my book about Gold Rush photographers. Many of the buildings being raised then are still there in town.

So we are now in Chico, scoping out this nice little college town, waiting to return home on Monday after a few days in Sacramento. That’s another 7 hours of driving, which seems like a breeze after traversing all of the Southwestern states in the last week.  We have indeed driven from California through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming! Another adventure in what George has taken to calling our “life on the lam.”

Oh:  before closing, I would be remiss without including a cat: the regal and inimitable Freddy was a constant entertainment!

freddyinsnow