Archive | August, 2019

Update: Three German Women

13 Aug

Maria & Bobby, ca. 1954


As I am just completing the first chapter for my Three German Women book (Maria’s chapter), I thought it would be a good time to recap where I’ve come to on this project, and where it’s going. This has been such a tumultuous year for us, so my writing regimen has been no regimen at all. But I have been making progress. Good news: I have made contact with Maria’s relatives, the children of her twin Gusti. They have given me lots of personal information about Maria and Bobby’s life together (and photos, like the one above).  The narrative has expanded exponentially, as I have learned of Maria’s connection to several other prominent people, most notably the historian George L. Mosse, who became a close personal friend of her family. I have also received permission to publish parts of Maria’s brother’s memoirs, in which he describes in great detail their lives on their country property at Löpten, outside of Berlin. This recounting captures very vividly a rural German lifestyle–prosperous country squire and family improving the lives of impoverished villagers–now completely gone, for better or for worse.  Maria’s story has been the happiest of my trio, and the easiest to write.

Of the other subjects:  Irmgard Kern’s story is the most complicated and harrowing, and has many gaps. Unfortunately, I was unable to visit with her son Vincent Rexroth as I had hoped to in May, and he has not been at all forthcoming with any responses to my queries. (What was the name of her beloved dog in the 1970s?) Thomas Elsaesser, who is hoping to republish Irmgard’s husband’s magnificent book (H.G. Rexroth’s Der Wermuthstrauch), is also waiting for further information, and has had to put his plans for that book on hold. I will try to tackle the writing of Irmgard’s chapter next, and hope that I can pull together what I already have accumulated about her fascinating life.  Her amazingly insightful “Autobiografie,” published in 1934 in the liberal newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung, is really my main motivation for wanting to see this book materialize. I have transcribed and translated the segments, and think this will be a major contribution to literature about the life of women in Germany.

Finally, Anna Spitzmüller, my AUSTRIAN German Woman, will shift my story from Berlin to Vienna. Here, too, I had hoped to fill in many gaps (what was her aristocratic mother’s name???) when we were in Vienna. While we had to cancel that planned trip, I am now hoping that I might be able to travel there for 10 days in October to complete some necessary research. Fingers crossed that my recovery from surgery is complete, and we can afford for me to take the trip.  I am also finding that my research skills are failing me somewhat: Spitzi had great interaction with the Monuments Men at the end of the War, but I have been lax in trying to wade through the daunting layers of official documentation at the National Archives and elsewhere to get any substantiation of her claims about these events. I need to be more dogged in figuring out how to tackle online these documents, not all of which are available digitally.

My biggest concern now, however, is the tone of the book, and what to include in the introductory chapter.  As my blog essays show, I wrote about these women who I had known purely for personal interest, and then, for reasons that I can no longer really clarify, decided that I should expand their stories into a book.  I chose to submit the book proposal to Cambridge Scholars Press simply because I knew the people there, and was pretty certain they would accept the book for publication.  Now I find that this very academic press may not have been the best choice for presenting these stories. Their formats are extremely boring, geared for densely textual manuscripts, with little interest in any kind of graphic design.  For the first time in my writing career, I am writing something that is meant to be presented in a more readable, less academic, format. I have spent my life avoiding the inclusion of “I” and “my” in my writing, and now have to figure out how to be more personal while still including all the information.  And I do want photos, which does not appear to be that desirable for this publisher’s rigid format instructions.

As for my introductory chapter, I have also had to remember that I am not obliged to be comprehensive–I’m not writing a dissertation, or trying to get tenure!  Since the literature on German history of the 20th century is vast, I have decided that I am going to write this chapter as a kind of bibliographic essay, referring only to the themes I want highlighted–the history of German women, women’s education, German responses to modernity and their relationship to the tumultuous events of their history. By emphasizing what I was looking for in the sources that I used to verify my opinions and themes, I don’t have to justify why I did not look at whatever materials others feel I “should” have included, if this were an academic exercise. As my first attempt at writing in a more intimate, journalistic style, and not about art historical topics per se, I am still grappling with how to divest myself of all those years of academic training!

So that’s where I am now, two weeks after major surgery, and with a new deadline from the publisher for the end of January 2020.  Wish me luck!  And please send any information you have about “my” women!