Friends and double acts: Dazu gehören immer noch zwei!

The deadline for the Oxford German Olympiad is drawing nigh! In fact, 16 March is the final date you can enter the competition. There’s just time for us to post one more friendship-themed blog post for your last-minute inspiration…

The ‘double-act’ or Komikerduo is a form of artistic partnership with its origins in comic theatre. Double-act often take the form of unlikely friends or contrasting types: two people with very different comic styles or physiques who play with and against each other for laughs. In general, the comedy emerges from the uneven nature of the relationship between the two figures, whether it is one of size and shape, intelligence, social background or character. It’s worth remembering, though, that even the figure that might be considered the “straight man” will still sometimes be the butt of the joke! At the end of the day, the relationship between the two in a double act might be a love-hate type of friendship, but ultimately they need each other in the double act.

German-language culture has a long tradition of comic double acts. They can be found in stage acts of the nineteenth century and in circus clown acts of the early twentieth century – and of course on the cabaret stage from 1910 onwards! A very popular form of the double act is the Doppelconférence, a kind of comic dialogue, full of puns, misunderstandings and miscomprehensions.

Two Austrian actors, Rudolf Walter and Josef Holub, are credited with appearing as early as 1914 as the first Komikerduo on the big screen as Cocl & Seff – a format which influenced Laurel and Hardy, among others. Unfortunately, many of their films have since been lost.

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Karl Valentin and Liesl Karstadt in Mysterien eines Frisiersalons (1932)

The long-running artistic partnership between Karl Valentin und Liesl Karlstadt began on the stage in cabaret performances from 1911, and later transferred into film. Their first short film Mysterien eines Frisiersalons (1932) was directed by Erich Engel and Bertolt Brecht. Click the picture above to watch it on YouTube.

More recent famous double acts include the collaboration between the caricaturist and comic Loriot and his dead-pan foil, the comic actress Evelyn Hamann – they appeared together in Loriot’s films (such as Ödipussi in 1988) and Hamann featured in a multitude of the sketches written by her partner in comedy, notably lisping her way towards a nervous breakdown while trying to pronounce the English combination ‘th’ as a continuity announcer – and the duo ‘Erkan und Stefan’, the fictional personalities of John Friedmann and Florian Simbeck, who brought exaggerated Turkish accents together with Bavarian dialect and English slang for comic effect (they owed some inspiration for their act to the British comic act Ali G).

Can you think of any other German-language double acts? Perhaps some of the literary friendships could be considered double acts – such as Max & Moritz – or are some double acts unintentional (like political double acts)?

The century of letters and friendship

A guest post this week: Dr Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig explains the special place writing letters had for German-speakers in the eighteenth century…

Since ancient times, letter writing and friendship have been intimately connected in people’s imagination. For centuries, letters were even defined specifically as ‘a mutual conversation between absent friends’ (to quote from Erasmus’s treatise on letter writing, Opus de conscribendis epistolis, 1522). Correspondence between friends also came to be associated with a distinct epistolary type: the letter of friendship. Such letters were usually characterized by a familiar tone and a level of intimacy not found in other types of letters, e.g. official communication sent from a public institution to a citizen.

In German cultural and literary history, letters of friendship flourished particularly in the eighteenth century. In this period, which has been called both the ‘century of letters’ and the ‘century of friendship’, people began to celebrate personal friendships in new ways. Letters played a key role in creating and/or sustaining these friendships – sometimes over long distances and periods of time. The language correspondents used was often very sentimental: friends would, for instance, write at length about exchanging hugs and kisses to ensure each other of their mutual affection.

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Gleim’s Temple of Friendship (Photo: Ulrich)

One of the historical persons who exemplify this particular culture of friendship is the German author Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim (1719–1803). Not only was he a prolific (and published) letter writer; he also had a Freundschaftstempel (Temple of Friendship) in his house in Halberstadt. The Temple consisted of several rooms whose walls were covered with portraits of his friends (and can still be seen today in the Gleimhaus). Gleim also had a special writing chair made, which he would move around his temple in order to position himself in front of the portrait of the friend to whom he wanted to write a letter – or whose letter to himself he was about to open and read.

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Title page of Rode’s book (Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Sachsen-Anhalt)

Letters of friendship were not the preserve of adults. On the contrary: letters were among the first types of text children learnt about. Entering a correspondence was part of their education as it helped them practise a range of skills, including their spelling and grammar, handwriting, understanding of social conventions – and also their knowledge of foreign languages. We can see aspects of this practice reflected in what may be the earliest German book of fictional children’s correspondence – August Rode’s Briefwechsel einiger Kinder (1776). Among others, it includes the letters exchanged between a group of boys: Carl, Albert, Casimir, Heinrich, and Hamilton. They correspond about all kinds of topics, including their relatives, new experiences, and games played. Since Hamilton is writing in his native French – a language which all the other boys are learning – Carl also uses it in his replies.

Ultimately, Rode’s book is just one example of many which illustrate that friendship, letter writing, and learning go well hand in hand – and that is as true today as it was in the eighteenth century!

About the author:

Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig is a freelance author, editor, scholar, and translator. Together with Caroline Socha, she runs the blog whatisaletter; their their most recent publication is the bilingual collection Was ist ein Brief? Aufsätze zu epistolarer Theorie und Kultur – What is a letter? Essays on epistolary theory and culture (2018).

Symbol of divided friendship – the Berlin Wall

Monday, 5 February 2018 marked the point at which the time the Berlin Wall no longer existed equalled the time that it had stood. As a potent symbol of division where there should be friendship, no trip to Berlin is complete without visiting some of the remains of the ‘Mauer’. Susan Reed at the British Library wrote a post for the European Studies Blog, showcasing a number of the Library’s holdings to trace the history of the Berlin Wall. Read on below…

5 February 2018 marks a curious anniversary: the date on which the Berlin Wall has been down for as long it stood. There were 10,315 days between 13 August 1961, when the first breezeblock-and-barbed-wire barriers appeared, and 9 November 1989 when crossing-points were opened and hundreds of East Berliners headed…

via 10,315 x 2: the days of and after the Berlin Wall — European studies blog

Bücher sind bessere Freunde als Menschen – Literary friendship…

…And we’re back! With apologies for the long silence, but we’ve been busy reading up on friendship again. Literary friendship this time – another aspect for you to explore when you enter the Oxford German Olympiad this year!

Es geht uns mit Büchern wie mit den Menschen. Wir machen zwar viele Bekanntschaften, aber nur wenige erwählen wir zu unseren Freunden.

 

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Copies of this famous monument to Goethe and Schiller in Weimar can be found all over the world.

We might agree, even over a century later, with Ludwig Feuerbach’s assertion that we treat books and people very similarly, reading/meeting many, but selecting only a very few to get to know (and like) very well – and the implication that we can sometimes feel that books are like friends to us. And literature truly is full of stories of friendships of all kinds and many friendships between writers and literary figures have, over the centuries, become almost legendary.

The long and intense friendship of the writers Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller  may be the most well-known example in the history of German literature: although they didn’t become firm friends on first meeting in 1788, their relationship grew stronger towards the end of the eighteenth century and they exerted considerable artistic influence over each other. Other prominent writers and thinkers have often been part of the same tight-knit friendship groups: the Schwäbische Dichterschule (1805-1808); the circle of Romantic poets around Clemens Bretano and the von Arnim family (around 1808); the Expressionist dramatists in Berlin at the end of the nineteenth century; or the GDR-based Sächsische Dichterschule which included Volker Braun and Sarah and Rainer Kirsch.

Books are full of descriptions of great friendships and their impact on people, communities and events. From Wilhelm and Werther in Goethe’s Leiden des jungen Werthers to Effi Briest and her loyal servant Roswitha in Theodore Fontane’s Effi Briest; the narrator’s relationship with her dead friend in Christa Wolf’s Nachdenken über Christa T.; the doomed and toxic relationship between Franz Biberkopf and Reinhold in Alfred Döblin’s Berlin: Alexanderplatz; Pilenz and Mahlke in Günter Grass’ Katz und Maus, or the close-knit band of friends who feature in Erich Maria Remarque’s Im Westen nichts neues, literature has explored the good and bad features of platonic relationships in all their forms. However, while they thematise friendship and thus inclusion, such books can also highlight aspects of identity in the ties of friendship and of exclusion from certain groups. For example, Remarque’s band of soldierly comrades is divided approximately into two groups by his narrator: the group of classmates who joined up together on the one hand and the group of older men with established jobs and families on the other.

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Lobby card for the 1930 film adaptation of Remarque’s novel

Some of the best descriptions of friendship in literary works are in writing for children and young people. Many popular children’s books have been translated from other languages into German and have proved firm favourites. But children’s books by German-language authors have also traveled in the other direction and are very well known in English, especially for their depiction of friendship. The conspiratorial hijinks of Max and Moritz in Wilhelm Busch’s early cartoons have become embedded in the literary consciousness of many German speakers. The lively cast of characters in Erich Kästner’s children’s classic Emil und die Detektive (1929 – recently adapted for the British stage: take a look at a review here) showcased their independence and resourcefulness of children in making new friends and teamwork, while the capacity for friendship and affection is also explored in the well-known children’s classic Heidi, Johanna Spyri‘s 1881 tale of a Swiss orphaned girl’s friendships with those around her. A German-speaking audience will, however, also be familiar with the long-running Burg Schreckenstein series (1959-1988) by Oliver Hassencamp, about the adventures of a boys’ school (occasionally joined by their rival girls’ school).

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Emil and his newfound friends follow the criminal Grundeis in the 1931 film adaptation of Kästner’s Emil und die Detektive

More recently, themes of difference have begun to dominate much children’s literature. Two examples are Zoran Drvenkar‘s autobiographical Niemand so stark wie wir (1998), which looks at the balancing acts of intercultural friendships and family life of immigrant children in Berlin, and Uticha Marmon’s Mein Freund Salim (2015) in which two German children engage with a young Syrian refugee who can’t speak their language (read a sample from the book here).

Keep your eyes peeled – more posts on theme of friendship coming up…