Brandenburg Musings

Yesterday was a glorious September Sunday and we were off to Kunersdorf, on Chamisso’s traces. Sabine, Selma, Anna, Johanna, Janin, Maud and I took first a train to Eberswalde, then a train to Wriezen, where we had rented bikes. And so as the sun started shining through the clouds at 1 PM, we were pedaling towards Kunersdorf’s church. The church is not only, as you can see, cute and original, it is also one of the only two that were ever rebuilt in GDR times.

Kunersdorf is the Brandenburg village in which Chamisso spent the summer of 1813 botanizing and incidentally writing his later successful novel Peter Schlemihl. By then, he was received in the castle of the nobleman who had invited him, Count of Itzenplitz. The castle did not survive the destructions of Second World War, but the park, the attendants’ lodging and a colonnade are still here to keep their memory alive. It is in the attendants’ lodging that the Kunersdorfer Musenhof is being hosted, where we could admire a small exhibition dedicated to Chamisso in general and Peter Schlemihl in particular. An original edition, several illustrated ones, translations were displayed, and showed how easily you could write a whole a history of literature based on such a major work, its dissemination, diffusion, reception.

There was another reason why we wanted to go to to Kunersdorf on that specific day. It was our last chance to see the German- Polish exhibit “Salons und Musenhöfe”.

This wandering exhibit is moving from one muse court to another, on historical spots on both sides of the Oder. It is only one part of a project that also includes installing information tables on the historical places as well. For instance, Janin prepared the table on castle Ziebingen, which like most of the places in the project does not exist any more, but were a place for reknowed intellectual and artistic get-togethers at the beginning of the 19th century.

(Janin being proud of her text (or shy?))

The exhibit showed how difficult it is to reconstruct sociability. There are – obviously – no recordings left,  only a few diary entries: it is almost only letters  or late (auto)biographies that provide testimonies, but testimonies that intend to show themselves under a singular light. Almost no cross-checking is possible, and it is sometimes not even possible to be sure about the persons who actually were part of one circle or the other. For big cities, such a cross-checking is often possible, be it only because there were much more persons involved in the sociability. On the countryside – it became obvious while we were riding our bikes thinking it should have been horses going through thick  forests in which one could only too easily get lost  – the isolation makes a strong contrast to such a city as Berlin, even on a 19th century scale. Once they had reached your east-prussian castle, you were bound to get to know your guests really well. One stayed over not for lunch, but for a couple of months, came with the whole family, trunks and stuff. Many of the descriptions of the Prussian Capital City as some kind of Babylon really only makes sense in comparison with those isolated castles. And it makes the comparison between urban and country societies even more interesting.

After a walk through the exhibits and the park, we could see that the sense for that kind of sociability was certainly kept alive by our hostess Margot Prust. While having a delicious cake and coffee in the Musenhof’s garden, we discussed – as you can see – the next cool feature of our digital edition.


Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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