THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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Exploring Europe at the British Library

Introduction

Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

25 May 2018

More Mountains with Wild Men

A year ago my colleague Barry Taylor wrote a post for this blog about a wild man being seen in the Hartzwald in Bohemia and commented on an anthology of wild men (RB. 23.a.24200). This brought to my mind associations with regions that I am very familiar with and that are dear to me.

The mention of Hartzwald and wild men made me smile immediately: I am from the Harz Mountains in the north of Germany; and in the forests there is a little town by the name of Wildemann.

Harz Wildemann 10260.e.14 View of the town of Wildemann, from Carl Gottlieb Horstig, Tageblätter unsrer Reise in und um den Harz  (Leipzig, 1805) 10260.e.14.

Here I recall several bemusing conversations with colleagues about the name of my home region, all based on the mutual misunderstanding of the geography and word play: “I am from the Harz Mountains”, I’d say. “Ah, you are from the Hartzgebirge?” would be the response – yet one of us would mean Bohemia, the other Germany.

Both mountain ranges, the Hartzwald in Bohemia, and the Harz in Lower Saxony, in central Germany, between the rivers Weser and Elbe, are indeed similar medium range mountains, of similar geological age. They are covered in forests, with pine trees and other conifers being the predominant trees. Hence the name Har(t)z, which derives from “Hart”, as the Harz mountains were also known until the later middle ages, meaning “mountain forest” and “Harz”, meaning resin, the viscous secretion of plants and of conifer trees in particular. And, in their remoteness and sparse settlement, they’d lend themselves to being home and origin of myths and fairy tales, - as well as being ideal refuge and hideaway of whoever might need it (wild men included).

In the case of Wildemann the place name points more to the tales and legends of the local mining community, and the imaginary names the local miners would give to their settlements and mine shafts.

Harz Wildemann mapWildemann and district with a plan of the neighbouring mine. The shaft on the bottom right is labelled with the name ‘Wilder Mann Stolln’. Detail from Prospecte des Hartzwalds nebst accurater Vorstellung der auf selbigem gebräuchlichen Bergwerks-Machinen, Ertz-und Praege-Arbeiten … ([Nuremberg, after 1729]). Maps K.Top.100.44.

According to the folk tale, a “wild man” was seen along the banks of the river Innerste, now the location of the small town of Wildemann. The tale describes him as a tall man, a giant, who also had a companion, a giant lady, and, in defence, was swinging a tall fir tree, as his weapon. The miners tried to capture him at have him questioned by the Earl in Brunswick, but the wild man died in transport. Along the river banks, where they had first seen him, a rich lode of ore was then discovered.

The Harz in North Germany was location of a rich mining industry, with gold and silver mining, and later, ore mining active from 968-1988, one of the richest and longest mining traditions in Europe. Thus this wealthy mountains became a region where kings and emperors like residing – the city of Goslar has an Emperor’s palace, where the travelling court of the kings and emperors would hold court – and this might be the reason, such significance of these rich, green, wild forests, that King George III took an interest in the region. There were ‘Four views of the Harz Forest’ in his collection, now in the British Library as part of the King’s Library.

Harz Hübichenstein

 Philipp Ganz, Der Hübichenstein: ein Kalkfelsen bey der Bergstadt Grund am Harz. … ([Germany, ca.1770-1790]). Maps K.Top.100.45.1.a.2. 

And of the mining village-town of Wildemann there is a map:

Harz Grund und UmgegendPromenaden-u. Ortsplan von Grund u. Umgegend… ([1891?]) Maps 29890.(14.) Wildemann is towards the top right-hand of the map.

How gold and silver were first discovered in the Harz Mountains is worth telling – and then there is yet another wild man with a realm in a kingdom of mountains and pine forests, back in Bohemia: both stories will bring us back to mountain tales and legends.

Dorothea Miehe, Subject Librarian (Arts and Humanities), Research Services.

Further reading:

Marie Kutschmann, Im Zauberbann des Harzgebirges: Harz-Sagen und Geschichten (Glogau, 1889) YA.1990.b.8289.

Harz-Sagen. Ausgewählt und herausgegeben von K. Henninger und I. v. Harten. (Hildesheim, Leipzig, 1921). 12411.eee.14

 

23 May 2018

Do not lean out of the window – especially in Prague

One of the phrases that eager young travellers embarking on an Interrail adventure speedily acquire is the injunction found on most European trains to avoid the perils of hanging out of the window – è pericoloso sporgersi and the like. As they cross the border into the Czech Republic they will see the warning Nenahýbejte se z oken – i.e. ‘do not lean out of windows’. To those familiar with the history of the area, this might well seem to be a particularly timely admonition.

In recent times there were at least two instances of notable Czech figures who met their end in this way: in February 1997 the author Bohumil Hrabal died after falling from a window on the fifth floor of Prague’s Bulovka Hospital, attempting to feed pigeons. More sinister was the death of the politician and diplomat Jan Masaryk, who on 10 March 1948 was found dead, dressed only in his pyjamas, in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry in Prague. Although the initial investigation by the Ministry of the Interior stated that he had committed suicide by jumping out of the window, a second investigation, carried out in 1968 during the Prague Spring, ruled that it was an accident, while a third, held in the early 1990s after the Velvet Revolution, concluded that he had been murdered by the emerging Communist authorities.

These were only two examples of a tradition that had long been endemic to the Bohemian capital. Today marks the 400th anniversary of the dramatic events of 23rd May 1618 which launched the Thirty Years War. However, it was not the first time that something similar had happened there; the so-called First Defenestration of Prague had occurred in July 1419, when an angry crowd of Czech Hussites stormed the New Town Hall (Novoměstská radnice) on Charles Square and defenestrated the judge, the burgomaster, and several members of the town council, who were all killed by the fall. This demonstration of growing discontent at the inequality between the peasantry, the Church and the nobility led to the outbreak of the Hussite Wars, which lasted until 1436.

Defenstration Bohemia Maps K.Top.89.14. Map of Bohemia with costumes worn by royalty, nobility, merchants and peasants by Pieter van den Keere, from Bohemia in suas partes geographicē distincta (Amsterdam, 1620) Maps K.Top.89.14.

Almost 200 years later the scene was replayed in the imperial chancellery in Prague Castle, though this time with less immediately fatal consequences. For some time previously tensions had been growing between the Protestant nobles and the Catholic supporters of the Holy Roman Emperor. Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia (1576–1612), had increased Protestant rights, but as he became more and more eccentric and reclusive he was regarded as unfit to govern, and his younger brother, Matthias, was declared the head of the Habsburg family in 1606. In 1609 Rudolf ’s Letter of Majesty, which granted Bohemia's largely Protestant nobles the right to exercise their religion, essentially established a Protestant Bohemian state church controlled by the Estates, ‘...dominated by the towns and rural nobility.’

Defenstration RB.23.a.28233 Title page of Evangelische Erklärung auff die Böhaimische Apologia (1618; RB.23.a.28233), containing the text of the Letter of Majesty.

Matthias succeeded to the throne of Bohemia in 1612 and on the advice of his chancellor, Bishop Melchior Klesl, extended his offer of legal and religious concessions to Bohemia. As he was childless, he appointed his cousin Ferdinand of Styria his heir and had him elected king in 1617. Ferdinand, a staunch supporter of the Counter-Reformation, was less tolerant, and in 1618 he forced the Emperor to order the closure of two Protestant chapels on royal lands in the towns of Broumov and Hrob. A meeting was called in Prague to attempt to resolve the dispute, but the protest against the closing of the churches was rejected, and as the argument grew more and more heated the Protestant nobles, incited by Count Jindřich Matyáš Thurn-Valsassina, the deposed Castellan of Karlstadt, threw the Imperial governors Jaroslav Martinic and Vilém Slavata, as well as their secretary Philip Fabricius, out of a window on the third floor of the Castle.

The Catholics hailed the fact that all three survived 70-foot (21-metre) fall without major injuries as a sign that they were protected by the Virgin Mary; the more prosaic Protestants, however, noted that they had landed on the castle midden which had broken their fall. However, the incident exacerbated the tensions between Protestants and Catholics throughout the entire Holy Roman Empire, culminating in the election of Ferdinand II as Emperor in 1619, and inflamed a conflict which left lasting scars across the whole of Europe. Its effects extended even to England, as James I’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband Frederick, the Elector Palatine, who had briefly ruled as the ‘Winter King and Queen’ of Bohemia, had to make a precipitate escape from Prague after the Battle of the White Mountain in November 1620 where the Imperial troops finally crushed the cause of the Protestant nobles.

Defenestration Theatrum Europeaum 800.m.3-5 The Second Defenestration of Prague, from Johann Philipp Abelin and Matthias Merian, Theatrum Europæum (Frankfurt, 1643) 800.m.3-5.

The effects of the Second Defenestration of Prague may not have proved fatal to its victims, but were nearly so for the culture and language of Bohemia. With increasingly rigid suppression of the Protestant cause and the Czech language, the area sank into the period simply known in Czech as doba temná - the Dark Age. German was imposed as the language of public life and Latin was used in the universities, leaving the clergy as the only educated speakers of Czech as they needed it to minister to their parishioners; it was not until the National Revival in the late 18th century that it once more gained ground as a medium for literature and scholarship. It would go on not only to survive but to flourish, proving that whatever was thrown out of the window that day in 1618, it was not the spirit and identity of the Czech people.

Susan Halstead Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

21 May 2018

European Literature Night at the British Library: identity and translation

The arrival of the month of May can only mean one thing: European Literature Night!

EUNIC  and the European Writers’ Tour, with additional support from the Czech Centre and Flanders House, organised this year’s event on May 10th. As always the British Library hosted the event whereby authors from continental Europe showcased their work translated into English. They  read passages from their books in English and their own language. The readings were followed by a panel discussion with a Q&A session. Afterwards the audience was invited to buy the guest authors’ books and have them signed.

So far, so traditional. However, this year saw some radical changes. There were three authors instead of six or eight, which did the authors more justice. It made the panel discussion possible, which wasn’t there in previous years. A smaller group of authors also made the event more intimate, and this was emphasised by the new location: not the big auditorium in the Knowledge Centre, but a cosy tent in front of it, on the Piazza.

ELN2018PanelfromEUNICTwitterDc6EPL1WsAICyxR
 Panel discussion at European Literature Night, Thursday 10 May 2018 at the British Library. From left to right: Peter Terrin, Sylva Fischerová, Meike Ziervogel, Scott Pack. Taken from EUNIC Twitter feed.

We had a new host: Scott Pack, who replaced the host for many years Rosie Goldsmith. She was still there, but rather enjoying the event, with a nice glass of wine. The theme of the evening was ‘Identity’. The choice of authors obviously reflected this. All three authors share a ‘multifaceted’ identity. Poet/philosopher Sylva Fischerova was born in what used to be Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic. Nothing fundamental changed, life went on. People tell each other the story of the old woman who was born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, grew up in Germany, lived in the Soviet Union and died in Ukraine, never moving away from her home town. Borders don’t determine one’s identity.

Maybe language plays a more important part in ‘identity’ than geographical borders.
Sylva objected to having her poetry translated into English. When her good friend Stuart Friebert offered to translate her poetry she dismissed it out of hand as being ‘impossible’, but eventually he persuaded her to give it a go. He then not only translated her poetry, but also commented on the poems themselves, sometimes resulting in changes to them. Sylva now thinks the translation is even better than the original Czech version. I can’t judge, because I don’t speak Czech, but I enjoyed Sylva’s readings from The Swing in the Middle of Chaos (YC.2011.a.678)

ELN2018booksSF
Three books by Sylva Fischerová: Bizom, aneb, Služba a mise. (Brno, 2016). YF.2017a24377; The Tremor of Race Horses, transl. by Jarmila & Ian Milner. (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1990). YC.1990.a.10283; The Swing in the middle of Chaos, transl by Stuart Friebert. (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2010). YC.2011.a.678

Next up was Peter Terrin. He read from his 2015 novel Monte Carlo. The story throws up many questions about ‘identity’, such as where the protagonist belongs: in his English village, where he earns a living, repairing cars or on the Formula 1 circuits, as one of the top mechanics?

Peter Terrin sees himself as a ‘European’, rather than as a Belgian, or Fleming. ‘Identity’ is big in Belgium and language plays a major part in this, Terrin doesn’t ‘do’ borders. He speaks Flemish, English, probably French too and writes in Dutch (Flemish is very seldom used in writing). He lives in Belgium and publishes in the Netherlands.

‘This is really good,’ Peter thought, reading David Doherty’s translation of Monte Carlo. It felt almost like a new work. In a certain sense translations are new works. Translators never merely translate word by word; there is a big creative effort involved in translating any text. Still, the question remains what made him think like that. Maybe a foreign language creates the distance required to see one’s own work in a different light.

ELN2018PT MonteCarloMonte Carlo, Peter Terrin.(Amsterdam, 2015).YF.2016.a. 19205 and Monte Carlo, Peter Terrin, David Doherty. (London, 2017) DRT ELD.DS.163792.

German novelist and publisher Meike Ziervogel certainly seems to think so. She moved from Germany to the UK thirty years ago and writes solely in English. She calls herself a ‘translingual’ writer. She noticed that when writing in German she was hiding her emotions behind complicated words and constructions. At the time her ‘beginner’s’ level of English forced her to write in simpler, more direct language, which did bring out her true emotions. After thirty years English has become a native language to her and I could not help wondering if she ever feels like writing in German, doing the reverse of what she did thirty years ago, to force herself to identify her true emotions.

ELN2018MeikeZ Magda Magda, Meike Ziervogel. (Cromer, 2013). H.2015/.5439

Ziervogel is now on her fourth novel, The Photographer, about her own grandfather living through the Second World War.

ELN2018MeikeZThePhcover
 The Photographer by Meike Ziervogel. (London, 2017). DRT ELD.DS.206566 

I look forward to reading the various books that were discussed this evening, including Ziervogel’s Magda, her debut, about the wife of Joseph Goebbels. I hope I’ll finish them all before next year’s European Literature Night!


Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections