Category Archives: Kevin Crawson

Looking Back

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My last week abroad in Germany flew by too quickly. After the exciting night at Leipzig’s Cabarett, I caught a bus to Krakow, Poland for the weekend. Not a fun trip. Running on very little sleep, I couldn’t tell if it was my body odor or the claustrophobic public transportation that smelled so bad. Delicious pierogi and borscht soup temporarily made up for the uncomfortable bus trip to the southern reach of this Eastern European country, but the fatigue and discomfort caught up with me very quickly. There, I saw an ordinary castle and the basement of a traditional Polish restaurant. The language barrier was even more of an issue here, where the ancestry that English and German share and make things easier, just wasn’t present. For one weekend, I only bothered to learn ‘thank you’, ‘please’, ‘yes/no’, and ‘art’.

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(A uh… corner of a building, in Poland. Pretty much the only picture I took that weekend.)

I did pick up a large book on Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksinski and have been enjoying flipping through that for some sketching practice. In my reflections on the entire program, I’ve come to realize that one of the biggest takeaways for me has been the exposure to new art. In Germany, I forced myself to practice sketching what I saw, devote time to some larger projects, and take down the names of new artists that interest me. I delved deeper into Art Nouveau and Dadaism. Kathe Kollwitz, Alphonse Mucha, and Frantisek Bilek are just a few of my newest sources of inspiration.

The rest of the week was much more ordinary than my dreary weekend outside of Germany. The last few days of class sped by as our classes prepared group projects to present to the entire program. Mine focused on urban art and graffiti, included a humorous skit about the interactions between police officers and street artists, and ran very smoothly.

In the last moments of free time before leaving Leipzig, my friends and I celebrated a birthday within the group by going to Conne Island, a student club once famous for the meeting of left-wing radicals and revolutionaries. While abroad, I’ve been thinking about politics a lot more than usual: about the way our world is changing, the trends we’ve seen in the past, and my place in the middle of it all. Another realization I’ve come up with is that I need to invest more time in such matters. Back home, I plan to be more diligent in my research on both left and right wing politics. I want to volunteer with the organization Food Not Bombs in Philadelphia. I’m going to play an active role in the world around me, finally.

I’ve been raised up with a certain kind of apathy in my household. It came down to, as long as I’m okay, then everything is okay. As long I’m living comfortably, than the rest of the world can deal. Reality doesn’t operate like that: it isn’t such a dream, and waking up to that these past few years has been key to the process of maturing and evolving as an individual, separating from the shortfallings of my upbringing. Going abroad, witnessing the different ways other people are living, was the final nail in the coffin of such a way of life.

In the same vein, I have a new found motivation to make things happen. My next travel plans, to Lake Baikal in Russia, await me in the near future. I look forward to the year between now and then when I get to work towards realizing that goal.

For now, I’m going to work on getting over this jet lag and enjoying a free month trial of TV streaming. Then it’s back on my feet and back to work in the upcoming school semester.

 

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Chance for Science

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Edited by Ellen Schuessler

Something that interests me immensely is the current state of politics in Europe. On that subject, it is pertinent to mention the phenomenon which for the past few years has been referred to as the Refugee Crisis. Through my own research, I discovered the work of a local professor in Leipzig who has her own hand involved in this worldwide event. Setting up an interview was easy; one email later, we were connected and began planning a time for meeting and an interview. Our discussion took place early during my stay in Germany, but only published now due to the hectic schedule that took course for the rest of June.

History happens at the motion of human masses. Today, an influx of migrants have left their homelands in search of work and refuge. Syria is one country where many refugees come from after realizing that they could no longer live in their country, which had turned into a war zone.

University of Leipzig’s Professor Doctor Carmen Bachmann has taken into her own hands the task of seeing the best of these minds don’t go to waste.bachmann

“It must be very bad for them, just sitting around and not having colleagues to talk with”, she realized when she formed the network Chance for Science (www.chance-for-science.de/).

Refugees that studied science in their home country and are no longer in-touch with the academic community or up to date on research can connect with local scientists willing to collaborate on projects via this network.

On the network’s website, two user groups create a profile indicating their focuses of study and locations. The two communities, local and refugee scientists, then connect with each other based on common interests and goals. It’s challenging for members of a migrant community to establish a foothold in a new country. Bachmann understands this, and extends her helping hand.

When asked to comment on the politics of migrant workers, racial stigma, and foreigners occupying high-skilled labor positions, Bachmann clarifies: “It is completely not my topic… There are people here right now, and if they want to have intellectual exchange with people, I want to help to provide this.”

Although it would be hard to coordinate a consistent effort on an institutional level, the government should mobilize individuals to get involved and provide aid on a personal level.

With that thought, I recall the overwhelming amount of social work that needed to be taken care of back home in Philadelphia. City projects, welfare assistance, and citizen programs are primarily handled by the  bureaucratic system. If perhaps a hands-on approach was taken, with money disbursed to well-meaning private projects, we would see some progress in education, and support for under-served and marginalized populations.

Bachmann also sees beyond academic refugees’ value for Germany ,“People need to be able to rebuild their country”.

The project Chance for Science continues to move forward with its humanitarian mission, with a small staff.  I’d like to thank Professor Doctor Bachmann and Ellen Schuessler for facilitating this interview. It has been an amazing learning experience for me and, hopefully, my readers. 

Kabarett Nacht

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During my preliminary research on things to see and do in Leipzig, my interest in Dadaism and the 1920s Weimar culture led me to discover that this city had its own cabaret club. One email later, I was connected with the Leipziger Central Kabarett’s Meigl Hoffman, a frequent performer. His acts contain themes both political and hilarious.

First, though, Meigl took me on a tour of the Frank Capa House.

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It was here that Frank Capa, wartime photojournalist, took the photo “The Last Man To Die” (1945).

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The soldier lying there, one of the last lives taken in the waning days of WW2, is Raymond J Bowman, twenty one years old at the time and hailing from Rochester, New York. Driving into the heart of Leipzig to liberate it from the Nazis, Bowman and accompanying US Army machine-gunner Lehman Riggs positioned themselves in the upper levels of the  house. Down the street…

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… German snipers tried fending off the US advance for as long as possible. The photograph of Bowman as a casualty served as a powerful anti-war message. It still does today: the Capa Haus, also a cafe, is now a monument to wartime photojournalism. Interviews with Lehman, displayed in the museum section of the house, further strengthen the impact that one young man’s death has had.

In America, where most of our historical battlegrounds are relegated to the rural scenery, it might be hard to imagine what house-to-house, street-to-street fighting could be like. More amazing is the normality that is restored to these areas once they are rebuilt.

The streets shown earlier are now frequented by passerbys on their way to work or clubs. The trams run where Panzers and Sherman tanks used to crawl by. Meigl shared a family anecdote with me while we waited for a taxi ride back to the cabaret.

He pointed out to me down the street where his father, only twelve years old at the time, witnessed the Americans’ liberation of his city. As described in a video at the Capa House, not everybody welcomed the foreign soldiers. A lot of Germans, though, were grateful for someone to free them from the Nazi regime. Meigl’s grandmother, Isel, supplied them with chocolates and cigarettes, as well as a place to rest.

Meigl’s own experience with foreign military personnel has been different. Growing up in the days of German separation, he can easily recount the curtness he received from Soviet soldiers that occupied his part of the country.

Back at the cabaret, I met a theater student, Leonie, who also directed some dadaist programs at Meigl’s club. Many people are moving to Leipzig for work and education. Leonie arrived for the latter. Hot new art scenes are popping up in several neighborhoods, while older ones are turning over and dying. While in Berlin, I overheard that many leave the capital for Leipzig to find a new musical pulse. It’ll be interesting to see, if I come back, how this city grows up.

Meigl performed his piece _____, a satirical program that involved the Mona Lisa, 9/11, John F. Kennedy, and quantum theory. It was all comically nihilistic, and in that sense, rather uplifting. After his show had finished, I took the stage as a guest performer to recite the poem “An Anna Blume,” by Kurt Schwitters.

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I went into this experience expecting very little: to be shown the Capa house, see a performance, leave with some food for thought… Instead, I made great friends with a variety of characters. The technician (an anarchist on the side – or maybe it’s the other way around?) reminded me after my performance that my experiences, doing what I love, can never be taken away from me. I left the cabaret for Goethestrasse to catch my bus at with a feeling of unmatched optimism… for the weekend I would spend visiting Poland, for the last week of class I would return to, and for everything to come in the future.

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(Meigl Hoffman and I, in front of the Central Kabarett)

Los Nach Praha

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This weekend, the group and I traveled to Prague. Its antiquated center city is marked by castles and gilded Art Nouveau cafes at every corner.

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(The latter photo here, references Franz Kafka, Czech-born but German-using surrealist author)

It’s at most times an overpriced city, especially in the center, but father away one can find an absurd amount of cheap kebab diners and secondhand stores. Away from the medieval tourist traps, it seems normal to live on a dime. Much easier here than in Leipzig.

A few monuments here and there stand to honor the city’s past:

Since I don’t read Czech and the Wifi bandwidth here isn’t strong enough to do thorough research, I don’t know the meanings of these statues. But they sure look mighty.

I find myself mesmerized the most by the artistic culture here…

I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of it for the sheer awesomeness of the experience, but seeing an original Gustav Klimt at the state art museum has been the highlight of my stay here. Here are a few examples of some works I did stop for a photo though:

Ai Weiwei, famous contemporary Chinese artist with a political edge, had an exhibit open there offering statements over the experiences of refugees coming to Europe.

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The other night back in Leipzig, Germany, I got lost late at night in a city neighborhood called Dolitz/Connewitz. On my way home, frustrated that no late night kebab eating came out of my midnight expedition, I walked past a collection of shacks that I could only assume were inhabited by Germany’s migrants. There was obviously no city planning put into these ramshackle quarters. Since that’s been on my mind, this exhibit had an extra potent effect on me.

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(“Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me” – Carlos Fuetes)

This quote above particularly resonated with me as I’ve passed the glossiness of international travel and realized that… everyone is the same. In the videos shown to kids in high school German students, it’s easy to think that “Oh, wow – these people are so different! So cultured! So much ahead of the rest of the world! Their systems and governments are so much better!” Likewise with other international language classes. A lot of people get wrapped in the mysterium of a foreignness and get the idea that all is good in the far off land.

The reality of it is, is that the governments of Europe are messing up hard right now. There’s a gross misconduct in the treatment of these people who, to my point, are human just like you and me. Instead of fighting over space and the nonsensical idea of “borders,” we should use the little time we have on Earth to appreciate the fact that we get to live under the same sky as these beautiful souls.

We’re all upset with the political system, the absurdity of modernity, and how long it takes for the crosswalk sign to turn green for GO. When we are able to relate on the most humane, universal level, then we can start to work towards building a healthy world for everybody to live in.

(A mural attached to each side of the hall way on the path into Weiwei’s exhibition)

Leipzig: The Political City

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champgner graffiti

(Champagne For All”)

In perhaps a less savory part of Leipzig’s inner city, a friend and I stumbled upon this graffiti while wandering a bit aimlessly. In an alcove, this message grabbed our attention mostly because of its use of the “A” symbol representing Anarchism. The message here is simple, but remarkable. Fresh spray paint indicates fresh sentiment, even though such ideas go far back…

Leipzig knows and honors its past well. With many Germans still alive today who can recount the reality of living in the DDR, there’s a healthy amount of those who appreciate the peacefulness of a unified Germany while recognizing there is still space for improvement.

 

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(Mural by Neo Rauch)

The above photo was taken on one of Leipzig’s traffic-heavy streets, right outside the central train and tram station. Heavy political imagery in a crowded area serves as a reminder to all those of the struggles of the past. Painted on the side of a Mariott Hotel, it also promotes the work of Leipzig’s most important contemporary artist. Neo Rauch, a figurehead in the “New Leipzig School” art movement, creates art that depicts realities of East German life. This mural tells the story of a people who wanted a better future for themselves, and made it happen.

That doesn’t mean the fight has been given up quite yet, though. Besides the graffiti I photographed, there are also neighborhoods such as Lindenau where punk rock music still blares from bars painted completely black. ANTIFA and Anarchist symbols fit in between street artists’ tags in this area.

Communists aren’t hard to find either, even down the street from where I’m studying German this month!

 

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(“No to NATO-Aggression! Peace with Russia! DKP – German Communist Party)

Utilizing the anti-war imagery of artist Käthe Kollwitz’s famous piece ‘Nie Wieder Krieg’ (“Never Again War”), this random sticker is a testament to the survival of ideology and political activism. Germans haven’t stopped fighting since their monumental victory over the division of mankind in 1989. Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to the highly political conscious of this country’s people.

Oh, and then there’s this cool sight I was shown by my student tour guide in the city’s middle streets:

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(Bronze statues of Faust and Mephisto outside the Auerbach Keller)

… They’re, like, members of Kraftwerk, or something.

Berlin Yesterday, Leipzig Today

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My international experience began in Berlin, the capital city of Germany, in which I accidentally arrived a day early. Despite my parents’ worries that I was going to be kidnapped, I enjoyed this extra day with a sense of independence I never have before.

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(A photo of my hostel for this first night – Sehr hip!)

One taxi cab ride, some misguided wandering, and many cups of coffee later, I had adjusted to my new environment and set out to experience one of the most exciting cities in Europe.

Much to my tastes, Berlin is very Dada, and I don’t mean that in reference to the high volume of antiquated artist cafes. Rather, the city is incongruous. It’s nearly absurd, the mix of classical styles next to modern tones. These competing aesthetics and attitudes are what defines the city’s beat: a rapid tempo moving from one idea to the next. Its citizens move at a similar speed. I garnered some odd looks as I strutted down Kantstrasse, gazing wildly at everything around me. When I got cursed at by a passing bicyclist, I knew it was time to pick up the pace and move.

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(A view of the Berlin Wall’s east side, sadly obstructed)

I found the city to be hospitable to English-speakers such as myself. Unlike in Norway, where I was scolded for asking to use a restaurant’s bathroom without eating there, the locals here offered help when asked for it. Weird thing to mention, I know. But it’s in this little detail that my impression of Europe has already began to improve.

The next few days, spent with students also attending the program in Leipzig, proved to be a bit more tourist-y but still enjoyable.

Leipzig’s layout is far more segmented than Berlin’s, its neighborhoods more distinct. One can clearly define where the buzzing, consumerist center of the city ends and where the quiet, gray industrial quarter begins. Or where the suburbs that I’ve dubbed the ‘Student Line’ stretches on for miles of super markets and dormitories. This latter area is where the other Temple Owls and I reside, and where the most tranquility lies. Like I said, the city zentrum has buzz. It’s exciting, modern, and crowded with all sorts of life.

Good WiFi is hard to find here. Good WiFi is what sends pictures taken on my phone to my laptop, so this article will go devoid of any good snapshots. Next time, I promise to make this a bit more colorful with pictures of my urban activities. Until then, auf wiedersehen!