Diary note 34: German contexts

27 March 2019

One eats an evening meal at a restaurant in Leiden. You have eaten there before. But now a younger management has taken over. The former owner, a German, and his wife (with her whiff of the sixties, the Beatles and so on) have retired. The new people recognize me and tell me how contented they are to see me as their patron. They offer a free antipasto as a welcome. Though the wine list has been reduced, the house-wine is the same. A Sylvaner.

The interior has been repainted, simplified. The young generation is spontaneous and yet world-wise, but somehow something is absent. With Wolf, the old cook, a reality has departed that lies outside the shop. Every half year – to stock up his bottles – he would visit some vineyards in the Mosel valley. He was born in Mainz, at the mouth of that river. The Romans wrote Latin poems about these waters as they planted grapevines on its banks. The roots of the vines go deep there, deeper than elsewhere. Because of his visits this restaurant seemed not only based in Leiden, but also over there. Thinking of it: this restaurant still flanks similar water. The Rhine (that would receive the waters of the Mosel at Mainz) would carry it here. We are on the northern frontier of the ancient south. The limes.

It is not only the personal touch that has gone, as the gifts of artists to the cook, or the Moroccan crockery left to him by a yet earlier owner. The change is more general. The mental map outside and around the restaurant has changed. The road to Germany no longer lies at the doorstep. Another world has entered with the young owners. I try to imagine what map is now linking the inside with the outside.

It is not a map of the past, but a map of the present. The restaurant has become contemporary. The links are not visual so much as sound based. The piped music is fluid and rhythmic and somewhat louder. The voices of the young people are different, sharp and unrestrained. Their laughter reminds me of laughter elsewhere. I remember having written about it in New York. In Manhattan. After a visit to a restaurant there. It is unconcerned with the other, with the public space, it is an expression of self without a sense of propriety.

I called it the American way of laughter. Here we are: the map has changed from Europe to America. The few old customers like me are history.

The New Yorker lies on the table in front of me. I have put it down to eat my dish. In it figures an article about a new film by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. The critic compares the film (inspired by the life of the German painter Gerhard Richter) with his previous film The life of others. It is a clear and balanced review. But one judgement concerns the bad taste of showing psychiatric patients led into the Nazi gas-chambers. Maybe. I sit there and muse about the context. The reviewer is American. The filmmaker is German. What is art for one, is history for the other. What is a question of taste for the American may be a necessity for the German.

Even I have been changed by my visits to Berlin. Before, I knew about these things but they were at a distance, not on my personal map. Now I am aware that in my town the family Loeb was taken out of their home at the Breestaat in 1942 and gassed. Separate and individually with complete disregard for humanity. Why do I know this? Where did I become aware? In Berlin. I had seen a commemorative placard for Jacob van Hoddis. This poor expressionist poet was gassed with other psychiatric patients and their nurses. Such gruesomeness is now part of my life and has in a way become normal. We are as spiders part of our web.