A disturbance of memory in Weimar (Travels in revolutionary Mitteleuropa, from the Rhine to the Danube/1)

As a Greek, and a native Athenian at that, I have always lived in a sublime Germany of letters, reflections, art, and music.  Its writers and creators have been my mentors and friends.  I have shared their passions and inquiries in their compositions and landscapes.  I never had to learn their language since they all speak Greek.  When I was interviewed in July by Spiegel TV for a documentary, after two days of conversations the journalist remarked that Weimar means more to me than to any of her compatriots.  How could it not since I am a permanent resident there?

Thus, when last month my dear friend Johannes proposed on a whim that we spend a day in Weimar, I was first indifferent.  I have been talking with Goethe, Wieland, and Herder, let alone Nietzsche, all my life, so what difference would it make?  I am always discussing the Weimar Republic and the Bauhaus art school in the 1920s with Harry Graf Kessler. Why would I expose one of my ideal cities to the meager reality of a provincial town?  In the end, since we were near by, I agreed to go out of mere tourist curiosity, which was indeed satisfied as soon as we explored the first stores and restaurants.

Until we visited the house where Schiller died.  When the poet looked at me in the reception room, I had an epiphany! So this is real!  Germany doesexist and it was not a magnificent invention of the Greek Ministry of Culture to encourage merchants like Heinrich Schliemann to abandon their global business from the U.S. to Russia, and invest in a Greek identity.  As a bona fideGerman (that is, a “Greek of culture”), until that moment I never thought that German Classicism flourished anywhere beyond the 19th-century architectural plans of Germans for Athens.

Overcome by a Freudian “feeling of derealization,” I quoted the Austrian doctor:  “So all this really doesexist, just as we learnt at school!”  My surprise was similar to Freud’s on the Acropolis:  “I did not simply recollect that in my early years I had doubted whether I myself would ever sec the Acropolis, but I asserted that at that time I had disbelieved in the reality of the Acropolis itself.”  Until that sunny October afternoon, when I visited the town, I too had disbelieved in the reality of Weimar.  But why such incredulity?

I can of course use Freud’s excuse: “It is not true that in my schooldays I ever doubted the real existence of Athens. I only doubted whether I should ever see Athens.”  But I would lie almost as much as he did.  Before venturing beyond Italy, Freud simply considered his Viennese Athens the only real one, and resisted the idea of visiting, exactly as I, an enthusiast of Teutonic reception, postponed visiting Weimar until this Fall, considering mine the authentic one and relishing my post-colonial mimicry.  But why?  I’ll have to ask my “other self,” Dr. Pantelis Polychronidis, another Weimar honorary resident, who has been playing the piano for the Duchess Anna Amalia and Liszt himself, what he thinks.

November 12, 2018

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