If You Write It, They Will Read It

Now let’s imagine you are a nobleman, living at the beginning of the 16th century in Middle Europe. You hang around the court of the Emperor and help to administer the Reich.
Your ruler decides to promote you and sent you as ambassador to the Czar.
What do you do ?
Certainly you turn to your database – that is the library – and look for a tome, manuscript or print, that describes what you need to know, like where to go, how to travel, whom to bribe.
Shock Hubbub, Panick & Confusion – no such book : You have to write it yourself !
Enter Sigmund von HERBERSTEIN (1486-1566) (Ger., Eng.).
Sigmund was a third son, so his chances to inherit a lot were pretty small. But his father took care to give his son a good education, and – what is even more important – this education fell on a good soil : Sigmund was interested in nearly everything, and very curious.
From 1514 on he lives at the court of Emperor Maximilian I. (1459-1519) (Ger., Eng.), he stays in service until 1553, for nearly forty years.
At the beginning of the 16th century existed only few permanent representations, usually a ruler choose one person for a special commission, a special envoy. HERBERSTEIN carried out 69 such missions, 30 saw him visiting Hungary, 15 took him to Poland and two into the Moscow State.
The first major journey was not successful. He was sent to Denmark in 1516 : Isabella (1501-1526) von Habsburg was married to king Christian II. of Denmark, who had earlier met an Netherlandish girl, taken her to Copenhagen and lived openly with her. The girl’s mother, an innkeeper called Willems, seemingly run the state. The king not only deeply insulted his wife, but also the house of Habsburg in toto, and there was no successor in sight due to a lack of consummation. Within a few years this remarkably dumb sovereign had insulted all rulers in the neighbourhood, was forced to flee the country and take asylum in The Netherlands where his legal wife died.
HERBERSTEIN should admonish the crowned ass, what he did to no avail, but in such a way that the king was not upset (and not cancelled his connection to the House of Habsburg). Interestingly Sigmund’s last mission in 1553 was to accompany another young Habsburgian princess, Catherine, to Cracow, right into another unhappy marriage.
Also Sigmund’s second mission in 1517 was not successful, when he was sent to Moscow to broker an armistice between Poland and the Moscow State. Nevertheless he showed great diplomatic skill in this mission – and he stayed in business. He reported to the Emperor personally, and old Maximilian seemingly was fascinated by the stories about this strange land & country in the East. So when a second mission to Moscow was necessary in 1526, now under the emperors Charles V. and Ferdinand I., it was only natural to have Sigmund take part in it – even Madrid (Charles V.) proposed his name. HERBERSTEIN was not only sent over in diplomaticis, but Ferdinand told him to collect any information about the country, the society, and put special emphasis on the religious situation. In the end Sigmund von HERBERSTEIN was sent to write the first regional and cultural study about unknown Russia.
He returned back to the Emperor’s court at the 13th of February 1527, and shortly afterwards presented his report. Sadly we know nothing about this report’s fate. In the 1530s Sigmund was looking for a humanist to work on his text, to have it stylistically improved, but we do not know what came out of this. It is not clear if the text that was finally printed 22 years later – in 1549 : Instant success, 20 more imprints until 1600 – is identical or, if not, how close related to the first version.
HERBERSTEIN lived on to see the success of his book, and in his autobiographical writings, which are also very instructive, he mentions that knowing the Slovenian language was very helpful for him. Sigmund was born in Wippach in Slovenia, and he put a lot of effort in learning the language of his peasants as a youth. So knowing a Slavonic language was very helpful for him on his travels in the East, less perhaps in Poland where the nobility was fluid in Latin and Italian, two other languages Sigmund verifiably spoke.
His text * is an interesting read, still after five hundred years.

* I used : HERBERSTEIN, Sigmund von : Das alte Rußland. In Anlehung an die älteste deutsche Ausgabe aus dem Lateinischen übertragen von Wolfram von den STEINEN. Mit einem Nachwort von Walter LEITSCH. Unter herausgeberischer Mitarbeit von Paul KÖNIG. 2. Auflage Zürich 1985 (Manesse Bibliothek der Weltgeschichte) (Rerum Moscoviticarum commentarii).
LEITSCH (1926-2010) was an Austrian professor of history at the university of Vienna, I used his Nachwort / postface.

Sunday Music

In the evening we went upstairs into the large empty room to watch the news. After this I had a look at the bookshelves and found something interesting I had not expected to find in this house. R. talked about packing suitcases and how things were lacking behind, but he was not really listening while some news reverberated in his head. I asked about the book I had found and soon we discussed Steiner and his ideas. R. retreated downstairs after having proclaimed that she would not take care any more. We talked further about the news and what it meant to him, and set a date for the departure next morning.

The lady and I sat in the kitchen, drank some red and talked. “Oh, it will be the same as every time. I say we’ll leave at ten, we’ll be lucky to come away in the afternoon.” “He’ll tinker with his books, get distracted, have another phone call. And he never takes care of his suits.”

In the morning R. and me had coffee and some bread. It was time to bring down the suitcases and the rest of the baggage. He had prepared papers and books that needed to be pressed into one last suitcase, amongst other stuff. It finally all went into the trunk of R.’s rolling wreck. We even found time to drive to the village bank for some bills, just in time, while R. took care of the kitchen and her own belongings. We left a few minutes past twelve.

I drove carefully while they both fell asleep. We crossed some borders without being noticed, bought the necessary toll badges. After four hours we reached the place where he will stay for the next few weeks. I put papers and books on the desk in his room, as he had arranged them some hours before in the house. We took care for some machines he needs to survive, and parted.
Then I searched for the autobahn and finally let the old wreck fly. R. decided that we should end the travel with pizza and cold beer, and that’s exactly what we did.

I travelled a lot this weekend, and I am glad that I did.

This Sunday Music is just some guitar music, I hope you like it.



Nix Genaues Weiß’mer Ned …

Mr Gurlitt is traveling. So if you see a small gray-haired blue-eyed man in elegant clothes pulling a small hard protected suitcase on wheels – don’t aim a photographic apparatus at him, he may get angry.
The eighty year old is in the centre of the latest art-“scandal” that involves “Raubkunst”, “entartete Kunst” and what not. It’s incredible what some pen pushers came up with, one writerling even mentioned the “Bernsteinzimmer” – next Gurlitt will show us Atlantis.  Also incredible is how the Staatsanwaltschaft, the public prosecution, handled the case.
What “case” by the way ?
From what I have read I can piece together that Mr. Gurlitt was policed some years ago when he traveled back from Switzerland into Germany. That is a routine control by customs officers and (I think) train police. The reason for this controls is the crime of tax evasion: Clever people bring money into Switzerland, grow a fortune there and pay no taxes in the country whose citizens they are. Germany for example. So German customs officers check on people and have the right to search them. Gurlitt carried some thousands € in cash, the normal enforcement was started.
There is a small disfigurement on this: Mr Gurlitt holds an Austrian passport, he is no German citizen. He has no German tax number, no security thingy – nothing; basically it’s not the (German) public persecution’s job to care about Mr Gurlitt, as long as he does not commit a crime. Travelling and carrying some cash while on travel is still no crime.
Anyway he lives in an appartement in Munich and the coppers searched it. They found some 1400 works of art. Not – as claimed in the first newspaper articles – stuffed among rusting cans and rotting food, but well stored and in good condition. They confiscated the collection – no reason given on which basis – and took care to find an art historian who should work through the whole thing.
Welll … especially a juristic pedant should know that Provenienzforschung, provenance research, is one of the most difficult things one can be involved in, especially when it’s about modern art and the 1930s and 1940s. They obviously had the idea the art historian would simply have to look into a catalogue or something, retrieve some info and that’s it. If so, it’s a bit naive.
This happened some time ago, 2011 ? The public prosecution remained very quiet about all of that. The story emerged only weeks ago because a German magazine somehow stumbled across the whole thing, I have no clue how that happened.
Now, with some ballyhoo, a “task force” is established, international authorities and all: Before it could not be quiet and silent enough – now it can’t be open and public enough. Interested parties line up and demand to know what pictures and other objects are there. And as if it would be a matter of course, most writers talk about “Raubkunst” and restitution.
As if it would be that easy.

I find only two things interesting. First, Gurlitt sold another picture after the collection was confiscated; this one was a bit damaged. So he may have some other objects in a garage somewhere. Second, some museums show up and want to know – and others do not. Museums, especially German ones, tend to forget that (at least) some of them did benefit from the art-“politics” of the 1930s and 1940s. And museums generally show absolutely no inclination to restitute something, there are some not so nice examples over the years.
Basically nothing can be taken for sure as long as no complete list or catalogue of Gurlitt’s collection is available, which not only documents and identifies the objects, but also gives the legal status of every single piece as it is known today.

I think that it all will end like the proverbial “Hornberger Schießen”: Big Blam, much smoke, no results. A part of the paintings at least was handed back to Gurlitt’s father after the war by the American authorities, he was named as the legal owner. Gurlitt senior was an experienced trader – I explicitly do not want to say something about the moral side of his actions. And it is clear that his long time assertion that his whole collection did perish in the Dresden inferno, is a plain lie.
Besides: Shortly after the first headlines about the collection an Austrian art historian was cited, saying that he can’t understand the fuzz: It was well known for years that Gurlitt would sit on a mountain of pieces, without any intention to sell.

Interesting Women: Mechthilde Peto

She is born (1879) Mechthilde Christiane Marie Gräfin von und zu ARCO-ZINNEBERG (Ger., Eng., DNB),  was correctly addressed as Mechthilde Christiane Marie Fürstin LICHNOWSKY between 1904 and 1937, and finally lived and died (1958) as Mechthilde Christiane Marie PETO.
Mechthilde, a Urururenkelin of Empress Maria Theresia, has a nice childhood, spent on a castle in Niederbayern and in the family palais in Munich. Her catholic education is strict, what is not the worst, and “open” at the same time, among other things she learns French and English fluently (she will later write a novel in French).
In Munich she meets the young British military attaché Ralph HARDING PETO in 1901, they become engaged, but the family does not accept this mésalliance. In 1904 she marries Fürst Karl Max LICHNOWSKY (Ger., Eng.) (1860-1928), a man in his early forties then, 19 years her senior, who has just retired from his career in the ministry of foreign affairs. They have three children, the marriage is seemingly not an unhappy one. In those years until 1912, they live in houses belonging to Fürst LICHNOWSKY, mostly in Schloss Grätz (Ger.) and Kuchelna (Ger., Eng.) in Mährisch Schlesien (Ger., Eng.). Under her influence these places become gathering points for literates, musicians: People like KEYSERLING (Ger., Eng.), HOFMANNSTHAL (Ger., Eng.), C. STERNHEIM  (Ger., Eng.) and others show up; she works together with a certain Karl KRAUS (Ger., Eng.) on texts of NESTROY (Ger., Eng.), and the Viennese thunderer and the Tyrolian countess are linked in a lifelong friendship since these days, until his death 1936. Must have been carefree and happy times.

Her husband is always counted among those who would get an important job in the ministry of foreign affairs, and this becomes true – seemingly after the Kaiser has misunderstood an article the Fürst had written about British-German relations. LICHNOWSKY himself writes in his memoires that the first proposed candidate was found to be too old, two others turned the job down, so he became the  ambassador of the Deutsche Reich at St.James’s (Ger., Eng.). The last before the Great War.
Mechthilde was not a Mauerblümchen, but an ideal model for this role. As Alfred KERR (Ger., Eng.) put it: “The house of the German ambassador is the only place where not the buffet is the main attraction, but the hostess”. She collects art and has some paintings of this strange Spaniard PICASSO on the walls (blue phase), she writes books and establishes a salon: When she comes to London in 1912 she already has a lot of contacts in the cultural European scene of the day, and she uses them.
In August 1914 her husband – as one of the very very few of the elite in the Reich – stands the test of time: Fürst LICHNOWSKY – a man deeply rooted in the 19th century! – is the only one in the ministry of foreign affairs who seriously opposes war as means of politics, who actively works for peace: One of his last telegrams simply says: “There is nothing to win!”
They do not listen to him in Berlin. When he has to leave London the British give him an Ehrenkompagnie, a very fine gesture to a brave man, who had tried all his best to avoid the abyss. LICHNOWSKY is later (1917) expelled from the Prussian house of Lords, but this itself ceases to exist after just one more year – then there is no more Reich. The usual dickheads screamed “traitor”, but it is a sad fact: He stood the test, those in charge to make decisions, not. He dies 1928.

Mechthilde’s first book is published before WWI, a travelbook about Egypt. Later she writes novels and plays, and  in the 1920 establishes herself as a well-known writer with essays, newspaper work and so on. After the death of her husband she spends most of her time outside of Germany, notably in France, especially after 1933. 1936 Mechthilde should join the Reichsschrifttumskammer, what she plainly refuses to do. So her books are not published in Germany anymore and she is de facto verboten. She leaves and we find her among the expatriates who come together in Southern France in 1937 – an illustrious crowd, definitely good compagnie. In the late 1930s her first love, the young attaché from Munich, steps back into her life, and she marries Ralph HARDING PETO (scroll down) in 1937, they settle in London. Mechthilde goes back to Germany on family business in 1939, I have no idea what was so important to her. Despite the fact that she has a British passport she is not allowed to leave Germany – she will not meet her husband again: Major Ralph H. PETO dies in September 1946.
During the war she lives in Munich and in the house in Graetz, and as a foreigner has to show up at the local police station every week. She writes, but of course does not publish. When I piece it together correctly the end of the war finds her in Silesia, in the small part that comes to the new   Tschechoslowakei (Ger., Eng.). So she may have found herself in the midst of the expellation of  Germans (Ger., Eng.). She comes back to London at the end of 1946, some months after her husband’s death, the house in Graetz and other possessions of the family were confiscated by the new state.

She publishes her first book after the war in 1949, Worte über Wörter, a Sprachkritik about style. Some say that it could be compared to KLEMPERERs Lingua Tertii Imperii – I have ordered her book via Fernleihe and am eager for reading it.
Since the beginning of the fifties new editions of her titles start to be published, she receives some honours: In 1950 she becomes a member of the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste, the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung and the Mainzer Akademie der Wissenschaften und Literatur. The brand new oh so democratic state and the old society want to adorne itself with those, who did not what they did in the twelve years. Mechthilde lives quietly and humbly in London: She did not visit again the house the German ambassador once had. A journey to Germany or to Munich is impossible, not for monetary reasons, but not after those times of Ungeist. There is a break, a fracture between the individual education and the general cultural decay she had to witness first hand, and the language mirrors it. Her prose is characterised as strict and rigid, dismissive even; she understands language as the tool for the Geist to express itself – the “expert” sees language as tool for domination, what is nothing else but oppression.
I think her writings earn to be rediscovered, an interesting woman.

Sources besides those in the text: Literaturportal Bayern (German only), Lesekost (German only), fembio (German only, with a bibliography and further sources), der SPIEGEL 1949 (German only).