The Bells in Their Silence

The Bells in Their Silence: Travels through Germany

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Bells in Their Silence
    Book Description:

    Nobody writes travelogues about Germany. The country spurs many anxious volumes of investigative reporting--books that worry away at the "German problem," World War II, the legacy of the Holocaust, the Wall, reunification, and the connections between them. But not travel books, not the free-ranging and impressionistic works of literary nonfiction we associate with V. S. Naipaul and Bruce Chatwin. What is it about Germany and the travel book that puts them seemingly at odds? With one foot in the library and one on the street, Michael Gorra offers both an answer to this question and his own traveler's tale of Germany.

    Gorra uses Goethe's account of his Italian journey as a model for testing the traveler's response to Germany today, and he subjects the shopping arcades of contemporary German cities to the terms of Benjamin's Arcades project. He reads post-WendeBerlin through the novels of Theodor Fontane, examines the role of figurative language, and enlists W. G. Sebald as a guide to the place of fragments and digressions in travel writing.

    Replete with the flaneur's chance discoveries--and rich in the delights of the enduring and the ephemeral, of architecture and flood--The Bells in Their Silenceoffers that rare traveler's tale of Germany while testing the very limits of the travel narrative as a literary form.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2601-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog
    (pp. xi-xx)
  4. ONE Cultural Capital
    (pp. 1-24)

    Hamburg, Hannover, Göttingen, and Kassel. There were other trains: the tracks to the dull marshy west toward Bremen and Osnabrück (change for Amsterdam), or the maddeningly slow and infrequent service to Berlin, whose cars were always crowded with students. There was the boat-train north to Denmark and the local to Lübeck. But this was the one we took most often from our temporary home, the white and bullet-nosed InterCity Express that dropped south at a speed America could only dream of—Hamburg to Frankfurt in three hours and a half, Munich in just over six. Though today I wasn’t going...

  5. TWO The Peculiarities of German Travel
    (pp. 25-51)

    All that came later, long months after we had settled into our lives on Hamburg’s Rothenbaumchaussee, months in which I’d both gotten used to Germany and then begun to find it strange again. We had arrived in early August, and on those first days, as we unpacked our boxes and began to learn our way around the large high-ceilinged apartment that came with Brigitte’s job, as we admired its stuccoed moldings and looked skeptically at the furniture her predecessors had chosen, a few sentences from one of my favorite novels kept coming into my mind. “I am a camera with...

  6. THREE Visible Cities
    (pp. 52-78)

    A drone on sabbatical, I’ve called myself, my hours only as regular as I cared to keep them, shaped now and then by a newspaper’s deadline, but much more often by groceries. Oh, I can make myself sound busy, even a routine measured out by errands and lunch can be made to seem full, and I was often enough at my desk, with my computer open to the files that have eventually become this book itself. But I also seemed to spend a lot of time reading in cafes. On winter afternoons I liked to go to the Sternschanze, an...

  7. FOUR The Dentist’s House
    (pp. 79-106)

    A few weeks after we’d arrived in Hamburg, a small, preprinted form appeared in the mail. One of the dozen large boxes of books and clothing that we’d posted from Massachusetts had been damaged in transit; someone would have to go to the customs office and claim it. I got out the fragile contraption I’d found in our apartment’s back room, a frame mounted with wheels and bungee cords that looked halfway between a handtruck and a luggage rack, and set off. I was a bit nervous, because I hadn’t yet tried my German out on anything more challenging than...

  8. FIVE Fragments and Digressions
    (pp. 107-131)

    My favorite bookstore in Hamburg was a place called the Bücherstube Stolterfont, just up the street from our apartment: a small, free-standing building almost buried in the trees by the entrance to the local U-Bahn stop. Building? A shack, really, its walls flimsy and its roof askew, a structure whose plate-glass front made the whole shop look perilously open to the city’s steady wind and rain. But the display behind that glass seemed always attractive: new biographies of Bismarck and Che; stylish paperback editions of Robert Walser and Ingeborg Bachmann; a pictorial history of Ellis Island and a boxed set...

  9. SIX Hauptstadt
    (pp. 132-159)

    Take the subway—the tube, T, Metro, U-Bahn—and mole your way beneath the city, dropping down into darkness and popping up again in a street that doesn’t match the one you left behind, into rain you didn’t know was happening, a view that seems suddenly all park, or all slum. Come up the stairs and blink in the light, if there is any, hoping that you’ve picked the right stairs, that you won’t be separated by two intersections from the direction in which you want to go. The city discontinuous: which way to turn? Yet, however disorienting, the tube...

  10. SEVEN Family Chronicles
    (pp. 160-190)

    We had our regular beats in Hamburg, a choice of long walks and short ones, a clutch of neighborhood restaurants, a set of streets and stores where we did our marketing. We had our preferred places to buy coffee and flowers, got bread at one bakery and rolls at another. There was the brasserie at the hotel a few hundred yards down the Rothenbaumchaussee, and up the road in the other direction was the Turkish market from which we bought mineral water by the case, with the shopkeeper’s young cousin wheeling a loaded handtruck down the street and onto our...

  11. Sources and Suggestions for Further Reading
    (pp. 191-204)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 205-206)
  13. Index
    (pp. 207-211)