The skulking wolves keep calling

March 29, 2012 at 10:09 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

If you chat with me for an hour, several things are likely to become apparent. I’m prone to ink stains on my fingers, I’m quite partial to moustaches, I count things at inappropriate times and whenever I can I jump straight on a plane and head to Berlin. 

It’s probably best not to ask me about the moustaches.

Oh, and I write. Often. Fervently. Black ink. Red notebooks. Big smile.

In this blog I’ve been tracing the steps I’ve taken overseas in search of ink: chasing Viking sagas in Iceland, Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath in New York, and Kafka in Berlin. I love this last city so much, and it carries such literary weight that forgive me, but I had to split the entry up.

Near Potsdamer Platz is a collection of museums and galleries whose names delight the hell out of me: the Kupferstichkabinett and the Gemäldegalerie, for example. Try saying that after a dirty martini. I spent hours wandering around the complex, standing fascinated in front of a medieval exhibit from the Black Plague – a skull and crossbones that had been hung above the door of victims, and a horrific black beak-like structure doctors were forced to wear, stuffed full of herbs soaked in vinegar to protect against inhaling the poison.

In the cabinet next to it was a massive book, its pages crawling with tiny curves of ink. I was drawn to it before I even knew what it was, but as soon as I read the words ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ my fingers reached for my notebook. This edition of the Hexenhammer, or ‘Hammer of the Witches’, was a 1487 version of the notorious witch hunting treatise that saw so many hanged on the cobblestones where I’d regularly drunk my coffee. Spellbinding, with no pun intended.

Then I turned, and saw two beautiful names – Jacob and Wilhelm.

If you’ve ever huddled under a blanket and scrunched up your eyes at the thought of a skulking wolf, or a cackling hag strewing gingerbread on a mossy forest floor, you’ve probably read the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm.

And if you’ve spent seven years, like me, in university lecture halls attending linguistic lectures, then you’d know the influence their academic research and findings have had on the field of historical linguistics, particularly concerning Germanic languages.

That sounded a lot more exciting in my head, I swear.

Just think of them as the ones who brought you Cinderella (Aschenputtel), Snow White (Sneewittchen), Rumpelstiltskin (Rumpelstilzchen) and Red Riding Hood (Rotkäppchen), and maybe that’ll seem less word nerdy. And lord, doesn’t everything sound better in German?

So to see an original copy of their Deutsches Wörterbuch from the mid-1850’s, held open with a long red ribbon as a bookmark, was surely something special.

And yes, another reason why I constantly follow the gingerbread trail back to this amazing city.

I could tell you this will be my last entry on Berlin, but we’d both know I was lying.

1 Comment

  1. Leith said,

    Mmmm… Berlin sounds nice.
    Literally 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: