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Bücher, Filme, Technik und Benedict Cumberbatch – auf Deutsch and in English

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Dear Letters Live

The Internet, 17th March 2016
1.15pm ish, CET

 

First an apology: I’m typing this letter to post it on my blog rather than grabbing my pen and a piece of paper. It’s not that I can’t write any more in a traditional way. But on the one hand it would be a bit tricky to upload a handwritten letter to my blog (and I admit it has to be on my blog for anyone to read and of course I want clicks in my statistics). On the other hand it’s quite comfy typing in a foreign language and relying on the spell checker to mark typos whereever they appear (thanks Internet).  Of course this won’t turn my writing into a perfect English text – so don’t be too harsh.

LettersLive

I have no idea when I learnt about Letters Live but when I stared at your event in 2015 I was jealous and envy because I wasn’t able to be there. You know, sometimes real life is a bit bitchy when it comes to a fixed schedule that can’t be changed. So I decided I had to be there the next time, whatever it would take. Given the fact that London isn’t just a taxi drive away, I planned holidays around the event as soon as I knew the dates and bought tix the moment they went on sale – and blamed myself for torturing my credit card without knowing a single performer for the weeks to come.  When it was clear that my adored actor and beloved human being Benedict Cumberbatch would be there (after all he is to blame for my interest in Letters Live and so much more), I knew that I might have a chance to see him live on stage again after having the privilege to attend two of his Hamlets last year.

Now, that Letters Live is over, there is nothing to complain about. What a unique experience this was.  What a homage to the written word, to letters that gave insight looks into private lives that otherwise would have been hidden from the public ear. I laughed and cried and felt myself at the right place at the right time, taking unforgettable moments back home.

Hope to catch you again next year.
See you – all the best & take care

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James Rhodes „Der Klang der Wut“ – A story like a fairy tale

The truth one might think is something you can’t suppress. But it looked highly unlikely that the book „Instrumental“ („The sound of rage“ is it in German – my note) would never make it onto the shelves of the book stores. Not until the British Supreme Court allowed the publication of the book saying that the author is allowed to tell his story. The judges rejected Rhodes‘ ex-wife try to prevent not only the publication of the book . She tried to prevent Rhodes from talking about his past publicly.

A different kind of pianist

The author is James Rhodes, a pianist who is exactly the opposite you expect a concert pianist to be. He appears on stage in Jeans, tee and trainers, seems to be hyperactive and calm, witty and serious and has no problem at all to get rid of his black, long sleeve tee with „Bach“ written in capital letters on the front (“Sorry, I’m warm, have to get out of that shirt. Be envious, I was at the fitness centre.”). And creating worlds out of music on a very impressive huge and polished Steinway piano, fascinating his audience in London’s Barbican centre last autumn. And then this small, fragile 40 year old British guy who takes off his nerdy glasses when playing thousands of notes out of memory, seems like he has been happily playing this wonderful music, just himself and his piano, for all his life.

But what he is writing in his book – that is now available in German – hasn’t anything to do with classical music, at least not for a start. Without whitewashing anything, Rhodes writes how he was abused by his boxing teacher over the range of five years. Yes, he doesn’t describe all the most devastating details but even without them, the book is shocking, stirring, disturbing and moving. That is because Rhodes writes the same way he communicates on Twitter with his followers or describes his audience why he is playing the piece of music he is playing, what it means to him – and he tells something about the life of the composer.

 „I started writing at 3.47 am. Something is wrong with me.“
(My translation)

Of course „Instrumental“ is about classical music, pieces of great composers, even outsiders know their names, even if that sort of music isn’t their cup of tea. This music is more than just a way to earn money. It has saved his life because, Rhodes writes, music comforts him „when there is desperation, music gives pure energy in a very high doses when one feels empty, broken and exhausted.“ (My translation). Music that a friend smuggled inside his mental hospital on an iPod where Rhodes tried to commit suicide several times after his marriage broke up and he stopped working in the City.
The fact that he now is married happily to his second wife, writes for British papers, had a show about music on British telly and has his own label – thanks to his manager he met in a café – reads like a fairy tale. Of course the book „Instrumental“ isn’t a fairy tale at all even if the story could have come out of the mind of a screenwriter. But he would lack that direct, puzzling tone which comes with the swearing of the original in the German version where the reader is addressed as „Sie“ (the polite way to talk to strangers – my note) – and which sounds a bit rough from time to time. The joy of reading is completed by a Spotify playlist of all of the pieces introducing every chapter.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Book & music
James Rhodes: Der Klang der Wut, Nagel & Klimche, 22,90 Euro.  [You can find my review of „Instrumental“ here]
James Rhodes offers some of his pieces for free on https://sound-
cloud.com/jrhodespianist
His latest album is „Inside Tracks”.

[The German version of this article was first published in Fränkischer Tag, 10th February 2016 and online  (paid).  This blog entry is my translation and has a few notes to explain specific German expressions]

Shakespeare in the World

William Shakespeare is one of the best known author of plays. And even if one hasn’t read or seen any of them at all, some sentences seem to be familiar, written forever in the memory of mankind. But little is known about the man who was born in Stratford, went to London to write and perform his genius plays, retired to Stratford where he died. We can only imagine that he hat books important for his work, that he had friends to chat with and that he had some belongings dear to his heart. What remained of his life are property transactions, a marriage license bond or christening records.

Stephen Greenblatt gets behind these documents and brings the human being behind the genius  that was William Shakespeare to life. Though Shakespeare imagined worlds while creating his plays, he always was very aware of the real world: „Shakespeare understood his world in the way that we understand our world – his experiences, like ours, were mediated by whatever stories and images were available to him“, Greenblatt writes. Stories he may have read or heard while sitting in a pub, listening and watching the people around him, stories he needed for his plays, hints that are visible in his work as Greenblatt explains his reader.

„How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
seem to me all the uses of the world!“ Hamlet, I,2.

But, according to Greenblatt, we find more of Shakespeare’s own feelings and his grief about the death of his boy, the 11 year old Hamnet. Although  it took him a few years (maybe he had to recover from the loss of his boy), Shakespeare managed to „respond with the deepest expression of his being“ and gifted the world with „Hamlet“ – playing the ghost himself.

„Will in the World“ is an entertaining read filled with countless references to Shakespeare’s work but without any educative tone. Those who want to read more get pages of bibliographical notes for further studies.

 

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Stephen Greenblatt: Will in the World, Norton, 14£/12€

Sherlock – The Abominable Bride

When learning about a Sherlock special to be aired round Christmas, the speculations where afoot. A special! Not only way ahead of series 4 that will be aired some when on 2017 but a sort of stand alone episode settled in Victorian London! How would this fit into the beloved Sherlock situated in our times in London, with the beloved sociopath using every new gadget including the internet of course to help him finding the solution of his cases?

To be honest: Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat not only created a good film that was entertainment. It was full of hints both to the original canon and the genius Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who created perhaps the most famous detective who has never lived and who will never die. It was also a bow to the fans offering them lots of hints to previous episodes. All in all „The Abominable Bride“ was a fantastic ride, although settled in an area without modern day’s stress and hectic but with cabs instead of taxis or the tube, with letters and telegrams instead of text messages or emails, that didn’t lose the dynamic that is one of the defining parts of BBC’s modern Sherlock. Together with the brilliant cast and crew that put all their love and abilities into every single scene, this episode has everything the fandom wanted. And so much more.

So it’s Doctor Strange then

„I’m never bored“, John Watson says to Mycroft when asked what it is like living with his brother Sherlock. The same is true for Benedict Cumberbatch’s fans: When the actor isn’t busy solving crimes as the highly functioning sociopath who will be back in the special „The Abominable Bride“ on New Year’s Day on BBC One he dives into all kind of topics – and takes the Cumbercollective on a fantastic trip into the unknown.

On that trip we  learned about Enigma and the Codebreakers at Bletchley Park when Benedict played Alan Turing in „The Imitation Game“. In  „Black Mass“ we found ourselves in Boston in the 1970s where Benedict as William Bulger is not only a senator but also the brother of the criminal Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp). We read William Shakespeare’s „Hamlet“ (again) to prepare for Benedict’s performance at the Barbican earlier this year. Luckily this was not only a once in a lifetime experience but another step in the career of that amazing actor who will be Richard III in the second series of BBC Two’s „The Hollow Crown“ to be aired some when in 2016. (Because it’s a three part series, better prepare for it and read Henry VI and Richard III.).

And so it’s Doctor Strange then. A fictional superhero who protects earth from mysterious villains with the help of his own magical abilities – at least that is what I have learned so far. But it’s still time for diving into the unknown world of Marvel, open a new door and proving the fact that Benedict is just fantastic.

Doctor Strange will be released in the UK on 28th October.

Prof Alan Turing decoded

What is the point in writing another biography of Alan Turing more than 60 years after his death? And what can be really new when you know Andrew Hodges‘ „Enigma“ which is both a thrilling approach to the professional life of the man who helped breaking the German Enigma code in the Second World War and an look inside the man who wasn’t allowed to live and love as a homosexual man in the UK of the 50s?

The point is that the author Dermot Turing, is Alan’s nephew and although he has never met his uncle, he takes the reader with „Prof – Alan Turing decoded“ inside the Turing family, presenting not only pictures you may not have seen before but also letters and notes scribbled by Alan when thinking about his work (which makes me wonder how his third notebook which was sold at an auction earlier this year may look like. ) Although the book is – as always when it comes to very specific scientific topics – not always an easy read. But even if you don’t have the brain of a mathematician  or a computer expert, you’ll can’t help but to be in awe of a man who apparently was awkward and brilliant as a codebreaker in Bletchley Park and as the father of the computer age, somehow way ahead of his time and down to earth in a stunningly pragmatic way.

„He was a strange character, a very reserved sort, but he mixed in with everyone quite well.“

A way that wasn’t always an easy one to cope with. Imagine Alan at your door at any time of day without any notice to announce his visit or him walking away when he found a conversation boring. But he easily connected with children whom he met on equal levels and talked seriously about such things as if God could catch a cold when he sat on wet grass.

„Prof“ is a biography about a man „who had something special which the rest of us do not“. It is worth reading.

 

Dermot Turing: Prof – Alan Turing decoded. A biography. The history press, about 20€/ 16£.

Further reading:
Alan Turing – his work and impact.

London and her tube

Honestly, there are lots of things that I find fascinating when it comes to London and I’m not sure where to start or to continue considering my previous blog entry . But what about London’s underground, the tube?  After all you may need it just at the beginning of your trip when you are heading to central London from one of the airports. Do yourself – and others – a favour and get yourself an oyster card. You can buy it at the airport or online when you are planning your trip and feel like a Londoner.  The card is rechargeable which will help you ease your London bug – the feeling to come back to the city. And recharging the card is very fast and easily done at lots of tube stations.

Have your oyster card ready

Make sure you have your oyster card at hand when approaching the entrance, so you just have to hold it on top of the yellow button and cause no delay. Remember: Londoners are busy, they normally are not on holiday as you are, so get out of their way and stand on the side when you need to check your way on your tube map. Hint: there are maps inside every station. Just make sure you know where you want to travel, head to the platform which fits your destination (south or eastbound for example) and: stand on the right when using the escalators! Londoners really do this no matter what and honestly it’s quite interesting looking around and reading ads while getting to your platform.

Once your train has arrived, do allow the passengers to get out of it before you get inside. All the passengers. Don’t stand directly in front of the door, nobody is able to leave if you silly tourist are blocking everything. And you will block everything especially when you have a suitcase or a large bag with you. Or both. Enter the train and really do move inside. Don’t block the doors by standing too near, try to find a place to stand quite comfy or get a seat. And: Mind the Gap!

 

Fascinating London

What is it that makes London so fascinating? I’m asking myself this question for quite a while now and I still don’t have an answer. Quite a while means for at least three years, about that time BBC’s „Sherlock“ forced its way into my life, ready to stay and occupy it.

But this was only the beginning because it opened a door to new and different experiences that literally broadened my mind, still do and will probably never end. London of course is a part of that – not just because the city is always present in the stories as a lovely book points out. But because London is the background for films, books and all in all quite present in everyday’s life if you are not hiding under a rock 24/7. So when I finally visited London for the very first time last November it soon became quite clear that the city infected me with her bug forcing me to come back, several times this year.

A bug that is made out of those iconic buildings the Elizabeth tower – known as Big Ben – is just one of countless ones, though it’s the one for me, symbolizing London and Britain in a wonderful building that I have to look at on every visit. But of course London is much more. Especially the Londoners being polite and calm even when silly tourists like me are standing on the wrong side of elevators or squeezing themselves into trains with their baggage. And gosh –  they are helpful! No matter if I was standing at a chip and pin machine wondering how to throw money at it or in front of a tube map in a crowded station figuring out what platform to choose: a friendly „Can I help you?“ or „You do know your way, do you?“ is one of the things that I will always connect with London – hopefully in many more visits to come.

 

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My London bug: Big Ben. Photo: Petra Breunig

 

Letters of Note II

The moment you free that huge coffee table book from its packings, you feel that is indeed something special. This is of course because of its size (21 x 3,5 x 28,9 cm) but it is also because of its content. As I wrote before when I had the first volume in my hands, „Letters of Note, Volume II“ again makes letters available for readers and lure them into a very special place. The place – maybe the living room – is a very private one, normally not open for strangers, a place where letters were written in a time when the internet wasn’t even thought of.

So this book is a treat to dive into, to flick through its pages and get hooked by facsimiles, pictures or the name of the writer or their receivers. You want to have it within reach to hold it and re read certain letters again, so do make room on your shelves. And you’ll get letters by Abraham Lincoln, Aldous Huxley, Janis Joplin, Charlotte Brontë, Michelangelo, Alan Turing, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Florence Nightingale and many more. They tell stories of their writers, give  little insight looks into their lives at a special moment in time and will never leave you untouched.

LettersOfNote2

Photo: Petra Breunig

You will find different editions but even if you love reading ebooks (as I do), do yourself a favour and go for a hardcopy. It’s worth the money.

Unbound is a way of crowdfunding books directly by supporting their authors. Depending on how much money you want to spend, you get goodies and of course the books you are supporting. After signing up for Unbound – which is for free – and you have made up your mind to support a book you want to get to life, you’re getting emails keeping you updated on the progress the book is making.

Shaun Usher, Letters of Note II,  Unbound.

[Note: I was one of the subscribers and am very happy that this book  wouldn’t exist without me, as Shaun Usher wrote.

Alan Rusbridger: Play it again

It doesn’t sound that much: twenty minutes a day for playing the piano. But it becomes a real struggle to sit down every morning and try to learn Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 within a year and perform it in front of an audience when you are Alan Rusbridger, then editor in chief of the Guardian at a time when news seem to be breaking for weeks on end.

The book - with yellow labels and a book mark. Photo: Petra Breunig

The book – with yellow labels and a bookmark. Photo: Petra Breunig

But he manages to squeeze practising the piano into his incredible schedule most of the time even when there are such topics as the publishing of the WikiLeaks files and the hacking scandal of „News of the World“ that hit every news all over the world, and everything in between from meetings and conferences to editing a newspaper with working days that end in the early hours of the next day. So what seems to be insane is in fact very healthy for the brain and the body as a whole because while playing the piano, the brain has to concentrate on the very moment, the keyboard, the fingers, the notes so that everything else is shut out. „With other people it’s yoga, or a run or a burst in the gym. Twenty minutes on the piano have the same effect for me,“ writes Alan – twenty minutes as a preparation for another stressful day.

„I gave fifteen reasons why Twitter is such an astonishing medium for journalists (…) and why senior executives in media companies who don’t ‚get it‘ shouldn’t be in a job.“

So „Play it again“ is of course a book about music, about learning to play a piece with a lot of specific terms that sound like a foreign language for ignorants like myself but this isn’t a reason to stop reading because  the moment you start the book you are hooked by the story that is just wonderfully written, full of inside views of Rusbridger’s work, his views and how he comes to term with them but without any arrogance others might have shown when learning that „News of the World“ is about to be shut down: „It’s one of the most dramatic moments I can remember as an editor. (…) It’s a hold-the-front-page, stop-the-presses, stop-the clocks, stop-everything scoop. The history of newspapers has just been rewritten.“

„Should I ever make a book out of my endeavour with the Ballade, I resolve, I’ve at least got the title: ‚Play it again‘. (…) The journalist in me also likes the fact that it’s a misquote. Bogart never said it.“

And  „Play it again“ is also about Rusbridger’s struggle with the music, his doubts about his abilities to get the notes right or remember them at all and it is an inspiration for those of us who always want to go for a run, a swim or just reading a book instead of being bored by telly. They can do it. We all can.

 

Alan Rusbridger: Play it again  – An amateur against the impossible, Vintage Books, £10,99
Deutsch: Play it again – Ein Jahr zwischen Noten und Nachrichten, Secession-Verlag, 25 Euro.

 

 

 

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