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das boot

24th March 2004 permanent link

We went to the Buchheim Museum a couple of weeks ago. This is a modern art museum that houses the collection of Lothar-Günther Buchheim. Buchheim is most famous as the author of Das Boot and a couple of other Second World War novels based on his actual experiences as a war correspondent. He was also an enthusiastic painter and art collector, and built up a major German Expressionist collection over his lifetime. A few years ago he built a museum on the shore of the Starnberger See near Munich to house it. (It must have cost millions. I have no idea if Buchheim had family wealth, or if it was possible to become rich by writing war novels in Germany in the 1950s one of which subsequently got filmed, or if the musueum had some other source of funding.) Here’s some information about the museum in English.

It was such a nice day that we decided in the end to go for a walk by the lake instead of looking round the museum (will do that another time). We did have a quick look in the museum shop - where, as it turned out, Herr Buchheim himself was doing a book signing. Despite being in a wheelchair and having a patch on one eye, he looks remarkably fit and energetic for a man in his late 80s. And, surprise, for my birthday this week I received a signed copy of Das Boot.

I haven’t read anything before that might in any way qualify as German Great Literature. A couple of years ago I had a spell of reading lots of novels in German as a way to improve my language skills. I rejected Great Literature immediately as just Too Difficult. The approach I eventually found that worked best was to pick relatively unstrenuous authors whose style I was already familiar with in English, and read some more of their books translated into German. So I read Harry Potter 3 & 4 in German, and some thrillers by people like Robert Harris and Tony Hillerman. I also tried reading things in German that I already knew in English, but I found that didn’t work - reading German was hard work for me at the time, and I wasn’t motivated enough to make the effort if I already knew what was going to happen. Hopefully my German has since improved enough not to have the same problem with Das Boot.

(Maria, on the other hand, has a degree in German Literature and recently spent ages on ebay trying to get a decent price on an audiobook of Thomas Mann’s Zauberberg (Magic Mountain) to listen to while pushing the pram, because she had decided she was suffering from brain atrophy as a mum at home with a small baby. I asked her if I should listen to it too and she said it was boring. Oh well, at least she knows enough about the market for it on ebay that she should be able to sell it at a profit.)

I don’t think Maria will be reading Das Boot. Her reaction to me watching the film a few weeks ago was, er, Russian.

M That’s Herbert Grönemeyer
Oh is it? [This shows how much I know about the German music scene. Herbert Grönemeyer, a working class boy from the Ruhr, was probably *the* most famous German singer of the 80s and 90s. Kind of a Springsteen-Deutsch.]

M Who are they anyway?
They’re sailors in a U-Boat in World War II.

M What are they doing?
They’re trying to sink British ships.

M So they’re fascists?
Well, probably not literally and in person in most cases, but they are fighting for the Third Reich, yes.

At which point she decided she didn’t care what happened in the film as long as they all got sunk and killed (I reassured her that they did) and went to bed.

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