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So, this is the start of something new here. A weekly 200 or 300 words with the utilitarian, descriptive title “What’s on Jim’s mind.” Today, I get ready to take off to speak at an international theatre conference in Shanghai, it’s travel.

Mark Twain once wrote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I just returned from eight days in Berlin, my 13th visit over the last 10 years. Spent a lot of time with Peter Kleinert, who directed Irondale’s St Joan of the Stockyards, saw 2 pieces at the Schaubuhne, and met with dramaturges from the Gorki theatre about a possible collaboration. These are all things I want to go into in greater detail over the next few weeks, but for today I just want to say, that our German friends are worried about us — from the man leading our country, to the people in our government who are unwilling, or unable, to curb the existential threat to our nation that he poses, to the numbness with which so many of us are responding to all this.

The question my friends posed to me and which I could not find an adequate answer, “Why aren’t Americans in the streets?” The German people know a lot about this topic themselves and are confronted by their own past on what seems to be every street corner-in their schools and in their museums.

I saw two excellent exhibits while I was there:  Emil Nolde. A German Legend The Artist during the Nazi Regime at the Hamburger Bahnhof and Weimar: On the Nature And Value Of Democracy at the Deutsches History. Both exhibits made important artistic stances. The Nolde laid bare the myth that he was a persecuted victim of the Nazis, who had remained a loyal supporter of Hitler to the bitter end only to be rehabilitated as a celebrated artist of the post war years when West Germany was in need of artistic heroes. Weimar illustrated in detail how a country could descend from a progressive democracy into fascist madness in a little over a year.

I asked my friend what she thought had caused such a thing:

“Many things. Disappointment, antisemitism, the devastated economy, Nationalistic pride.”
“What are Germans proud of today?”
“Nothing, not the way that you mean. . . except the German Football Team.”

I said at the beginning that this was going to be a piece on travel.

This is what I discovered was on my mind this week.

Jim Niesen


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