“Art” is one of those words that you sort of assume is international. And, if you’re learning French, Spanish or Italian, you’re in luck – art, arte and arte, respectively. Not so in German. No, the German word for “art” is “Kunst”, which, let’s face it, is far more fun to say. KUNST!
Now, I can’t claim to be an art expert in any way, shape or form, but I’m always looking for ways to broaden my horizons and, of course, improve my German. So, when I heard about a “Kunst & Deutsch” afternoon being run by a company called Kunstkomplizen (Accomplices in Art), I decided to sign up.
We were to meet outside the old “Der Tagesspiegel” building, in the up-and-coming gallery district of Potsdamer Straße, at the very Linda-friendly time of 3pm. As I’m still out-Germanning the Germans when it comes to punctuality, I was the first to arrive at around 2.50. We would be visiting two galleries that day –Jarmuschek + Partner and the Maerz Galerie.
I’m always a bit nervous when it comes to this kind of stuff. I’m afraid that I will be the worst at German, that I will say or do something ridiculous or, horror or horrors, be the weird, silent one in the corner. But, when Hedda, our guide for the day, showed up before any of the rest of the group, I had no choice but to stop mooching around the car park like a weirdo and, instead, engage in lovely, German small talk. Poor Hedda…
We chatted a bit about our work, what had brought us to Berlin, and my amazing German skills. (I’m kidding about the last one.) By the time the rest of the group showed up (late), I was totally at ease. Hedda asked us if we’d mind if she used the “du” (informal) form of address, none of us had any problems with that and all was rosy in the world of Kunst & Deutsch.
In the end, there were five of us in the group. Me, a French artist, a French student of prehistoric archaeology (female, unfortunately, so no Indiana Jones-style eyelash-batting opportunities), a programmer from England and an American yoga therapist. Apparently, that is a real job. And, of course, our lovely guide, Hedda, art historian and German teacher.
After a round of introductions, it seemed that we were all roughly the same level, apart from the American, who was an absolute beginner. It was time to enter the lion pit gallery.
First up was the Maerz Galerie, featuring a series of installations by Thomas Sommer called “Schluss mit lustig”. Seemingly, Sommer’s “three-dimensional collages are a series of irritating trials and offer everything that doesn’t want to be definite”, but none of us had a clue how to say any of that in German so we walked around together, saying what we liked, didn’t like and why.
The great thing about a tour like this is that everyone can have an opinion – there’s no right or wrong when it comes to interpreting art. Plus, everyone is so conscious of their own German level that there’s no judgement or laughter at anyone else’s expense. Naturally, I caused a couple of outbreaks of laughter, but I know that was because of my witty genius rather than my shoddy German…
Hedda was friendly, relaxed, patient, and fantastic at steering the conversations we were having, making sure that everyone participated a little. She also handed out sheets with useful vocabulary and grammar explanations as we went along.
Hedda: Schluss means “end” so how would you explain the title of the exhibition?
Me: (little brain working overtime – OK, so “end with fun” would mean the fun’s over, which (maybe?) means roughly the same as… YES! It was time to bust out one of my beloved German sausage expressions!) Um, jetzt geht’s um die Wurst?
Hedda looked surprised and, I like to think, a little impressed.
Hedda: Why, yes! Does everyone understand what Linda just said?
Blank looks all round. Linda glows.
Hedda: Why don’t you explain it to them, Linda?
Crap. Linda’s glow dims.
Me: Well, it translates as (doing annoying quotation marks with my fingers and hating myself simultaneously) “Now it gets about the sausage”, which means that it’s time to get serious. The fun’s over.
I don’t know if they understood me or not, but I was happy. We moved into the next gallery. At the end of the tour, we each had to pick a piece and describe it, using our newly-learned, arty German. I was the first to volunteer which, trust me, is very unlike me but there was method in my madness. I chose this one…
The others got stuck with trying to describe this…
When the tour ended, I practically skipped out of the gallery. I had spoken, and understood, German for close to two and a half hours, and had even managed to slip a porky expression into a very high-brow conversation. The whole afternoon had only cost €20 and I can definitely say that I got more than my money’s worth.
So, I’m sorry to say, Kunstkomplizen, you’ll probably be seeing me again in the near future. Now I’m off to learn some more weird German expressions so that I can blow your minds next time round…
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain