Granted, Babylon Berlin has at its disposition all the means necessary to become a true blockbuster. But it isn’t every day the viewer gets to experience just how phenomenally a big budget can be spent on a TV series – without compromises between bombastic montages and cinematography for lovers, between fast-paced story development and credibly complex characters, that is.
For Babylon Berlin, produced in Germany by German production companies, the commitment to an unflinching and unreserved depiction of a nation on the verge of fascism pays off. As a bit of an inside tip, the show’s spectacular efforts are appreciated far beyond its country of origin, as demonstrated by almost exclusively glowing U.S. reviews.
I think it’s likely true that the people of all nations love their patriotic songs even when they don’t agree with their message.
I love American patriotic music, although some of the lyrics are much too bellicose and virtually all of it is much too religious for this atheist to embrace. And the music itself may or may not be American. Indeed, the music of one of our most prominent songs, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” is the British national anthem “God Save the Queen.” This rendition is sung by Aretha Franklin at Barack Obama’s inauguration:
Perhaps more ironic is the fact that our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” a poem written in praise of our efforts against the English in the War of 1812, is set to the tune of a British drinking song, “The Anacreontic Song.”
The month of June commemorates a turning point in many countries’ LGBTQ+ history. In the U.S., the Stonewall Riots mark this turning point.
The Stonewall Inn is a gay bar located in Greenwich Village. Before the riots, the police routinely raided the Mafia-run gay bars to harass or detain members of the LGBTQ+ community. On the morning of June 28, 1969, a surprise raid took place at the Stonewall Inn. The angry patrons and neighborhood residents, fed up with the constant police harassment and social discrimination, gathered outside the bar and became increasingly agitated about the police aggressively manhandling people. Soon afterward, the onlookers began to throw objects – pennies, bottles, and cobble stones – at the police. The full-blown riot continued for five more days, involving thousands of people clashing with law enforcement on Christopher Street and neighboring roads. The fabulous Marsha P. Johnson, a Black drag queen, is credited for throwing the first stone – although she’s never confirmed it.
What does the novel Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce (1882–1941) have to do with American Studies? The answer is simple: Bloomsday is an annual literary festival celebrated in many U.S. cities, around the globe, and particularly in Dublin, the setting of the novel. The event is named for one of the novel’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom. The novel takes place on June 16, 1904, the day that James Joyce met his later wife, Nora Barnacle. Celebration activities include dressing up in period costumes, readings, theater performances, film screenings, and art exhibits associated with the novel and Joyce’s writings and life. The liveliness of the festivals testifies to the fun of reading Ulysses, especially if it’s read aloud. The novel is often mistakenly described as inscrutable for the average reader, but it is perhaps more accurately described as surprisingly readable.
In honor of Bloomsday, I’ve imagined a tongue-in-cheek letter of condolence from Milly Bloom, now fifty-two, but at the time of the novel the fifteen-year-old daughter of Leopold Bloom and his wife, Molly, to Mrs. Joyce (born Nora Barnacle). The letter is dated 1941, nineteen years following the novel’s publication and thirty-seven years following that famous day in Dublin in 1904.
Every so often, a book comes around by an author you’ve never heard about – although you pride yourself on always following new, enticing, and award-winning publications from the U.S. Well, The Friend is a novel (the sixth!) by a woman whose name I’d never encountered before: Sigrid Nunez. Not George Saunders or Colson Whitehead, not Joan Didion or Louise Erdrich, but Sigrid Nunez. And when I saw a Harlequin Great Dane on the cover, I knew I needed to read it.