Dec 042018
 

Today is the birthday (1875) of René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke better known as Rainer Maria Rilke, a Bohemian poet and novelist who is known for his lyrically intense poetry and prose. He invokes images that focus on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude and profound anxiety. While Rilke is most known for his contributions to German literature, over 400 poems were originally written in French and dedicated to the canton of Valais in Switzerland. Among English-language readers, his best-known works include the poetry collections Duino Elegies (Duineser Elegien) and Sonnets to Orpheus (Die Sonette an Orpheus), the semi-autobiographical novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge), and a collection of ten letters that was published after his death under the title Letters to a Young Poet (Briefe an einen jungen Dichter). In the later 20th century, his work found new audiences through use by New Age theologians and self-help authors, which could explain why I find his work unappealing.

Rilke was born in Prague, then capital of Bohemia. His father, Josef Rilke (1838–1906), became a railway official after an unsuccessful military career. His mother, Sophie (“Phia”) Entz (1851–1931), came from a well-to-do Prague family, the Entz-Kinzelbergers, who lived in a house on the Herrengasse (Panská) 8, where Rilke also spent many of his early years. The relationship between Phia and her only son was colored by her mourning for an earlier child, a daughter who had died only one week old. During Rilke’s early years Phia acted as if she sought to recover the lost girl through the boy by dressing him in girl’s clothing. His parents’ marriage failed in 1884. His parents pressured him into entering a military academy in St. Pölten, Lower Austria, which he attended from 1886 until 1891, when he left owing to illness.

He moved to Linz, where he attended trade school. He was expelled from the school in May 1892, and returned to Prague. From 1892 to 1895 he was tutored for the university entrance exam, which he passed in 1895. Until 1896 he studied literature, art history, and philosophy in Prague and Munich.

In 1897 in Munich, Rilke met and fell in love with the widely traveled, intellectual – but married – woman of letters Lou Andreas-Salomé. Rilke changed his first name from “René” to “Rainer” at Salomé’s urging because she thought that name to be more masculine, forceful, and Germanic. His relationship with her lasted until 1900. But even after their separation, Salomé continued to be Rilke’s most important confidante until the end of his life. Having trained from 1912 to 1913 as a psychoanalyst with Sigmund Freud, she shared her knowledge of psychoanalysis with Rilke.

In 1898, Rilke undertook a journey lasting several weeks to Italy. In 1899, he traveled with Salomé and her husband, Friedrich Andreas, to Moscow where he met Leo Tolstoy. Between May and August 1900, a second journey to Russia, accompanied only by Salomé, again took him to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, where he met the family of Boris Pasternak and Spiridon Drozhzhin, a peasant poet.

In 1900, Rilke stayed at the artists’ colony at Worpswede. Here he met the sculptor Clara Westhoff, whom he married the following year. Their daughter Ruth (1901–1972) was born in December 1901. Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907), an early expressionist painter, became acquainted with Rilke in Worpswede and Paris, and painted his portrait in 1906. In the summer of 1902, Rilke left home and traveled to Paris to write a monograph on Auguste Rodin. His wife left their daughter with her parents and joined Rilke there. The relationship between Rilke and Clara Westhoff continued for the rest of his life; a mutually-agreed-upon effort at divorce was bureaucratically hindered by Rilke’s “official” status as a Catholic, though a non-practicing one.

At first, Rilke had a difficult time in Paris, an experience that he called on in the first part of his only novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. At the same time, his encounter with modernism was stimulating: Rilke became deeply involved with the sculpture of Rodin, then the work of Paul Cézanne. For a time, he acted as Rodin’s secretary, also lecturing and writing a long essay on Rodin and his work. Rodin taught him the value of observation and, under this influence, Rilke dramatically transformed his poetic style from the subjective and sometimes incantatory language of his earlier work into something quite new in European literature. The result was the New Poems, famous for the “thing-poems” expressing Rilke’s rejuvenated artistic vision. During these years, Paris increasingly became his main residence.

Between October 1911 and May 1912, Rilke stayed at the Castle Duino, near Trieste, home of Princess Marie of Thurn und Taxis. He began the poem cycle called the Duino Elegies there in 1912 which would remain unfinished for a decade because of a long-lasting creativity crisis. Rilke had developed an admiration for El Greco as early as 1908, so he visited Toledo during the winter of 1912/13 to see his paintings. Subsequently, Rilke spent extended periods in Ronda, the famous bullfighting center in southern Spain. He kept a permanent room at the Hotel Reina Victoria from December 1912 to February 1913.

The outbreak of World War I surprised Rilke during a stay in Germany. He was unable to return to Paris, where his property was confiscated and auctioned. He spent the greater part of the war in Munich. From 1914 to 1916 he had a turbulent affair with the painter Lou Albert-Lasard. Rilke was called up at the beginning of 1916 and had to undertake basic training in Vienna. Influential friends interceded on his behalf, and he was transferred to the War Records Office and discharged from the military on 9th June 1916. He returned to Munich, interrupted by a stay on Hertha Koenig’s Gut Bockel in Westphalia. The traumatic experience of military service, a reminder of the horrors of the military academy, almost completely silenced him as a poet.

On 11th June 1919, Rilke traveled from Munich to Switzerland. The outward motive was an invitation to lecture in Zurich, but the real reason was the wish to escape the post-war chaos and take up his work on the Duino Elegies once again. The search for a suitable and affordable place to live proved to be very difficult. Among other places, Rilke lived in Soglio, Locarno and Berg am Irchel. Only in mid-1921 was he able to find a permanent residence in the Château de Muzot in the commune of Veyras, close to Sierre in Valais. In an intensely creative period, Rilke completed the Duino Elegies in several weeks in February 1922. Before and after, Rilke rapidly wrote both parts of the poem cycle Sonnets to Orpheus containing 55 entire sonnets. Together, these two have often been taken as constituting the high points of Rilke’s work. In May 1922, Rilke’s patron Werner Reinhart bought and renovated Muzot so that Rilke could live there rent-free.

During this time, Reinhart introduced Rilke to his protégée, the Australian violinist Alma Moodie. Rilke was so impressed with her playing that he wrote in a letter: “What a sound, what richness, what determination. That and the Sonnets to Orpheus, those were two strings of the same voice. And she plays mostly Bach! Muzot has received its musical christening…” From 1923 on, Rilke increasingly had to struggle with health problems that necessitated many long stays at a sanatorium in Territet, near Montreux, on Lake Geneva. His long stay in Paris between January and August 1925 was an attempt to escape his illness through a change in location and living conditions. Despite this, numerous important individual poems appeared in the years 1923–1926 (including Gong and Mausoleum), as well as his abundant lyrical work in French.

In 1924, Erika Mitterer began writing poems to Rilke, who wrote back with approximately fifty poems of his own and called her verse a Herzlandschaft (landscape of the heart). This was the only time Rilke had a productive poetic collaboration throughout all his work. Mitterer also visited Rilke. In 1950, her Correspondence in Verse with Rilke was published.

Rilke supported the Russian Revolution in 1917 as well as the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919. He became friends with Ernst Toller and mourned the deaths of Rosa Luxembourg, Kurt Eisner, and Karl Liebknecht. He confided that of the five or six newspapers he read daily, those on the far left came closest to his own opinions.[30] He developed a reputation for supporting left-wing causes, and thus, out of fear for his own safety, became more reticent about politics after the Bavarian Republic was crushed by the right-wing Freikorps. Yet, in January and February 1926, Rilke wrote three letters to the Mussolini-adversary Aurelia Gallarati Scotti in which he praised Benito Mussolini and described fascism as a healing agent.

Shortly before his death, Rilke’s illness was diagnosed as leukemia. He suffered ulcerous sores in his mouth, pain troubled his stomach and intestines, and he struggled with increasingly low spirits. Open-eyed, he died in the arms of his doctor on December 29th, 1926, in the Valmont Sanatorium in Switzerland. He was buried on January 2, 1927, in the Raron cemetery to the west of Visp.

Rilke had chosen as his own epitaph this poem:

Rose, oh reiner Widerspruch, Lust, Niemandes Schlaf zu sein unter soviel Lidern.

Rose, o pure contradiction, desire to be no one’s sleep beneath so many lids.

A legend developed surrounding his death and roses. It was said: “To honor a visitor, the Egyptian beauty Nimet Eloui Bey, Rilke gathered some roses from his garden. While doing so, he pricked his hand on a thorn. This small wound failed to heal, grew rapidly worse, soon his entire arm was swollen, and his other arm became affected as well”, and so he died.

Here is a Bohemian recipe for baked rabbit that I have selected for Rilke, partly because he reminds me of a rabbit (don’t ask), and partly because I miss rabbit since I left Italy.

Bohemian Baked Rabbit

Ingredients

1 rabbit, jointed
1 tbsp caraway seeds
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
100ml white wine vinegar
2 tbsp plain flour
oil, for frying
100 gm pitted prunes, halved
250ml beer
2 tbsp sour cream
salt and white pepper

Instructions

Soak a clean tea towel with vinegar. Place the rabbit pieces on the towel and press the caraway seeds into the meat. Scatter the chopped onion over the rabbit, and then wrap it up in the tea towel. Place the wrapped meat on a dish and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Unwrap the pieces of meat and dust them with the flour. Heat a little oil in large skillet over a medium heat and sauté the rabbit pieces until browned on all sides. Transfer the rabbit pieces to a lidded casserole and add the prunes and beer. Cook in the oven for 1 hour, turning the pieces over from time to time. About 15 minutes before the end of cooking, season with salt and pepper.

Remove the meat from the casserole and leave to stand, covered, for 7–8 minutes. Add the sour cream to the sauce and stir. Place the rabbit pieces on a heated serving dish, pour the casserole sauce over the rabbit, and serve.

 

Jul 132018
 

Today is the birthday (1607) of Václav Hollar, a Bohemian engraver whose etchings are of considerable historical importance. When he moved to England he was known as Wenceslaus or Wenceslas. Hollar was born in Prague, and after his family was ruined by the Sack of Prague in the Thirty Years’ War, Hollar, who was supposed to go in for law, decided to become an artist. The earliest of his works that have come down to us are dated 1625 and 1626; they are small plates, and one of them is a copy of a “Virgin and Child” by Dürer, whose influence upon Hollar’s work was considerable. In 1627 he was in Frankfurt where he was apprenticed to the renowned engraver Matthäus Merian. In 1630 he lived in Strasbourg, Mainz and Koblenz, where he portrayed the towns, castles, and landscapes of the Middle Rhine Valley. In 1633 he moved to Cologne where he published his first book of etchings.

In 1636 he attracted the notice of Thomas Howard, 21st earl of Arundel, then on a diplomatic mission to the imperial court of Emperor Ferdinand II. He employed Hollar as a draftsman and they traveled together to Vienna and Prague. In 1637 he went with Arundel to England, where he remained in the earl’s household for many years.

Though he became Arundel’s servant, Hollar seems not to have worked exclusively for him, and after the earl’s death in Padua in 1646, he earned his living by working for various authors and publishers. In around 1650, probably at the request of Hendrik van der Borcht, he etched a commemorative print done after a design by Cornelius Schut in Arundel’s honor and dedicated to his widow, Aletheia. Arundel is seated in melancholy mode on his tomb in front of an obelisk (perhaps commemorating the one he tried to import from Rome), and surrounded by works of art and their personifications.

In 1745, George Vertue paid homage to his association with Hollar in a vignette he published in Description of the Works of the Ingenious Delineator and Engraver Wenceslaus Hollar. It featured a bust of Arundel in front of a pyramid, symbolizing immortality, surrounded by illustrated books and the instruments of Hollar’s trade. During his first year in England he created “View of Greenwich,” later issued by Peter Stent, the print-seller. The print is nearly 3 feet (0.9 m) long and he received 30 shillings for the plate. Afterwards he fixed the price of his work at four pence an hour, and measured his time by a sand-glass. Hollar continued to produce works prolifically throughout the English Civil War, but it adversely affected his income. With other royalist artists, notably Inigo Jones and William Faithorne, the engraver, he withstood the long and eventful siege of Basing House, and as there are around 100 plates from his hand dated during the years 1643 and 1644 he must have turned his seclusion into concentrated work time. An etching dated 1643 and entitled “” epitomizes the war with a snake with a head at each end pulling in opposite directions in front of the Giza pyramids and sphinx. Hollar took his setting, presumably symbolizing longer term values, directly from an engraving published in George Sandys’ Relation of a Journey begun An. Dom 1610.

Hollar joined the Royalist Regiment and was captured by parliamentary forces in 1645 during the siege of Basing House. After a short time he managed to escape. In Antwerp in 1646, he again met with the earl of Arundel. During this period of the unrest of the Civil Wars, he worked in Antwerp, where he produced many of his most renowned works, including Dutch cityscapes, seascapes, depictions of nature, his “muffs” and “shells”. In 1652 he returned to London, and lived for a time near Temple Bar.

During the following years many books were published which he illustrated: Ogilby’s Virgil and Homer, Stapylton’s Juvenal, and Dugdale’s Warwickshire, St Paul’s and Monasticon (part one). His income fell as booksellers continued to reject his work, and the Court did not purchase his works following the Restoration.

After the Great Fire of London he produced some of his famous “Views of London”; and it may have been the success of these plates and other cityscapes such as his 1649 Great View of Prague which induced the king to send him, in 1668, to Tangier, to draw the town and forts. During his return to England a desperate and successful engagement was fought by his ship, the Mary Rose, under Captain John Kempthorne, against seven Algerine men-of-war; a battle which Hollar etched for Ogilby’s Africa.

Hollar lived eight years more after his return, still working for the booksellers, and continuing to produce well-regarded works until his death. However, he died in extreme poverty on 25th March 1677 in London. His last recorded words were a request to the bailiffs not to take away the bed on which he was dying. Hollar is interred in St Margaret’s Church in Westminster.

I will turn to Robert May’s The Accomplisht Cook (1660) for today’s recipe. You can find the whole text here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/22790 If my choice does not appeal, pick another. I found a recipe for a salad of buds of Alexanders which I thought was intriguing, mostly because Alexanders is virtually unknown as an ingredient nowadays because they have been replaced with celery.  Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) is an edible cultivated flowering plant, belonging to the family Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae). It is also known as alisanders, horse parsley, and smyrnium. It was known to Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder. The plants grow to 150 centimeters (59 in) high, with a solid stem which becomes hollow and grooved with age. Alexanders is native to the Mediterranean but is able to thrive farther north. The flowers are yellow-green in color and arranged in umbels, and its fruits are black. It flowers from April to June. Alexanders is intermediate in flavor between celery and parsley. It is now almost forgotten as a food source, although it still grows wild in many parts of Europe, including Britain. It is common among the sites of medieval monastery gardens. May’s recipe is typical of the period. You could replace the Alexanders with celery if you wanted to try the flavorings.

A grand Sallet of Alexander-buds.

Take large Alexander-buds, and boil them in fair water after they be cleansed and washed, but first let the water boil, then put them in, and being boil’d, drain them on a dish bottom or in a cullender; then have boil’d capers and currans, and lay them in the midst of a clean scowred dish, the buds parted in two with a sharp knife, and laid round about upright, or one half on one side, and the other against it on the other side, so also carved lemon, scrape on sugar, and serve it with good oyl and wine vinegar.

Jul 032018
 

Today is the birthday (1883) of Franz Kafka, a German-speaking Bohemian novelist and short story writer, widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature. We now use the word “Kafkaesque” to describe literature which fuses elements of realism and the fantastic, typically featuring isolated protagonists faced with bizarre or surreal predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers. His best-known works include “Die Verwandlung” (“The Metamorphosis”), Der Process (The Trial), and Das Schloss (The Castle). Few of Kafka’s works were published during his lifetime: the story collections Betrachtung (Contemplation) and Ein Landarzt (A Country Doctor), and individual stories (such as “Die Verwandlung”) were published in literary magazines but received little public attention. Much of Kafka’s work was unfinished when he died and on his death bed he ordered his manuscripts destroyed by a friend. Instead he had them edited for publication, and it was only after his death that Kafka became internationally renowned. Back in my typically angst-ridden teens and early 20s, Kafka was on my shelves beside Orwell, Camus, Sartre, and Hesse. Fortunately, that stage of my life passed.

Kafka was born near the Old Town Square in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His family were middle-class Ashkenazi Jews. His father, Hermann Kafka (1854–1931), was the fourth child of Jakob Kafka, a shochet (Jewish ritual slaughterer) in Osek, a Czech village with a large Jewish population located near Strakonice in southern Bohemia. Hermann moved the Kafka family to Prague. After working as a traveling sales representative, he eventually became a fashion retailer who employed up to 15 people and used the image of a jackdaw (kavka in Czech, pronounced and colloquially written as kafka) as his business logo. Kafka’s mother, Julie (1856–1934), was the daughter of Jakob Löwy, a prosperous retail merchant in Poděbrady, and was better educated than her husband.

Kafka’s parents probably spoke a dialect of German influenced by Yiddish that was sometimes pejoratively called Mauscheldeutsch, but, because the German language was considered the vehicle of social mobility, they probably encouraged their children to speak High German. Hermann and Julie had six children, of whom Franz was the eldest. Franz’s two brothers, Georg and Heinrich, died in infancy before Franz was seven. His three sisters were Gabriele (“Ellie”) (1889–1944), Valerie (“Valli”) (1890–1942) and Ottilie (“Ottla”) (1892–1943). They all died during the Holocaust of World War II.

Hermann was described by Franz Kafka as “a true Kafka in strength, health, appetite, loudness of voice, eloquence, self-satisfaction, worldly dominance, endurance, presence of mind, and knowledge of human nature”. On business days, both parents were absent from the home, with Julie Kafka working as many as 12 hours each day helping to manage the family business. Consequently, Kafka’s childhood was lonely, and the children were reared largely by a series of governesses and servants. Kafka’s troubled relationship with his father is evident in his “Brief an den Vater” (Letter to His Father) of more than 100 pages, in which he complains of being profoundly affected by his father’s authoritarian and demanding character. His mother, in contrast, was quiet and shy.

The Kafka family had a servant girl living with them in a cramped apartment. Franz’s room was often cold. In November 1913 the family moved into a bigger apartment, although Ellie and Valli had married and moved out of the first apartment. In early August 1914, just after World War I began, the sisters did not know where their husbands were in the military and moved back in with the family in this larger apartment. Both Ellie and Valli also had children. Franz at age 31 moved into Valli’s former apartment, quiet by contrast, and lived by himself for the first time.

From 1889 to 1893, Kafka attended the Deutsche Knabenschule German boys’ elementary school at the Masný trh/Fleischmarkt (meat market). His Jewish education ended with his Bar Mitzvah celebration at the age of 13. Kafka never enjoyed attending the synagogue and went with his father only on four high holy days a year. After leaving elementary school in 1893, Kafka was admitted to the rigorous classics-oriented state gymnasium, Altstädter Deutsches Gymnasium, an academic secondary school at Old Town Square, within the Kinský Palace. German was the language of instruction, but Kafka also spoke and wrote in Czech. He studied the latter at the gymnasium for 8 years, and received compliments for his Czech, but he never considered himself fluent in Czech, though he spoke German with a Czech accent. He completed his final exams in 1901.

Kafka was admitted to the Deutsche Karl-Ferdinands-Universität of Prague in 1901, studying chemistry, but switched to law after two weeks. Although this field did not excite him, it offered a range of career possibilities which pleased his father. In addition, law required a longer course of study, giving Kafka time to take classes in German studies and art history. He also joined a student club, Lese- und Redehalle der Deutschen Studenten (Reading and Lecture Hall of the German students), which organized literary events, readings and other activities. Among Kafka’s friends were the journalist Felix Weltsch, who studied philosophy, the actor Yitzchak Lowy who came from an orthodox Hasidic Warsaw family, and the writers Oskar Baum and Franz Werfel.

At the end of his first year of studies, Kafka met Max Brod, a fellow law student who became a close friend for life (and was the one who had his MSS published posthumously). Brod soon noticed that, although Kafka was shy and seldom spoke, what he said was usually profound. Brod encouraged Kafka to read Plato’s Protagoras in the original Greek, and Flaubert’s L’éducation sentimentale and La Tentation de St. Antoine in French. Kafka considered Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Nikolai Gogol, Franz Grillparzer, and Heinrich von Kleist to be his “true blood brothers.” Kafka was awarded the degree of Doctor of Law on 18th July 1906 and performed an obligatory year of unpaid service as law clerk for the civil and criminal courts.

On 1st November 1907, Kafka was hired at the Assicurazioni Generali, an insurance company, where he worked for nearly a year. His correspondence during that period indicates that he was unhappy with his work schedule—from 8 am to 6 pm, 6 days a week—making it extremely difficult to concentrate on writing, which was assuming increasing importance to him. On 15th July 1908, he resigned. Two weeks later he found employment more amenable to writing when he joined the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute for the kingdom of Bohemia. The job involved investigating and assessing compensation for personal injury to industrial workers. Accidents such as lost fingers or limbs were commonplace at this time owing to poor work safety policies at the time. It was especially true of factories fitted with machine lathes, drills, planing machines and rotary saws which were rarely fitted with safety guards.

Kafka’s father often referred to his son’s job as an insurance officer as a Brotberuf, literally “bread job”, a job done only to pay the bills, and Kafka often claimed to despise it. Kafka was rapidly promoted and his duties included processing and investigating compensation claims, writing reports, and handling appeals from businessmen who thought their firms had been placed in too high a risk category, which cost them more in insurance premiums.[46] He compiled and composed the annual report on the insurance institute for the several years he worked there, and they were received well by his superiors. Kafka usually got off work at 2 p.m., so that he had time to spend on his writing, although his father also expected him to help out at and take over the family fancy goods store.

In late 1911, Elli’s husband Karl Hermann and Kafka became partners in the first asbestos factory in Prague, known as Prager Asbestwerke Hermann & Co., having used dowry money from Hermann Kafka. Kafka showed a positive attitude at first, dedicating much of his free time to the business, but he later resented the encroachment of this work on his writing time. During that period, he also found interest and entertainment in the performances of Yiddish theatre. After seeing a Yiddish theater troupe perform in October 1911, for the next six months Kafka “immersed himself in Yiddish language and in Yiddish literature”. This interest also served as a starting point for his growing exploration of Judaism. It was at about this time that Kafka became a vegetarian. Around 1915 Kafka received his conscription notice for military service in World War I, but his employers at the insurance institute arranged for a deferment because his work was considered essential government service. Later he attempted to join the military but was prevented from doing so by medical problems associated with tuberculosis, with which he was diagnosed in 1917. In 1918 the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute put Kafka on a pension due to his illness, for which there was no cure at the time, and he spent most of the rest of his life in sanatoria.

Kafka never married, and his relationships with women can be called “complicated.” On 13 August 1912, Kafka met Felice Bauer, a relative of Brod, who worked in Berlin as a representative of a dictaphone company. A week after the meeting at Brod’s home, Kafka wrote in his diary:

Miss FB. When I arrived at Brod’s on 13 August, she was sitting at the table. I was not at all curious about who she was, but rather took her for granted at once. Bony, empty face that wore its emptiness openly. Bare throat. A blouse thrown on. Looked very domestic in her dress although, as it turned out, she by no means was. (I alienate myself from her a little by inspecting her so closely …) Almost broken nose. Blonde, somewhat straight, unattractive hair, strong chin. As I was taking my seat I looked at her closely for the first time, by the time I was seated I already had an unshakeable opinion.

Shortly after this, Kafka wrote the story “Das Urteil” (“The Judgment”) in only one night and worked in a productive period on Der Verschollene (The Man Who Disappeared) and “Die Verwandlung” (“The Metamorphosis”). Kafka and Felice Bauer communicated mostly through letters over the next five years, met occasionally, and were engaged twice. Kafka’s extant letters to her were published as Briefe an Felice (Letters to Felice); her letters do not survive. Kafka was later engaged to Julie Wohryzek, a poor and uneducated hotel chambermaid. Although the two rented an apartment and set a wedding date, the marriage never took place. Before the date of the intended marriage, he began an affair with another woman

Kafka was diagnosed with tuberculosis in August 1917 and moved for a few months to the Bohemian village of Zürau (Siřem in the Czech language), where his sister Ottla worked on the farm of her brother-in-law Karl Hermann. He felt comfortable there and later described this time as perhaps the best time in his life, probably because he had no responsibilities. He kept diaries and notes from which he later extracted 109 numbered pieces of text. They were later published as Die Zürauer Aphorismen oder Betrachtungen über Sünde, Hoffnung, Leid und den wahren Weg (The Zürau Aphorisms or Reflections on Sin, Hope, Suffering, and the True Way).

In 1920 Kafka began an intense relationship with Milena Jesenská, a Czech journalist and writer. His letters to her were later published as Briefe an Milena. During a vacation in July 1923 to Graal-Müritz on the Baltic Sea, Kafka met Dora Diamant, a 25-year-old kindergarten teacher from an orthodox Jewish family. Kafka, hoping to escape the influence of his family to concentrate on his writing, moved briefly to Berlin and lived with Diamant. She encouraged an interest in the Talmud, and at the time Kafka worked on four stories, which he prepared to be published as Ein Hungerkünstler (A Hunger Artist).

Kafka’s laryngeal tuberculosis worsened and in March 1924 he returned from Berlin to Prague, where members of his family, principally his sister Ottla, took care of him. He went to Dr. Hoffmann’s sanatorium in Kierling just outside Vienna for treatment on 10th April, and died there on 3rd June 1924. The immediate cause of death was malnutrition because the condition of Kafka’s throat made eating too painful for him, and at the time there was no way to feed him except orally (other medical methods were not developed until later). Kafka was editing “A Hunger Artist” on his deathbed, a story whose composition he had begun before his throat closed to the point that he could not take any nourishment. His body was brought back to Prague where he was buried on 11th June 1924, in the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague-Žižkov. His tombstone was designed by architect Leopold Ehrmann.

It may seem macabre to celebrate a man who died of malnutrition with a recipe, but I think it is suitably Kafkaesque. Kafka was a strict vegetarian for most of his adult life, and food appears regularly in his writing. His vegetarianism rules out a recipe for tripe soup, which is a pity because the Czech version, dršťky polévka, is an old favorite of mine. I gave a recipe for another Bohemian soup, kulajda, here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/jan-zrzavy/  Bohemia is justifiably famous for its vast array of soups, including many that can be made meatless quite easily. There are pea (hrachovka), bean (fazolová) and lentil soups (čočková polévka), mushroom soup (houbová polévka), tomato soup (rajská polévka), vegetable soup (zeleninová polévka), onion soup (cibulačka) and bread soup (chlebová polévka). Kyselo is a regional specialty soup made from rye sourdough, mushrooms, caraway and fried onion. You can choose any of these, and there are plenty of recipes online. I’ll give you potato and mushroom soup (bramboračka) which is quite complex, and regionally varied throughout Bohemia. Nowadays cooks use dried black mushrooms, but the soup was originally made from wild forest mushrooms. It is also common to serve the soup in a bowl made of hollowed out rye and caraway bread. I have had it this way once, and have to say it was good, but too filling for me. Czechs with me had no trouble scarfing down the soup with a whole loaf of bread.

Bramboračka

Ingredients

500 gm potatoes, peeled and cut in large chunks
35 gm dried black mushrooms or 100 gm fresh wild mushrooms, sliced
200 gm peeled and diced carrot
200 gm peeled and diced celeriac root
200 gm shredded cabbage,
1 leek, white part only, sliced
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tbs olive oil
6 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper
1 tbsp dried marjoram
4 tbsp flour

Instructions

If you are using dried mushrooms, soak them in a bowl covered with hot (not boiling) water for about 20 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat and sauté the onions until soft. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chopped vegetables and sauté for an additional 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon so that they take on some color evenly. (Do not add mushrooms at this point if you are using dried ones).

Add the stock to the pot along with the dried mushrooms and their liquid if you are using them, the marjoram, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a slow simmer and cook until the vegetables are soft. Mix the flour with a generous amount of cold water and whisk thoroughly. Then add a little hot broth to the flour and water mixture, and whisk again. Then pour this mixture back into the soup, stirring vigorously until it is well combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Simmer another 10 minutes. Serve in deep bowls with rye bread, or in hollowed out dark bread bowls.

Dec 022016
 

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Leipzig University (Universität Leipzig)was founded on this date in 1409 by Frederick I, Elector of Saxony and his brother William II, Margrave of Meissen. Since its inception, the university has engaged in teaching and research for over 600 years without interruption (although there were a few glitches at the end of WWII because the buildings were all bombed). Famous alumni include Leibniz, Goethe, Ranke, Nietzsche, and Wagner. The university was modeled on the University of Prague, from which the German-speaking faculty members withdrew to Leipzig after the Jan Hus crisis and the Decree of Kutná Hora — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decree_of_Kutn%C3%A1_Hora . The Alma mater Lipsiensis opened in 1409, after it had been officially endorsed by Pope Alexander V in his Bull of Acknowledgment on (September 9 of that year). Its first rector was Johann von Münsterberg. From its foundation, the Paulinerkirche served as the university church. After the Reformation, the church and the monastery buildings were donated to the university in 1544.

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Like many European universities of the time, the university of Leipzig was originally structured into colleges (Collegia) responsible for accommodation of students (and some lecturers), and collegiate teaching. Among the colleges of Leipzig were the Small College, the Large College, the Red College (also known as the New College), the College of our Lady and, the Pauliner-College. The college structure was eventually abandoned and today only the names survive.

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During the first centuries, the university grew slowly and was a rather regional institution. Today, following major expansion in the 19th century, many aspects of the history of the University can only be found in its Art Collection. Practically no trace is left of the early university’s original buildings, as they were continually being rebuilt in more modern styles and on a grander scale. The oldest college buildings were located in the south-western part of the medieval city, between the Schlossgasse and the Petersstraße, where the city council had allocated buildings for the use of graduates even before the official founding of the university. Later expanded to the “Kleines Fürstenkolleg”, these buildings housed the Faculty of Law from 1508 onwards (first called the “Petrinum” and referred to as the “Juridicum” since 1881). The main university center, however, was situated on the eastern rim of the medieval city, in the “Latin Quarter” between the city wall (now the Goethestraße) and the Ritterstraße. The complex of buildings became the seat of the Faculty of Arts (artes liberales). The new center included the “Großes Fürstenkolleg” complete with dormitories (“Bursen”), a large heated lecture hall (“Vaporarium”), which also served as an assembly hall (“Nationenstube”).

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Leipzig’s most famous food specialty is Leipiziger Allerlei (Leipzig All Things), an originally vegetable dish which is sometimes now also served as a side dish. During the 19th and 20th centuries it gained widespread renown and underwent many modifications, but the history of Leipziger Allerlei” is not entirely clear. One legend, probably false, has it that the dish was originally developed as a ruse to protect the rich residents of the city from tax collectors and beggars in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. These visitors would be served a vegetable dish only to demonstrate that there was no money in the household to buy meat. However, there exists a 1745 recipe for the dish, well before Napoleonic times, but there may still be some truth to the legend.

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These days, versions of “Leipziger Allerlei” can be found in the freezer section of just about any German supermarket but these are pretty pallid offerings. According to the traditional recipe, the ingredients should include morel mushrooms, crayfish tails, and bread dumplings in addition to the assortment of baby vegetables – carrots, kohlrabi, asparagus and cauliflower. Authentic fresh Leipziger Allerlei is served in June, at the start of the asparagus season, when the closed season for crayfish is over and the other vegetables are ready for harvest.

Today some of the ingredients are considered delicacies in Germany, especially the crayfish, because in 1876 a disease, accidentally introduced from North America, decimated the German population and they are now very rare locally. Nowadays, dried morels are usually used in place of the original fresh Lorchel (Gyromitra esculenta) which can cause severe poisoning or be fatal if not cooked properly. Outside of Scandinavia you are unlikely to find fresh Lorchel. The basic vegetable mixture itself consists traditionally of white asparagus, peas, carrots and cauliflower. Originally all the vegetables were individually cooked to preserve their own taste. With a stove with four burners, however, this is hardly possible, especially as bread dumplings and sauce alone require two burners. Krebsbutter is butter flavored with crab shells that can be made at home, but Germans normally buy it. Leipziger Allerlei is a festive dish, that takes time and effort, but is suitable for celebrating the founding of Leipzig University. Here is a traditional recipe:

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Leipziger Allerlei

Ingredients:

20 freshly cooked crayfish
25 g dried morels
200 g fresh white bread in slices, crusts removed
200 ml whole milk
2 eggs
salt and pepper
150 g of butter
180 g fresh peas
400 g cauliflower, cut in florets
12 small, thin carrots, peeled
12 stalks white asparagus, tough stems removed
sugar
30 g flour
1 tbsp Krebsbutter
200 ml of cream
2-4 tbsp dry white wine
fresh chervil

Instructions

Twist off the tails of the crayfish and reserve. Use the bodies for garnish.

Pour warm water over the morels to cover in a bowl.

Chop the white bread in a food processor with the milk.

Separate the eggs. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.

Whip 50 g of butter until smooth. Add the egg yolks to the butter and mix. Add the egg whites, yolks and butter to the white bread mix, season with salt to taste, mix thoroughly, cover, and chill.

Poach each vegetable in a separate pot. Remove with a slotted spoon when al dente and keep warm. Reserve the cooking  liquids. Mix them and reserve 250 ml.

Form about 20 dumplings from the dumpling dough with moistened hands. Boil in 2 liters of boiling salt water for 8 minutes.

Remove the morels from the water. Squeeze them vigorously and reserve 75 ml of the water.

Make the sauce by creaming 80 g butter with the flour and krebsbutter. Mix the vegetable stock, morel water, and the cream in a small pan. Bring to a slow boil and add the butter-flour mixture, small pieces at a time, stirring all the time. Add the white wine, season with salt and pepper to taste, then simmer for about 2 minutes until thickened.

Heat the crayfish tails and morels in the remaining butter.

Remove the dumplings from the water with a slotted spoon and place them on a preheated plate.  Place the vegetables around the dumplings and pour the morels and crayfish over the vegetables. Pour the sauce over the dumplings and garnish with chopped chervil.