'I am a Camera: The Berlin Myth through the Eyes of English Writers'

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: English Faculty


The exhibition 'I am a Camera: The Berlin Myth through the Eyes of English Writers' will take place in Berlin's Literaturhaus in summer 2021. It will feature a mixture of traditional exhibits (books, maps, manuscript letters, diaries, photographs) and film clips, broadcasts and an especially realised sound installation. At the heart of the exhibition is the myth of Berlin as a cosmopolitan and transgressive city made famous by Christopher Isherwood's novels Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Good-bye to Berlin (1939), and subsequent theatre and film adaptations. The exhibition revisits this myth by viewing it as part of a longer history of cosmopolitan British writing in and about Berlin that originated in the turn of the century, and that includes works by H.G. Wells, Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woolf, Alix Strachey, Edward Sackville-West, W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender - all of whom will be featured. Exhibits will link key themes (e.g. nightlife, sexuality, pacifism, cinema) to specific spaces in the city. Special attention will be paid to the contributions of women and 'queer' travellers and writers. An innovative sound installation will create a British soundscape of literary Berlin, connecting the topography of the city to specific works by British authors. The installation will bring to life the idea of the city as a cosmopolitan space, and will encourage viewers to continue the experience of the exhibition out of the museum by visiting or revisiting relevant urban locations.

The exhibition in the Literaturhaus will be supported by two 'frame' exhibits in Blackwell Hall, in the Weston Library (Oxford) and in the historic main building of the Humboldt-Universität (Berlin). The frame exhibits will be free of charge and will be focused on site-specific themes (in Oxford, for instance, it will draw heavily on the Stephen Spender papers held in the Bodleian Library).

The exhibition catalogue will be an attractive, richly illustrated, fully bilingual book, written in an engaging way aimed at communicating state-of-the-art academic research to a non-specialist public. It will focus on specific themes such as the city as a cosmopolitan space, British women travellers, gay and lesbian Berlin, literature and Weimar cinema, and the relationship between the 1920s and the 2020s. The catalogue will be on sale in the Literaturhaus bookshop and other locations in the city.

Outside the exhibition, its topic will be further investigated in a series of related events designed to benefit different audiences, including lovers of literature, school students and teachers. In Berlin, the Literaturhaus will run a busy programme of readings, talks, panel discussions and film showings designed to appeal to a diverse audience. In Oxford, the Bodleian Library will run an activity-focused workshop and a reading as part of a 'pop-up library'. Also in Oxford, the Stephen Spender Trust will build on the exhibition in order to run a workshop for 6th Form students and develop classroom resources based on the exhibits; it will also theme its termly Translation Exchange Book Club on the exhibition.


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