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

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

Abstract

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.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Happy in Berlin? 
Description Major exhibition over three sites: Literaturhaus-Berlin, Grimm Zentrum (Humboldt University, Berlin), and Bodleian Library, Oxford. It ran from May to August 2021 and included a rich programme of workshops and events. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact All three exhibition sites were extensively visited and we were able to collect a large number of qualitative feedback that highlighted that members of the public particularly appreciated the new knowledge they gained about Berlin in the 1920s and 30s, the links between literature and cinema and LGBTQ+ history. The exhibition was the main output for this grant and it generated talks, podcasts, website etc. It generated several invitations to talk at various events and ideas for further academic research and collaborations. 
URL https://happy-in-berlin.org/
 
Title Podcasts Happy in Berlin? 
Description A series of podcasts based on the project, aimed at a general public, including interviews with academic experts and writers. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact Hosted by the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities and the project website, these podcasts - aimed at a non-expert public - are reaching a large audience beyond academia. 
URL https://www.torch.ox.ac.uk/happy-in-berlin-podcast-series-trailer
 
Title Sound installation, Happy in Berlin? 
Description An immersive specially designed sound installation of the soundscape of Christopher Isherwood's Berlin. Housed in the Literaturhaus-Berlin as part of the 'Happy in Berlin?' exhibition, this sound installation allowed visitors to gain a new experience of Isherwood's novels by hearing the different music and sounds of the city as they moved through the exhibition space. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact In the qualitative feedback, most visitors singled out the sound installation as the most striking aspect of the exhibition. It provided an immersive reconstruction of literary texts and a unique opportunity of 'hearing' 1930s Berlin. 
 
Description The exhibition 'Happy in Berlin? English Writers in the City, the 1920s and Beyond' (please note change from original title 'I am a Camera') was successfully shown at three sites in summer 2021: the Literaturhaus-Berlin, the Grimm Zentrum of the Humboldt University, and the Bodleian Library Oxford. For all three sites, 'Happy in Berlin?' was the first exhibition after a long period of closure due to covid. Social distancing measures applied and some of the events planned to accompany the exhibition were held online or delayed till later in the year. These difficulties notwithstanding, the project went ahead more or less as planned and indeed the pandemic (and ongoing uncertainty at planning stage about whether the exhibition would be able to take place in person) also forced us to find alternative mediums of communicating our findings (e.g. website, podcasts and literary walks), so that we probably ended up reaching an even wider and more diverse audience.

The exhibition, catalogue, website, podcasts and live events generated new, original knowledge of British writers in Berlin in the early 20th century focusing particularly on the following areas: the tensions between national and cosmopolitan identities; the important contribution of women writers (e.g. Evelyn Blücher, Alix Strachey, Vita Sackville-West, Elizabeth Wiskemann); the interaction with local LGBTQ+ cultures and communities (e.g. the Berlin Institute for Sexual Science and the specialised entertainment industry of Weimar-era Berlin); the influence of psychoanalysis and cinema in attracting British authors to Berlin. Our aim in investigating these issues was to scrutinise the formation of the 'Berlin myth' in the 1930s (mainly through the writings of Christopher Isherwood, W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender) and the mechanisms through which it has persisted, rarely challenged, into the present (e.g. through the adaptation of their writings on the stage/screen and their reception in contemporary literature about Berlin). Our research has unearthed neglected literary works, agents and connections (e.g. through travel, social networks and translation) that merit fuller investigation in the future. It has advanced our knowledge of the mechanisms that regulate the formation of transnational cultural networks, especially at times of political crises. We also used our historical research into the 1920s and 30s to address questions of national/global identities, nationalism and multiculturalism that are still highly relevant today.

The project aimed to study the interaction between literature and urban space, i.e. how the specific cultural and social geography of Berlin impacted on writing in English. In the exhibition, in the various publications and in the website we traced how writers moved through the city (paying special attention to their mobility across social divides) and how certain places (e.g. certain cafés and gay/lesbian bars, cinemas, the psychoanalytical institute, the British embassy, etc.) functioned as literary hubs - places that acquired a special significance as crossing-points of different artistic and social networks. The exhibition included a specially designed immersive sound installation that reconstructed the soundscape of Christopher Isherwood's Berlin novels. Viewers were able to encounter different songs, music or simply sounds of the city as they moved through the exhibition space, thereby re-experiencing the writings in a mediated form that focused on aural encounter (a particularly thought-provoking choice, we hoped, at the time of covid). The exhibitions also comprised rare archival material, including photographs, photo albums and manuscripts from the Stephen Spender archives in the Bodleian Library Oxford.
Exploitation Route Academics might want to undertake further research on some of the neglected authors that our project brought to light. They might build on our work on literature and urban space to create new conversations between literary studies and the social sciences / geography. Our website encourages further academic research by presenting accessible information about authors and places as well as bibliographies. In partnership with the Stephen Spender Trust, the project has developed resources for classroom use aimed at A-level students of English and German and their teachers. We have workshopped some of these resources together with student groups in special sessions organised in the Bodleian Library. Our aim is to grow the website and make further resources available, stimulating academic and general interest in the history of British writers in Berlin.
Sectors Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://happy-in-berlin.org/
 
Description The exhibition 'Happy in Berlin?' has attracted a good number of visitors in its three locations: Literaturhaus-Berlin, the Grimm Zentrum of the Humboldt University, and the Bodleian Library Oxford. This is despite the disruption caused by covid. All exhibition sites could be accessed for free. In the Literaturhaus and Bodleian Library sites we provided questionnaires designed to capture the qualitative impact of the research/exhibitions and we also used in-situ assistants on certain days in order to encourage visitors to leave their responses. The questionnaires were anonymous but we encouraged participants to indicate their age group, so that we could profile responses more accurately (this is particularly useful as we expand work on the website resources aimed at a younger, school-age group). An analysis of the feedback revealed the following. Literaturhaus-Berlin site: For a majority of attendees (62%) the most stand-out aspect of the exhibition was the use of audio media sources (sound installation). The second highest 'favourite' aspect of the exhibition was the use of personal items, 9% of individuals cited this. This was followed by 7% of individuals mentioning the literary sources. The History of Berlin as explored in the exhibition was the favourite aspect for 6% of attendees. 5% of attendees found the exhibition layout impressive, while 4% enjoyed learning about the links between writers. A further 4% enjoyed the aesthetic. The final 3% found learning about the history of homosexuality to be most memorable aspect of the exhibition. The data shows that while a considerable number of visitors were familiar with Christopher Isherwood and Virginia Woolf before seeing the exhibition (resp. 30% and 25%), the majority learnt about new writers they did not know in advance. Bodleian Library site (focused on Stephen Spender). The aspect of the display that visitors found most interesting was how liberal Berlin was in the years before Hitler came to power. The next items of interest were the vibrant gay scene in Weimar Berlin and the relative lack of censorship and social condemnation of the gay community. Across the board, each age profile enjoyed the entire 'Aesthetic' of the display. This included specifically: the posters, the display of books, the maps, photographs and guidebooks. The data demonstrates that 79% of people who viewed the exhibit had not heard about Spender before. From a full analysis of the data it emerges that the main impact of the research, as displayed in the exhibition, was to increase the knowledge of Berlin in the 1920s and 30s, followed by learning about writers through objects (e.g. photographs or letters) rather through actually reading their works. Further down the line, as the worksheets available on the Happy in Berlin website are used in schools more extensively, we hope to be able to trace the impact of our research in the classroom and among a younger demographic.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Humboldt Universität Gesellschaft
Amount € 1,500 (EUR)
Organisation Humboldt University of Berlin 
Sector Academic/University
Country Germany
Start 11/2020 
End 03/2021
 
Description GBZ research funds 
Organisation Humboldt University of Berlin
Department Centre for British Studies
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution PI and Co-I edited the catalogue.
Collaborator Contribution Financial contribution towards translation for the exhibition catalogue.
Impact 978-3-8353-3987-3
Start Year 2020
 
Description GBZ research funds 2 
Organisation Humboldt University of Berlin
Department Centre for British Studies
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We revised the exhibition that was shown at the Grimm Zentrum focusing on Pleasure, Politics and Psychoanalysis in order to repurpose it as a portable exhibition that can be shown in different locations in the future.
Collaborator Contribution The Centre for British Studies provided the funding for this part of the exhibition to be redesigned by a professional designer and transferred onto portable panels that can be shown in other locations in the future.
Impact A portable panel exhibition.
Start Year 2022
 
Description Happy in Berlin? (Bodleian Library) 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department Bodleian Library
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I curated a display / exhibition on Stephen Spender that was shown in the Weston Library in summer 2021 as part of the wider 'Happy in Berlin?' exhibition.
Collaborator Contribution The Bodleian Library hosted the exhibition, provided curatorial advice, hosted workshops connected with the exhibition
Impact Exhibition 'Stephen Spender: Happy in Berlin?' A-level students workshops
Start Year 2020
 
Description Happy in Berlin? (Centre for British Studies) 
Organisation Humboldt University of Berlin
Department Centre for British Studies
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As PI on this project, I worked closely with Prof. Stedman and the Centre for British Studies of the Humboldt University to deliver its various elements (exhibition, events, website etc.).
Collaborator Contribution Prof. Gesa Stedman (Centre for British Studies, Humboldt University) has been my partner and co-I throughout the project. She has devoted to it substantial research time and admin support from the Centre for British Studies, including support for organising events and proofing publications.
Impact 978-3-8353-3987-3
Start Year 2018
 
Description Happy in Berlin? (HU) 
Organisation Humboldt University of Berlin
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Together with my Co-I, I curated an exhibition that was housed in the Grimm Zentrum of the Humboldt University in summer 2021.
Collaborator Contribution The Humboldt University provided the space for an exhibition linked to the 'Happy in Berlin?' exhibition, which focused on 'Politics, psychoanalysis and pleasure'. They also provided personnel to invigilate the exhibition.
Impact Exhibition 'Happy in Berlin? English Writers in the City - Politics, Psychoanalysis, and Pleasure' HU opening
Start Year 2021
 
Description TORCH (podcasts) 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities TORCH
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution PI and Co-I planned and scripted podcast series.
Collaborator Contribution TORCH provided financial assistance towards the realisation of the podcast series and now hosts it.
Impact A series of five podcasts featuring academic experts and writers examining various aspects / responding to our research project and exhibition.
Start Year 2021
 
Description A-level students workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Two groups of 20 students (+ a total of five teachers) attended two workshops held in the Bodleian Library Oxford, based on the exhibition 'Stephen Spender: Happy in Berlin?'. I led the workshops alongside people from Stephen Spender Trust and the Bodleian Library. The workshops were based on unique archival holdings that are part of the Bodleian collections and that the students got to interact with closely.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Blog (Literary Field website) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Blog post by the Co-I in a literary website aimed at the general public to introduce people to the exhibition Happy in Berlin and encourage them to visit.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL http://literaryfield.org/happy-in-berlin-english-and-british-writers-and-the-berlin-myth/
 
Description Exberliner interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The English-language magazine Exberliner published an interview on the exhibition 'Happy in Berlin?' with project Co-I Gesa Stedman.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.exberliner.com/books/happy-in-berlin-interview/
 
Description Gymnasium students exhibition tour 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Two groups of students from Berlin high schools (gymnasia) attended tours/workshops of the exhibition 'Happy in Berlin?' (Grimm Zentrum site) in summer 2021. The activities were jointly led by PI and Co-I, and included questionnaires and activities based on changing attitudes to LGBTQ+ issues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description HU opening 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Panel discussion of the Humboldt University site of the 'Happy in Berlin?' exhibition moderated by the PI and Co-I. Discussants included the President of the Humboldt University, the British Ambassador to Germany and writer Patricia Duncker.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Li-Be event: Christopher Isherwood's Berlin years 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The PI, Stefano Evangelista, interviewed author Katherine Bucknell about her new biography of Christopher Isherwood. The event was streamed at the time and is currently available to all on Youtube.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APXhPP7zdVg
 
Description Li-Be event: Finissage >>Happy in Berlin?<< 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The closing event of the exhibition was a conversation betweenSofia Permiakova - one of the authors featured in our catalogue - and authors Musa Okwonga und Paul Scraton. They related the historical research undertaken in the project and presented in the exhibition to contemporary Berlin, from the point of view of expatriate British writers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Li-Be event: Happy in Berlin - then and now? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Sarah Berger and Sailesh Naidu in conversation with Oliver Niels Völkel. Event hosted by the Literaturhaus-Berlin to accompany the exhibiton 'Happy in Berlin?'. Charted different attitudes of the city from the 1920s to the present focusing on issues of diversity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Li-Be event: Rainer Strecker liest >>Emil und die Detektive<< 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact One of the events that accompanied the exhibition at its main site in Berlin: Rainer Strecker read from >>Emil und die Detektive<<. The event was specifically aimed at children and their families. It was based on research carried out during the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Li-Be: Film Culture in 1920s/1930s Berlin 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Academic experts talking about film in the Weimar Republic as part of the programme of activities organised by Literaturhaus-Berlin to support the exhibition 'Happy in Berlin?'. The event was held online and was based on the project's findings, as displayed in the exhibition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://m.facebook.com/login.php?next=https%3A%2F%2Fm.facebook.com%2FliteraturHausBerlin%2Fvideos%2F...
 
Description Li-Be: Literarische Fu¨hrung 1 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Sebastian Januszewski led this walking tour of Berlin entitled 'Ku¨nstlercafés des Neuen Westens'. Participants were taken to cafés which were important for the literary and artistic culture of 1920s Berlin. The walk was constructed around the project's findings, as displayed in the exhibition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Li-Be: Literarische Fu¨hrung: Vicky Baum, Gabriele Tergit, Irmgard Keun 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Sebastian Januszewski led this walking tour of Berlin entitled 'Literarische Fu¨hrung: Vicky Baum, Gabriele Tergit, Irmgard Keun'. Participants were taken to locations which were important for women writers of 1920s Berlin. The walk was constructed around the project's findings, as displayed in the exhibition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Li-Be: Virginia Woolf >>Ein Zimmer für sich allein<< 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Antje Rávik Strubel in conversation with Janika Gelinek at the Literaturhaus-Berlin during the exhibition 'Happy in Berlin?' on the topic of Virginia Woolf. The conversations was accompanied by readings with the actress Marianne Graffam. The talk was based on research findings by the project displayed in the exhibition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Liedfest Talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk on British writers in Berlin delivered jointly with Co-I as part of the Liedfest Berlin'Oxford 2021. 30 people were present from a general public made of concert goers / classical music lovers. The talk included a bespoke programme of songs, that were performed by young artists in the course of the talk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk/news/liedfest2021
 
Description Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A website designed to very high standards to accompany the exhibition and provide a lasting legacy. It includes an interactive map of 1930s Berlin where people can trace the presence of British writers in the city, and high-quality academic content presented in a form that is accessible to the general public. It also contains podcasts and resources aimed at A-level students and their teachers, which have been publicised through the network of the Stephen Spender Trust.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://happy-in-berlin.org/