What Goethe said.
Marcel Reich-Ranicki met his wife Theophila in the Warsaw ghetto. They escaped together, walking away from a freight train, and were hidden for years by friends and strangers. But the rest of his family was killed by Nazis in World War II. Yet after the war and, as tagesschau.de said, after having witnessed the complete breakdown of the ethics of the German people, Mr. Reich-Ranicki decided to live in Germany and pursue a life devoted to literature there. He was a literary editor at Die Zeit and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, among others, and discovered television late in life where he contributed wonderfully to, as many have said after his death this month at the age of 93, the education of the German people, “Volksbildung.” His television show “The Literary Quartett” was watched by millions each week. His polite public refusal of the German Television Award in 2008 is popular YouTube viewing to this day:
“Ladies and gentlemen. In my life, and in the fifty years I’ve spent in Germany—a bit more than fifty all told, I spent my youth in Germany as well, in Berlin. In those many years I have received many literary prizes. Very many. They included the highest ones, such as the Goethe prize, the Thomas Mann prize, and some others. And I always said thank you for these prizes, as you should, and, please forgive me when I speak openly: it didn’t present any difficulties to me! To say thank you for these prizes! But today I’m in a very bad situation. I must react somehow to this prize I have received. And [?] said to me, please, please, please, don’t say anything too rough! Yes. (Laughter.) Truthfully. I don’t want to aggrieve anyone, insult or hurt anyone, no. I don’t want to do that. But I would also like to say very openly that I will not accept this prize.”
Apparently he concluded each Literary Quartett episode with a quote from Bertold Brecht: “Und so sehen wir betroffen den Vorhang zu und alle Fragen offen.” This can be translated as “and so we see, deeply moved, the curtain closed and all questions open,” yet if Fragen were not capitalized it would completely change the meaning of the sentence, turning it into the preface “and everyone openly questioning” anything that followed his show. ZDF heute journal’s Marietta Slomka said Mr. Reich-Ranicki is also said to have said, “I don’t want to bore myself.”
Update on 01 Jun 2014: The city of Frankfurt/Main held a celebration in the Paulskirche commemorating what would have been Marcel Reich-Ranicki’s 94th birthday. Some of the speeches will be printed in the Feuilleton of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 02 Jun 2014.
“The spirits I called / I cannot now get rid of.” Lines from Goethe’s poem “The Sorceror’s Apprentice” that are frequently used by German commentators to describe political situations. Recently they were used to describe Egyptian President Morsi’s presumed thoughts after meeting with the “somewhat arrogant” Hamas political chief on 19 Nov 2012.
(Dee ichh reef, dee GUY ster, verd eh ichh noon nicked Lowe’s.)
Goethe’s charming translation of “festina lente,” “make haste slowly.” The motto of the Roman emperor Augustus, who struck coins that used images of a crab and a butterfly to illustrate it. Wikipedia says other animal pairings used to indicate the motto over the years have included “a hare in a snail shell, a chameleon with a fish,” a tortoise with a sail on its back and a dolphin around an anchor.
(EYE leh mit VYE leh.)