Max-Brod

When I was asked recently to write a book about my memories, not my own but memories of Kafka, Werfel, Torberg, Hasek, Janacek, the Northern musical genius Carl Nielsen etc, I thought that, as a person who allegedly thinks of taking the easiest way, about an easy title. The title Streitbares Leben 'pugnacious life' came to my mind and it did not feel out of place. And the next mental step brought me into the paradox of my existence. In a play called 'A Queen Esther', I let my main protagonist say: 'It is impossible to be a human, however there is no other choice.'. By the way, it seems that Camus does not stray far from this expression. The paradox over everything. And so I wanted to call my autobiography 'A Pugnacious Life' and I know that I dislike polemics. I am firmly convinced that saying 'yes' to a person or a fact, means that one will understand them a thousand time better than if one had said 'no' to them.

And yet, I often see myself entangled in polemics. What is the reason for that? Almost every time I have argued with someone, I think that it's because I was born in Prague and spent most of my life in Prague - although I have been a citizen of Tel Aviv living in Israel for the past twenty years.

In my grandfather's time, Prague was still a German city. In the capital of the Austrian crown land of Bohemia, the majority of the population spoke Czech. However, German was the official and spoken language. Czech was, apart from some exceptions was the vernacular of the lower classes. After the deciding Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, and as a consequence of forced religious conversions, the Austrian government had violently pushed the Czech identity away from Prague and other big Bohemian cities. The Czech language was left in the wilderness and almost completely declined and was barely used by farmers in rural areas. As a consequence, the Bartered Bride the national opera of the Czechs in all its triumphant, laughing beauty was a rural opera. With it, the Czech identity was able to wake up from two hundred year slumber into international recognition.

Many inhabitants of Prague, amongst them my dear father who often told me about these fundamental changes only became aware of through the Bartered Bride that there was a highly talented cultural environment. The Jewish people of Prague had considered themselves as part of the German population, when they were granted the Tolerance Charter by Emperor Josef II - the Mozart-Emperor - because they identified with their benefactor and mostly spoke German. One can find in the novels of my maternal friend Augusta Hauschner, the niece of the linguistic philosopher Fritz Mauthner, a naive depiction of the life and times of the generation before mine; her depiction is marred by prejudices and yet subjectively honest.

Of course, the Bartered Bride was the culmination of a century-old development for the Czech people. At its origin, however, was a German, the magnificent and stormy Herder and his trailblazing thoughts about 'The voices of the people who have a common voice in the palace of humanity'. Revivalists of the Czech language and literature such as Abbe Dobrovsky, Jungmann, Kollar and others were influenced by Herder, Goethe and German Romanticism. The Revolution against Metternich in 1848 was bilingual: When The Czech delegation handed over their humble petition on behalf of the student for people's rights, the German student Uffo Horn went with them. I still carry a memento of those days, pinned on my lapel: a black-red-bold band of the Prague University student club -"Lese- and Redehalle der Deutschen Studenten'(the reading and speech hall of the German students") adorned with the date 1848. Only now can I measure, how far away, we were in our youth from understanding the real postulates of 1848. Only now, can I earn the claim of depth of though when I think about Herder's idea of the peaceful coming together of people. Many years ago, chauvinistic morons of all shades were guilty of stirring mutual hatred.
Prague was a polemic city. Therefore I became a polemicist despite myself.

In Prague, not only did individuals polemicise against other individuals, there were nations polemicising against one another. Admittedly, polemics about class struggles were not quite as strongly developed back then. Three nations. The Czechs in the majority, the Germans in the minority and within the Germans, a Jewish minority, which also found a growing number of supporters in the Czech sector. The Jewish identity which in the previous era was merely religious began to crystalise itself into a national status. The problem with the two languages forced inhabitants to make decisions that are unknown in single-language cultures.

Hence, the enclosed short story deals with the peculiar position of a child 'between the cultures'. Where three cultures came together, a precocious awareness arises and, in order to know about everything in more detail, the player may experience a semi-dream state. My youth was spent between dream and broad awakeness. 'Jugend im Nebel' (Youth in the Fog' is the story of my awakening. It is the story of my life.



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