Myth of Russia in German Culture

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The German writer Elmar Schenkel continues the Russian theme. During World War II his father ended up in Russia. It was his father’s letters from the front line that fueled Schenkel’s interest in Russia. Whereas M. Ershova, before seeing the country with her own eyes, viewed it through the “rose-tinted glasses of the great past”, Schenkel was “prepped up” by the western media to get to know this foreign culture. TV reports and newspaper articles bred fear and compassion. He was convinced that Russian people lived poorly with cold flats, leaking pipes and nothing to eat.

From 1997 to 2017, the writer visited Siberia, the Urals, Altai, travelled along the Volga, visited Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Voronezh, and Yekaterinburg. The author is not satisfied with the information provided by German newspapers and television. He travels to see everything with his own eyes. E. Schenkel also uses the principle of maximum intensity when describing Russia. The country with no end in sight becomes in his eyes the realm of chaos [10: 38]. Former associations like vodka, bath, a Russian soul, and melancholy are now supplemented by such semantic elements as upheaval, shapelessness, and chaos.

Chaos is both the Russian bureaucracy and the absurdity of things, where the latter, by the way, contributes to inspiration. It is unpredictability, lack of structure, as well as the general atmosphere of upheaval and desolation. E. Schenkel shares his impressions in his travel notes, where he captures the things he has seen or heard. He retells conversations with people, adds his own aphorisms, and thoughts on the essence of writing. On the one hand, the author adheres to the West European tradition in creating the image of Russia and the Russians; on the other hand, he enriches it with his own associations, as well as with the associations of the people he enters into a dialogue with. In Germany it smells like washing powder, in Russia – like unwashed stairs, rusty pipes, old buildings that need maintenance. In Germany bureaucracy is associated with order, in Russia – with confusion [11: 346]. These semantic elements reaffirm the description given by M. Ershova: a country with no name and place on earth. Schenkel’s travelogue Siberian Pendulum saw the light in 2005. Even then the concept of “Russia” included, from the author’s point of view, completely opposite elements. This is not only chaos, but also a planet, space, a meeting point of cultural traditions, movement, and dynamism. The multi-layered structure of the concept made up of elements of the conscious, logical, social and unconscious, intuitive, and individual, lets the author express the “fluidity” of existence, opens a dialogue, a discussion.

Shenkel’s reasoning on different understanding of freedom in the West and in Russia in his book The Joy of Travel (2012) deserves special attention. In Germany freedom is understood as political and civil rights; in Russia freedom, from his point of view, is a laid-back lifestyle outdoors. In Russia you do not need permission to sit with a fishing rod on the river bank or have barbecue in a field. Such cultural differences, according to the writer, often lead to misunderstanding some phenomena of their social life [12:84]. It is not a secret that Russia is perceived by Europeans as a country with no freedom.

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