26 May 2024

Joie de Vivre and Survival in Marseille (3,040 km)

(2024-05-22/25) Parisians with a metropolitan attitude probably don't care that their city was European Capital of Culture in 1989. Different in Marseille, where the citizens have seen a visible upturn in their city since its nomination in 2013. Of course, the poverty rate, the proportion of migrants and the crime rate are very high in Marseille. Nevertheless, the catamaran in the marina is called "joie de vivre" and the joie de vivre in the city is palpable. This also applies to my niece Isabelle and her husband Christophe, who invited me into their beautiful house at the foot of Notre-Dame de la Garde, the city's landmark, with such a great hospitality. Isabelle is the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of the butcher Abraham Fleischer from Tarnobrzeg in Poland.

In the 1940s, it was less about enjoying life and more about bare survival. In August 1940, the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) commissioned the US journalist Varian Fry to travel to Marseille to set up a rescue network. He was originally supposed to rescue 200 anti-fascist intellectuals, but by the end of his mission there were around 2,000 people, including Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, Lion Feuchtwanger and numerous others. Many people know the series "Marseille" with Gérard Depardieu in the leading role, but only a few know the series "Transatlantic", also produced by Netflix; it is about the ERC and Varian Fry.

The US consulate stands on a square named after him and a memorial plaque in front of the consulate commemorates him. But Varian Fry was not alone, he had fellow fighters at his side, including the doctor and staunch communist Paul Schmierer. And where did Paul Schmierer come from? Right, you guessed it - from Czernowitz! The same Czernowitz in Bukovina where Isabelle's great-great-grandfather and my great-grandfather Mechel Fleischer ran a men's outfitting salon on Herrengasse.

22 May 2024

The First, the Second and the Umpteenth Youth in Old Grenoble (2,726 km)

(2024-05-20/22) My father, Julius Hauster, graduated from high school in Czernowitz in June 1929 at the age of sixteen. In November 1929, he was just seventeen, he began his engineering studies in Grenoble, received his diploma as an electrical engineer in June 1933 and applied for French citizenship. Nothing came of this, he returned to Czernowitz and married his wife Rahel in September 1937. After WW2 and the Holocaust, Julius and Rahel were determined to emigrate from Communist Romania to Brazil. On September 14, 1947, Julius wrote to his parents: "... if we manage to get the passport. We will then also travel via Switzerland and Paris. I also want to visit the old Grenoble to remember the first one in my second youth."

That didn't work out either, shortly afterwards they got divorced and their dreams of Brazil were shattered. What would my father have said to me visiting his beloved Grenoble in my umpteenth youth? I don't know, probably something like "it's about time", but I can now understand why he liked Grenoble so much.

20 May 2024

A Slight Detour from Avignon (2,313 km)

(2024-05-18/20) Avignon is the tenth stage of my tour, but my secret destination was La Ribaute, Anselm Kiefer's 200-acre retreat, his monumental artist's studio in the former factory in Barjac. Visit dates are booked out for many months, but why do I actually ride an off-road motorcycle? No fence, no marshland, no guard dogs could prevent me from approaching the site. At least that's how the photos of the "Towers of the Seven Heavenly Palaces" were taken. Anselm Kiefer has been awarded numerous prizes and honors and is now one of the ten most important contemporary artists in the world. Paul Celan is considered one of the most important German-language poets of the 20th century. The symbiotic relationship between Paul Celan's poetry and its artistic realization by Anselm Kiefer is incredibly fascinating for me, and this long before the 3D documentary film "Anselm" by Wim Wenders.

Back to Avignon! We had four European Capitals of Culture (Antwerp, Lille, Paris, Avignon), one (Bourges), which will become one in 2028, but not the other one (Montpellier). And then there is the Capital of Comics (Angoulême), the World Capital of Eine (Bordeaux), the Capital of the Spanish Exile 1939-1945 (Toulouse) and, last but not least, the Capital of the Kingdom of Majorca 1276-1344 (Perpignan). But Avignon has even more to offer, as the seat of nine popes with its Gothic Papal Palace and UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town. On this sunny Whitsun weekend, countless other tourists - apart from me - see it that way too.

18 May 2024

Replay in Montpellier (2,132 km)

(2024-05-16/18) Replay is an Italian fashion brand, the title of a fantasy novel and several songs, but it is also the name of the award-winning graphic novel by Jordan Mechner, the creator of Prince of Persia. The book is subtitled "Memoirs of an uprooted family", but as a matter of fact Jordan's roots are in Czernowitz. We have that in common and I had the privilege to assist Jordan a little bit with his research. Reason enough to say "Hello" to Jordan in Montpellier and, what a great coincidence, I bumped into him at the book signing at the "La Comédie du Livre" book fair in the heart of the city.

After this cultural advertising block, we head from the highest point in the city center, through the obligatory triumphal arch, down to the old town, which is extremely lively and charming in the bright sunshine. Nobody knows why Montpellier lost out to Bourges as European Capital of Culture for 2028 - and neither do I. Maybe it's because North Africans and ethnic Sinti and Roma have been fighting gang wars in the recent past, resulting in deaths and injuries...? Not even the colorful streetcars for image cultivation help, which are not only very beautiful, but above all are available FREE OF CHARGE to the inhabitants of Montpellier.

16 May 2024

At the Center of the Universe in Perpignan (1,852 km)

(2024-05-13/16) Less than 1,200 miles of driving and I've already arrived in Perpignan at the Center of the Universe - at least that's what Salvador Dali claims. In 1963, he had a cosmogonic vision and proclaimed Perpignan Train Station [La Gare de Perpignan] to be the Center of the Universe. As if that were not enough, he then captured it on canvas. The monumental oil painting (117 in × 160 in) is now a crowd-puller at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. From the train station, we walk under palm trees along the dead straight Avenue Général de Gaulle until we meet Salvador Dali in ecstasy on his red high seat. On the way we passed the city palace of wine merchant Emile Drancourt. Abandoned for almost two decades, the 19th century palace was only recently bought by a German artist and architect couple.

Even without visions or mind-bending drugs, Perpignan really is the center of our universe at the moment, all about the Olympic Flame. Even a heavy downpour could neither extinguish the Olympic Flame nor dampen the enthusiasm of the spectators.

Thirty miles from Perpignan, at the south-easternmost tip of France, lies Cerbère. This is where I spent my first vacation with my gang as a teenager almost half a century ago - unforgettable!