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This report is taken from PN Review 195, Volume 37 Number 1, September - October 2010.

A View of Berlin from Somes Island Gregory O'Brien

The acrylic and ink drawing of A View of Berlin from Somes Island

‘A man’s head moves amidst its thoughts as through an orchard, a wheatfield, a maze, a city.’ So it occurred to me, in November 2008, when my wife Jenny Bornholdt and I had the good fortune of washing up in Berlin for five days, courtesy of the Goethe Institute back in Wellington.

The acrylic and ink drawing A View of Berlin from Somes Island is based around the events and thoughts of a single day, at the end of which we found ourselves seated at the Berlin Philharmonia, listening to Beethoven’s Third Symphony being played with gusto and not a little hair-tossing in the final movement. Meanwhile, outside, snow was blanketing down.

I always keep a journal – of phrases and visual details – especially when travelling. Before we left Wellington, this was a month earlier, I had pasted into my workbook some photos of German internees playing leapfrog in a prison camp on Somes Island during World War I. I also pasted in a list of musical items the prisoners had performed at an informal musical evening in 1915, out there in the middle of Wellington Harbour. I thought of these unfortunates somehow accompanying Jenny and me to the Berlin Philharmonia in 2008.

Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’, then, is the musical subject of, or accompaniment to, this work. Musical descriptions of the symphony are included on the drawing, ...

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