Tuesday, 5 July 2011

A flounder in your fist...

Proximity to the sea must focus the human mind on the basics of existence. In Flensburg they dream of rum and rumpy-pumpy: forty minutes north and across the border in Denmark's harbour town of Sonderborg they have fish on their mind. Fish .. and war.

Strangely - though Schleswig-Holstein has a historical resonance that I'm trying to place.. a treaty at some point - I wouldn't have expected fish and war to come to a crossroads in a town that's part Rockaway Beach in one district and part moody Scandinavian fishing town with long and depressing Ibsen plays showing at the theatre and pale faced locals necking brandy-flavoured moonshine for all their worth and staggering past the local - and only - Thai restaurant. I've done Friday nights in Norway, guys: I can see it in Denmark.

But what's interesting about Sonderborg is that the town where the 1864 war against Germany was so convincingly lost can reinvent itself for the future through one of Germany's most celebrated writers and one of the world's greatest architects.

This sculpture - Der Butt im Griff - is by Gunter Grass: yes, that Gunter Grass... Mr Tin Drum. Yes, the guy who was in the SS. Yes, the guy who became a spokesman for a generation of German lefties - and there were plenty of them, and some good guys too.

Herr Grass loves the nearby city of Lubeck, and lives there to this day. The city of Sonderborg bought this statue - called 'The Flounder in the Fist' - before Grass went on to write his strange novel 'The Flounder'. Sonderborg's also commissioned the world famous American architect Frank Gehry - he of the bendy buildings and Bilbao Guggenheim etc - to give their town a facelift. Now Sonderborg is competing to be the European City of Culture in 2017, with its closest competition coming from nearby Aarhus, also a Danish city.

And here's me thinking the fish in the hand is a fitting symbol of the town's reliance on the fish provided by the sea which has enabled Sonderborg to survive, then flourish, and is the arm of plenty down the ages. Not so, my simple vegetable-eating friend. Everything's so much more complicated nowadays.

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