Watch Samuel Beckett Walk the Streets of Berlin Like a Boss, 1969

Samuel Beck­ett long had a fond­ness for Berlin, from his first trip in the late 1920s–when he fell in love with his cousin while vis­it­ing his uncle on his mom’s side–to his long­time rela­tion­ship with his Ger­man trans­la­tor Eri­ka Tophoven and with the Schiller The­ater, which pro­duced many of his plays.

The above footage shows the 63-year old Beck­ett walk­ing the streets of Berlin, ask­ing for direc­tions, or read­ing the dai­ly paper at a cafe. At one point he is seen walk­ing with a woman (pos­si­bly Tophoven?).

Why was this film shot? It has the feel­ing of sur­veil­lance footage, but the more log­i­cal expla­na­tion is that it was b‑roll for some news fea­ture. Beck­ett was award­ed the Nobel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture in 1969, so that might be the rea­son.

How­ev­er, the illog­i­cal but *best* rea­son is that Beck­ett was film­ing the title sequence for his detec­tive show pilot, named, of course, Beck­ett. YouTube user oobleck­boy cre­at­ed this hilar­i­ous rework a few years ago, which we told you about then. But it’s worth anoth­er look, sure­ly.

On a more seri­ous note, Beck­et­t’s main tour of Berlin came long before his jour­ney as a play­wright. Self-taught in the lan­guage and inter­est­ed in the cul­ture, he trav­eled to Berlin right after the 1936 Olympic Games and stayed through 1937. He had lost his job in Dublin, and he had fall­en out with James Joyce, so he was avoid­ing Paris. So Beck­ett trav­eled to Berlin to devour the arts. He knew the dan­gers of the ris­ing Nazi threat and took it seri­ous­ly. Instead he want­ed to see the cul­ture before it dis­ap­peared. (And it would, on one hand through the Nazis and their cam­paign against “degen­er­ate art.” On the oth­er, from the Allies bomb­ing dur­ing the war.) Beck­ett spent count­less hours in muse­ums. He attend­ed operas. He got so flu­ent in the lan­guage he could read Schopen­hauer (for the style, not the con­tent, appar­ent­ly).

But it was such a pri­vate trip that his Ger­man friends from the ‘60s nev­er knew of it. He did not men­tion it to them. The only rea­son we know is because in 1989, his nephew dis­cov­ered his diary from that time–the only diary Beck­ett ever kept–and after years of it being avail­able only to researchers, it was pub­lished in 2011. (Or rather, selec­tions of the 120,000 word jour­nal, were pub­lished.)

Last­ly, it was on one of those Berlin muse­um trips where he saw the paint­ing Two Men Con­tem­plat­ing the Moon by Cas­par David Friedrich. The image would stick in his mind until many years lat­er when it would influ­ence the set design for his most famous play, Wait­ing for Godot. (A coun­try road. A tree. Evening.) You can see the paint­ing here.

via Ubu Web

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Books That Samuel Beck­ett Read and Real­ly Liked (1941–1956)

When Robin Williams & Steve Mar­tin Starred in Samuel Beckett’s Wait­ing For Godot (1988)

Samuel Beck­ett Directs His Absur­dist Play Wait­ing for Godot (1985)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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