Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Notes for the 422nd Annual Wraiths for Writing Conference: The Krankenhaus Bethanien

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2013 at 7:45 AM

Hansel and Gretel, Amelia Garretson-Persans
  • "Hansel and Gretel," Amelia Garretson-Persans

At this point in my narrative of a recollection, Professor Algernon Dogwood, a featured presenter at the 422nd Annual Wraiths for Writing Conference, had just begun a fresh segment of his talk with an enigmatic question.

“Have you ever seen someone drown in the floorboards?” he asked the audience. Unless you counted the screws turning underfoot, no one stirred.

“I must begin the story of my unsettling stay at the Kunstlerhaus in Berlin with a little history. Before the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien became the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, it was the Krankenhaus Bethanien. The Krankenhaus was completed in 1847 under the gentle reign of King Friedrich Wilhelm the Fourth, and functioned partly as a hospital and partly as a training ground for nurses and other caregivers. The original architect was a man named Persius, who died without ever knowing the secret of his name and without seeing the Krankenhaus completed. The succeeding designer was troubled by visions in his dreams until his trembling hands drew the plans for the institute’s two 115-foot towers. The towers flanked the main entrance like long and fragile teeth glowering in a frown.

“After more than a century of the institute’s pervasive vigilance, Berliners made motions to tear the Krankenhaus down. Though it’s true that at the time, the arts of medicine and caregiving had some years previously moved out, and that with their departure fever had begun to infect its empty, labyrinthine halls, and that fever had become the ravenous master of the derelict and forgotten people who had started to move in, and that these people had written the saga of their fever in hot pinks and minty teals and saccharine yellows on the peeling walls and overturned furniture of the once great hospital, the Krankenhaus couldn’t understand why it was forsaken. It closed its heavy eyes and swept aside the sprawling urban mess that Berlin had become and watered the rye fields with its tears.”

(For more on the 422nd Annual Wraiths for Writing Conference, read this and this.)

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