8 July 2014
Messkirch. My final days in Europe, no longer on brass bands, but a personal pilgrimage to the birthplace of my favourite philosopher, Martin Heidegger, the heimliche König. The trains in Europe are just wonderful. I had a serendipitous delay at the Channel Tunnel, so instead of roughing it at a backpacker hostel in Frankfurt, Eurostar put me up at a nice hotel in Brussels and gave me dinner. I caught a 630 train next morning to Frankfurt, then got immediate connections to Stuttgart and Sigmaringen, where I had to wait an hour for the bus to Messkirch. I met an interesting Englishman in Brussels, and whiled away the train journey with him talking about music, drugs, politics and his phone app measuring the train speed (we hit 300 kilometres per hour).
Heidegger was born in Messkirch in 1889. Again, through a heavenly synchronous serendipity, it turned out the place I am staying, the Klosterherberge
, is right next door to where Heidegger grew up, across the road from the St Martins Catholic Cathedral where he was a bell ringer as a boy, and down the hill from the Heidegger Museum. I highly recommend the Klosterherberger as a place to stay, stunningly elegant, well run and low priced.
Of course in Messkirch they think Heidegger is the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century, and they have named their high school after him as their most famous son. I am coming back to agree with that assessment of Heidegger’s deserved reputation, on which more perhaps later. But Heidegger is difficult to read, so it is important to try to distil his simple big ideas.
Last night in the kloster I watched the Germany Brazil game on TV, with the one other guest, a Swiss journalist doing a story on a plan to rebuild a medieval monastery. I probably should have gone down to the local hotel to soak up the German World Cup atmosphere, as I don’t think anyone quite expected the 7-1 trouncing they gave the Brazilians. While I seriously doubt that my arrival had much influence, it was certainly nice to see such Deutschesuberallestriumphierendurcharrogantdisdainundtechnikeleganz on my first night here. I doubt even Angela Smirkel could hide her delight. Go Germany!
This morning I went for a long walk along Heidegger’s celebrated Feldweg, the field path through farms and forests around Messkirch. Google images show Heidegger ruminating as he strolled along, spazierengang style, and the bench under the big oak tree where he used to sit and think.
I took a short detour through a corn field and saw two baby foxes playing with each other, and managed to take several photos of them before they noticed me and ran off into the corn. I sat briefly at the Heidegger oak bench, and then down to a nearby village over a bubbling brook. Absolutely beautiful. It is easy for me to see how his philosophy was based on his feel for nature.
My interest in Heidegger arose from his effort to reconcile science and religion, through his recognition that scientific facts are not sufficient to produce a theory of value. His central axiom, that care is the meaning of being, arose from his understanding of social psychology as inherently relational, that our being in the world is grounded in historical existence in cultural identity, and that philosophical theories should be built upon this existential reality.
Care means connecting with other people through empathy and respect, so to make that a foundation for thinking presents a far more coherent way of doing philosophy than the analytic methods that subordinate thinking to the purely theoretical knowledge gained through science. Also, Messkirch Cathedral of Saint Martin rings its bells every quarter hour, and Heidegger’s early job as a bell ringer must have instilled his focus on time as the big problem in philosophy, a concern that first motivated me to read his Being and Time
with such interest.
I am reading a biography of Heidegger by Rudiger Safranski, which is motivating me to return to discussion of Heidegger, something I had always planned to do. For now I will just mention his epigraph to his PhD, from the medieval German mystic Meister Eckhart, “time is that which changes and turns manifold; eternity stays simple.”
The local tourist bureau kindly opened the Heidegger Museum for me to look at. Again, it is a model of understated elegance, design and celebration, in the German efficient style. It has his complete works, and timelines of his life and thought, as well as a lot of good photos and original letters. Here is his hut in Todtnauberg.
I will conclude this blog for now with some broad remarks. I have had a wonderful holiday in Europe, something I have looked forward to for more than thirty years. Travelling with the Eastern Australia Brass Band provided some unique and unforgettable experiences, many of which I have captured on video, and look forward to sharing on Facebook, such as at the Arc de Triomphe and the Menin Gate.
I was immensely proud of Diana singing with the band, in her grace, talent, beauty and technical accomplishment. The quality of music produced by the band was superb, enjoyable and entertaining. The power of harmony in a brass ensemble is really unrivalled in more recent musical forms. Diana's vocals lifted the brass to a whole higher level, so I hope she can find bigger audiences. The pleasure the musicians get from playing extends also to the audience.
Seeing the bonds of friendship between France and Australia forged in the grief of war was intensely moving, especially in being able to remember my granduncle Jack Grant at his grave in Vignacourt, and the wonderful hospitality from Charlie and Marie-Francoise.
The great cathedrals of France and Belgium inspire awe, and I am really interested in how this legacy of human technical accomplishment in seeking a union of heaven and earth has ongoing life. For me to also have some time in France, England and Germany after the band tour, seeing more of the wonderful heritage in cathedrals, museums and architecture, and the easy sense of identity of Europe as the cradle of civilization, was wonderful and inspiring.