XI – The Blogger in Berlin

Mies, 1What, are you saying that the Cuban Gauls, besides Barcelona and Brooklyn and Bordeaux, settled in Berlin too? As a matter of fact, yes, I’m saying that. One of us, a descendant of Adolphe Vidaud and Charlotte Caignet, is a resident of this capital. From what I know, he is a most interesting person — a linguist, a free spirit, a man who I suspect has led a fascinating life and deserves more than just a quick telephone call or a short entry in a silly little blog. But let the story of the Berlin Vidaud wait for a better time, and let the Blogger focus instead on his own brief sojourn in this city, where he’s writing these lines. This is indeed a quick trip, yet once again I decided to devote time to photographing the Neue Nationalgalerie. I visited it twice, even though that meant skipping other places I’ve never been too. The Neue may not be most beautiful building in the world, but, then again, maybe it is. Besides, the original version of this gorgeous glass-and-steel machine, so open, so calm, was designed by Mies van der Rohe for Santiago de Cuba. Yet it ended up being erected on this side of the Atlantic instead. What, are you saying that Germany stole a building from Cuba? As a matter of fact, no, I’m not saying that. Having been raised by her French-Cuban grandparents, my grandmother did not love Germany; its maleficent emperor had annexed Alsace and Lorraine in 1871 and terrified everyone with their submarines during World War I — all things I heard when I was growing up. But that’s all ancient history now. It has nothing to do with the little story about the German-American master I’m telling here. In the late 1950s, Mies was commissioned to design the new headquarters of Bacardí in Santiago, but the Revolution and its upheavals put an end to what I believe would have been a perfect mid-century cocktail of rum and architecture. Bacardí had been founded in the city in 1862 by Facundo Bacardí Massó, a native of Sitges, like Rafael Llopart i Ferret, who married María Vidaud Caignet; his own son, Emilio Bacardí Moreau, would play an important role in local and national history, as the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Michael Allred glowingly recounts. But now the entire company would go into Exile. Mies too had left his native country, but in the 1960s the Berlin Senate invited him back to design a new building in the city. The architect recast the Bacardí design — not exactly what I’d call stealing — into the fabulous Neue. There it stands now, across the street from the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut, not far from Potsdamer Platz, coolly in the center of things. But for me the Neue Nationalgalerie is first and foremost a kind of specter — or, to put it à la manière allemande, a foreghost of sorts, a solid and sentient organism through which a stillborn creature from fragile Cuba was born and lives on. There’s nothing farther from Santiago’s tropical placidity than Berlin’s ice-cold winds — the temperature has hovered around 0º C. for most of our stay, and it’s not even winter yet. But Mies’ lovely geometry, even under steely skies, is a clear reminder that a far-flung Caribbean island, even outside of its famous capital, was almost modern before it became…

Cuban Embassy - BerlinWhat did it become? As part of a new scholarly project, yesterday morning I took the U-Bahn to an old diplomatic quarter in what used to be East Berlin. I went to the Cuban embassy and took many pictures, including the image you see here in which the red spot splashed behind the last letters of Republik is the ghostly figuration of my winter cap. After German reunification, Mexico built a beautiful, if arguably pretentious, embassy in the prestigious Tiergarten diplomatic quarter, near the five Nordic embassies and not far from the historic piles of Italy and Japan, Berlin’s old pals. But little Cuba is still in its old gray and austere DDR sector in the company of Moldova, Eritrea, and Bosnia and Herzegovina — an island too small both for its capitalist aspirations and lofty socialist dreams. But what do I know? I left Cuba at the age of three more than fifty years ago, and I’ve never been back. In fact, if asked, I think I’d rather live almost anywhere than in my native Santiago, for reasons too long to go into now. Suffice it to say that the German spelling of Cuba with a K, as in Kafka, strikes me as uncannily letter-perfect. When I travel, bright signs of Cuba (edible, potable, smokeable, danceable) seem to materialize everywhere — a hopping restaurant on a side street in Leipzig, a dark cigar bar in downtown Vancouver, daiquiris and mojitos gleefully advertised along the Mid-Level Escalators in Hong Kong. The Blogger would rather have any of those ephemeral simulacra, or his improbable stories of the long-dead Vidauds, over the real thing.

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8 thoughts on “XI – The Blogger in Berlin

  1. Hello, I found this post in the Cuban Genealogy FB group. I am not a Vidaud but my great uncle Juan Perez Montes de Oca married Maria Magdalena (Nunu) Gonzalez-Rodiles Vidaud in Guantanamo, the 26 of December 1910. She was the daughter of Matilde Vidaud Caignet and granddaughter of Adolphe and Charlotte. The Perez- Montes de Oca Family is very organize as a group, (regular meetings, reunions, branch representatives, executive committee, etc.) we have every descended of Maria Magdalena documented if you are interested. They make up one of largest branch, “the Greens”. By the way in the 1856 Census of Slaves, in the jurisdiction of Guantanamo we find an entry for “Señores Caignet y Vidaud” showing that they owned 54 slaves.

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  2. Thank you so much for your comment. As I mentioned on the Facebook page, one of Nunú’s grandchildren is a dear friend of mine — and a cousin as well — so everything is connected. I’d like to hear more about the 1856 Census of Slaves. I wonder who, specifically, “Señores Caignet y Vidaud” refers to. I suspect it may well be the two Vidaud brothers, Adelson and Adolphe, as well as their father-in-law, François Caignet… Would you be able to tell how I can find the 1856 Census? Is it online?

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