Christa Wolf (1929 - 2011)

Written by Christa Wolf

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City of Angels, or, The Overcoat of Dr. Freud, 2013

Buildings! Neutra buildings! was the motto of our architectural guide, Bob Rice. He knew everything there was to know about the famous architect who had emigrated from Germany to America in the twenties. Francesco and Ines crowded into the back of Bob’s tiny Honda, which, as though alive, picked up the scent and was off to the next destination of its own volition, back and forth across the megacity, on freeways, boulevards, up the canyon on steep rocky roads to the “grandmother’s house” on the top of the topmost peak, a tiny little house that Neutra had built as a guesthouse for the mother of the family who lived far down the hillside—an ambiguous success, since the grandmother liked it so much in the little house that she stayed. The old lady who lived there now knew the story and showed us the stunning view of the city in all directions.

That’s how it was everywhere we went. We were let in everywhere, everyone living in the various houses knew Bob. In one of them, originally built for a famous actress, a woman lay sick in bed upstairs but even so we were allowed to walk around the ground floor, in the large, bright rooms, appreciating their proportions and interrelations. […]

There was at least one more building we had to see, he said. It was at the edge of Koreatown, the neighborhood where the most businesses had been set on fire during the riots in April, by blacks who felt discriminated against due to the rapid social advancement of the Asians. The house Bob showed us had been built by Neutra in the thirties as a prototype apartment building for affordable social housing. We were not let in there; poor people lived there now, mostly Hispanics. Five stories tall, symmetrical rows of windows, half-drawn curtains, bottles on the windowsills, women’s and children’s heads peeping out, laundry hung over the window ledges. Across the street were small single-family houses, also poor, with unemployed men in straw hats hanging around in groups outside the front doors. They observed us in silence. With the climate here, Bob said, even the slums aren’t as miserable as in New York or Detroit.


© 2013 Christa Wolf; New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; translated from the German by Damion Searls

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