“A more perfect society”
“One way to understand Block Island is — it’s a very specific form of yankeedom. Yankees have sought to build a more perfect society.”
Andreas Mink, editor of the German publication aufbau magazine, made those remarks while speaking at the Island Free Library on Dec. 13. During his presentation, Mink gave his perspective of the island, and discussed publishing an aufbau edition for August/September 2018 that featured articles by local writers that were translated into German. The event was produced by librarian Susana Gardner.
The aufbau edition featuring The Times is titled “Island of reason,” with a subheading that reads: “combining natural conservation and creativity off the New England coast.” Copies of aufbau in both German and English translation are available at the Island Free Library.
Mink said each edition of aufbau is devoted to one subject, and that’s why he dedicated an issue to the subject of Block Island. He said the island is a model of civility that should be emulated elsewhere, and told the story of “growing up in the shadow of World War II” in Germany’s Black Forest, while always having a fascination with America and its culture.
He said his family lived in Ansbach where there was a U.S. military base, and became exposed to American culture, witnessing Americans and their families for the first time. “The (American soldiers) had crewcuts,” he said, “and during a snowstorm they had a snowball fight. They were so dynamic, and outgoing, and the opposite of what Germany was at the time.”
Mink said Jimmie Rodgers’ song Blue Yodel No. 9 brought him to Memphis, Tennessee, where he stood in the heart of the music scene on the corner of Main and Beale Streets in 1978.
“I love American music: jazz, blues, etc. American music was an expression of culture that attracted me to the United States and its people,” he said.
“It interested me that there was this other society, in America, where it’s not a repressed, hierarchal society, like Germany was back then,” said Mink. “At that time, the United States was a much more diverse country.”
Mink began his career as a journalist in the 80s, writing a psychological page for a successful woman’s magazine. “After a year of doing that I realized it wasn’t sustainable,” he said. In 1997 he was hired as editor-in-chief of aufbau magazine in New York City, a biweekly publication published by Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, even though he isn’t Jewish.
As for what brought him to Block Island, Mink said that his wife met Carl Kauffman rowing on the Mystic River. Mink and his wife had recently relocated and bought a house in Mystic. Kauffman then introduced Mink and his family to Block Island.
“Block Island is what I thought the U.S. would be before I came here,” said Mink. “And one thing I found interesting about the island is that people wear many different hats. It’s fantastic that somebody can run a big business and also be so involved in the community.”
Mink referenced Colin Woodard’s book, “American Nations: A history of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America,” where he mined the phrase “yankeedom.” He distributed a map based on Woodard’s book that details the topography of the United States, with the red states of the south and blue states of the northeast and the west. The northeast territory is named yankeedom, which includes Block Island.
According to Woodard’s book, “The U.S. today consists of 11 different nations,” said Mink. The reason: “The colonists built societies according to their own ideals. The people who settled in certain territories felt immense pressure to assimilate” into those societies.
Mink noted that Block Island is known for self-governance, conservation and isolation. “You like the island so much that you’re willing to stick out living here in the winter time.” He added that Block Island is a model that should be studied by other societies.
Resident Kay Lewis told Mink during the question and answer portion of his presentation that she was “flattered” that he thought of the island as a model. “I’ve been here 14 years. We’re an island,” she said, noting the communal feeling of the island community. “You realize that we’re in this together.”
“I think of the island as a third world nation,” said Keith Lewis. “No island’s an island. We’re a link in a chain.”
Elspeth Crawford said she felt that Block Island was a “microcosm rather than a model. We do have poverty here,” she said.
Kauffman asked Mink how he decided “what elements of Block Island” would be included in the aufbau edition.
“You have to take the reader from the unknown to the known,” said Mink, before detailing content in the aufbau edition, including the Block Island Wind Farm, conservation efforts, the role of self-governance, and the role of people in the community.
In summing up Block Island, as he wrapped up his presentation, Mink said, “The culture lives in the people.”