Friday, July 13, 2018

LM Martin Horn Meets H. E. Pietro Benassi

Yesterday afternoon, Oberbürgermeister Martin Horn met Seine Exzellenz Pietro Benassi, Italian ambassador to Germany, and Red Baron had an invitation. The reception took place at the historic Gerichtslaube (courthouse), Freiburg’s oldest townhall where in 1498 an imperial diet was held.

Flying the flags of Europe, Italy, Germany, and Freiburg
 in front of Freiburg's  Gerichtslaube
When I arrived in time I was shocked at finding only a few people. Two friends of mine, Ms. Gisela Strahlendorf, former president of Freiburg’s German-French Society, and  Professor Horst Buzello, president of the German-Italian Dante Alighieri Society, comforted me.

I had just started a conversation when the two protagonists arrived. The newly elected Lord Mayor greeted the Italian ambassador insisting on the significance of Freiburg’s Italien relations. In fact, Friburgo is so loved by Italiens that the city hosts an Italian consulate.

Horn addressing the ambassador and the "crowd"
Following his reply to Horn's speech, the Italien ambassador signed Freiburg’s Golden Book.

A smiling Martin Horn is watching Pietro Benassi writing a lengthy text

As the Italian ambassador, it is an honor to be in this beautiful city. Freiburg is a city of young people for young people. A city that respects its tradition, but at the same time is open to innovation and research!

Many thanks to Lord Mayor Horn for this invitation!

Pietro Benassi

Suddenly I felt very old.

When ambassador Benassi asked to see Pope Benedetto’s signature - the pontiff visited Freiburg in 2011 - Red Baron profited from the rare occasion shooting a photo of the page.

My offhand remark, “It's time for an Italien pope,” H. E. Benassi answered with a diplomatic smile.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Donald vs. Donald

There are two Donalds internationally known who have but one thing in common: They both tweet on Twitter.

The @realDonaldTrump presently is in Brussels for a NATO summit while @eucopresident, the other Donald, and President of the European Council Tusk, has no business in NATO. Well not quite.

Tusk, Stoltenberg, and Juncker in Brussels yesterday (©Reuters)
On Tuesday, July 10, the Polish Donald, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker signed a declaration between NATO and the European Union about mutual military assistance just prior to POTUS’s arrival. In fact, you never know whether the American Donald will not revoke the NATO treaty since by now he has lots of experience in this trade regarding NAFTA, the Paris climate agreement, the G7 summit in Canada, and the Iranian nuclear agreement.

On his way to Brussels POTUS twittered mixing the trade balance with the European Union and NATO:

While all other European leaders kept a low profile Donald Tusk directly addressed Donald Trump,

”We have just signed a joint EU-NATO declaration, which brings the cooperation between the European Union and NATO to the next level. The aim is clear. We want to protect European citizens with all possible means available, and there is no better partner than NATO. That is why we have agreed today to strengthen EU-NATO ties in crucially important areas. They include improving the military mobility of troops and equipment, common preparedness for cyber and hybrid attacks, fighting terrorism and stopping migrant smugglers in the Mediterranean. The fullest possible involvement in our activities of EU Member States that are not NATO members will be encouraged and facilitated in an all-inclusive, non-discriminatory manner, without any artificial obstacles.”

“Speaking on the eve of the NATO summit here in Brussels, I would like to address President Trump directly, who for a long time now has been criticising Europe almost daily for, in his view, insufficient contributions to the common defense capabilities, and for living off the US”. And so the @eucopresident tweeted:”

“I would, therefore, have two remarks here. First of all, dear America, appreciate your allies, after all, you don't have that many. And, dear Europe, spend more on your defense, because everyone respects an ally that is well-prepared and equipped.”

“Money is important, but genuine solidarity is even more important. Speaking about solidarity, I want to dispel the American President's argument, which says that the US alone protects Europe against our enemies and that the US is almost alone in this struggle. Europe was first to respond on a large scale when the US was attacked and called for solidarity after 9/11. European soldiers have been fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with American soldiers in Afghanistan. 870 brave European men and women sacrificed their lives, including 40 soldiers from my homeland Poland (Author’s note: 54 Germans). Dear Mr. President, please remember about this tomorrow, when we meet at the NATO summit, but above all when you meet president Putin in Helsinki. It is always worth knowing: who is your strategic friend? And who is your strategic problem?”

This last remark reminds me of Donald Tusk’s reaction after Mr. Trump withdrew the US from the Iran agreement and announced trade sanctions in May:

Due to their historical experience Polish people are traditionally afraid of the Russian bear and hence are ardent admirers of the United States, their great protector. It is therefore remarkable that the president of the European Council now rather relies on European support. Thank you @realEuropeanDonaldTusk. It is time that we in Europe stand united for our common values.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Where Is My Majority?

Today is Martin Horn’s inauguration as Freiburg’s lord mayor although at present he only is the Verweser (administrator) of his function. This is why he and his deputy and First Mayor Ulrich von Kirchbach hasted to show the document of appointment to the press proving that Martin has the title of Oberbürgermeister (lord mayor) and all the power vested in this position.

Martin and his tutor Ulli in front of Freiburg’s Renaissance town hall (©BZ)
The only restriction Martin faces is that he has not yet the right to cast his vote in the city council. The reason is that a lady has contested Horn’s election and has filed a court action. Already in the past, she had taken pleasure in contesting the results of local elections in all of Baden-Württemberg. Although in all other cases she has already suffered crushing defeats in court her objection is pending. Before the court has not decided on her unfounded complaint Martin Horn is limited as far as his right to vote is concerned.

This limitation has its importance in case there is a draw in the vote of the city council. In such a situation the lord mayor’s vote will break the tie. This leads in fact to the question, “Where is my majority?”

Martin not being a member of any party has the support of the Social Democrats and other small groups, i.e., only 15 of a total of 48 seats in the city council. Other deputies already signaled their support in the burning housing situation that Horn would like to attack with high priority. The past “majority” of Christian Democrats (CDU) and Greens is now the “opposition” and has 20 votes in the city council. But there is hope that the Greens will move in the “social direction” as their whip said, “We're certainly not gonna sit in a corner and pout.”

This proves that on the local level party politics are secondary to Freiburg’s well being.

Sunday, July 1, 2018


Soccer, politics, and economy. Once upon a time, there was a strong country
(©Der Spiegel upside down Nr. 27, 2018)
Germany is badly shaken in its self-confidence. Two of our Lichtgestalten (guiding lights) are experiencing their twilight of the gods: Chancellor Angela Merkel and National Soccer Coach Jogi (Joachim) Löw.

Two buddies. Angi and Jogi saw better days (©Getty Images)
It is the first time in German soccer history that the team dropped out of a World Championship tournament in the preliminary round. The fall is abysmally deep regarding the fact that Germany is the defending champion, a title it had gained four years ago.

Germany’s rankings in previous Soccer World Championships (©Der Spiegel)
Gary Linecker, a former English soccer star who once said, "Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win" updated his statement, "... the Germans no longer win. The previous version is confined to history."

Following the defeat against South Korea, a shattered coach Jogi Löw made his first statement, “It's a huge disappointment. We have to see to it that we accept this debacle. Congratulations to our opponents who defeated us, we did not deserve to move forward. We didn’t manage to score a goal, to take a lead throughout the whole tournament. The team lacked the lightness, the flow in its combinations, we were not self-assured. We didn't play with any dynamic on the field. The plan was definitely there. What happened here I can't say at this moment. I surely take the responsibility. The German soccer, we all lost. Not just a game, but much of what we have built up over the past few years. Of course, I'm the first person who has to question himself and has to think about what went wrong. Now I have to sleep at least one night, just after the game I am totally frustrated and disappointed. I am in charge. It's too early for me to answer the question, now we need a few hours to see clearly. I too am deeply disappointed. I wouldn't have imagined that."

Defeated and half-naked; midfielder Mats Hummels,
“It’s quite a bitter day for all German soccer fans.” (©dpa)
Those bitterly disappointed fans on Berlin’s “fan mile” (©dpa)
On the political front Christian Democrat Chancellor Angela Merkel - once being hailed as the leader of western democracy following the election of POTUS - is fighting for her political survival. Her generous attitude towards the wave of refugees coming into Germany in 2015 is catching up with her. Not the opposition but of all parties CDU’s Bavarian sister the Christian Socials (CSU) are demanding a tightening of Germany’s refugee policy. The CSU is afraid of not getting the absolute majority in Bavaria’s upcoming state election in October and is moving to the right.

Although the chancellor strives for a European solution to the refugee crisis the CSU sent Merkel an ultimatum. If the European deal in Brussels does not satisfy Horst Seehofer, Angela’s Minister of the Interior threatens to harden the Bavarian borders against immigrants, an act that will not only affect our Austrian neighbors in the south. If Horst follows through his plan Angela has no other choice than firing her CSU Minister. This will be her Waterloo and the end of the ruling grand coalition.

To a great extent, the present political crisis in Germany is Merkel’s own fault. Over the past 12 years, Angela has inched her conservative Christian Democrats more and more to the left starting with Germany’s nuclear phase-out and continuing with the decriminalization of gay people, same-sex marriages, and a time-phase solution for abortion. These moves to the left downsized the center-left Social Democrats while they in parallel strengthened the right-wing anti-immigration party AfD (Alternative for Germany) to the dislike of the conservative Bavarian CSU.

The cleanest solution to the present governmental crisis would be to hold new federal elections but the ruling parties avoid those like the plague. The present quarrels within the government camp will only weaken the Christian Democrats and in particular the Social Democrats but strengthen the populist Alternative for Germany tooting their Germany first.

After a marathon meeting the president of the European Council Donald (!) Tusk tweeted at 4:34 a.m. on Friday morning:

At the same time in Brussels red-eyed but visibly relieved and smiling Angela went before the press announcing her (?) European compromise: The control at EU’s external borders will be reinforced, i.e., people (mostly from Africa) on boats or rafts and seized on high see will be brought back and detained in refugee camps in North Africa.

Europe hates walls but erects fences.
A refugee at the border between Greece and Macedonia (©Getty Images)
Refugees apprehended at the border or inside the EU will be brought to screening centers within the European Community where their demands for political asylum will be examined. Only those granted asylum will be distributed among EU member states, the others will be transported back into their home countries. But Angela cautioned, “We still have a lot of work to do to bridge the different views,”

The salient question, however, is, “Will the Brussels compromise satisfy Host Seehofer and his CSU?”

Sunday, June 24, 2018

30 Years Already

On Friday evening the Freiburg-Madison-Gesellschaft celebrated the 30th anniversary of the partnership between the cities of Madison and Freiburg.

On 31 May 1988, Madison’s Mayor Joseph Sensenbrenner and Freiburg’s Mayor Dr. Böhme signed the partnership certificate. Both city councils ratified the agreement unanimously.

Here is the link to a photo gallery of FMG’s Jubilee party.

Note that the Freiburg-Madison-Gesellschaft proper was founded one year later giving us the chance to celebrate next year 30 years of FMG followed by a seamless handover into Freiburg’s 900th anniversary in 2020.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

All Justice Is Gone in Hindenburg's Name

Alles Recht ist dahin in Hindenburg‘s Namen, was an entry in the diary of Engelbert Krebs, a priest, philanthropist, and professor of theology at Freiburg’s University, on July 21, 1933. Needless to write that under the Nazi regime Krebs lost his venia legendi in 1936 and was forced into retirement in 1937.

The above citation was contained in the most interesting slide that physicist Professor Werner Heiland showed during his talk at the Stube (parlor) of the Breisgau Geschichtsverein (historical society) Schau-ins-Land last Monday, although the catch title of Heiland’s presentation was “Engelbert Krebs and the atomic bomb.”

In fact, the physicist Karl Wirz was Krebs’ nephew who had after the war sent a letter to his uncle morally condemning the bomb. For me, it is still a mystery that the US should not have known that the German efforts to build a bomb were null. In fact, a conspiracy theory claims that this information was well known but deliberately withheld from the scientists working at the Manhattan Project. The aim was to keep them on board in particular because many project members had moral scruples in building the US atomic bomb.

Instead of the bomb Professor Heiland who wrote a biography about Engelbert Krebs talked in extenso about the family and non-family relations Krebs maintained before and during the Third Reich.

Krebs associated with the Zentrum, the Catholic party in the Weimar Republic, was extremely bitter about Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen’s treachery that he called a putsch with the consent of Hindenburg, the president of the Reich. Although Krebs named the Nazis somehow belittlingly Hitlerianer they had already seized full power by the month of June 1933. So it is strange when on Juli 21, Krebs was still referring to World War I hero Hindenburg, an old man of 86, when he writes,“The saber rules, the lie of betrayal - in the name of Hindenburg! The worst thing that has come over Germany since 1918! Oh, God!“

The worst? The worst was still to come.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Semi-Barbaric Language

Two weeks ago an article in Freiburg’s Sunday paper titled Allgemeines Deutsches Glossarium (General German Glossary) described a sensational find in the basement of Basel’s university library. In 1750 the linguist and theologian Johann Jacob Spreng had started his dictionary or rather encyclopedia that at his death in 1768 comprised twenty hand-written volumes with 96,000 entries, translations, references, and explanations.

©University of Basel
Spreng‘s opus magnum was never published. One hundred years later the Grimm Brothers started their German Dictionary but only arrived at the letter F while Spreng covered the full alphabet. In addition, he left behind a big box with 35,000 additional well-ordered hand-written articles to be glued into his volumes.

Spreng was one of those many linguists who tried to transform the bits and pieces of the many German dialects into a common German language. While Martin Luther had laid the basis, the great Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz started it in 1697 in a systematic and scientific way by publishing „Unvorgreifliche Gedanken, betreffend die Ausübung und Verbesserung der deutschen Sprache“ (Non-enjoining thoughts regarding the practice and improvement of the German language).

Trying to bring the German language into shape, Spreng was a member of several Sprachvereine (language societies). Basel University celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1760 in Latin, and in 1780 Prussian‘s Frederick the Great lamented in French about German as a „semi-barbaric“ language. In his dictionary, Spreng made the point that everything could be said just as well in German. Consequently, terminology and the translation of the anatomical knowledge of his time form a large proportion of the glossarium. A real political push for the German language only came 50 years later following Napoleon‘s invasion.

Spreng tried to convey general knowledge instead of vocabulary. So the entry for Bargilden* describes the legal situation of free, taxable peasants in the Middle Ages who were under the protection of a feudal lord and therefore paid him fees.
*Literally ”free of guilds”, a word no longer relevant and used. I had to look it up.

You learn that Lohnheulerinnen (paid mourners) were abolished in the 14th century because during church services they whined too loudly. At nine in the morning maids and servants were fed eine halbe Zeile Brot (half a line of bread) and offered one measure (Maß) of beer. In case of heavy work, this amount was increased to four Maß.

For the first time I read the word hodenbrüchig and learned its meaning. Hodenbrüchig bis an Hals, sprüchwörtlich gesagt von Einem, der sich überweibert hat, und seiner Frauen Knecht ist (Ball busted up to the neck, said proverbially of a man who has taken on too many women and is in servitude to them). The reference given is Sebastian Franck, an early reformer and translator of Latin texts into German, who may have met Luther at Heidelberg in 1518.

You may read in Wikipedia that Spreng had a hard time at the University of Basel. He did not became full professor until 1762, six years before his death.

The University of Basel has opened the treasure chest and will transcribe and publish Spreng's General German Glossary in the coming years. So far they have finished the letter H with 294 (!) pages. Here is page 215 with the entry hodenbrüchig:

©University of Basel

Saturday, June 16, 2018

In War There Is Neither Fortune Nor a Star

was the motto of a one-day colloquium at the Hotel Stadt Breisach on the city’s Münsterberg. Already occupied by the Romans as a strategic landmark, this rock was later disputed by many rulers, in particular during wars between Germany and France.

The coat of arms of Breisach’s rulers throughout the centuries
 are painted on the wall of the town hall (©Flominator/Wikipedia)
At the time of the Holy German Empire, Fort Breisach was described as the key to enter into German territory. The fortified city and its inhabitants, in particular, suffered during the Thirty Years’ War.

Fortification of Breisach on the Rhine under French rule (©Bertram Jenisch)
In the wake of the 500th anniversary of the outbreak of the traumatic war, Breisach was the "suitable" place for a colloquium on forts, entrenchments, and battlefields during this sinister era of German history. Although Red Baron has covered the period extensively he still learned a lot of details.

Initially, the southwest of the Holy Roman Empire was spared by the war, for the Dukedom of Württemberg worked like a protective shield for the Habsburg territories located further west on the two banks of the Rhine river. Duke John Frederick was a member of the Protestant Union standing against the Catholic League, but after the defeat of the Union at the Battle of Wimpfen on May 6, 1622, where he lost his youngest brother the Duke concluded a non-aggression treaty with the Habsburg emperor.

In the countryside, the impact of the Battle of Wimpfen is still visible (©Rudolf Landauer)
This favorable political situation came to an abrupt end on March 6, 1629, when Emperor Ferdinand II decreed the Edict of Restitution demanding the return of territories which had come under Protestant rule after the Treaty of Passau in 1552. Tis involved more than one-third of Württemberg’s territories that once had belonged to monasteries and bishops. When Catholic troops invaded Germany’s southwest to force implementation of the edict, Duke Eberhard III fled to Protestant Strasbourg and only Fort Hohentwiel in Württemberg resisted the Catholic assault.

The Spanish Road (©Miguelazo/Wikipedia)
In 1635 Catholic France entered the war supporting the Protestants against the Habsburgs. One of their first war goals was cutting the Camino de los Tercios españoles, the road on which Spanish foot soldiers marched from northern Italy to Flanders in 60 days, feeding the war between the Protestant Netherlands and the Spanish Habsburgs. By cutting these Spanish supplies, France gained passages into the Empire in particular following the fall of Breisach, the key to the Reich.

Red Baron also learned that one of the reasons why Emperor Ferdinand III ceded the German-speaking Alsace to France in the Peace Treaty of Westphalia was that he did not want the French having a seat and a vote at the Imperial Diet. On the other hand, occupying the German territories of Verden and Pomerania, the Swedes had that right.

The Battle of Wittstock (©Sabine Eickhoff)
The audience learned that modern forensic techniques were applied when some years ago a common grave was discovered containing 131 skeletons of soldiers killed in the Battle of Wittstock 100 kilometers north of Berlin. On October 10, 1636, a combined Swedish-Scottish army defeated the Catholic imperial troops decisively. The latter were seconded by forces of Protestant Saxon Elector John George I, the initiator of a German peace, i.e., the 1635 Peace of Prague, with the aim of dislodging foreign troops from German territory.

Man is man’s death (©Stefan Mäder)
Smashed skulls and damaged bones partly destroyed by bullets were the causes of death. Examination of teeth allowed the determination of the age of the men who measured between 160 to 182 centimeters where the median age was 24 years. DNA analyses of bone material confirmed the predominant Scottish and Swedish origin of the men killed in action. In fact, an action was a rare activity for soldiers in the Thirty Years' War compared with marching and digging trenches. Subsequently, most of the skeletons show heavy osteoarthrosis. Effects of earlier wounds with bone damage and chronic illnesses (syphilis) were also diagnosed, i.e., the general health of those buried was bad. Artifacts except for bullets were rarely found so it is assumed that the men, stripped of any clothing and equipment items, were buried naked. Rest in peace!

Monday, June 11, 2018

An Iconic Photo

By now POTUS is in Singapore, but the echoes of the Canadian G6+1 Summit are still resounding.

Here is the iconic picture. POTUS like a stubborn child sitting at a table complaining to Summit participants standing around him that America is "like the piggy bank that everybody is robbing.” His newest compelling argument defending protective tariffs on “national security grounds” had been put into POTUS’s head by Security Advisor John Bolton, the guy with the open mouth and mustache.

On the photo, you will recognize Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, flanked by Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japanese deputy chief cabinet secretary, an expert in trade, and Kazuyuki Yamazaki, Japanese senior deputy minister for foreign affairs. The Europeans stand united from right to left: Angela Merkel, federal chancellor, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and Theresa May, UK prime minister.

Here the scene seen from another, the French angle covering Merkel but placing Macron in full view.

All photos are ©AP except this one ©French Presidency
Was it Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau entering the scene who had told a joke? On the left is Larry Kudlow, director of the US National Economic Council who had put into POTUS’s head that eliminating all tariffs between G7 nations was the "best way to promote economic growth".

Here are more photos:

POTUS kept the ladies waiting at the breakfast table
Still in perfect harmony?
Ici on parle le Français
POTUS doesn't seem amused by Merkel's proposals
Leaving in anger for Singapore
In an interview back home Angela told her people that she had made Trump a proposal to avoid the next escalation stage in the dispute over penalty tariffs on German cars. The US should examine whether these imports really are a strategic weakening of the country. In return, Europe could check whether the US tariffs would also bring about a strategic weakening. Before unilateral action is taken, the strategic impact of such measures should be discussed.

I think the US resident won‘t give a hoot about Merkel’s proposai when he takes his decision on car tariffs. About Angela’s remark that the US had acted illegally with respect to the rules of the World Trade Organization POTUS won‘t give a damn, either.

Merkel finished her interview, "It's not a pretty thing. I was talking about disillusionment; it’s meaning a lot for me."

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Wolfgang Hug †

Today I attended the funeral mass for Wolfgang Hug, professor emeritus of history and its didactics at the Pedagogical University in Freiburg.

Professor Wolfgang Hug (right) in conversation with the late
 Chairman of Freiburg’s Museumsgesellschaft Dr. Ulrich Dold in 2010
When I read about Wolfgang Hug's passing away I was extremely sad. Like Red Baron he was a member of the Freiburger Museumsgesellschaft and the Freiburg Historic Society Schau-ins-Land so I saw him quite often. We always had lively discussions about God everything under the sun but unlike me, he was an inexhaustible source of knowledge with respect to history. Although I studied physics, Wolfgang leniently supported my late-in-life efforts in Freiburg’s history.

Whenever he gave a talk about Baden’s history or about religious topics I hung on every word, reading his lips. Nobody was able to talk as eloquently and with a subtle ironic undertone about Erasmus of Rotterdam* as Professor Hug. His last publications concerned the Reformation, a topic he as a committed Catholic filled with his hopes for ecumenism.
*Erasmus spent a couple of years in Freiburg

It was impressive to see Wolfgang living in peace with his Catholic Church. He did not excuse the crimes committed by and in the name of the Church but tried to explain to posterity the conditions under which people made their decisions in the past even if they had the chance to make a different one.

Historians and amateur historians miss you, Wolfgang. Rest in peace.

Sunday, June 3, 2018


This blog is not about Alice in Wonderland but about Alice in Badenland, i.e., Alice Schwarzer, Germany’s feminist par excellence. The lady turned 75 and got the Gutedelpreis 2018 of the Markgräfler Land, the Wineland just south of Freiburg. Happily, she accepted the 225-liter barrel of locally grown Gutedel (Chasselas) wine.

Alice, a glass in her hand (©BZ)
Winemaker Hermann Dörflinger said, “This vintage is challenging and difficult, highly complex and demanding in its uniqueness. It is no coincidence that Alice Schwarzer is on stage today,” and he added that the wine her predecessor, Baden-Württemberg's Green Governor Winfried Kretschmann, received last year was much simpler. The honoree took it with a laugh. Alice revealed that she will already drink the wine at a big party in June and little by little with colleagues from her magazine Emma.

Yes, on the one hand, Alice is a complex personality, on the other hand, she fits into old male clichés: She is bitter about not having got a man and she is a witch with cold, piercing eyes. So in a sort of ur-angst men meeting her fear for their manhood calling her Schwanz-ab-Schwarzer (dick-off-Schwarzer).

Alice maintains a universalist idea, „Women are oppressed worldwide, and the struggle for equality and emancipation must therefore not allow itself any wobbling. In this sense, the Muslim headscarf is undoubtedly a domesticating symbol historically decreed by men that we must fight against politically.”

There were rumors that Alice will soon head a newly created Federal Ministry of Virtue. As such, feminist Schwarzer wants to „give the #MeToo movement a German look“ by introducing a new bill finally banning pornography and prostitution. She also would like to create a „Quick Reaction Force“ that will monitor interactions between the sexes in all public spaces. Officers will intervene immediately if suspicion of a sexual assault should arise. „Better a hundred times too often than once too rarely“, reads a memorandum from the circle of Alice Schwarzer’s magazine Emma.

In the past there were harsher words; in 1998, for example, those of rapper Alina as published in Emma, „Kill all child abusers / in all our lands dominated by males / make them all dead as a doornail / take out the gun, pull the trigger, and dead“.

Probably Alice Schwarzer would no longer publish texts like this. The dignity of her new office will not allow her to speak in plain language anymore. Especially when even a greater consecration is in store in a few years‘ time. The job of the Federal Minister of Virtue could prove to be the ideal stepping stone to Schloss Bellevue, the residence of  Germany's Federal President.

Fake news?

P.S.: No fake news is that Alice has married:

My long-time companion, the photographer Bettina Flitner, and I got married on June 2, 2018 (©dpa)
The photo shows the couple. Alice is grinning broadly at the side of her laughing long-time companion, a beautiful snapshot in a relaxed atmosphere. Alice explained, "We have always had an open but not a public relationship. As you know, I attach great importance to the protection of my private life. However, a civil partnership is something other than a civil marriage. And so six months after the introduction of 'The Marriage for All' we have decided to take this step." The age difference between them is almost 20 years: Alice Schwarzer is 75, Bettina Flitner 56.

Bettina Flitner does not have to worry to be called "Alice Schwarzer's wife" in the future. She has long been a well-known photographer, has had many exhibitions, and has held several guest professorships.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Marx 2018

On the occasion of Karl Marx’s 200th birthday, the question whether his theories are still valid today is passionately discussed between economic experts. I read quite a lot but my opinion is not congruent with any of those economists. It rather is a mixture of economic ignorance and life experience.

In an article in last Sunday's paper, three economics professors took a position on three of Marx’s theses: the concentration of enterprises, social impoverishment, and coming crises.

There always is a tendency for a concentration of enterprises but it is no longer so much the production of goods although I just learned about the marriage between chemical giants Bayer and Monsanto. These days it is the concentration of firms offering services. I am thinking, e.g., of Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. Over the years these giants in software, social media, and communication have swallowed smaller software developers to strengthen their position in a still booming market.

Marx who castigated the alienation of the worker vis-à-vis the hardware he has produced would be shocked to see the digital dependence of today’s people on services they are presented with and cannot escape. The classic alienation is replaced by a fear of digital technology that is overstraining most users.

The people of Cologne are proud of their Basic Law. One article reads, “Hammer immer esu jemaat” (We have always done it the same way) but this is no longer true for “Nix bliev, wie et war” (Nothing remains as it was).

In spite of efforts like the recent European General Data Protection Regulation to protect the data of individuals, the man/woman in the street feels helpless and controlled. They develop an angst of being overrun by a self-driving car or losing their non-digital jobs.

Populist parties stoke the angst of the people while governments somehow limit themselves to repairing the status quo. The policy of just fixing defects follows another article of Cologne’s Basic Law, ”Et het noch immer jot jejange” (Things have always worked out).

Today, the digital world dominates politics since politicians have neither the knowledge nor the insight to stand up to gurus like Mark Zuckerberg as recent hearings in Congress and in the European Parliament have shown.

What follows is a hilarious sequence of photos taken during Mark Zuckerberg’s “grilling” at the European Parliament as commented by Oliver Welke, Germany’s Seth Meyers, in the Heute Show (Today Show).

Mark Zuckerberg sitting next to Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, ... (©ZDF)

... listening to Gabriele Zimmer’s question (©ZDF)
Gabriele cited three lines from Goethe’s The Sorcerer‘s Apprentice* in German, “Master, I have need of Thee! From the spirits that I called, I can‘t get rid of ...” and ended Marc’s education in German literature with the question, “Isn’t it time to pull the plug?”
*Der Zauberlehrling. Herr, die Not ist groß! Die ich rief, die Geister, Werd‘ ich nun nicht los.

Marc’s imagined reaction is plausible if the knowledgeable translator used the official translation, “Master, I have need of Thee! From the spirits that I called, Sir, deliver me! ...

Here you are welcome to read about my conspiracy theory with respect to Germany's digital situation.

It seems that Western societies do not have a classic Marxian proletariat. Nevertheless, poverty is a reality. Although the promise is kept that no one has to starve or freeze, the gap between poor and rich is widening so that economists now talk about a relative impoverishment. This is reflected in developing countries like India and Bangladesh but in Western countries too.

China is an exception, balancing between Marxism and capitalism. In addition and out of pure necessity the country is actively participating in the fight against climate change by investing considerable resources in solar and wind energy. Due to the continuing, massive use of coal and the increase in car traffic, the air in China's cities has become unbreathable.

In Western countries, relative poverty is politically explosive. Single mothers trying to combine childrearing with holding a job often end up unemployed and on social welfare. With the price of housing increasing in most regions young couples have to pay high rents without any hope of financing condominiums or houses.

Will people being deceived by the capitalistic system vote for the left or right? Presently populistic parties have the wind in their sails while left-wing parties are still suffering from the past when they ran their socialist regimes into a brick wall.

Capitalism is capable of managing economic crises albeit with the help of governments as the financial crisis of 2008 has shown. According to economic experts, a great depression like the one in 1929 with massive unemployment and numerous bankruptcies has become extremely unlikely.

Crises will surely come but they will be of a different kind. A mix of overpopulation, the competition for resources,* and climate change will lead to the massive migration of people. Just think of the inhabitants of Bangladesh, a country that will lose a large part of its land mass due to the rising tides of the Indian Ocean.
*in particular, clean water

In view of all the specters of post-Marxism, shall we give up and state the Cologne way, “Et kütt, wie et kütt.” (It cometh as it cometh)?

Hey, here is a better one, “Drinkste ene met?” (Why don't you have a drink with me?).

Monday, May 14, 2018

And Marx Stood Quietly in Darwin’s Garden

My review of a novel by Ilona Jerger, Und Marx stand still in Darwins Garten, is fitting for Karl's 200th birthday. Jerger based her book on the fact that old Charles Darwin and semi-old Karl Marx not only shared their first name but lived in London simultaneously only ten miles apart.

They could have met but they did not although Marx had read Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species (1859) while Darwin owned Marx‘s Das Kapital (1867) of which he only read a few pages for the book was written in Marx’s torturous German. In 1881 both men were ailing though pronounced hypochondriacs, providing Jerger with the literary pivot: In her novel, they happen to have the same doctor who arranges a meeting in the form of a dinner at Darwin’s house. Both protagonists end the evening in Darwin's garden.

The style of Jerger’s novel is both superb and enchanting. For her text, the author uses quotations from letters and books both men wrote and combines them in the form of monologues and dialogues the two men have with their doctor and during their fictitious dinner.

In one of his many discussions with Doctor Beckett, Darwin goes into politics, "I fear that in our society trade unions and left-wing politics carry the bad, thus fostering the weak and the rotten. I tell you, it's not good when too much welfare undermines natural selection." When Dr. Becket frowns, Darwin mitigates his statement: "Of course, here too everything is a question of dose. Helping the poor without pampering them is something that modern government must offer to some extent."

The doctor wrinkles his nose, "Whoever is weak, remains poor? And whoever is poor, goes down? Now I'm a bit surprised. I used to think you kept your theory out of political discussions. But what you just said sounds to me as if competition and selection govern survival not only in nature but also in human societies. Survival of the fittest not only in bees but also in humans?"

When Dr. Becket tells Marx about his conversation with Darwin, Marx clenches his fist, holds it up and lets it bang down on Darwin's book, "It's a classic circular." He uses his forefinger to draw circles in the air, "Darwin has transferred the struggle for survival that he observed in the capitalist system to animals and plants. No, it's no coincidence that he recognizes his English class society in nature.“

When at the dinner Dr. Becket makes Darwin aware of Marx's reaction the latter starts to argue but the doctor wants to change the direction of their conversation, “I believe there is another connection between your two theories of revolution and evolution. And it seems exciting indeed. I asked Marx what he thinks of your theory of evolution. And he praised you in the highest tones for having swept away the 'otherworldly gossip', as he put it. He literally said that your theory created the historic and natural basis of communism."

In the following discussion, Darwin somehow feels guilty for sidelining Christianity. He vigorously claims that he is an agnostic and not an atheist, "Just the fact that chance is the greatest force of evolution, is not satisfactory although I don't doubt for a second that it is so, I don't like this aimlessness myself. Our lives get a sour taste that nobody wanted us. The earth as a huge casino, where nature scores hits and misses. This is an attitude to life that few people appreciate."

Nevertheless, Marx's reaction to Darwin's statement is prompt: "He has given us the sword to behead religion! In this respect, Darwin is quite excellent."

When writing her book, Jerger observed, “The more I researched, the more amazed I was that two such different characters, represented by the conceptual pair of evolution and revolution, had so much in common. When I noticed that, I started to keep a list that became longer and longer. It says, for example, that both Darwin and Marx lost several children and could hardly cope with the death of their respective favorite child (Darwin’s daughter Annie died in 1851, Marx’s son Edgar, called Musch, died in 1855); that both suffered from nausea, hypochondria, migraine, insomnia, and massive skin problems. That both got opium. Both had their “racetracks” to think about. Not to forget their iconic heads with the flowing white beards. But above all, that both wrote works that people will never let go.”

“They also had great battles with their religion and seemed to feel guilty in a similar way. Darwin had studied theology and, as a devout young man with the Bible in his luggage, had boarded the Beagle; Marx coming from a rabbi family would certainly have been considered a rabbi of Trier. However, the Marx family converted to Protestantism because as a Jew, Karl’s father would not have been able to run a law firm.”

On the occasion of Marx’s 200th birthday, I hope Jerger’s exceptional book will find an anglophone publisher.

Here as a lagniappe, Marx's statue, in the meantime unveiled, in Trier. A walking giant of 18 feet (5.5 meters) carrying Das Kapital in his left! hand.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Tough Cookie, a Young Charmer, and a Spineless Chancellor

For a new US ambassador, POTUS sent us a harter Hund (tough cookie). After his arrival in Berlin Richard Grenell tweeted his master’s voice:

This clearly is a paradigm shift, for in olden times ambassadors used to hand ultimati on paper to foreign ministers. Note that Grenell did not tweet “shall” although he used “should” and “immediately”.

In vain Wolfgang Ischinger, Director of the Munich Security Conference, retweeted:

However, Ambassador Grenell did not bend. In an interview, he said, "I have a different style. I'll be perfectly honest with you. Diplomacy stuck in groupthink has done great damage: North Korea is on its way to becoming a nuclear power - and a genocide has been taking place in Syria for years. I'm against groupthink in diplomacy."

Grenell continued, "If you want to avoid war, you better have diplomats prepared to be tough. You have to speak plainly - especially to friends. When asked what should happen to German companies that continue to do business with Iran, Grenell said, "The German government must answer this question, not us". Strange. Shall our government interfere with free trade in the way the German Democratic Republic did?

What a contrast in Aachen. On May 7, French President Emmanuel Macron was awarded the International Charlemagne Prize.

Lined up for a group photo after a Catholic mass and before the award ceremony.
From left to right: Bishop of Aachen Dr. Helmut Dieser,
provost of Aachen’s cathedral Manfred von Holtum,
the former mayor of Aachen and chairman of the Charlemagne Prize Committee Jürgen Linden,
Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Emmanuel Macron,
his wife Brigitte, and Aachen’s Mayor Marcel Philipp (©WDR)
Aachen's magnificent town hall showing the flags of Europe, la Tricolore,
black-red-gold, and the state flag of North Rhine-Westphalia (©WDR)

Inside distinguished guests. Chancellor Merkel sits with Spanish King Felipe.
I recognize former prize winners Mario Draghi and Martin Schulz.
In his speech, Mayor Marcel Philipp praised Emmanuel Macron
who is nervously waiting in the back (©WDR)

Jürgen Linden reads the award certificate
 while the laureate and Mayor Philipp watch (©WDR)

A close-up of the Charlemagne Prize (©WDR)

Charming Emmanuel (©WDR)
Macron's acceptance speech became highly political. Addressing Chancellor Merkel directly, he said, “We must act now. The nationalists, the demagogues have a clear language. Europe must be just as clear." This was followed by four commandments for Europe's future, "Let us not be weak, let us not be divided, let us not be afraid, let us not wait."

After the ceremony: Losers Martin Schulz and Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko
with winner Emmanuel Macron (©WDR).
In a sinister contrast to Macron, Merkel murmured about difficult discussions with respect to the reform of the economic and monetary union and added, procrastinating as usual, “The refugee policy must go ahead and investments in crisis countries must be taken up. Something will be presented in June.”

Let’s face it. Merkel’s time is up. With a reduced majority in the Bundestag (parliament) Angela's grand coalition government is weak and facing strong opposition from the right, the left, and the center. They are trying hard to survive. In addition, our chancellor is still practicing the classic German balancing act between the States and France although first German defense minister and late Bavarian Governor Franz Josef Strauß already knew thirty years ago, “You can’t be everybody's darling.”

Apparently Emmanuel‘s speech impressed Angela, and miracles still happen. At the annual Catholic Church Congress on Ascension Day, the daughter of a Protestant pastor head-on criticized POTUS’s decision to terminate the treaty that is supposed to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. She described this as a serious break in international cooperation and as a cause of great concern. The behavior of the USA will destroy confidence in the binding force of international treaties. Multilateralism, i.e., reliable exchange within the international community, is in a real crisis. The US under Trump’s leadership has terminated not only the nuclear agreement with Iran but also international climate and trade agreements. Merkel finished, “If we always say we do not like it, we will lose international order and eventually everybody will do what they feel like doing. This is bad news for the world.”

Europe first? Or as the host of a political comedy show demanded, “It's time for Europe to grow balls.”