Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wurst War

In Freiburg's Münster market six licenced vendors traditionally sell grilled bratwurst at their stands to natives and tourists alike. The Freiburger Long Red (wurst) served with slightly stewed onions in a bun surely is my favorite but you can also opt for a Polnische (is this the same as a Krakauer?), a Krainer with and without cheese and a Thüringer. There is wurst made from veal and cholesterol-poor from Turkey. An orderly market order orders that the order of the stands in the Münster market rotates daily such that each vendor in turn is first in line.
Mr. Meier at his Wurststand proudly holds up Freiburg's Rote in a Brötchen for the iPhone photo shooting. Note the brin of onion looking out on top of the bun.
Presently there is some agitation among those traditional vendors as - l'Union Européenne oblige - the precious license must be newly tendered Europe-wide! Imagine some Turks disguised as Greeks selling döner wurst! A scandal? but if it's good why not. But do not be afraid: the German inventive talent does not sleep when dealing with wurst (wenn es um die Wurst geht). In a letter to the editor a tofu producer from Freiburg would like to make the business of his life demanding that one of the future six licensees must be selling veggie wurst.

Mind you. The idea of vegetarian meat ersatz is not new. You can already read in the Vegetarian Journal as early as 2000: Veggie burgers and dogs are generally lower in calories and fat than hamburgers and hot dogs. Even extra lean ground beef gets more than half its calories from fat; most veggie burgers have less than 20% of calories from fat. Meat has no fiber; most veggie burgers have at least 3 or 4 grams of dietary fiber per serving. While veggie burgers have little or no cholesterol, a 3.5 ounce hamburger made with extra lean ground beef has 90 milligrams of cholesterol. Veggie burgers, especially those made with soy, contain generous amounts of protein and iron. Vitamin B-12 is added to some veggie burgers. The only negative for veggie burgers is that most are higher in sodium than ground beef.

I don't know about the quality of veggie burgers in the States but those I have tasted in Germany were simply awful. Maybe contrary to the States the ones sold over here contain less salt. That indeed makes them 120% healthy food but uneatable too.

Veggie dogs are also lower in calories, fat, and cholesterol than hot dogs. Some veggie dogs have more protein and iron and less sodium than do hot dogs. Both hot dogs and veggie dogs contain little or no fiber. So what will a roasted tofu wurst served at a vegetarian booth here in Freiburg contain?

In the States they already sell the Veggie or the somewhat speedier Leaner Wiener, the Meatless Frank (the poor guy), the VegiDog and somewhat hotter the Veggie Chili Dog. When you don't like served adults take a Tofu Pup. For all those cat lovers there is a SoyBoy Not Dog on the market. I suppose all this stuff is not roasted so I wonder what will happen to a tofu wurst on a grill. Maybe we shall know by the coming World Veggie Day, October 1st, 2011.

I wish you all a Happy New Year !

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter is icumen in

Winter is icumen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.

wrote poet Ezra Pound once in a persiflage of the well-known poem from the middle of the 13th century:

Sumer is icumen in, 
Lhude sing cuccu!

Pound's appreciation is too rough. Also winter has its charms. My friend and English mentor Jim took this exceptional photo on December 1st, 2010.  Fresh snow had just powdered streets, roofs and trees.

The photo shows Oberlinden, a square in Freiburg you cross when you enter the city through the Schwabentor (the gate opening to Swabia). Note the linden tree in the middle decorated with Herrnhuth Stars. In the back you sense the steeple of Freiburg's Münster Church.

Herrnhuth Stars became fashionable in Freiburg last year. I bought one for my balcony and took a photo last year. For those who haven't yet seen one up close here is my photo:

It's twilight time. You can make out trees of the Black Forest in the background. The illuminated windows mark study rooms  for students at the Max-Planck-Institute of International Law

In the meantime last week's snow has completely disappeared. Freiburg is likely to be the only major city in Germany without a white Christmas.

I wish you all a peaceful Christmas and
a healthy New Year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Lost Cause

Today the Thema des Tages (The Topic of the Day) in the Badische Zeitung was the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of South Carolina's secession from the Union. When the resulting Civil War between the Yankees and the Rebels ended, bemoaning more than 600.000 dead, many a man in the South rather moaned about the Lost Cause. So far so bad but then the author in his article about the Civil War managed to smuggle in the German Dolchstoßlegende (stab-in-the-back legend) and Not all was bad (in the Third Reich). The author eventually considered the sentiments of those Americans way down South as something in between.

A propaganda drawing from 1860?: Black Union army men under the command
of a white officer attack the Confederates.
Notice the couple below on the left hand side fighting to the finish:
 Is this a stab in the back?.
 I shake my head! The Dolchstoßlegende born after the lost First World War claimed that it was the home front and in particular socialist Jews who had not supported the German fighting men in those trenches in Flanders. They virtually stabbed them into their backs. It was one of those brainwashing of the people by the right wingers and later by the Nazis. In the Civil War however the conspiracy theory accused the Southern generals as traitors.

Germans, remember it well! Philipp Scheidemann who had proclaimed the German Republic
dagger in his hand with Matthias Erzberger,  a catholic Jew of the Center Party, watching. 
In the background rich Jews are sitting on their gold and counting their paper money.
Whether in the South it was not all bad before the Confederate States were forced back into the Union I cannot judge but as far as the Nazi regime is concerned all was bad! The Nazis started out with a total domination of the people, changed over to a total war and ended in a total defeat.

Here is a lesson to be learned: Be careful when comparing historical processes and events!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mark or Franc that is no question

My son found the following cartoon in the internet:

This only reinforces my remark made in the blog below. Don't bail out of the Euro to reintroduce the Deutsche Mark but don't buy Swiss Francs either. Our chancellor has the perspective:  If you can't beat them join them.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Freiburg Gipfel

Without comment
Ouff, the Franco-German Gipfel (summit) in Freiburg between Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel is history. Last Friday the town came to a stand still. From 8h30 to 17h30 no streetcars in the city. Bag-pack loving Freiburgers passing through had their Rucksacks checked several times by security forces.

A hundred-strong police unit kept some demonstrators disguised as clowns encircled. As they were polluting the air with some terrible sounds one officer confiscated a small drum but being a perfect German official he handed out a receipt to the drummer.

When a bystander criticized the expense for such summits I answered: One day in Afghanistan costs more than ten Gipfels. Let Angela and Nicolas guided by the Archbishop in person visit the Münster church, let them sign Freiburg's Golden book with our Lord Mayor watching from behind and let them eat a free lunch? specially composed by the one star cook in town; all this doesn't disturb me if it helps French-German friendship. However it annoys me when those two leaders pretend to protect the euro.

Spraying Sarkozy. A French guy splashes his President with a water gun.
The clustered security force reacted much too late but arrested the man.
Addressing the demand of Luxemburg, Italy, Spain, and Greece for issuing euro bonds Merkel said: We cannot allow to mutualize the (financial) risks and Nicolas paid her lip-service in adding: I don't see in how far Germany would be selfish. Germany is the biggest (financial) contributor in the European Union.

It is true that Greece and Ireland for years lived on credit striving beyond their financial possibilities. They now must pay more for bonds on the international market than Germany to re-finance their debts. But since we have a common currency the old German proverb holds: Mitgefangen, mitgehangen (Captured together, hung together).

In fact, Euro bonds will be only a small remedy curing the imbalance between the rich and the poor European countries. For Germany these bonds present a lesser evil than a Länderfinanzausgleich (a balancing out the budgets between different countries). The latter is practiced in the Federal Republic between various States. From time to time this compensation creates a fury in those Länder that always have to pay to the States that according to the givers don't do their financial homework correctly. I agree such a system in Europe will require a more united community than countries just bound together by a common currency.

In stirring up public opinion in Germany against the issue of euro bonds the opponents deprive the man in the street of higher interest rates for his money. With those he could somewhat compensate inflation. In the meantime people without confidence in neither the euro nor the dollar buy gold, that has become so expensive that some have started to change to and into Swiss francs.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Yesterday a friend from Madison sent me an article by Barry Gore: Madison needs a professional City Council asking me at the same time whether the Freiburg model of city government may not serve in Madison.

What I understood was that Madison is run from the Mayor’s Office by experts and twenty alders in a city council who are paid U$ 7545 per annum to cover their expenses.

In a first approximation Freiburg’s administration structure is similar. The city has a Lord Mayor and a city council with 48 members both elected by the people representing the usual German party spectrum. All council members are working in an honorary basis with their expenses covered.

The difference between Madison and Freiburg is that here we sport an additional four mayors each of them heading a Dezernat (department). These mayors are elected by the city council hence mirror the party composition of the latter but are supposed to be somehow experts in their departments. Like the Lord Mayor the four mayors are fully paid.

The Lord Mayor’s office treats general organization, administration, personnel matters, law, and public relation (partner cities). One of the mayors deals with economy, finance, housing, sports, and public order (police). Another cares about environment, forests, schools, and waste. The third one is responsible for social affairs, culture, youth, and integration of people. The fourth mayor runs the building departments and annexed activities.

These four mayors and their departments cost a lot of money. So a few years ago the city council decided that Freiburg could do with only three additional mayors. Without going into the detail, the decision to oust the mayor responsible for building and to dissolve the Baudezernat was based on the issue of competence and economy.

This year the city council eventually came back on its decision. In spite of city finances still running low the council reinstalled the fourth mayor, the Baubürgermeister. The official reason was the excess of work for the previously three mayors and their departments.

Freiburg's new Baubürgermeister Professor Dr. Martin Haag (©Thomas Kunz/BZ)
In the northern part of Germany we say: Rut us de Kartüveln, rin in de Kartüveln, or if you understand what I mean, is it better to say: Out of the cotton field, back into the cotton field?

My question is, considering the outcome of the recent elections in the States, how do Americans feel about more administration even on a level as modest as a city.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Functional illiterates?

The other day I read an article in the Washington Post on the issue of the ever increasing public expense. A citizen, possibly Republican minded, complained in a letter to the editor: Not just the armed forces every Federal agency and appropriation is handled in this way. Even schools. They can whine and complain all they want about "cuts," but school budgets increase every year, and they turn out functional illiterates. We are a land where failure is richly rewarded and productivity is criminally penalized. Is it no wonder that we're in the fix we're in?

Far from being able to judge upon the issue of public spending in the States and the resulting consequences it was the last part about schools producing functional illiterates that electrified me.

Sprachkompetenz? (©yirsh)
In Germany we are not better off. The magic word over here is mangelnde Sprachkompetenz (insufficient command of spoken and written German). In two of the three Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic) the young generation is clearly missing competence. So school bashing is common but aren't we beating the wrong donkey? I see kids including my oldest grandson rather spending their time with audiovisual gadgets than with books. As we say: Von nichts kommt nichts (Nothing will come out of nothing).

On the long run the saddest aspect of this development is the loss of Sprachreichtum. Who will be able to express his ideas clearly and with the subtlety of a rich vocabulary and even more so who will in future years understand all those funny words and expressions grandparents still use?

Old man = pessimist? Perhaps, but this topic unsettles me and is always on my mind.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


No, I am not writing about the American politician Joe Lieberman spelled with one n but about Max Liebermann with a double n.

As usual when in Berlin I visit places with a historic relevance. One place that I had never visited before is the infamous Villa on the Wannsee where in 1942 Himmler's right-hand-man Heydrich held a Konferenz (meeting) to co-ordinate the Endlösung (final solution) for Europe's Jews. The place is way out of the city. You first take the S-Bahn to Wannsee Station and then ride the 155 Bus to the Villa on the Wannsee. The bus runs every twenty minutes and while studying the time table I read Liebermann Villa marked as a stop. I spontaneously decided to visit that place too.

The villa of the Wannseekonferenz became a memorial center only in 1992 following a long fight about its financing. It now houses an exhibition documenting how the Nazi regime, once in power, had systematically transformed the latent anti-Semitism in Germany and elsewhere in Europe into a campaign of annihilation. In presenting the Jews as the scapegoat for Germany's misery (Die Juden sind unser Unglück) six millions were hanged, shot, and gassed.

Entrance to the exhibition is free but the main iron gate to the surrounding park is locked and only opens after the girl at the counter has considered the televised visitor acceptable. On this gray November morning the visitors comprised a few old guys but mostly pupils. Their teacher had formed groups of two and attributed them to the various rooms. Now she was running from team to team giving instructions how the kids had to do Vergangenheitsbewältigung i.e. come to terms with the past of their great-grandfathers.

What would you expect. There was shouting, running around, tussling and even laughing. After an hour distracted by the kids' behaviour and feeling depressed by the exhibition I had enough. I stepped out into the park and walked back two bus stops to Liebermann's villa situated on Lake Wannsee too.

Max Liebermann (1847-1935) the Jewish-German painter born from a wealthy family built the house in 1909. He lived there during the summer months from 1914 to the end of his life. Liebermann is regarded as the father of German impressionism and while in Berlin became famous as the painter of portraits.

What Liebermann had seen from his studio on Pariser Platz
in January 1933. The new US embassy is just located across

During his life Liebermann always held strong opinions on art and politics. While watching the Nazis' brown hordes torches lit celebrating their victory in marching through the Brandenburg Gate on January 30th 1933, Liebermann is reported to have commented in his typical Berlin dialect: Ick kann jar nich soville fressen, wie ick kotzen möchte (I can't eat as much as I would like to vomit). The old man is one of my heroes!

Max standing in front of his villa
Liebermann who had become president of the Prussian Academy of Arts in 1920 and a Berlin honorary citizen in 1927 resigned from his post in 1933 just in time before the Nazis ousted him.

Reading in his living room

Flowers in Liebermann's garden. In the back his Castle on the Lake
After his death in 1935 the new rulers forced his widow Martha in 1940 to sell the house to the Reichspost, the house Max had called his Castle on the Lake and had loved so much always looking for corners with flowers for his paintings. Martha committed suicide in 1943 just being ahead of her deportation to Theresienstadt.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pounds into Dollars

On my way to Berlin riding the ICE again, digesting the previously described pot of coffee and Butterkuchen, reading the freely offered newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine I came across an article about early stereotypy. In this process pictures are transferred to metal plates that are subsequently used for printing.

Already in 1729 Benjamin Franklin had pleaded to increase the amount of money circulating in the colonies to fight consumer abstinence. Today the reason obviously is the indebtedness of the consumer, in those days the Brits apparently were the culprits prohibiting silver export from their colonies. Printing paper money: Franklin an early Bernanke?

In fact Benjamin started printing pound notes together with D. Hall as early as 1760. To avoid counterfeit the paper money had to be forgery-proof. Technically minded Franklin used stereotypy. Note the fine structures of those leaves on the 5 pound/100 shilling denomination. Printed in red: To Counterfeit is DEATH. Those good old times!

In 1776 one year after the War of Independence had broken out the dollar had replaced the pound in the thirteen colonies and - note the intertwined rings - bound together in an Olympic competition? The dollar was then divided into six parts. British heritage?

Already in 1778 Hall & Sellers printed a 50 dollar note as an early sign of inflation? Again the fine structure of stereotypy made forgery of the paper money difficult.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thank you Google, thanks!

Presently Google is under attack in Germany because many people don't like to see their houses on street view. Public pressure was so high that on request Google agreed to pixel those protested pictures. Some house owners probably were ashamed and possibly feared fellow citizens becoming eventually aware when zooming their objects more closely on the web how badly front garden and faces were kept .

But here I have come not to bury Google but to praise them. I am actually preparing a talk about the Revolution in Baden in 1848/49 to be given here in Freiburg and was browsing the web for original information on Friedrich Hecker and Gustav Struve both among those who had actively fought in Baden for a German Republic as early as the middle of the 19th century. And there I suddenly found two books written by these very persons whilst they were in Switzerland, the country just across the border where initially they had fled to before they emigrated to the States. The two books published in Switzerland are:

Dr. Fr. Hecker: Die Erhebung des Volkes in Baden für die deutsche Republik im Frühjahr 1848, Druck von J. C. Schadelitz, Basel 1849 (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München) and

Gustav Struve: Geschichte der drei Volkserhebungen in Baden, Verlag von Jenni, Sohn, Bern 1849 (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München).

These publications are available on Google books in facsimile as PDF-files and as text in the epub-format. The originals scanned were taken from the Bavarian State Library in Munich. I enjoy reading their Gothic print on my iPad and admire as an extra bonus all the graffiti readers have left on those pages over the years. In GoodReader I can mark paragraphs for future reference but I take refuge to the processed text for copy and paste. It is not easy to recognize Gothic printed characters correctly but the people at Google did a marvelous job although you get the rough text without any corrections. Wikipedia has a similar project making old texts publicly available on the web called Wikisource. Here all texts must have been proofread three times before they are considered as accepted.

The web is full of treasures. Let us find and use them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Chilling Schill

Ferdinand Batista von Schill
The other day I read that blond, blue eyed and naïf Siegfried is the last German hero. Indeed, there are these spoilers depriving us of all the others.

What about Arminius, the guy who in beating the invading Romans deprived the German people of civilization?  As historians found out: Herman the Cheruscian was a traitor and  trouble maker within his own family.

Barbarossa was a power-hungry ruler without scruples, lost a war against the pope and died a silly death drowning on a crusade in a brooklet in Asia Minor (today Turkey) as Umberto Eco writes in his novel Baudolino.

Already Heine had knocked Martin Luther from his pedestal describing him as the typical German a tag sufficient to drag a person down.

And now in his book: Die Zeit der schweren Not Günter de Bruyn demounts Ferdinand Baptista von Schill - the man the people at his time hailed as a freedom fighter against Napoleon's tyranny. They mentioned him in the same breath as Ludwig Adolf Wilhelm von Lützow and Theodor Körner. For de Bruyn Schill, the commander of the 2nd Brandenburg Hussar Regiment, is an uneducated silly imposter although as a guerrilla he had such an success against the occupying forces that his picture frosted in red on cakes was admired in Berlin coffee houses. Aristocratic ladies considered it as a grace to touch his saber. Mind you, already Emmanuel Geibel in his poem Schill described the hero as a man who rode faster than his time, i.e., seeking his glory at a time when resistance of small military units against Napoleon's main forces was simply madness.

On April 28, 1808, Schill left Berlin with his Regiment unauthorized. Once outside the city boundaries he talked to his men leaving the impression that he had an order from the all admired and beloved Queen Luise, Prussia's Jeanne d'Arc. Later Schill simply ignored the King's order to return to his home base. Instead he marched to Dessau on the river Elbe, took the city on Mai 2, and published his proclamation: An die Deutschen (to all Germans).
Schill's Memorial Stone in the pavement on Fährstraße
Napoleon's youngest brother Jérôme, King of Westphalia, put 10000 Francs on Schill's head and sent Danish and Dutch reserve troops commanded by the Generals Ewald and Gratien respectively at the pursuit of the resistance fighter. Schill escaped to the north and entered the city of Stralsund hailed by its Mecklenburg-Polish garrison. By then Schill's troops reinforced by recruiting comprised up to 3000 men but the fight for Stralsund against an overwhelming enemy approaching the city was lost from the beginning. Against all warnings Schill was determined to hold out and said: Better an end with terror than terror without an end an idea drawn from Psalm 73,19: How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!

Stalingrad anticipated: On May 31,  Napoleon's troops assaulted the city. Schill fell unnoticed and died his heroic death on Fährstraße. With him he took many a man. It is a crazy and sad story.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hawking's Bang

Stephen Hawking's latest book: The Grand Design left me quite disappointed. It was announced as a new approach to the classical question: Does (a) God exist? Hawking and co-author Leonard Mlodinow however  turn around the pot and declare instead: God is not necessary for explaining the world and the creation to exist. They formulate their basic questions as follows:

Why is there something rather than nothing?

Why do we exist?

Why this particular set of (physical) laws and not some other?

Before however the authors come to answer these points in the last chapter on page 171 of their book the reader gets a flash course in old, modern and most recent physics, somewhat short for the layman to grasp but a good repetition for persons interested in the topic who have read this before. Luckily once in a while the authors like to be funny, e.g., when they explain symmetry that a flipped donut looks exactly the same, unless it has a chocolate topping, in which case it is better just to eat it or We have observed that the moon is not made of Roquefort cheese which is bad news for mice. These remarks have the advantage of keeping the reader alive.

Let us see how the authors tackle the answers to the questions posed above: Spontaneous creation of matter i.e. new worlds in fact can be explained in combining relativity theory and quantum mechanics within the space dimension of a Planck length. A Big Bang starting within the dimension of 10-35 meters can macroscopically nicely be  illustrated  with the appearance of micro bubbles in a boiling liquid where some of those will expand to form big vapor bubbles. Within this image time has an origin and the question of what was before time zero becomes meaningless. New universes are spontaneously created out of the energy of empty space due to quantum fluctuations. Only to say that Einstein disliked quantum mechanics as for him God doesn't throw dice.

The picture of micro bubbles in a boiling liquid can further be stretched: Only those micro bubbles, i.e., Big Bangs will expand into universes where the combination of physical constants and laws just fit each other. The world in which we live would not exist if constants like the gravitational constant, the speed of light, the electron radius etc. were not those they are. Varying the values of our known physical parameters just a few percent will lead to unstable universes, i.e., to worlds that cannot exist.

Remains the salient question: Why do we exist? In a first step also here the authors stress a mathematical model called the Game of Life where structures using energy and following defined laws reproduce themselves. Viruses do that, even the evolution to higher forms of life can be understood as complex systems of limited size that are stable and reproduce themselves. Darwin's selection principle fits nicely into this pattern. However the formation of life in the form of self-producing structures as they are known to us requires as necessary conditions water, oxygen and a friendly habitat with temperature variations remaining within certain limits just like mother earth provides. Living structures can and will react when stimulated within limits otherwise they will die.

 This however does not explain why and when beings possess a free will. For the authors the behavior of a robot is predictable because it is calculable. When however a living being has more than about 1027 atoms, we would therefore have to say that any complex being has free will - not as a fundamental feature, but as an effective theory, an admission of our inability to do the calculations that would enable us to predict its actions. Nice try, but is the statement that because we are unable to calculate a structure the convincing evidence for the existence of a free will? And is it this free will that pushes us to believe or not believe in a somewhat reduced God, a God just throwing dice? There was this other approach exactly 40 years ago when Jacques Monod in his book: Le hazard et la nécessité denied us our free will. Monod suspected a genetic defect as the origin of man's quest for God, a fault that we according to him must overcome. Oh Lord, where in all this is the personal God that Jesus told us we shall call our Father!?

Hawking and Mlodinow summarize: Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exist, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going and The fact that we human beings - who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature – have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our universe is a great triumph. But perhaps the true miracle is that abstract considerations of logic lead to a unique theory that predicts and describes a vast universe full of the amazing variety that we see.

Today I read in Murphy's Law Calendar: There are some things that are impossible to know - but it is impossible to know these things. Now I think I am more than ready to read Küng's book about what he believes!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Fairy Tales

In 1792 Emperor Leopold I donated a School of Philosophy and Catholic Theology in Breslau (Wrosaw) that was called Leopoldina after him. As a Catholic institute run by the Jesuits in Protestant Breslau the new university was an important instrument of the Counter-Reformation in Silesia. A symbol of the Jesuit influence is the Auditorium (Aula) decorated in the late Baroque style. Although I am not an aficionado of that genre I was impressed when our group visited the hall.

The Aula Leopoldina

The flowers are in Poland's red and white.
The motto Quod (bonum,) faustum, felix fortunatumque sit
is taken from Cicero's 'De Divinatione' (1, 45, 102):
May the outcome be good, propitious, lucky and successful

Strolling through the university quarter afterwards I looked into the window of a second hand bookshop and caught the sight of a battered edition of Märchen der Brüder Grimm.

This rang a bell deep inside. Didn’t I love my fairy tale book my mother read from 
with those colored pictures? Later I devoured the stories of Schneewittchen und die sieben Zwerge (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), Frau Holle (Mother Hulda), Aschenputtel (Cinderella), Der Froschkönig oder der eiserne Heinrich (The Frog Prince), Schneeweißchen und Rosenrot (Snow-White and Rose-Red), you name them! Somehow this my book got lost during the war.

I entered the Antykwariat of Andrzej Jaworski and examined the book.It was indeed the same edition I once had owned and the price in Reichsmark was still written in the back in pencil: 2.85! The bookseller had pre-priced it for 48 Słoty where I would have given him easily double the price. I didn't trade and as the old man apparently hadn't noticed the greedy glint in my eyes he offered me the treasure for only 40. My fairy tale!

Indeed the pictures are impressive. Here are two examples:

I liked the piece of Lebkuchen (a mild gingerbread) Hänsel had broken off
from one corner of the roof


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Duelling is crazy

Ferdinand Lassalle fighting for Social Democracy
and human rights
While I was in Polish Wrosław, formerly German Breslau, I visited the Jewish cemetery. As it is not in walking distance from the city I took a taxi. My young driver only spoke broken English whereas Wrosław's older generation is often quite at ease with German.

One trip to the cemetery was 18 Słoty so I asked my driver how much it would cost if he waited for me 20 minutes and took me back downtown afterwards. He answered: Another 18. I said: But you have to wait for me. He continued: For that fare I shall wait the whole afternoon. I promised him 50 Słoty for all, including a 20 minutes waiting time for my only intention was to visit Ferdinand Lassalle's tomb. This guy founded the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein in Leipzig on May 23, 1836, and is considered the father of social democracy in German speaking countries. Note that Lassalle was far from being a proletarian for he died prematurely, shot in a duel.

An old man guarded the entrance to the quiet graveyard. He was born the same year as me and with him I talked German. He offered me a special price for the entrance fee if I bought a brochure about the Jewish cemetery, on sale in several mayor languages. He strongly recommended a visit to the graves of Edith Stein's parents strangely enough buried in separate plots. Edith Stein as professor Edmund Husserl's assistant once taught and lived in Freiburg before she converted to the Catholic faith and entered the Order of the Carmelites. When the Nazi persecution became violent her order sent her to a hideout in a Dutch convent. All in vain, the Gestapo tracked her down and transported her to Auschwitz.

Lassalle's tomb made from black marble
Nevertheless, my attention was rather focused on Lassalle's tomb that was clearly marked and well kept. I took several photos and then went back slowly to my waiting taxi passing the weather beaten tombstones of the Werth- and Pringsheims, the Rubin- and Edelsteins, the Cohens and Meyers.

I asked my driver to take me to the recently redecorated synagogue. This a relatively small building hidden in a backyard cannot be compared with the impressive Breslau synagogue that the Nazis burned down in the Reichskristallnacht on November 9, 1938.

I just arrived in time to catch the tail of a guided tour in German. A female guide informed us about Breslau's long gone rich Jewish culture and history. She frequently took advice in Polish from an older small gentleman dressed in black and wearing the kippa. Still impressed by Lassalle's "aristocratic" death I asked him how the Jewish faith considered fighting a duel, a deed that the Catholic church regards as a deadly sin. The interpreting guide said: Here is an interesting question and translated it for the male expert. After some deliberation he simply answered: I don't know.

We continued our guided tour passing many photos of famous Jewish personalities from Breslau among them Max Born, the Nobel prized physicist, well known to me. Suddenly a door in the back of the room opened and an elegantly dressed gentleman wearing a beard and a kippa entered. The guide introduced him as the Great Rabbi of Wrosław. In his one hand he carried a briefcase in the other he held a Starbucks grande coffee to go. He greeted our group briefly in German and then started in an accented Polish telling us about the present Jewish community in Wrosław counting 300 members. While I was deliberating whether his coffee was kosher he continued explaining that a recent report on CNN about Jewish revival in Poland has given rise to 20 telephone calls per day from people discovering their Jewish origins. When he had finished his lecture I used the opportunity to formulate my question again. Following some back and forth discussions between our guide and the Rabbi he answered: It depends.

After the tour I walked around a bit studying the exhibition and eventually left. And there it happened that just in front of me walked the Great Rabbi and the small gentleman in black ... and they were talking in English! I approached and said: Pardon me Rabbi, was there some misunderstanding? Maybe I should have asked my question in English and repeated it accordingly. He turned to me: Oh you mean Lassalle fought a duel because of a woman? That's crazy! and left me stunned.

And suddenly everything fell into place: CNN, the coffee to go, his accented Polish. He was an American of Polish origin sent to Wrosław as a development worker (Entwicklungshelfer) for the Jewish community.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stranded in Gelnhausen

On my way to Dresden for a one week trip to Wroclaw (Breslau) and Cracow (Krakau) I started in Freiburg on Saturday, October 9, at 6.52 a.m. taking the InterCity Express (ICE) direction Frankfurt or instead at 7.15 a.m. since the train from Basel arrived in Freiburg twenty minutes late. Initially, I didn't worry about the delay but rather enjoyed the Butterkuchen (a piece of cake made from yeast dough covered with sugared sliced almonds roasted in butter) and the pot of coffee that one gets served at the seat. This treat has become my favorite standard whenever I travel by ICE in Germany.

That I did eventually make it in Frankfurt's central station was because the connecting train arrived on the other side of the same platform and was delayed too. Soon after the ICE to Dresden had left Frankfurt in the direction of Fulda, the loudspeaker informed us about an abandoned Aldi plastic bag in coach 22. Oh, oh! A few minutes later, the train ground to an unscheduled halt at Gelnhausen station. All passengers had to leave the train, the platform, and even their luggage behind.

Gelnhausen is a small town in Hesse with beautiful half-timbered houses where the poet Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen was born in 1622. He is famous for the first German novel ever written: The adventures of Simplicius Simplicissimus during the Thirty Years War. Besides, Gelnhausen sports the remains of a Kaiserpfalz (Emperor's palace).

Waiting at a safe distance on platform 1 for the big blow
Time was too short for a visit, although it took 30 minutes before the Federal Police arrived for an investigation into the plastic bag affair. At the same time, we were waiting at a safe distance on platform 1 for another 90 minutes. Luckily enough, it was a beautiful sunny day.

A female German shepherd on her way to sniff explosives
Suddenly the crowd opened a passage for an awe-inspiring police officer and his dog. From then on, it still took another hour before the sniffing dog had declared the plastic bag as clean. In the end, we were invited to re-mount the train and meet our luggage again.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Conquest of Space and Time

Professor Peter Günther's talk describing how the Puritan heritage developed into a political religion made me think about two points: Possible future developments in America's drive to new frontiers and as Herman Melville saw it: the political Messiah having come in the American people.

Reaching New Frontiers
Once the settlers had arrived at the West coast of the American continent and had in a first phase pitched up their tents on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean had they not reached their final goal? No, to me President Kennedy's call to make it to the moon within a decade was a manifestation and continuation of the pioneers' spirit of conquering space and time. And even today there are frontiers to be reached, e.g., in science where the US has the highest rate of Nobel Prize winners.

What about old and new social challenges and how to meet them? The Puritan attitude, i.e.,those who in this life count themselves already among the chosen people, clashes with charity for the unsuccessful and miserable neighbor. Is this the reason that for some Americans socialism is the devil in person? In 1848 Theodor Mögling a leading figure during the German revolution in Baden-Württemberg gave the following definition, “Socialism wants the unification of forces on a voluntary basis to reach goals that cannot be reached by an individual alone. The freedom and self-determination of an individual however must only be limited to a degree necessary for reaching the goal.” What could be wrong with that?

Spreading Freedom and Democracy
Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd George:
You too have the right of self-determination.
Would you like your pockets being emptied before
 or after your death?
Contemporary cartoon by Th. Heine
We Europeans and particularly we Germans will never forget America's intervention during two world wars where in a second attempt the US succeeded at "imposing" democracy in Central Europe. The first attempt had to fail because President Wilson somewhat naively left the execution of his 14 Points to the Europeans. As Stephen Clarke writes in his book 1000 Years of Annoying the French, “Britain's Prime Minister, Lloyd George, thought the Allies should be less lenient on the Germans. He wanted to punish them while keeping their country healthy enough to act as a barrier against the new Communist state of Russia in the east. The French, though, were obsessed with bringing Germany to its knees. Remembering the Franco-Prussian War, France's Prime Minister, the 77-year-old Georges Clemenceau, was determined that the Germans should never be strong enough to invade France again - which makes it hard to understand why he insisted on a peace treaty so harsh that they would come back looking for vengeance only twenty years later.”

After the first aborted attempt followed the second that was successful. In 1945 Europe was in such a shambles that only massive American help (the Marshall Plan) prevented the Western half of the continent from drifting under communist rule too. The American seed mostly fell on fertile ground. Germany now is a stable democracy even to the point of being admired by some less fortunate countries.

The next international hot spot where the US successfully missionized was South Korea. The following, Operation Vietnam, however failed leaving deep scars in how America sees itself. I will skip the Iraqi War so next comes Operation Enduring Freedom focusing on Afghanistan. Here a Western Alliance is fighting the Taliban both militarily and politically together with the US with the latter providing the lion's share as usual. Defending the US and Germany against the Taliban at the Hindu Kush? With respect to our troops more than two thirds of the German people deny that statement and would prefer to pull our personnel out by tomorrow. My personal conclusion is: at the bitter end the Alliance will not have established a democratic regime in Afghanistan but will count thousands of lives lost and billions of U$ and euros burned.

Is there another way to meet the aggressiveness of the militant fraction of Islam? The question is not answered. The latest remark of our federal president, “Germany has a Christian-Jewish (yes!!) past but in the meantime Islam belongs to Germany too,” neither helped nor calmed down the debate.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Essen Reloaded

Before I attended my class reunion in Essen, I visited the places of my youth. Here is another photo of my early days:

My playmate from 1938 to 1942 and my beloved tricycle.
Me picking my nose? 

The house is nicely kept where I lived on the second floor.
I rang the bell, and who answered?

On the doorstep my former playmate still living in the apartment on the first floor

Mein Kindergarten below and behind the Collegiate Church of Rellinghausen.
The church was started in Romanesque style in the year 996.

The Primary School wherein the rooms on the left-hand side
they taught me how to write in Sütterlin (Gothic)

The station where I used to take the train going downtown together with my mother 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


 I do not know why: although I was born in the city of Essen, whenever I hear the word Essen Madison's Essen Haus instead comes to my mind. During my visits to our Sister City, I have never made it to the place. It looks so Bavarian features Gemuetilichkeit with an additional "i" and sports a charming selection of antique Hummels! Promise, next time in Madison, I shall visit Essen Haus.

 The city name Essen has nothing to do with a meal or eat. Because of the heavy industry that boomed around the Ruhr River in the late 19th century, a pun was shared that the name Essen is derived from die Essen (German for smokestacks). All wrong! The name Essen possibly derives from the common ash tree (Esche in modern German).

The big name in those times was Krupp and boozing men used to boast: Was Krupp in Essen, sind wir im Trinken (What Krupp stands for in Essen we stand for in drinking).

This weekend I shall be in Essen for my yearly class reunion. I only had two years of primary school in Essen and later went to and finished high school in Hamburg. To make our gatherings more interesting, my former classmates change meeting places every year.

Here is an old photo from 1938. It shows tiny Red Baron with his father in front of our house in Goldammerweg 4. No, the car is not an Audi, it is a DKW.

Later during World War II, when I visited my grandparents' farm in Westphalia, I suffered from the following teaser: In Essen gibt es große Schüsseln, aber nichts zum Fressen (In Essen there are big bowls, but there is nothing to eat). This was partly true, and indeed, I remember the big but simple meals my grandmother prepared on an enormous stove. Just across in the huge kitchen, I sat together with all the farmhands around a large wooden table. We dug into the food once my grandfather had said grace.

In the Herrgottswinkel (the corner where a crucifix hung), there was the only modern accessory set on a high shelf: the Volksempfänger (the people's wireless set). God and Goebbels, what a vicious combination! But that is a different story.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

German Language Day 2010

Somehow typical showing the European Flag
and the UN-logo
Today is German Language Day (Tag der deutschen Sprache) and it happened that this very morning I finished Günter Grass’s latest book: Grimms Wörter; Eine Liebeserklärung. The New York Times wrote about Grimm’s Words: The book is a declaration of love, as the subtitle states, to Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s collection of German words into a dictionary. 

The Brothers Grimm actually started their Deutsches Wörterbuch when in 1848, following a conflict about the Hanover Constitution with their king, they - together with five other collegues (the Göttingen Seven) - were not only ousted from their professorships but also expelled from the Kingdom of Hanover.

The Wörterbuch is more than just a dictionary. It is rather like an encyclopedia of German words, their origin and development. It is a treasure trove particularly for a writer like Günter Grass who loves German Baroque authors and their style.

Coming back to the German Language Day 2010 the Badische Zeitung published an interview with Professor Ludwig Eichinger full professor for German linguistic at the University of Mannheim. It is there where the Duden, Germany's reference source for our language, is published. When Eichinger was asked about the influence of the American English on the German language he gave an all-clear.

We had earlier impacts on our language. In the 18th century it was the Français that caused outbreaks like: O spei aus, vor der Hausthür spei der Seine häßlichen Schleim aus! Rede Deutsch, o du Deutscher (Oh vomit in front of the front door vomit the Seine river’s hideous slime! Speak German, oh you German). With respect to the American influence we are far from such outbursts. If there are no good German translations why not use the English word? By the way, who knows the German equivalent for upgrade? The other day I read cute translations for drop down list and browser: Klappliste and Stöberer. Since my early days with the computer I fight a personal battle using the word hard disk all the time for the good German Festplatte. After all, I try to compensate my lapsus linguae in forcing E-Post instead of e-mail.

In fact, during the last years German enterprises have rediscovered German like the Deutsche Bahn (German Railway). They promised to rename their Service Point into Kundenzentrum.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

St. Odile

Today I took part in an excursion with colleagues of Feierabend. The English translation of Feierabend is "quitting time" but this does not transmit the sentimental German meaning: Imagine a farmer or a blacksmith sitting on a bench under the linden tree in his village. After a hard day's work, he has folded his brawny hands in his lap watching the sunset. This is German Feierabend!

In our case, Feierabend stands for a bunch of people of the elder generation enjoying the computer but garnishing their hobby with other group activities, mostly excursions. 

Statue of St. Odile with attributes of an abbess of Hohenburg
A one and a half hour walk took us to a chapel above Freiburg built in 679 at the place where St. Odile once found refuge in a rock that opened just in time before her father’s men arrived to catch her. In fact, Duke Etichon from the Alsace had ordered his daughter to get married what she refused. Eventually, her only solution was a getaway. Her hiding in the rock blessed the region with a source.

Grotto and entrance to the source below St. Odile's chapel
To get to the source you must descend into the grotto below the chapel. An iron gate blocks the access to the water. On the rock above the praying St. Odile is barely recognizable. The water of the source is said to have curative virtues in case of eye trouble. It flows out of a green garden hose below the gate. To reach the water you must bend down quite a lot. Eventually, I managed and rinsed my eyes but washed my hands rather at the dedicated facilities before our group had lunch at a tavern adjoining the chapel. The place now called St. Ottilien is a popular site of excursions for Freiburgers.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Grand Design

The latest book by the genius from Oxford Stephen Hawking: The Grand Design will be in the bookstores next week. In advance I read the following catch phrases on CNN’s website: Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist and it is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper [fuse] and set the universe going. I pre-ordered the book immediately.

The question of Intelligent Design has occupied me for years and is under permanent discussion in the States where quite a number of people fight Darwinism. When in 2005 I had finished Hans Küng’s one but last book titled: Der Anfang aller Dinge (The Beginning of all Things) I discussed the topic at one of Freiburg-Madison Stammtische in 2006. Near the end of his book Professor Küng gave a small glimpse on what he believes and I wanted to learn more.

Since then Küng has published a new book in 2009: What I believe. and although I was hot on the topic the book is still lying on my desk unread. When I now opened it, I started reading at the end and found what I expected: Saint Paul’s visio beatifica from 1 Corinthians, 13: Die Liebe kommt niemals zu Fall: Prophetische Gaben – sie werden zunichte werden; Zungenreden – sie werden aufhören; Erkenntnis – sie wird zunichte werden. Denn Stückwerk ist unser Erkennen und Stückwerk unser prophetisches Reden. Wenn aber das Vollkommene kommt, dann wird zunichte werden, was Stückwerk ist. Als ich ein Kind war, redete ich wie ein Kind, dachte wie ein Kind, überlegte wie ein Kind. Als ich aber erwachsen war, hatte ich das Wesen des Kindes abgelegt. Denn jetzt sehen wir alles in einem Spiegel, in rätselhafter Gestalt, dann aber von Angesicht zu Angesicht. Jetzt ist mein Erkennen Stückwerk, dann aber werde ich ganz erkennen, wie ich auch ganz erkannt worden bin. Nun aber bleiben Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe, diese drei. Die größte unter ihnen aber ist die Liebe. (Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. Right now three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.)

Spontaneously I decided to read Küng’s book first before digging into Hawking’s The Grand Design. Hawking's book has already started a new debate on the fundamental question of creation. The head of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams said that physics on its own will not settle the question of why there is something rather than nothing. Belief in God is not about plugging a gap in explaining how one thing relates to another within the Universe. It is the belief that there is an intelligent, living agent on whose activity everything ultimately depends for its existence.

Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said: Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation ... The Bible simply isn't interested in how the Universe came into being.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols totally endorsed what the Chief Rabbi said so eloquently about the relationship between religion and science.

As I had expected, Imam Ibrahim Mogra, chairman at the Muslim Council of Britain, expressed his fundamental belief: If we look at the Universe and all that has been created, it indicates that somebody has been here to bring it into existence. That somebody is the almighty conqueror.

It seems that like in physics where the Standard Model matured into the Grand Unified Theory (GUT), Intelligent Design evolved into a more extensive Grand Design (TGD). Perhaps I should read Hawking’s book first?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Today I read an article in the Badische Zeitung titled: Der Blick nach Deutschland (Looking unto Germany) referring to a blog by Richard C. Longworth called Another Way To Work. The blog published in The Midwestener discusses a book entitled Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? by Thomas Geoghegan.

In his blog Richard gives lots of flowers to Germany and in particular to its economy. For me, however, the article smacks of the stinking dictum: Am deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen. (The German spirit shall heal the world). I rather prefer the German proverb stating: Not all is gold what glitters.

Let us compare job security. Traditionally jobs are more secure in Germany than in the States but it does not mean that one cannot lay off people when they are no longer needed. Since unemployment (comes right after inflation) is such a political issue in Germany firms during the recent economic crisis asked their staff to work fewer hours (Kurzarbeit) instead of laying off part of their work force. This practice was honored by the German government paying most of the difference between the full pay and the loss of income due to Kurzarbeit. This measure - meant to avoid social tensions and psychological traumata of the workers being unemployed - had an additional benefit. When China re-started ordering massively high-technology products in Germany production could be increased without delay with the trained workforce still present. All seems to look good, however, since Germans are notorious Bedenkenträger (worrywards) they ask: But what will happen in the long run if the diligent Chinese have copied Germany's high technology?

Comes in education. We can only keep our export driven economy alive if we always remain a step ahead of our competitors. This means keeping up or even increasing the standard of our intellectual and skilled work force. When comparing our education system to the States we feel quite humble. Most of the Nobel prize winners come from the US and I am convinced that all these people practice life-long learning (LLL).

Good old Wilhelm Busch wrote in 1856 when schooling in Germany became compulsory:
It was decided that man/woman must learn (German stamp)
LLL, lebenslanges Lernen, recently became the catch word in the discussions about Germany’s education system. Education here as in the States is not centrally organized as in France. We in Germany boast of as many and even more education systems as we have Länder (States). In European comparisons (PISA Studies) of schooling results German students never even come near to the top, a fact that regularly causes a national outcry. At present the university reforms within the European Union, e. g., changing the traditional degrees of diploma to bachelor and master, cause frustration among students. Will Germany meet the challenge of keeping its educational system at a necessary high standard? Will people accept LLL? Only the future will tell. Discussions about education and formation in Germany are in full swing.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Marianne m'a tuer

Recently I read a book by Bernard Wittmann titled: Marianne m'a tuer. According to the critics I actually expected a book about the history of the Alsace but instead read how governments in Paris had subdued and still tuent (kill) - according to Wittmann - the Elsassdütsch. This German-Alemannic dialect spoken by the local population is choked to foster (or force) the French language.

Bernard chose the book title - it surely is the most interesting part - for publicity. At the origin is a well-known catch phrase in France: Omar m’a tuer. (Omar has killed me).

Living in her villa in Mougins, South of France, a distinguished widowed lady employed a Moroccan gardener called Omar. One day in June 1991 she was found stabbed dead in her cave. On the door written in blood the police read: Omar m'a tuer. The gardener was arrested and indicted for murder. Soon the prosecutor was in a dilemma. How is it possible that an educated old lady writes such a grammatical blunder: tuer instead of tuée?

A similar mistake is neither possible in English nor in German. In these languages there is a distinct difference between the infinitive and the past participle of a verb, i.e. kill and killed or töten and getötet. In principle the same is true in French. However the pronunciation of tuer and tuée is exactly the same and uneducated Frenchman and -women are known to have difficulties choosing the correct grammatical form. But if the educated lady did not write the grammatically incorrect phrase with her own blood had there been a third person putting the blame on an innocent Omar?

Fact is, the 5000 francs the victim had kept at home were gone and Omar had been in need of money as he had gambling debts. On the other hand Omar had an alibi for the time of the murder. To make a long court case short he was condemned in 1994 for first degree murder to a prison sentence of 18 years although Omar was defended by the best council for the defense in France Maître Vergès. Vergès - in his since then famous last words - went back in history reminding the court of the Dreyfus affair: Il y a 100 ans on condamnait un officier car il avait le tort d'être juif, aujourd'hui on condamne un jardinier car il a le tort d'être maghrébin. (Hundred years ago one condemned an officer because he had the flaw of being Jewish, today one condemns a gardener because he has the flaw of being Maghrebian). It is known that many people in France applauded Omar’s sentence in the way as a good friend of mine felt when he once told me: Tu sais Manfred je ne suis pas raciste mais je n'aime pas les Arabes (You know Manfred I am not a racist but I don't like the Arabs).


The following cartoon somehow complements the old story or was even initiated by it.

The text War Selbstmord (It was a suicide) convinces one officer while the other shouts: Feierabend !