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.