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.