Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas

Many of you know that throughout the year I keep my eyes open looking for some original depictions of the Christmas scene to be used at the end of the year. This season instead of one, I have chosen two, an old and a modern presentation of the birth of Christ.

The first one is a photo I took during my "homage to Kleist trip" at St. Mary in Frankfurt on the river Oder, a church situated near Heinrich's birth place. The church windows were under Russian custody until they returned them in 2008. Three impressive strips of colored glass in Gothic arches show the story of salvation. In the middle window is the story of Christ, on the left hand side run in parallel the usual precursor scenes taken from the Old Testament alluding to the coming Messiah, whilst on the right hand side medieval legends about the Antichrist are woven in a texture of images.

Middle window (Photo Wikipedia)
Jesus had announced the Antichrist according to St. Mark 13:
21 And then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ'; or, 'Behold, He is there'; do not believe him;
22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect.
23 But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.

In the Middle Ages pious story tellers spread legends about the Antichrist who is generally depicted looking like a teaching Jesus guided by the devil.

The Antichrist guided by the devil (Photo Wikipedia)
Back to Christ's birth scenes. The following picture is an impossible freehand photo I took as close as I could get standing legs wide apart in the transept using the ten power zoom of my Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ10. As it should be: new born Jesus is in the center of the picture closely watched by ox and donkey while Maria strangely turns her head away from the scene. Joseph as usual in old illustrations is a somewhat uninvolved bystander.

The next picture in the left church window scanned from a poster shows the birth of the Antichrist.

For Luther the Antichrist was personified in the Pope. According to the Apocalypse the Antichrist on the see of St. Peter means that the end of the world is near. In fact, Luther during the last years of his life developed strong eschatology ideas: Mundus ... mox mutandus, Amen (The world will soon vanish, Amen)

The pope as Antichrist. Woodcut from the time of Luther
Enough of medieval theology. Let us go back to our times.

The second Christmas photo I took in Baden-Baden when, following the Kiefer exhibition, I visited the local Weihnachtsmarkt. It was not just jingle bells and those booths selling Christmas decorations or seasonal food and drinks. Some lanes were lined with paintings by Baden-Baden school classes imagining the Christmas scene. One of those pictures in the form of a Gothic church window is in jolly contrast to what I saw in Frankfurt's St. Mary. While Joseph is sketched in the old tradition as the somewhat absent-minded old man Mary is hugging little Jesus. He likes it and thanks her with his most charming smile.

Keeping this comforting and touching scene in my mind, I wish you all a 

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kiefer meets Kleist

On December 10, I visited an art exhibition at the Frieder Burda Museum in Baden-Baden devoted to Anselm Kiefer. It so happened that on December 13, the Central Council of Jews in Germany (Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland) awarded the artist the Leo-Baeck-Medal honoring his efforts in the reconciliation between Jews and Germans. Gay Guido, our foreign minister, handed the medal to Kiefer during a ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.

The exhibition at Burda's is already impressive because of the sheer size of the paintings. In fact, painting is probably not the right word as the large canvases exhibited are mostly covered with thin lead sheets on which paint is distributed such that one wonders how these monumental collages hold together.

Most impressive from the year 2010 is Kiefer's picture of the Tower of Babel measuring 7.6 x 4.6 m that he had named The Fertile Crescent since his interpretation of the tower in shambles differs from the classical bible story. Looking at Kiefer's picture Pieter Breugel's painting comes right to my mind showing the unfinished tower as a symbol for the hubris of mankind subsequently separated by their different languages. Kiefer however says forget about languages, the base of the tower is still intact such that Occident and Orient meet in fertile Mesopotamia and fructify their cultures mutually.

Walking up a staircase I read one of Kiefer's statements on the wall: Ich denke vertikal, und eine der Ebenen ist der Faschismus. Doch ich sehe alle diese Schichten. Ich erzähle in meinen Bildern Geschichten, um zu zeigen, was hinter der Geschichte ist. Ich mache ein Loch und gehe hindurch (I think vertically and one of the layers is fascism, but I see all those layers. I tell stories in my pictures to show what is behind history. I make a hole and walk through).

Although taking photos in the exhibition was not allowed I took a shot of the wording trying hard to digest its meaning on the spot. Advancing further I discovered another monumental collage 7.2 x 4.35 m signed Wege der Weltweisheit, Die Hermannsschlacht a theme perfectly fitting to this year's Kleist anniversary. Suddenly I had my light bulb moment: Kleist is a progenitor of fascism.

Kleist wrote his drama in five acts in 1808 at a time when Napoleon had occupied all German speaking territories. Die Hermannschlacht (The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest) features battle-winning Arminius. The chief of the Germanic Cherusci tribe fights against the Romans invading Germania. No fantasy is needed to read in those fiery speeches hero Hermann gives the appeal for an uprising against the French occupants. Napoleon had just defeated Prussia. Needless to say the theater piece could not be staged then. During the following restoration the liberal ideas presented in the drama did not fit at all with the period of Biedermeier. Only after the Franco-Prussian war as late as 1875 when the "Hermannsschlacht" against the Erbfeind (hereditary enemy) was won the theater piece saw some performances on German stages.

Kiefer in his collage now tells the story behind the story showing portraits of those Franzosenhasser (French haters) at the time of Napoleon I, their lower layered progenitors, the next layer of hate at the time of Napoleon III, and how this had been transported during the Weimar Republic into the upper Nazi layer: The brown-shirts never forgot the dishonor of the Versailles peace treaty, the French diktat.

Advancing in history I have chosen some key persons from those 36 portraits that I cannot show you in detail because of copyright:

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) who wrote his famous anti-Napoleonic Addresses to the German Nation (Reden an die Deutsche Nation).

Luise von Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1776-1810), Prussian queen considered by many as the German Jeanne d'Arc because she stood up against Napoleon calling him a monster.

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742-1819) was somewhat late* at the Battle of Waterloo but is still considered in Germany as the co-winner.
*Wellington ought have moaned: I want night or Blucher! (Ich wollte, es wäre Nacht, oder die Preußen kämen).

Christian Dietrich Grabbe (1801-1836) who not only wrote a drama about Napoleon's last one hundred days but also a remake of the Herrmannsschlacht.

Georg Herwegh (1817-1875) implored the French to stop intervening in German affairs when he conducted his German Legion from Paris into Baden to help Friedrich Hecker in the 1848 uprising.

Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798-1874) author of the Deutschlandlied with its pan Germanic first stanza.

Albrecht von Roon (1803-1879) one of the key generals in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71.

Alfred von Schlieffen (1833-1913) who developed a military plan for a pre-emptive attack on France.

Walter Flex (1887-1917) a nationalistic poet and soldier during the first World War.

Albert Leo Schlageter (1894-1923) the man from Wiesental near Freiburg sabotaging the French during their occupation of the Ruhr district, being shot for that.
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) who perceived Schlageter as a martyr of the German cause.

Horst Wessel (1907-1930) the author of the Horst-Wessel-song, shot by the communists, an early martyr for the Nazis.

Thank God, there is no further layer.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Incense and Gunsmoke

When the building of the Badische Kommunale Landesbank (Bakola) constructed in 1954 was taken down in 2007 to make room for a modern shopping center scientists started to search for traces of earlier settlements at the place that had always been within the inner city boundaries. Yesterday Dr. Jenisch, the director of the Bakola excavation, guided a group of the Breisgau Geschichtsverein (historical society) through an exhibition of charts documenting the archaeological results and presenting the artifacts he and his team had dug out at the former site of Freiburg's Dominican monastery.

The exhibition called Weihrauch und Pulverdampf (Incense and gun-smoke) is devoted to the former monastery and the times when Freiburg was besieged in the 17th and 18th century by Swedish and French troops. The Dominican monastery within and close to the city walls was located near a vital access gate called Predigertor (preacher's gate). The monastery became famous when from 1236 to 1238, the great Albertus Magnus held the position of Lesemeister (reading master).

Albertus Magnus' monument at the site of the Dominican monastery (Photo Wikipedia)
Among the most interesting artifacts found at the site of the monastery were hand grenades made from glass. The word grenade comes from pomegranate (Granatapfel) because the original grenades had such a form.

French hand grenades made from glass around 1740
For me, the term hand grenade bears some reminiscence of the 1970ies when at CERN, we were building the Intersecting Storage Rings for protons. To ensure the necessary water pressure in the magnet cooling circuits of the ISR, it became necessary to erect an old-fashioned water tower. Soon my Anglo-American colleagues had nicknamed the building the German hand grenade. For a long time, he stick hand grenade competed with the pineapple design also called Eierhandgranate (egg hand grenade).

Aerial view of the ISR ring stucture with the German hand grenade in the back
close to the CERN fence (Photo CERN)
The glass hand grenades found in Freiburg are from 1745 and of French origin. During the dismantling of Vauban's fortifications, they were used as explosives but did not detonate as planned. 

In battle, a grenadier (sic!), i.e., infantryman throwing a glass hand grenade lived dangerously for the time between ignition and detonation was ill-defined and many a man lost his life before he could fling the grenade at the enemy.

A "grenadier" - his shoulder bag full of hand grenades - is igniting one. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

No Ticket for the Pope and finis Kommando Rhino

On page 21 today my favorite newspaper Badische Zeitung published two additional pieces of news about topics I dealt with in earlier blogs.

One informed the reader that Pope Benedict will not get a ticket in Freiburg for driving in his papamobile without a seat belt. The charge was dismissed because he had used the papamobile on a street closed for public traffic where the German road traffic act does not hold. Will the man from Dortmund be satisfied with the argument and give up? To be continued.

On the other hand the Wagenburgler story is definitely over. The Kommando Rhino disbanded following internal quarrels about the question of violence against police actions in the past. Some members of the group moved together with other Wagenburglers to the point that the city officials counted more vehicles on the agreed site Eselwinkel than the authorized 45. Since the city has all interest to de-escalate the situation the police so far did not take any action.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Benedict Bashing

Those who follow my blogs may remember the one I wrote about Pope Benedict's visit in Freiburg. The other day I made some comments about what is typically German with respect to seeking justice in court.

Now, here comes a surprising association: A guy from Dortmund had his lawyer in Unna file a suit against the Pope for not having put on a seat belt while touring Freiburg: Mr. Joseph Ratzinger born in Marktl/Landkreis Altötting on 16 April 1927 drove on 24 and 25 September 2011 for more than an hour without a seat belt in his papamobile. Witnesses are the Archbishop of Freiburg Robert Zollitsch and Baden-Württemberg's Ministerpräsident (governor) Winfried Kretschmann. Freiburg's district court confirmed the receipt of a fax to this respect.

Pope Benedict XVI in his papamobile without a seat belt on Kaiser-Joseph-Straße (Wikipedia)
The Dortmund guy said he does not seek publicity but justice must be done. There is a 30 euro fine for driving without a seat belt in Germany increasing up to 2500 in case of recurrence which the Pope surely was guilty of. Do you still feel that my earlier allusion to Shylock standing for his bond was far-fetched? I am convinced the man from Dortmund if not satisfied by the decision of the district court will drag the case up to our highest court in Karlsruhe.

What will possibly happen? Freiburg's district court will declare not competent in the case as the Pope being head of state enjoys diplomatic immunity. And indeed, taking the fact that diplomatic staff serving in Berlin gets away unpunished with drunken driving and car crashing the not wearing of seat belts is just a petty offence. The declared incompetence of Freiburg's district court however will open up the way for an appeal to the next higher instance and if all goes wrong the Pope's case will end up in Karlsruhe.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My First Referendum

Today I cast my vote in my first referendum in a typically German affair what the French call querelle Allemande.

Over more than ten years discussions and plans had been going on for replacing Stuttgart's 19th century terminus station by a modern underground through station. A win-win solution that will accelerate train traffic and at the same time liberate precious ground within the city for green spaces and urban development. The project named Stuttgart 21 was discussed in all aspects by experts, presented in public hearings, and easily passed in its final version the state parliament since the Federal Railway will bear the lion's share with respect to financing. Only the Green party always was against the project. All seemed clear and had been democratically approved but when the construction eventually began citizens opposing the project started public protests at the building site hindering the progress of the work. A mediator failed in his attempt to arbitrate.

For Baden-Württemberg's green-red state government the situation became delicate with the Social Democrats in favor, the Greens against Stuttgart 21. The only possibility to keep their coalition intact was to ask the people and have them decide in a referendum. Such a procedure is complicated to launch. Eventually we were asked whether we agree that the government starts bail out negotiations with the Federal Railway. Estimated costs for abandoning Stuttgart 21 the state of Baden-Württemberg would have to shoulder range from only 350 million believing the adversaries to 1.5 billion according to the supporters of the project.

From my previous blogs you know that I am a railway aficionado preferring a six hour train ride to a ninety minute flight like the other day from Freiburg to Berlin. I hate the stress of going to Basel airport by bus having to be there too early. I detest the checks after the check-in and don't like landing far out of the city taking a bus downtown Berlin. On the other hand I step on the train in Freiburg and step off in Berlin main station enjoying a good book and you guessed it the pot of coffee and the Butterkuchen now 5.70 euro compared to 5 euro last fall.

Coming back to our topic: A couple of weeks ago the state government had issued a booklet containing the pros and cons of Stuttgart 21. This didn't change my mind but not because I am biased. I was open for any good argument but those of the adversaries were just aggressive statements.

What made the story of the referendum really weird was that those who want Stuttgart 21 being built must vote no and those who are against have to vote yes because - as I said before - we only decide about a law authorizing the government to enter into negotiations with the Federal Railway to abandon the project.

Although it is quite certain that the nays will have it the protests against Stuttgart 21 will continue. Crazy!

28 November 2011
Note added in proof: As expected the referendum ended with 58.8% nays in Baden-Württemberg. Thus Stuttgart 21 will be built. The participation was only 48.3%. Even in mostly concerned Stuttgart 52.9% of the people voted with no. Freiburg however was the great exception and had with only 33.5% the lowest figure of naysayers in our Ländle. Should I now feel like a loser or winner?

In today's Badische Zeitung
Even before the final result of the referendum was known adversaries brandished panels in front of Stuttgart's main station: You won't get rid of us.

Monday, November 21, 2011

In memoriam Heinrich von Kleist

Two-hundred years ago today, Heinrich von Kleist, a giant of German literature, committed suicide at the Kleiner Wannsee near Berlin at the age of 34. For me, he is one of the grandmasters of the German language, together with Georg Büchner, Heinrich Heine, and Berthold Brecht. Goethe and Schiller are great but they did not write with such a density. One critic said if you take just one word away or you try to add a word to one of Kleist's texts, the masterpiece is spoiled.

I do not want to develop Kleist's biography. Many new books have been written on the occasion of the sad anniversary. I have read: Peter Michalzik, Kleist, Dichter, Krieger, Seelensucher, Propyläen Verlag Berlin 2011.

The book cover shows the only real portrait of this disturbing personality. Heinrich was soldier, student, dropout, traveler, letter artist, farmer, soul seeker, playwright, the civil servant on probation, hater of Napoleon, war correspondent, short novel writer, publisher of a literary magazine, newspaper editor, and rebel who during his whole short life was always attracted by suicide. His "problem" was that he did not want to go alone. All of his friends, although sometimes depressed like him, refused. Eventually, he found a 31-year-old married woman, a friend, cancer-stricken, Henriette Vogel, who was ready to accompany him on his last journey.

I would like to show some pictures I took from 12 to 15 November attending the Kleist Festival in and around Berlin including a theater marathon with three pieces on three evenings: Der Prinz von Homburg, Penthesilea and Der zerbrochene Krug (The Broken Jug) followed by nightly discussions with the director and actors.

The Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin Unter den Linden. 
On its frontface Kleist's Das Erdbeben in Chili (The Earthquake in Chile).

The Kleisthaus where Kleist lived during his last years in Berlin
 is not the original building.

The relief at the front shows a scene from Penthelisea and Kleist's profile.

The Kleistmuseum in Frankfurt on the Oder in an old manor house.
The house where Kleist was born was destroyed during the war.

A modern Kleist portrait I like most showing him as a rebel.

We experienced a sunny November morning at the Wannsee, like the one Heinrich and Henriette lived through before their deaths.

Kleist's memorial stone at the place where he shot Henriette first
and later killed himself.

Nun, o Unsterblichkeit bist du ganz mein! (Prinz von Homburg) 
O immortality, now you are all mine!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sascha’s German Neologisms

Living languages need and subsequently bear new words mostly for terms our ancestors didn’t know. Luther when translating the Bible into German created neologisms for Latin words like Morgenland (land where the morning sun rises) for orient, Schauplatz (site where something can be looked at) for scene, Ehrgeiz (craving honor) for ambition, and Vorhaut for prepuce. Question: Was the English word foreskin known before the German Vorhaut?

Later in the middle of the 17th century a guy called Philipp von Zesen fought the pernicious influence of French on the German language and created words like Abstand for distance, Anschrift for adresse, Mundart for dialect, Leidenschaft (creating suffering) for passion, Rechtschreibung for orthographie, and Emporkömmling for parvenu.

American English words that are nowadays adopted in German are mostly due to technical developments in spite of the fact that in many cases German native words exist but are rarely used. For to browse the old German verb stöbern could be revived, Klappliste could replace the drop down list. I personally find it difficult having learned computers in an English speaking environment to integrate the perfect German term Festplatte for a hard disk into my vocabulary.

Sascha Lobo in 2009
(©Mattias Bauer/Wikipedia)
Sascha Lobo
, a Spiegel columnist, recently published a book with 698 new German words for many new situations in life*. Most of those creations are based on hackneyed English like e.g. Talkoholismus for an illness many politicians in Germany suffer from attending too many talk shows. Other new words Sascha proposes are just translations from English like Einling for single. Here are more of his interesting creations:

Affärmann is the male part in an affair playing on the resemblance with Fährmann (ferryman).

Unterlastung the contrary of Überlastung (overload or overstrain).

The neologism verversprechen is playing on the German double meaning for versprechen meaning a promise or a slip of the tongue. The new word actually means that a promise of a politician before the election was just a slip of the tongue.

Dreifel is a superlative of Zweifel playing on the words zwei for two and drei for three.

Namnesie is the illness progressing with age not being able to remember names from Amnesie (amnesia).

Schnice a German brew of schön and nice.

With komplimieren we may have a German verb for to compliment rensembling the pronounciation of komprimieren (to compress).

Ultratasking is the superlative of multitasking.

The German word Eifer for zeal, favour, eagerness now has a new form iFer. It is the obsession to be the first acquiring the latest Apple gadget.

Many of Sascha's 698 neologisms are either just fun or nuts. On the other hand he has pointed out the need for creating new and fitting words for all situations. He calls for adding to the classical three educational Rs (Reading, writing, 'rithmatic):

Rechnen und Lesen,
Schreiben und Zesen,

thus honoring Philipp’s efforts in the 17th century.

*Sascha Lobo, NEON: Wortschatz: 698 neue Worte für alle Lebenslagen, rororo, November 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Typical German?

We always end up with a couple of clichés when trying to describe what is typical of a nation. This becomes really dangerous when we start talking about national traits.

When I started my job at CERN 43 years ago I had a Norwegian boss who spoke German better than English mostly because during World War II the Nazis had deported him to Heidelberg. At the university they taught him German Physics, a 'science' that among other things rejected Einstein's theory of relativity because Albert was a Jew.

One day good old Johan, as we used to call him, told me: You are not a typical German, a multilayered remark. At that time I took it as a compliment for I had in mind all those films running on Swiss and French television at that time showing the dumb and ugly German. I also remembered a scene from a political cabaret where they played desperate Germans deprived of love from other nations ending in a bitter refrain: Nun liebt uns endlich, oder es knallt! (Love us at last or it will backfire).

A newspaper from Cologne, the Kölner Stadtanzeiger, asked a couple of young journalists what might be typically German. The US correspondent wrote that the question itself was typically German because Germans are always keen to know what other countries think about them whereas other nations could not care less how their neighbors regard them. On the other hand, the journalist of the Irish Times took a step further recommending to send this question into retirement because it will only lead to quarrels.

Whether the question leads to quarrels I do not know but the various answers given by those foreign correspondents were interesting. The American also wrote that Schadenfreunde is typical for Germans because they have a special word for it. He is possibly right. We even have a proverb about Schadenfreude: Wer den Schaden hat, braucht für den Spott nicht zu sorgen (Those having the damage needn't worry about any lack of mockery).

The Dutch guy found the wearing of bike helmets and the eating of thick slices of Schwarzbrot (coarse rye bread) as being typically German. He is utterly mistaken with respect to helmets on bikes. The situation is so disastrous that our Minister (State Secretary) of Transportation is considering an obligation (a typically German regulation frenzy?) to wear helmets when riding a bike.

As far as Schwarzbrot is concerned I have it for breakfast daily although in thin slices. This bread is healthy and tasty. Germans living in foreign countries usually take big supplies with them before crossing the border and later when they run out of it have it sent by air.

I love my Kraftklotz (Power log) for breakfast
According to the Italian correspondent Germans constantly think about money in particular about a coming inflation. Should we rather show the same relaxed attitude towards the rotten mammon like our southern neighbors? Inflation, we Germans have lived through twice in the last century whereas the Italians did not even notice theirs just adding another zero to their lira as time went by.

Do Germans as pedestrians really obey red traffic lights so the Italian journalist having lived here for a while now feels obliged to do the same at home? I must say, the guy did not extend his research to cyclists for then he might have noticed that in Freiburg they never observe any traffic rule including red lights.

The Mexican found out that Germans start any conversation by complaining about the weather. Could this be an atavistic heritage when more than 90% of Germany's population worked in agriculture or did you ever meet a farmer not complaining about the weather?

The Frenchman seriously asked: Are the French better Germans? in comparing the way how universities are run in both countries. In cool Germania students lead an anarchistic life compared to the high-school like teaching at French universities. He did not mention that as a result of the academic freedom in Germany nowhere in Europe students do spend a longer time with their alma mater. Sitting in selection boards at CERN I have seen French academics 24 years old competing with Germans aged 29, the first speaking French the second broken English. Guess what the outcome was.

For the Polish guy Germans are a strange mixture between good citizens and grumblers. Their deep rooted obedience toward authorities and love for law and order is paired with a growing self-awareness of their rights. They are standing there for their bonds even taking minor quarrels up to the highest court.

Last not least the Austrian girl still had not overcome the Habsburg inferiority complex towards the Prussians. Yes, it was the Prussians and not the Germans that beat the Austrians on several occasions in the past. The cliché of the Prussian officer with his switched-off brain and shouting has left its mark for posterity in Karl Kraus's drama Die letzten Tage der Menschheit (The last days of mankind). The trauma of dominant Prussia is still rooted in the heads of many Austrians. But then having lived in Germany for a couple of years she admitted: It is typical that a typical German trait does no longer exist.

Does this mean that we will eventually get rid of the typical German wearing Lederhosen? If this is typical at all, it is Bavarian not German.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wine Tasting Marathon

Last weekend I lived through a wine tasting Marathon. Freiburg's Adult Education Center (Volkshochschule) had chosen the cultural asset wine the principal topic for their 2011/2012 courses. It happened so that the center of gravity of the events was located on three consecutive days.

On Thursday we had a presentation on the History of Wine in Freiburg at the beautiful Wentzingerhaus. In focus was the city's oldest documented winery the Heiliggeist Spital  (Holy Ghost Infirmary) of 1298. In the Middle Ages its residents had the right to six liters of wine per day. Note that the alcohol content of the then rather bad wine was much lower than today and above all it was dangerous to drink the generally polluted water. We tasted four white and two red wines of the Stiftungsweingut Freiburg starting with the classical local wine of the Markgräfler Land a 2010 Gutedel, the German name for the Chasselas grape. Next was a 2010 Riesling from the Freiburger Schlossberg.

Entrance to the Schlossberg vineyard of the Heiliggeist Spital
Because of its slopes facing south the wine growing there is of an exceptional appellation. The next two wines were a 2009 Grauburgunder (Pinot gris) and a 2009 Chardonnay. Due to its abundance in California some wine drinkers in the States coined the abbreviation ABC (Anything but Chardonnay). The two red wines following were both 2009 Spätburgunder (Pinot noir) with the latter coming from the Schlossberg.

The wines we tasted on Thursday evening.
The Friday evening  in the Baroque Hall of the Black Monastery was devoted to the Cultural Asset Wine.  Vinissima or Wine and Women presented their wines and offered the bread. This is an organization of female vintners showing to a male world that girls are better wine makers than boys. We listened to a couple of presentations and were subsequently complimented for our attentiveness with six wines, two served after each episode all coming from wine growing estates run by female vintners.

Before the tasting session proper started we were offered half a glass of sparkling wine brut from the Blankenhorn vinery south of Freiburg made from Nobling a relatively new cross-breeding of Sylvaner and Chasselas grapes. While we were still sipping the opener the attractive German wine princess of 2009 gave a talk about the history of wine. The origin of wine making is lost in the darkness of history but one is sure about the Romans giving wine to the world by spreading vineyards all over Europe. The princess' presentation was followed by two wines, a 2009 Kloster Heilig Kreuz Weißburgunder (Pinot blanc), dry, late vintage from Meißen, Saxony, and a 2010 Junge Wilde (Young and Wild) Grauburgunder (Pinot gris), dry, from Tuniberg near Freiburg.

After that we listened to a medical doctor praising the virtues of wine drinking. Wine savoured in moderation, i.e., one-quarter of a liter (Viertele) for men, one-eighths for women will lower the risk of stroke and cancer due to its polyphenol content of up to 1000 mg per liter. One Viertele per day corresponds to 20 grams of alcohol. Since she had studied psychology too she added that for drinking in an animated company more than a Viertele would not harm but rather be beneficial. On the other hand up to 4 million people in Germany are alcoholics turning the health effect of wine into the contrary.

The third wine presented was a 2009 Rüdesheimer Klosterberg Riesling Kabinett, half-dry, Rhinegau. Riesling is the most important grape in Germany covering 11% of a total of 160 square kilometers of vineyards. The Riesling was followed by a 2009 Bornheimer Hähnchen, Malvasier, last vintage from Rhine-Hessen. Malvasia is an old grape already known in the Middle Ages when Greece was still an exporting country with wine in quantities from the port city of Monemvasia. Already at that time the Malvasia wine must have been too sweet like the one we tasted.

The last talk was about flora and fauna in the vineyard and centered on the vine fretter or phylloxera. These sap-sucking insects were brought into Europe from the States in the middle of the 19th century. By 1870 phylloxera had developed into a plague that had destroyed most of France's vines. The remedy eventually consisted in grafting European vine cuttings onto phylloxera resistant American root-stocks, a practice still used today.

The end of the lecture brought us to the tasting of two red wines, a 2009 Reicholzheimer First Schwarzriesling (Pinot meunier), dry, from Franconia on the Tauber river and a 2010 Lemberger or Blue Frankish Edition, dry, from Fellbach Württemberg the first one somewhat sweet, the second much too young for consumption.

On Saturday we were informed about Wine Adulterators and Fortification Grapes. Following a taste of Gutedel, at the Alte Wache on Münsterplatz - Home of the Wines from Baden - we started for a tour of the above mentioned Freiburger Schlossberg, a vineyard that was built on the ruins of Vauban’s fortifications. Normally the place is closed to the general public but our guide had the key.. The weather was exceptional and we felt nearly sorry when we had to return to the Alte Wache for our last wine tasting in three days.

The sunny slopes at the Schlossberg
Again we were offered six different wines. First a 2009 Tiengener Rebtal, Rivaner (a cross-breed between Riesling and Sylvaner grapes like Müller-Thurgau), dry  from the Vintners Association Tiengen followed by two wines from the Stiftungsweingut Freiburg (see above), a 2009 Freiburger Weißburgunder (Pinot blanc), dry, and a 2008 Freiburger Schlossberg, Grauer Burgunder (Pinot gris), dry. The last white wine a 2009 Opfinger Sonnenberg Gewürztraminer with 25 grams of sugar per liter was described as lieblich which translates into English as sweet. My grandchildren would have called it Limonade. Of the following two wines the first one was a rosé 2010 Tiengener Rebtal Spätburgunder (Pinot noir), dry from the Vintners Association Tiengen. This is not to be confused with the traditional Weißherbst (Vin gris) made from red grapes where the reddish color results from pressing the grapes with their skins whereas for a red wine the skin is left in the grape juice during fermentation. It is common that if the color of the final product does not show the desired saturation juice of Färbertrauben (Teinturier) is added. The last wine was a 2009 Freiburger Kapellenweg Spätburgunder, dry, from the Vintners Association Munzingen.

The topic discussed between serves was wine making and adulteration. Here I learned why I do not experience headaches anymore when drinking German wine. Although not consuming wine in excess I remember that as a student and even later I was never immune to a hangover the following morning. Since the Middle Ages these hangovers have been attributed to the quantity of sulfur added stopping the full fermentation of the grape juice in order to keep some residual sugar. As the only tangible result of the Imperial Diet held at Freiburg a Statute and Order for Wine (satzung unnd ordnung über die weyne) was passed as early as 1498. This Order fixed limits for the quantity of sulfur allowed in wine making. Violations called for Draconian measures sometimes ending up in hanging. Minor infringements were punished knocking out the bottom of the barrel concerned (dem Fass den Boden ausschlagen).

With the advent of modern cooling techniques there is no reason that people drinking wine should get headaches. Nowadays, before fermentation starts a small quantity of the grape juice is set aside and kept cool. The fermentation of the bulk is no longer stopped by adding sulfur but goes on until most of the sugar has turned into alcohol and the fermentation stops by itself. The wine is then filtered and left to repose. Before selling the wine part or all of the grape juice that had been set aside is added to achieve the desired residual sugar concentration in the final product. And indeed, following Goethe’s dictum: Das Leben ist zu kurz, um schlechten Wein zu trinken (Life is too short to drink bad wine) or I don't suffer from headaches anymore.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cold Fusion in Brussels

According to an article a friend made me aware of, today is the day when Andrea Rossi will demonstrate his Energy Catalyzer (E-Cut) producing energy by cold fusion*. Will this be the final breakthrough to free energy as alluded to in a Dilbert cartoon or just another of those many failures not to say hoaxes?

If Rossi is successful he would not be the first to achieve the multiplication of something essential to mankind. Yes, you are all familiar with the miracle of the loaves and fishes but even then Rossi will miss second place with his free energy.

The honor of the silver medal goes to the European leaders as two nights earlier in Brussels they miraculously created euros in excess using the leverage technique enlarging the original euro rescue parachute (Rettungsschirm) from 750 to 1000 billion. The ESFS (European System of Financial Supervision) will both operate and supervise the leverage but who will be judge? Hey, did somebody in the audience mumble: Separation of power?

Needless to say that these miracle euros are not free like Rossi's energy is supposed to be. If the leverage works it will only prolong the agony of indebted mankind, if it does not, the fall into nowhere will be even deeper than at present. It does not help that we in Germany like in the States have anchored a debt brake (Schuldenbremse) into our constitution. We Europeans were mesmerized watching the two Houses in Washington raising the US debt ceiling at the very last minute. Would you think that Germany will not do alike when all the chips are down?

Hurra, we are safe! Merkel is using the Rettungsschirm in an unorthodox way.
Of all the Europeans in the boat you may recognize Sarkozy.
Cartoon by Haitzinger, ©Badische Zeitung

Is there any escape? Well, there is an inherent solution built into the leverage system that is called inflation. Creating more money means just that. One recent example is Switzerland. Since investors rallied the Swiss franc as an ersatz for gold - that had become too expensive - the exchange rate of the franc had nearly approached parity to the euro, a disaster for the Swiss economy based on export and tourism. At that moment the Swiss government intervened switching on the money press a measure bringing the franc to and keeping it at a minimum rate of 1.20 to the euro. Is printing more money the solution? Not for the German man in the street. We suffered inflation twice in the last century and are running from it like the devil runs from holy water.

*Note added: Apparently - subject to confirmation by others – Adrea made it in achieving 480 compared to the planned 1000 kW. However, to sustain the euro a 480 billion parachute compared to the 1000 billion promised would not be sufficient.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Socialism now?

The movement that started in New York and is called somewhat imprecisely Occupy Wall Street made me think about a talk I listened to in 2010. At that time the possibility of social unrest in the States was discussed but the majority in the audience considered that traditional American values will detain people from demonstrating against the over boarding capitalist system.

In the context of the NY demonstrations Nobelprize winner Joseph Stiglitz had coined the following expression on American Inequality: Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% referring to the distribution of wealth in the States. However, going back to Lincoln’s original Gettysburg address: A government of the people, by the people and for the people  NYT-blogger Bernard E. Harcourt  claims that social inequality frequently quoted is not the main reason for those protests. It is rather the misgiving about the way we are governed turning into political disobedience. In fact, the NY protests unite people demonstrating against the financial system, those demanding a greener America, long time workless and young educated people unable to find jobs and many others.

One of those many 99% persons in Sidney
During the weekend people around the globe occupied parts of Sidney, Tokyo, Madrid, Rome, Los Angeles, the place in front of the Reichstag in Berlin, and many other cities. Men and women in the street feel that in spite of existing democratic structures they are badly governed. It is long known that most politicians are incompetent and their unique interest is to be reelected.

Adam and Eve in front of the Reichstag in Berlin
Now we see those few we up to now considered to govern us swimming helplessly in a sea infested with financial sharks. While banks - some subsidized with taxpayers' money - still pay ample bonuses to their CEOs, governments around the globe try hard to squeeze down on expenses thus killing jobs and the economy like in the case of Greece.

Occupy LA protesters:
Will taxation of the Rich be the solution? 

Populist statements across the Atlantic that the others should do their homework don't solve the financial crisis. These remarks only show how helpless governments are in dealing with the problem. Are we too severe with our leaders when even financial gurus see no solution for the present situation? Still government officials claim that they are able to bail out the existing system and this without hurting their electors.

However, people are not dumb. They are full of apprehension mixed with angst for their future articulating their mistrust in our democratic structures that so far had been unable to act in the interest of Joe Public. In what kind of society are we living?

Slogans shown in Frankfurt read: Ihr verzockt unsere Zukunft (You are gambling our future) and Schranken für Banken (Barriers for the banks). Will those protests help? I doubt. Goethe once wrote in Faust: Benefit depends on the money, but urges all (Am Golde hängt, zum Golde drängt doch alles).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ite missa est

Poster at the entrance to Freiburg's Münster Church
The last of the Pope's stops during his official and pastoral visit to Germany was Freiburg and already now, the opinion about this event is divided, divided as Germany is in its faith. Yet in the country of Reformation the main dividing line nowadays runs no longer between Catholics and Lutherans - although still painfully separated - but between Christians and Atheists. Forty years of communist regime in the East and sixty years of capitalism in the West caused that those who still believe in Jesus Christ are a minority in Germany ranging from thirty to three percent according to the region.

This is why the Pontiff underlined in his sometimes highly intellectual homilies that all Christians must stand together for they all share the common belief in Jesus Christ. In this spirit he recognized Luther as a man who struggled during his whole life seeking his personal God. In all logic the Pope continued: The real crisis of the Church in the Western world is a crisis of belief and not a structural crisis. However, when the structure collapses due to the lack of priests who will put out the lambs running astray to pasture? Neither did the Pope give a practical hint how to solve the lack of priests nor did he allow inter-communion between Catholics and Protestants which is particularly distressing in a country of so many mixed marriages. This discordia about the Eucharist is as old as 1529 when during the Marburg religious conversations theologians already discovered that with respect to the mystery bread and wine > body and blood of Christ neither the word est nor significat can be read in the New Testament.

The pope greeting the Freiburgers in front of the Münster Church. In the back Lord Mayor Dieter Salomon (Green), the Ministerpräsident of Baden-Württemberg Winfried Kretschmann (Green), the Pope's secretary Peter Gänswein (called the Vatican's George Clooney) and Archbishop Robert Zollitsch. Following Zollitsch's address of welcome the Pope, being behind schedule, took over right away thus depriving Kretschmann and Salomon of their speeches.
This morning we read in the newspaper: The two were not amused (©
Der Sonntag, Freiburg).
Benedetto, as enthusiastic youngsters shriek when they see him, impresses the people with his high intellect paired with his somewhat unmatched friendly shyness. For him it is most important that we live our faith with courage and humility when he said: Atheists seeking answers with burning hearts are often nearer to God than Church officials with hearts not touched by faith. Referring to King Salomon (1 Kings 3.7-3.12)* the Pope advised non-believers and Christians alike to listen to their hearts more often when making decisions in our modern times. In his last homily, he called for a complete separation of State and Church for only then the Church will be free to proclaim and live its faith. This remark reflects the particular situation in Germany where we pay a Church tax and where Church officials - Catholics and Protestants alike, ex officio, and balanced out - sit in governmental and administrative committees lobbying.

Benedetto’s message is clear but not appreciated by many: The Church needs no modernizing reforms but must go back to the roots as a community among people in faith and love.

*1 Kings 3: 7 “Now, LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” 10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Speedy Neutrinos

Did you read about those neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light? If this were true, it would unhinge Einstein's special theory of relativity postulating that the speed of light is a constant. The exact value is 299792458 meters per second and nothing can travel faster in the universe.

A team of physicists working at CERN, Geneva, Switzerland, now measured that neutrinos created at CERN, shot in the direction of the Gran Sasso laboratory in Italy, and detected at a distance of 731.278 km (precision plus/minus 20 cm) in an underground detector travel faster than light.

The web is a fantastic source of information. I actually spent two hours watching the presentation and the discussion of the results of those measurements during a seminar at CERN. If you like listening to a strong European accent explaining complicated facts in simple English tune in to the CERN auditorium. As it stands the experimental results revealed that neutrinos starting from CERN arrive at the detector in Gran Sasso in 2.4382323 milliseconds i.e. 0.0010485 milliseconds or 0.43 per mille faster than when traveling at the speed of light.

The physicists presenting their results and the audience including me were and are still greatly disturbed. The general tendency is to suspect mistakes in those time measurements. A counter experiment confirming the results is urgently needed before one dares to throw Einstein's theory, solid up to now, overboard. Physicists at Fermilab near Chicago running a similar neutrino experiment are eagerly preparing their detectors for an independent measurement of those speedy neutrinos.

Here are some recent remarks from CERN.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Berlin Pirates

No, Berlin has no new baseball team but a new party in the state parliament. Remember my blog about color coding? Last Sunday a new color enriched Germany’s party spectrum. In the Berlin election the orange colored Pirates starting from zero won 8.9% of the votes resulting in 15 seats in the state parliament.

Their slogan against the other parties: You have the answers, we have the questions. Apparently voters too had more questions than they are given answers these days. All the other parties lost in comparison with their expectations. In particular the Liberals (yellow) have been marginalized to a mere 1.9% and will no longer be represented in Berlin's state parliament. The Pirates’ program is rather scanty except for their clear demands: Free Internet for the people and the legalization of pot.

The established parties are distraught. The Social Democrats (red) intone that the Pirates are without content and Chancellor Merkel (black) dismisses their success as classical protest. And so it is up to the Greens to moan. Once they were lined up against the establishment, now they are part of it.

Yellow is out and orange is in. Above all, the revolution looks vegetarian eating Green.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Finkenwerder Speckscholle

German cooking has a bad reputation. When you ask around the answer is unanimous: Sauerkraut, wurst and potatoes.

Well, sauerkraut is not best in Germany but a regional specialty across the Rhine in Alsace. Nothing has more cholesterol than a delicious choucroute royale prepared by a chef with all its sausages and bacon on top.

The consumption of potatoes, the staple food in my youth, is in steady decline in Germany. Only my grandchildren eating tons of pommes frites* with lots of ketchup make it possible that German potato farmers don't go bankrupt and that Italian tomato growers help to keep their country creditworthy.
*Pommes frites are a Belgian specialty not to be confused with French fries

Finally, with respect to wurst those critics of German cooking never say what kind of wurst they mean. Who dares to throw a Bavarian Weißwurst and a Frankfurter - we Germans call it a Wiener - into the same kettle and place a Thüringer Bratwurst and a Freiburger Rote on the same grill not to speak of the genuine German invention the Currywurst.

It is obvious that cooking and eating in Germany are not at all national but rather international or regional. Nowadays instead of potatoes Germans are eating lots of Pasta from Italy, Döner from Turkey, Sushi from Japan, Borsht from Russia, Matjes herrings from Holland, Feta cheese from Greece, Rösti from Switzerland and ... Hamburgers from the States.

When I travel I prefer regional cooking. A few weeks ago in Palatinate I ate Pfälzer Saumagen (stuffed pig's stomach). During the last weekend attending my yearly class reunion in Hamburg I had Labskaus (lobscouse). The high point however was the Finkenwerder* Speckscholle. Such a combination of healthy fish and bad cholesterol, i.e., a European plaice crisply fried in bacon is just delicious.
*Finkenwerder, once a picturesque fishing village opposite the city of Hamburg on the other side of the river Elbe is now overgrown by Airbus Industries

A Hamburg potato salad and a draft beer accompany the fish. The desert that naturally goes with it is another Hamburg specialty: the rote Grütt (red fruit slightly stewed and thickened) with vanilla sauce.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Decided not to leave the task of throwing my old papers away to my children I was looking the other day through some photos my mother left behind when she died in 1996 at the age of ninety. I came across the postcard below I sent her from New York in 1986 showing the World Trade Center.

I remember at that time I had a drink at the bar of the top restaurant Windows of the World. The view from up there was exceptional. My glances drifted from the tip of Manhattan to Miss Liberty and the Verrazano Bridge, wanted to catch the full view not missing the slightest detail. Next time in New York I intended to impress my wife Elisabeth but bad luck. Following the 1993 bombing of the WTC basement the Windows of the World were closed.

In 1998 I was feeling lonely and hungry in Manhattan after a long day spent at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) discussing with colleagues. I hate to eat alone for sitting at a table eating and drinking should above all be social togetherness. But this time instead of eating a hot dog out of my hand I wanted to get the full treat and decided to visit the WTC again. I went up to the Windows of the World restaurant and ordered an American cut prime steak. Although I took one of medium weight I couldn't finish my dish not being accustomed to such quantities of meat.

 On September 11, 2001 I was sitting in my garden in Meyrin (Geneva) enjoying my retirement in the mild afternoon autumn sun when the telephone rang. My son could hardly speak: Papa, switch on your TV. A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center. I saw one of the WTC-towers emitting smoke but the correspondent of German television talking from New York could not make out what was going on. Suddenly a plane appeared on and disappeared from the screen. It had smashed into the second tower. This happened shortly after 3 p.m. As the German voice on my TV started to panic I switched to CNN. As time went by I learned that four US heavily fueled long flight carriers had been hijacked by terrorist commandos early in the morning and used as firebombs. I sat up the whole night listening and watching,  horrified. What I experienced was beyond my imagination. I could and would not believe what I saw. Like in the case of Pearl Harbor America had again been maliciously attacked.

 Only a few days later I realized that I had been witness of one of those dates that changed the world.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Missing the Bulb

Europe has decided to kill another of those ingenious inventions Thomas Alva Edison once gave to the world. MP3 made the gramophone obsolete and now the incandescent lamp, vulgo light bulb, will disappear in Europe. New technologies are more complicated than a vacuum with a heated filament inside but what counts in times of global warming against the light bulb that once replaced candles and oil lamps is its low light efficiency.

On September 1, following the phasing out of the 100 and 75 watts the 60 watts bulb must no longer be produced in and imported into Europe. But Germans like their good old light bulbs and with the 60 watts disappearing many people fear the consequences and are building up stocks for bulbs available on the market can still be sold.

One German firm is now selling 60 watts bulbs as culture reserve.

I could not care less for I was always using higher power bulbs until I started to replace them by fluorescent lamps as early as the late 80ies. In the beginning those energy saving light sources were heavy due to their choking coil and iron core. It took minutes before the coiled-up fluorescent tubes reached their temperature and their full light output humming along at 50 hertz. As time went by electronic circuits replaced the inductive loads. These newer light sources are fitting into most existing lamps and are reaching their maximum light output more rapidly.

Nitpicking Germans found out that the energy supply by incandescent lamps will fall flat when people change to energy saving light sources. In order to compensate for the missing thermal energy from light bulbs in the case of passive houses one firm is now selling heatballs instead of meatballs.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fission fungus

What in English is sometimes called seed of contention is known in German as Spaltpilz. A couple of years ago Freiburg's Green Party was infested by the fission fungus when two members decided to leave the main stream forming an even greener party, the Green Alternatives Freiburg (GAF).

A green city needs more than one Green party
Recently the Green Party went to court demanding that the GAF abstains from using the word green in their party name including the G in their acronym. The Green Alternatives however claim that green is a generic word as used, e. g., in Grünschnabel (greenhorn), Green City and greenback.

While waiting for the court ruling I remind you that the fission fungus is a common infection in Germany's party landscape. The most spectacular fission occurred in 1917 when the Independent Socialists (USPD) - because as pacifists they refused to vote the World War One bonds - seceded from the Social Democrates (SPD). After the war the USPD was one of the germ cells of Germany's Communist Party (KPD).

It is interesting to see that political parties that were formerly separated and then became united are not immune against the fission fungus. Following some social unrest during the first years of the new century some left leaning party members of the Social Democrats together with other left minded people in Germany's West founded a new party called Work and Social Justice - the Alternative (WASG)  in 2004. It would have been a logical move to unite with the Party of the Democratic Socialism (PDS) - successor of the former SED in the East. Following lots of argy-bargy the two parties eventually came to grips launching in 2007 a united party Die Linke (The Left). Due to the many nostalgic people living in the East the new party got enough votes to be represented in the Bundestag and a few State Parliaments. However since the unification of the two left parties the fission fungus has become quite active trying to split Die Linke into fundamentalists and realists. Party members are fighting each other openly such that some of the supporters of Die Linke became fed up such that the party kept losing votes in some recent state elections.

It is quite noticeable that the fission fungus made it over the Atlantic infecting in the US both the Republican and the Democratic Party. Will the inherent healing forces overcome its attack?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Wagenburgler Blues

Yesterday night the Wagenburglers of Kommando Rhino gave a street party at their former lodging. The entrance to Vauban is now a construction site. Soon after sunset first a garbage can was set on fire. Later around 10 p. m. an excavator with a drill was torched, a damage that will stop the construction work for a while.

The torched construction machine (Photo: Badische Zeitung)
When the police arrived they were charged. One officer who had hurt his hand was verbally attacked: Shitty cop pig! I hope your hand is broken. Next time we’ll break you. Bille Haag representing the round table of the city officials and the Wagenburglers said: This is not acceptable and not useful, however the Rhinos are not responsible for the aggression. A city official replied: These actions unmask all announcements of nonviolent protests for a new Wagenburg as a noncredible and worthless lip service.

As I already wrote: it’s not over yet

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Unusual Views

This quite recent photo gives an unusual view on Freiburg's St. Martin church. The shot became possible because on Kaiser-Joseph-Straße the Municipal Saving Bank is tearing down one of its buildings to construct a new one. However, before they could start there was a big controversy because many citizens thought the old front face was more beautiful than the new one and fitted better to the style of the neighbouring buildings. Eventually the construction plans had to be modified and construction could start. Now Freiburgers stand on Kaiser-Joseph-Straße where you cannot tell whether they are watching the working of the shredding machines or are admiring the view on the buildings behind. On the right you catch a glimpse of the Haus zum Walfisch (House of the Whale) known for its most famous renter Erasmus of Rotterdam who lived there from 1529 to 1531. Some Freiburgers have a dream and sent a petition to the bank's CEO "not to construct the new building". Keeping the charming view open will be another Freiburg attraction.

The second rather old photo, dated June 15, 1955, I recently received by snail mail. A lady who participated in an excursion to Geneva in early summer including a visit to CERN (my former working place) seemed to have been so much impressed that she wanted to express her thanks. She had received this postcard in 1958 from her friend Mrs. Citron, wife of Professor Citron, one of CERN's founding fathers. The photo in black and white shows an aerial view of the accelerator site under construction located west of the village of Meyrin at the Swiss-French border. There is practically no building up but bulldozers are preparing the ground for the 600 meter ring tunnel of the Proton Synchrotron (PS). The PS is still working as a proton injector for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Nothing is seen either of the heap of dirt that served as radiation shield for the PS-target area later and called Mont Citron. In the far distance the Alps are visible. The mountain between the city of Geneva and the Alps is the Salève. Left to the famous Jet d'eau stretches the Lake of Geneva. The road leading from CERN to the city is still called Route de Meyrin cutting the same-named village in two. The Geneva airport did not change much except for a longer runway reaching up to the Route de Meyrin and a completely new reception building.

Friday, August 26, 2011


My previous blog dealt with the döner the owner of a fast food in Seattle, Wash. is marketing as Berlin food although it was the Turks who introduced the döner kebap in Germany. Now, here comes the currywurst which indeed was invented and first eaten in Berlin.

Let Wikipedia enlighten us: Currywurst (German pronunciation: [ˈkœʁiˌvʊʁst]) is a fast-food dish of German origin consisting of hot pork sausage (German: Wurst) cut into slices and seasoned with curry ketchup, regularly consisting of ketchup or tomato paste blended with generous amounts of curry powder, or a ready-made ketchup-based sauce seasoned with curry and other spices. It is frequently served at German 'Imbissbuden' and from food trucks.
The invention of currywurst is attributed to Herta Heuwer in Berlin in 1949 after she obtained ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and curry powder from British soldiers. She mixed these ingredients with other spices and poured it over grilled pork sausage. Heuwer started selling the cheap but filling snack at a street stand in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin where it became popular with construction workers rebuilding the devastated city.

Today, currywurst ... is popular all over Germany but particularly popular in the metropolitan areas of Berlin, Hamburg and the Ruhr Area. Considerable variation both in the type of sausage used and the ingredients of the sauce occurs between these areas. Common variations include the addition of paprika or chopped onions. Often currywurst is sold in food booths, sometimes using a special machine to slice it into pieces, and served on a paper plate with a little wooden or plastic fork.

An estimated 800 million servings are sold in Germany each year (Photo Wikipedia)

The actual reason why I write about the currywurst was an ironic comment in yesterday's Badische Zeitung. In Germany we have two rates of VAT: 19% on most goods and services and a reduced rate of 7% on, e. g., books and notably food. So you pay 7% on pet food but 19% on pampers, the reason - as some people claim - that in Germany we have more dogs than babies. Now here comes the question: What is the VAT rate on a currywurst served on a paper plate at a sausage stand?

At long last our Federal Financial Supreme Court (Bundesfinanzhof) ruled the following: The rate is 7% for food when the vendor hands the wurst over to you and you eat it standing. If however the stand offers a bench or chairs for sitting and you actually sit down this situation is amalgamated with a restaurant and you pay 19% on services. Crazy, and who is going check this?

Well, I checked the situation on Freiburg's Münster market. Three of the now eight wurst stands offer currywurst but no places to sit. However, another thing struck me. In spite of the recent opening of the market there still is no competition: All vendors charge a uniform price of € 2.50 for a currywurst.

Please note the English influence on German orthography: Uhl's using the Saxon genitive is wrong in German; it must be Uhls but many shops and eateries find it stylish to use what we call the Deppenapostroph (goof's apostrophe) with the German genitive.