Monday, July 25, 2011

A Decisive Date

The first of August will be the target date for Dominique Strauss-Kahn because the outcome of the scheduled court hearing will be decisive for him.

It also is the crucial date until which the American government must find a solution for the increase of the ceiling on the national debt as otherwise the US won’t be able to meet their financial obligations. This may result in an uncontrolled chain reaction causing more havoc to the world banking system and economy than the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy.

Finally it is also the date when the Wagenburglers must have emptied the occupied lot at the entrance to the Vauban quarter. They had announced a demonstration in Freiburg’s city center for July 23, protesting their eviction.

The photo below shows the peaceful demonstrators and anti-riot police near the Bertoldsbrunnen. There are estimations that the state of Baden-Württemberg had mobilized a police force of 250 men and women whereas there were only 200 demonstrators. Obviously the police had feared the participation of many professional rioters from outside. They did not show up however. Was it because the weather was cold and rainy or was the issue not worth a trip to Freiburg?

The Wagenburglers have still not counted their cause for lost. They call for the participation at an Anti-Eviction Festival for the coming weekend. Will this stay as peaceful as the demonstration last Saturday?

Friday, July 22, 2011


When Dante Alighieri is Italy’s and William Shakespeare, England’s national poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is recognized as such in my country. He not only was a poet but one of the last universally educated geniuses of the German tongue. There is not one place in Germany without a street or square named after him. In Freiburg, many consider the Goethestraße as the most beautiful alley in town, dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. Freiburg's Goethestraße is lined with beautifully decorated houses built in a variety of historical styles. This is not true for Munich’s Goethestraße running off the central train station where red light premises compete with cheap electronic stores. It was there where it happened. Road construction work around the station called for a detour signaled by panels showing Göthestraße instead of Goethestraße, an obvious mistake that was corrected the following day. A mistake? Hey, not so fast.

Our national poet was born in Frankfurt on 28 August 1749 as the son of Johann Caspar Göthe. As a young man, Johann Wolfgang changed his name to Goethe, in his father's eyes a misdeed; he never pardoned his son. The reason for Goethe’s change is not known. Did he, as a young man already think of his international renown? Mind you, umlauts are rarely found in other languages if it is not for the Turks or Hungarians. By the way, the Turks are called Törökök in Hungarian. Those Hungarians not only overdo it with respect to the frequency of their "ös" but in addition to the short “ö” carrying two dots, they also know the long “ő” taking two strokes.

The American keyboards I used during my work and later on the internet forced me to change the spelling of my name from Höfert to Hoefert. My brother working in the UK was so annoyed with the umlaut that he simply dropped the “tüttels” altogether. Maybe he did the right thing because when changing from “ö” to “oe,” I suffered from the pronunciation of my name by my Dutch colleagues. In their language, the “oe” stands for the phoneme “u.” Did Goethe consider this fact when he changed from “ö” to “oe”? and did he really want the Dutch to call him de oude Goede, i.e., the old Good one?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Uta of Naumburg

There are two sculptures in two German cathedrals that are considered as being very Teutonic: the Bamberg Horseman and Uta of Naumburg. In my reader in primary school their two pictures were shown together and regarded as the epitome of the German man and the German woman.

After the war Bamberg was situated in the West whereas Naumburg was in the East. The two pieces of sculpture were separated and became one of the many reminders that Germans were divided politically but not in their hearts.

With Germany's reunification in 1990 the Rider and Uta were united again. I last visited Uta, regarded as one of most important works of German Gothic art, in 2003. On that occasion I read a text written in 1928 by Gertrud Bäumer, a well-known German feminist and not considered to display an excessive Germanness: Uta derives from a relationship with the German woods, with long hard winters full of loneliness and horror in the dark, long waiting and longing, spring tempest over melting snow, hard and harsh but soaked with inner balminess. Well, don't worry, the German text is as incomprehensible as my English translation.

The other day I read in the German weekly Die Zeit about an exhibition called The Naumburg Master - Sculptor and Architect in the Europe of Cathedrals. The article showing Uta's picture was headed Très Deutsch and indeed I expected the old story that this woman is very German. The French très should however have warned me for the article revealed the crushing news that the creator of this German Gothic masterpiece possibly was French!

The full story I found on the Naumburg Exhibition web site: The sculptors and stonemasons associated with the name “Naumburg Master“ had an outstanding reputation throughout medieval Europe. From the 1220s on, German masters trained in the sculpture workshops of the Northern French cathedrals situated in Île de France, Champagne and Picardie. Their journey to Germany took them across the borders of the French kingdom via Mainz to Naumburg and Meissen. Their legacy is a body of work which is of outstanding quality and of worldwide importance. The sculptures of the west rood screen in Mainz Cathedral, the relief depicting the sharing of St. Martin’s coat in Bassenheim, the tomb slab of the Ritter von Hagen in Merseburg Cathedral, the statues in the choir and the octagon chapel of Meissen Cathedral and above all the unique west choir of Naumburg Cathedral with the Passion reliefs of the rood screen and the statues of the founders (Uta!) are impressive examples of the outstanding quality of workmanship from these medieval masters.

When looking at the Strasburg cathedral Goethe once admired the Gothic style as native German but he was badly mistaken. The Gothic architecture was actually born in France; it splashed over the Rhine River and subsequently spread over the rest of Europe. In the beginning German stonemasons educated in the Romanesque style tried to imitate the new French style. The result can still be seen when looking at Freiburg's Münster church. Not until they called in the masters from the other side of the Rhine did the construction of the windows get the lightness of style so admired at the Reims cathedral.

The stonemasons at Freiburg's Münster worked from right to left starting with heavy German Gothic for their windows.
When the French specialists took over the tracery in their windows became much finer.
That Gothic means France is emphasized in the continued text on the exhibition's web site: During the first half of the 13th century, Reims cathedral, which hosted the coronation of many French kings, became increasingly the focus of German building work, until it was eclipsed, in the middle of the century, by architectural activities in generating the metropolis of Paris. The adoption of designs and sculptural ideas from France was certainly not only due to a general fascination with the French cathedral creation, which eclipsed all previous architecture, but also to the high esteem in which the sacrally distinguished French royalty was held.

So eventually it's European. The Naumburg Exhibition in fact is under the joined patronage of our Chancellor and France's President.

©Wikipedia/Berthold Wener
What about the Bamberg Horseman? I am sure that next year some experts will come up with the story that the guy and his horse were sculptured by an Italian.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


The name Vauban melts in the mouths of many of my friends in Madison. When they arrive in Freiburg these days on an ICE (LOL) from Frankfurt Airport soaked because the air conditioning on the train is broken* they cannot wait to visit the greenest quarter of our Green City. It is easy to get there. Just walk south on the platform, avoid taking the escalator to the deck of the bridge spanning the main station’s track field - since you are already soaked anyway - but rather climb those 40 steps in a temperature of 30 degrees centigrade (86 Fahrenheit) and mount a red! not a green streetcar named Vauban. It will take you to the entry of Vauban in just 15 minutes.
*This is the contribution of our Federal Railway to fight climatic change

Stepping off the streetcar number 3 at Paula-Modersohn-PLatz
When stepping off the streetcar at Paula-Modersohn-Platz you will possibly suffer a cultural shock: the gate to Vauban looks like a fort protecting a couple of wagons. This is the home of the Wagenburglers (people living in a wagon fort?). They live in their densely parked or rather packed camping cars and old buses on a lot that eventually will be covered with a multipurpose Green-Business-Center including a hotel and shops. The construction plans date back a couple of years but were often changed with changing investors. When nothing did happen until May 2009 the empty lot started to attract people looking for a place suited to live their alternative lifestyles.
The Wagenburglers claim their right to a selfdetermined life
and oppose the Green Party's policy of expulsion
When at the beginning of this year the construction plans for the Green-Business-Center had been finalized it was clear that the Wagenburglers had to leave the place. A hectic search went on (and still is on) for a site where these people could move to. The city immediately said that they had already set aside three lots carrying such poetic names as Eselwinkel (donkey's corner), Biohum (bio humus) and Schattenparker (shadow parker). These places however are already filled with fellow Wagenburglers. Private people who were asked for some land to lease wearily signaled their refusal.
Although Vauban remains green, the Wagenburglers are mocking the Christian Democrats and the Green Party accusing them of a zero tolerance for space to place their wagons.
Their mocking cumulates in the phrase: Gypsies back to Africa

The last deadline for the removal of Fort Wagon is July 31. So pressure is building up at the Rathaus: They must leave and if necessary be forced by law countered by the Wagenburglers: We shall fight to stay. They have already announced a demonstration in the city center for the July 23. It is to be feared that more actions will follow in particular when the Wagenburglers will call in those professional demonstrators from all over Germany who like nothing better than bashing the police.

Please stay tuned for any future development

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Last Habsburg

When strolling through Freiburg this morning, I noticed a strange flag with a mourning band flying from a bookshop. When I came nearer I recognized the Austrian Imperial banner and had my light bulb moment (mir ging ein Licht auf): The bookseller wanted to remind the passers-by that the last of the Habsburgs, Otto, grandchild of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, had passed away on the 4th of July at a biblical age of 99.

Polyglot Otto von Habsburg had lived through the last days of the Austrian Empire, somehow survived the Nazi rule, had nearly become the president of Hungary, and was elected as a German (!) Deputy into the European parliament where he fought against communism and for a strong united Europe.

My friend Jim took both photos
in particular the one of the shop window displaying Otto von Habsburg's portrait.

Freiburg had been under Habsburg rule for 438 years when, eventually, in 1806, Napoleon ordered the Anschluss of the Breisgau to the Duchy of Baden. The Catholic population accustomed to the mild Austrian hand (Vienna was far away!) suddenly felt dominated by mostly Protestant Badeners. It is reported that many a man wasn't ashamed of his tears.

One of the means of integrating the Breisgau into the Duchy was the creation of a reading society (Lesegesellschaft) to marry the Protestant North with the Catholic South as the poet Johann Georg Jacobi then wrote. In those days, this society, nowadays called Museumsgesellschaft, united the civil servants coming from Karlsruhe with the local intellectuals. It still exists, and now is Freiburg's oldest civic society.

Today little reminds of the Habsburg rule in Freiburg if it's not for some historical buildings sometimes showing the Austrian colors red-white-red, the Vienna cuisine, and the fine bakery.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

National Holidays

That the US community in Freiburg celebrated their 4th of July holiday this year already on the 2nd certainly had to do with the fact that a sunny Saturday afternoon is better suited than an even sunnier Monday. Nevertheless, a festivity being moved forward disturbs me somewhat, although it is customary in Germany to celebrate birthdays conveniently following the due date.

The ongoing crazy hazy days of summer full of pretzels and beer (Brezel und Bier) remind me that the past German national holidays never were sunny.

As you may recall, Germany became a rather late nation with the creation of the 2nd Reich in 1871 but with no national holiday. Eventually, on the 2nd of September, the Sedantag was tolerated as the day of the decisive victory over Germany’s Erbfeind France. However, the Freiburg people preferred the date of 18 February when in 1871, the fortress of Belfort eventually had surrendered to the German coalition army; Belfort a place nearer to Freiburg than Sedan with respect to distance and closer to their hearts.

Philipp Scheidemann standing in a window of the Reichstag
 on November 9, 1918, proclaiming a German republic
When on the 9th of November 1918, Germany had lost the First World War, Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed a German republic. This was a date many country fellows considered appropriate as the day on which Robert Blum, deputy of the Frankfurt National Assembly and a strong advocate of a German Republic, had died in front of a firing squad in Vienna in the aftermath of the 1848/49 revolutionary uprisings.

The Nazis, however, always regarded the 9th of November as the date of surrender and national shame. They attempted a Putsch in Munich on this very date in 1923 that broke down in the machinegun fire of troops loyal to the republic. However, when Hitler came to power in 1933, the 9th of November as a national holiday didn't change since it now became the day of the martyrs who had died in Munich for the Nazi cause. It was a day of bad emotion and became infamous in 1938 when in the so-called Reichskristallnacht - the night from the 8th to the 9th of November - not only the windows of Jewish shops were smashed, but most of the synagogues were burned to the ground.

With the war and the nightmare over, the Federal Republic of Germany, after defining the day of the passing of our constitution (Grundgesetz) as the new national holiday, spontaneously switched in 1953 to the 17th of June. On that date, a general strike in East Germany against the communist regime - they hadn't been as lucky as we in the West with a teacher telling us how a federal state should work - was brutally crushed in the fire of Russian tanks. For years West Germans used the June date rather as a day of recreation than commemoration, for it had the advantage of the summer season compared to November.

But the 9th of November remained the day of German fate when in 1989, after twenty-eight years of separation, the wall between the East and the West came down. Germany became unified again. In my and many other people's opinion, it would have been most appropriate to switch back to the 9th of November again, a date illustrating the highs and the lows of German history.

When on the 3rd of October 1990, the first freely elected parliament of the GDR voted that East Germany shall adhere to the Federal Republic of Germany, the then Kohl administration decided to make that date our national holiday. This was a wise, politically, and a seasonally correct decision giving to this last democratic vote of the East German parliament the importance that it deserves and to the people, the chance to visit a chestnut shaded beer garden during a day of the Golden October (Germany's Indian summer).

Wikipedia tells me the remaining country still celebrating the 9th of November as a national holiday is Cambodia but that in a much warmer climate than Europe.