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.