Thursday, August 30, 2012

License plates

License plates in the US follow the States, whereas towns and districts issue those in Germany. The first letters (up to three) printed on a German plate designate the origin of the vehicle.

It is easy with single letters, e.g., B stands for Berlin, M for Munich and H for Hamburg; well, that is wrong for although Hamburg is bigger than Hannover, they left the H to the smaller city preferring HH standing for Hansestadt Hamburg. Even though the Hanse has since long disappeared, the people of Hamburg are so proud that entering the city by car, you will read: Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg (Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg). I miss that road sign. During the last 30 years, I crossed the boundary of the city, where I spent all my high school days by train or plane only.

In fact, three big German cities are federal states: Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen (HB for Hansestadt Bremen). Smaller cities get two letters, and my friends in Madison know that FR stands for Freiburg. Like in the States, the administration issuing license plates lets you chose the following letter-number combination (here for an extra fee of 20 euros). Below is my Freiburg license plate:

When driving along the German autobahn, you will notice that the variety of license plates is great. People like to play games with those letter combinations, So you may read BA for the city of Bamberg interpreted as blutiger Anfänger (bloody learner), GS for Goslar: genüsslich schlafend (sleeping pleasurably), WW for the district Westerwald: Wilder Westen (wild west). Three letter combinations for smaller towns are even funnier like FFB for Fürstenfeldbruck: Fahrer fährt blöd (conductor drives stupidly), OAL for the district Ostallgäu: Ochse am Lenkrad (ox behind the wheel) and SAD for Schwandorf: sieht alles doppelt (meaning the driver is drunk).

In combining small towns and districts to form larger entities, many a letter combination in Germany has disappeared over the last twenty years. Some people are unhappy, having lost their identity like those of Merseburg (formerly MER) now driving with their new license plates QM (district Querfurt-Merseburg). Two weeks ago, a German professor (doesn't he have anything else to do?) opened the summer theater in filling the famous journalistic summer hole proposing not only to reactivate those lost license plates but to introduce new ones keeping people attached to their hometown happy. Forget about the Euro crisis and the war in Syria. Instead, think about new letter combinations like LOL?

Well, there is still one benefit in all this. In the future, guessing license plates on long car drives will keep grouching kids quiet, hopefully for extended periods.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Edith Stein

Poster with Edith Stein. I took the photo in her cell in St. Placidus guest house.
Note the mirror image showing a photo gallery and the entrance door.
Seventy years ago on August 9, 1942, the Nazis murdered Edith Stein in Auschwitz. Yesterday Elisabeth and I participated in a guided tour on Edith Stein's traces in Freiburg.

Stained-glass window in the choir ambulatory of the Freiburger Münster.
Note in the back the Carmel mountains, in front the cross, the seven-branched candelabrum
 and the evergreen Mediterranean cypress as a symbol of eternal life.
I am not going through the biography of that extraordinary woman that you may like to read in Wikipedia. Born as a Jew she became an atheist during her studies but while working as an assistant for the philosopher Edmund Husserl at Freiburg university during the First World War she lived her Damascene conversion.

Here on Goethestraße 63 Edith Stein lived as Husserl's assistant from 1916 to 1917
in about 200 meters distance from the professor's house on Lorettostraße 40.
When visiting the widow of one of her colleagues who had just fallen on the Western front she did not meet a desperate woman but a lady comforted and fortified by her Christian faith. Deeply disturbed Edith looked further and after having read the autobiography of the mystic St. Teresa of Ávila who on her deathbed ought to have said sin amor, todo es nada asked to be baptized catholic. When Edith wanted to enter Teresa's Order of the Carmelites right away the prior of the abbey of Beuron convinced her not to hide her light in a Carmel but rather to serve the catholic cause e. g. as a teacher.

Edith, being a woman, had tried in vain to become a full professor during her years with Husserl. Now in 1918 she gave up her assistantship with him to teach at the Dominican nuns' school in Speyer still continuing her philosophical studies trying to conciliate Husserl's phenomenology with Thomism.

Altarpiece in the cathedral of Speyer naming Edith Stein
a Jew, an atheist, a Christian,  a Carmelite, and a martyr.
I took the photo in August 2011 when visiting the exhibition:
The Saliens.
In fall 1931 she quitted Speyer and returned to Freiburg to work once again on a habilitation treatise at the philosophical faculty. Now she lived in a small room under the roof of the guest house St. Placidus of the monastery St. Lioba in Günterstal participating as closely as possible in the nuns' daily life.

Commemorative plate at the entrance to St. Placidus guest house at Günterstal
Sister Placida, her mentor, remembered: When I visited here in her cell in the hours of the early evening I was always astonished to find not too many books. It was the crucifix above her desk that taught her ultimate knowledge. One evening she looked up to the crucified King of the Jews and sighed: How much will my people have to suffer. I was stunned but considering the mounting hate against the Jews a thought flashed through my mind: Edith will make herself a sin offering for her people.

Edith Stein's desk in her cell at the St. Placidus guest house.
In 1932 Edith took up an appointment as a lecturer at the Institute for Pedagogy in Münster, Westphalia but following anti-Semitic legislation passed by the Nazi government in 1933 she, being a Jew, resigned not to damage the reputation of her institute. When a letter she had sent to the pope deploring the inhuman Nazi regime in Germany remained unanswered Edith considered that she was of no use anymore in this world and entered the Discalced Carmelite monastery St. Maria vom Frieden (Our Lady of Peace) at Cologne in October 1933. She took the name Teresia Benedicta a cruce (Teresia Benedicta of the Cross).

Following her arrest in a Dutch Carmel on October 2nd, 1942, a Gestapo henchman asked her about her confession. She answered Catholic, but he retorted: You are just a Jew. When five days later a train took her to her final destiny Edith subsequently confessed: I shall die for my people.

Commemorative stone in Freiburg's university church.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Odd Potsdam

With 160 000 inhabitants, Potsdam is smaller than Freiburg, where 220 000 people live. Houses in the city's old quarters are mostly only two stories high with rooms built into the roof for - Potsdam was a garrison town - housing soldiers. At the time of the Prussian kings, cuddling-up was encouraged, and many a man ended up in a rapid marriage with the landlord's daughter. The king needed soldiers.

Although today these houses look like brick buildings, is it sufficient to take off the plaster to discover their timber frame construction. What you see in the gateway is not smoke but a droplet of water on the lens of my camera, for we had April weather in July.

The Steuben monument too defied the rain.

The statue once donated by the American Congress was lost during the war and re-cast.

The many parks amid lakes and along the Havel river make Potsdam a pleasant place to live. Here you look along one of Potsdam's famous sightlines (Sichtachsen) from the Neuer Garten over the Heiliger See unto the dome of St. Nikolaikirche.

Map of historical Potsdam

The Stadtschloss is the big building on the left-hand side, the bridge pointing to it. Located above on the other side of the square called Alter Markt is St. Nikolaikirche.

Re-building of the exterior of the Potsdam Stadtschloss in its original splendor is underway. The interior, however, will fulfill present needs. The Brandenburg state parliament now housed outside the city will move in.

The distribution of deputies according to their parties in the Brandenburg state parliament

In this particular case, the color code of German parties I presented earlier does not hold. Only the Green Party and the Free Democrats keep their colors while the seats of the Christian Democrats - there is no visible black light - are shown in a somewhat fitting clerical violet. A red-red coalition governs the state of Brandenburg; however, it is challenging to distinguish Social Democrats and the post-communist Die Linke for their color. Usually, in graphical presentations, Social Democrats keep their red with Die Linke being shown in amber. Here Die Linke is coming out somewhat pink while the Social Democrats have lost some of their traditionally red intermixing some liberal color for an unusual orange.

Under the communist regime in the GDR, Christianity declined to the extent that nowadays, the federal states in Germany's east are missionary territories. There is a Kircheneintrittsstelle (a long word for mission point) at St. Nikolaikirche. In the background, the building site of the Stadtschloss

A special Brandenburg vocabulary at the entrance door of the Haus der Brandenburgisch-Preußischen Geschichte that I tried to order historically: Fehrbellin, Hugenotten, Toleranz, Kartoffel, Wanderungen (durch die Mark Brandenburg), Pfifferlinge, Pickelhaube, Sommerferien, Automobil, Neubauern, Pionier, Mauer, Wende, Punk.

By the way, fried Pfifferlinge (my first chanterelles in 2012!) is one of my favorite dishes. I downed them, you guessed it, with Köstritzer Schwarzbier

At the hotel bar, I ordered strange top-fermented wheat (Weizen) beer made from rye (Roggen). The brewery calls the beer Roggen-Weizen, which I found disturbing although the beer was excellent in its crooked glass. 

Many regard Klaus Störtebeker as the German Robin Hood, who, together with his companions, the Victual Brothers (Viktualienbrüder) practiced piracy on the Baltic Sea and the estuary mouth of the Elbe River. Whether he really was the Likedeeler (lower German for dealing with everybody alike), always taking from the rich and giving it to the poor is nowadays difficult to say for he and his staff were beheaded in Hamburg back in 1401.

A modern castle called Cecilienhof built in 1917 for Crown Prince Wilhelm and his wife Cecilie and located in the park Neuer Garten (New Garden) served as the place where in 1945 the Big Three decided about Europe's future after World War II.

Honored by a red star in the courtyard of the building, it was Stalin who decided that Eastern Europe was to be dominated by communism extending the Soviet Union virtually over the Balkan states, Poland and the eastern part of Germany. Factually the Soviet Union annexed the Baltic states.

Here you may try your language skills.
The other two leaders in Potsdam were weak: Harry Truman replacing the recently deceased Franklin D. Roosevelt, was not yet at ease on the international stage and bull-doggy Winston Churchill had to make way for Labour's Clement Attlee in the decisive phase of the Conference when his Conservatives lost the general election.

East German nostalgia. I counted three Trabis, officially called Trabant, in front of our hotel. The parked cars reminded me of a defeatist story told in the former GDR. Asking the question: What is one, two or three Trabants, the answer was: One Trabant is a socialist achievement, two Trabants are the solution to the problem of finding spare parts, three Trabants are the weekly car production of the Zwickau auto works.

Here a sign of a hairdresser advertising his no-waiting services. I discovered it in Neuruppin, a garrison town, where King Frederick-Wilhelm had once banned young Frederick following his aborted escape from his father. The writing on the sign is - as we say in German and fitting the circumstance - drawn by the hair, i.e., far-fetched. You just Kamm* In ohne Termin to get your hair cut where Kamm in German unfunnily means comb.
*pronounced come in German

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Greeting the Potsdam visitor
In my first blog in 2012, I not only mentioned the 300th birthday of Frederick the Great commemorated in Germany, but I also reflected on the character of this Prussian king joining Schiller in his remark: I cannot get fond of that guy.

Presently in Frederick's residence, Potsdam, an exhibition in the New Palace named Friederisiko, tries to retrace the Prussian king's life, the title alluding to his frequently playing vabanque when at war. All through his early life, Frederick moaned: I must fight three women, Maria-Theresa of Austria, Madame de Pompadour of France, and Elisabeth of Russia. It is a historical fact that the sudden death of one of Frederick's archenemies, the Tsarina, averted Prussia's total military defeat. Her son and successor Peter, the king's great admirer, agreed to an armistice. This unexpected turn became known as the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg.

Following the peace-treaty of Hubertusburg, Frederick started not only rebuilding his country but also completing the park of Sans,souci. In constructing the New Palace, he wanted to show to the world that Prussia was still not on her knees, even had the financial resources to build such a useless building. In fact, Frederick preferred living in Sans,souci palace, and only used the New Palace for official receptions and for housing his guests. His successors preferred to stay in Berlin, Prussia's capital, and when in Potsdam resided in the cozier Charlottenhof.

Plan of the park of Sans,souci with important buildings marked in red.
To the right, the vineyard terrace leading up to Sans,souci palace.
The round building in the lower middle is the tea pavilion to the left, the New Palace.
Far in the south, the small red dot is Charlottenhof.

At the entrance to Sans,souci Fredrick's revenant playing traverse flute asks for an obol.
In the back, the famous historic windmill.

Sans,souci under thunderclouds

The comma behind sans -- does it allude to Frederick's missing virile member?
It had been amputated in his young years following an infection of gonorrhea.
 Historians are still discussing the issue, including Frederick's sexual preferences.

Our guide honoring Frederick's tomb with a potato as other tourists had done before.
Fredrick had introduced the potato in Brandenburg, a crop well suited for the sandy ground.
There is the story that Prussian soldiers fed on potatoes fought better
than soldiers of enemy armies still depending on cereals.

View of Sans,souci from below. The grapes today grown on the wine terrace are Scheurebe.
At the time of Fredrick, gardeners tried out many different varieties
with the aim of delivering grapes to the king who was crazy about fresh fruit of all kinds.
Frederick was willing to pay a fortune for a handful of cherries in February.

The tea pavilion in the park is constructed in what people thought to be Chinese style.
It was à la mode at the time of Frederick.
The nuns had come all the way from Poland to honor a guy who did not care about religion:
Every man should go to heaven in his own way.

Apparently the Chinese not only invented, papel, gun powdel, and polcelain
but also the saxophone!

Frederick everywhere and in all forms.
Here with a hat made from porcelain inviting tourists to buy chinaware
 made in the Royal Prussian Porcelain Manufactory

Even in the hotel on our way to breakfast, a plastic sculpture bid us Good Morning.
While the guided tour concentrated on Frederick's Potsdam, we also visited Rheinsberg, where as a young man far away from his father's knout, the Prince had felt happy writing poetry, making music, and partying with friends. Frederick wrote: My entire mind is turned to philosophy. It does me good services. I am happy for I am much calmer than before. 

Rheinsberg castle seen from the lakeside with our group standing in front.

Young Frederick. His statue in Rheinsberg.