Thursday, December 26, 2013

Faith and Superstition

In a well established tradition the German magazine
Der Spiegel treats a religious topic every year around
Christmas. The theological complications of our
Christian faith form the hook in the editorial:
What is it that man believes in? (©Der Spiegel)
As a young man Red Baron reduced his Christian belief to two essential messages: Christ taught us that God is not the punishing God of Abraham, Isaac und Jacob, but He loves his children. Yes, we shall call Him our Father in heaven. The other essential that I have already mentioned several times before is a text in Saint Paul's letter to the Corinthians, 13-12: Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

What about all those bible stories? At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century Protestant theologians pursued the demythology of the New Testament. It was Rudolf Bultmann who contended that only faith in the kerygma, or proclamation, of the New Testament was necessary for Christian faith, not any particular facts regarding the historical Jesus. The Christian faith stripped down to its bare essentials as formulated in the Nicene Creed?

The Roman Emperor Constantine looking for peace in his vast empire was disgusted by the disputes in the Christian Church about the "right" faith. So he summoned a synod in the Asian Minor city of Nicaea in 325. When the dispute about the nature of Christ between the followers of Bishop Arius and those of Bishop Alexander came to nothing Constantine, himself present in Nicaea, became fed up. Angrily the pagan emperor decided in a Christian synod against the Arians whom he subsequently banned. Constantine's decision explains the content of the last paragraph of the Nicene Creed that the assembled bishops eventually adopted:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (consubstantialem) with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down [from heaven] and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven. And he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost.

And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion - all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.

Nowadays all? Christians confess the Apostles' Creed with important additions to the Nicene Creed. The Apostles' Creed originated around the year 390 and is given here in its modern ecumenical version:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic* Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
*Note that here catholic means the universal and not the Catholic Church.

Is the faith we Christians confess in the Apostles' Creed not rather complicated? God's Son conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a Virgin, the Catholic Church proclaims this a mystery of faith.

Although superstition is considered as sin in the Christian Church psychologists found out that even modern man (woman) is more driven by superstition than guided by his (her) Christian faith. It is a known fact that everybody lives his (her) own belief. The theological teaching of the Church will at best guide our personal belief that however remains full of atavistic feelings. The Catholic Church took this into account in its catechism when as a boy I learned two ways how to repent my sins. Although it was sufficient to repent out of fear of punishment it was nobler to admit and regret that you had disappointed the love of God, your Father. Not only for a child the fear of punishment is easier to understand. That theologians must defend the pure doctrine against popular belief and thereby are becoming more abstract and boring, the French anthropologist Pascal Boyer called the tragedy of the theologian. We learn about the Holy Trinity but we feel with Mary as a mother.

The communication between theologians and laymen deteriorates altogether when the former argue about religious truth. As early as the 16th century common folks had a feel for the ongoing disputes. A typical example is the understanding of the Holy Communion. The following picture called Geistlicher Rauffhandel (religious brawl) taken from a wood carving of 1590 shows the Pope, Luther and Calvin in dispute. The author of the flyer asks the pertinent question: Wo das Christentum dann sey (Where does Christendom come in)?

More than 2000 years ago Christendom came into the world with a boy born in Bethlehem.

Christmas crib in Sankt Johanniskirche in Freiburg on the first day of Christmas 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I Wish You a Merry Christmas

As mentioned in a previous blog: This year Freiburg's Minster church was honored in celebrating the 500th anniversary of the consecration of its Hochchor (high choir). The Swiss painter Johann Louis Bleuer (1792-1850) shows the Minster as seen from the Schlossberg in a "super-elevated" depiction with the choir, as the word high suggests, being higher than the nave.

In addition the amazing aquatint of 1840 shows that Freiburg had remained restricted in its surface to the size Vauban had specified when he constructed his fortifications around the then French city in the 1680s. When the French troops "definitely" withdrew from Freiburg in 1745 they destroyed Vauban's masterpiece. Note that on the debris left behind Freiburg's citizens do their gardening. Only with the energetic building activity under Mayor Otto Winterer did the city eventually expand beyond its inner circle at the end of the 19th century.

You are missing a Christmas theme? One of the artists who helped finish the Minster high choir was Johannes Wydyz. Sad to say he did not see its consecration for he already died in 1510. One of the masterpieces he created in 1505 is the Adoration of the Magi:

Undisturbed by the unrest of the times Wydyz shows three wealthy gentlemen clad in splendid gowns offering their gifts to little Jesus. The boy however does not take notice of them but rather wants to get hold of a box old man Joseph presents to him. In vain, mother Mary holds Jesus too tight.

Wydyz's presentation breathes the divinely ordered society of the Middle Ages. But there is trouble ahead with the peasants' revolt just outside Freiburg's city gates in the summer of 1513 although the executions of the apprehended insurgents at the beginning of December perturbed the celebration of the consecration of the Minster high choir only slightly. But this dissonance is only a forerunner of Luther's protest against the abusiveness in the Catholic Church in the form of his 95 Theses in 1517; another 500th anniversary is coming up. Well, it is all history, but it is history that shaped the Christian world. Let us admire Wydyz's masterpiece instead.

I wish all my friends and followers of my blog a

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Peace to the shacks!

No, this is not my Christmas blog. This text that I had intended to write back in January is devoted to Georg Büchner, a genius of the German language, who was born on October 23, two hundred years ago. The Büchner Year will be coming to an end soon; I must hurry up.

A recently discovered portrait of Georg Büchner at the age of twenty
Den 20. Januar ging Lenz durch's Gebirg. Die Gipfel und hohen Bergflächen im Schnee, die Thäler hinunter graues Gestein, grüne Flächen, Felsen und Tannen ... (On January 20, Lenz walked through the mountains. Peaks and high mountain-sides were snow-covered, down the valleys gray bedrock, green surfaces, rocks, and fir trees ...)

With these simple words sounding like a fanfare Georg Büchner introduces his novella Lenz. In just four years he wrote this novella and three plays: the drama Dantons Tod (Danton's Death), the comedy Leonce und Lena, and the tragedy Woyzeck. In his oeuvre Büchner pulled together information he had read, combined the texts, and worked out the highs and lows of human existence

- in the mental confusion of the poet Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz

- in the corruption of power in the antagonism between Danton and Robbespiere

- in ridiculing the nobility and celebrating the mystery of love in Leonce and Lena

- in the mental and physical sufferings of a tormented Woyzeck.

Büchner's plays are difficult to stage. The reason is that there is little action and the texts are dense. Red Baron has seen Leonce and Lena, Woyzeck, and even listened to Wozzeck, the opera by Alban Berg. Honoring Georg Büchner here in Freiburg director Robert Schubert staged Dantons Tod mostly abstaining from Regietheater (director's theater). Although Schubert rearranged some scenes he stuck to the original text and produced a remarkable performance.

Danton and Robbespiere on stage discussing the existence of God
(©Theater Freiburg/Der Spiegel).
Büchner not only was a master of the German language, he was a revolutionary and a scientist too as shown by an exhibition commemorating him at his birthplace Darmstadt.

Following Napoleon's fall the Restoration had suffocated all hopes of freedom in Germany. Only grudgingly did the re-installed princes agree to move from absolute to constitutional rule. Eventually they forced their versions of constitutions on their people. Seeing the misery of the peasants and taking up the feelings of the working population in the Grand Duchy of Hesse Büchner wrote his famous: Friede den Hütten! Krieg den Palästen! (Peace to the shacks! War on the palaces!). This proclamation he had printed as an introduction to a pamphlet called Der Hessische Landbote (The Hessian Courier) criticizing the social and political grievances in Hesse. As a result he and his friends were wanted by the state police for incitement of the people. Büchner escaped to France and Switzerland where he died in Zürich at the age of just twenty-four.

Friday, December 13, 2013

One Year Later, the Same Day

No, not exactly but the proceedings of a series of ten lectures about Freiburg in the Middle Ages were presented last night nearly Auf Jahr und Tag. The book presentation took place at the Parler-Saal of the Münsterbauhütte (masons' lodge), the place where all had started on October 15, 2012, with a lecture about Freiburg's beginnings: 1091/1220, the City Is Founded. The speaker, Dr. Heinz Krieg, harped on the fact that Freiburg's founding year is subject to interpretation and still debated among specialists. The interest in those lectures was so great that, with the Parler-Saal fully packed, the lecture had to be repeated one week later for those who had not found a seat.

The following lectures dealing with various aspects of Freiburg's history in the Middle Ages needed the space of the university's auditorium maximum. The series ended on March 4, 2013, with a lecture by Minster master builder Yvonne Faller: December 5, 1513, the New Minster High Choir Is Consecrated. A few days ago on December 5, 2013, the Catholic Church and Freiburg's citizens celebrated the 500th anniversary of the magnificent high choir.

©Thomas Kunze, BZ
The book is a treasure trove. It will serve to improve further Red Baron's website on Freiburg's history.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

GroKo and BAföG

The elections to the Bundestag were held at the end of September and Germany still has no government.

In Thailand people are taking to the streets against the government. In the Ukraine too.
And we don't even have a government to demonstrate against.
Note: the people are wearing Germany's national colors (©Harm Bengen)
Lengthy coalition negotiations between the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats eventually led to an agreement on legislation projects for the coming four years.

The coalition has 503 and the opposition 127 seats in the Bundestag:
One fart from us -- and things will be quiet down back there (©BZ; Stuttmann).

However, before the Gro-Ko-deal* may come into force all members of the latter party were asked to approve the Elefantenhochzeit (marriage between the black and the red elephant) by December 13.
*German pun with the word Krokodil, i.e., Großer Koalitionsdeal that translates into grand coalition deal.

Stop the press: Red Baron just learned that GroKo has been chosen Germany's new word of the year.

A GroKo made from concrete in Freiburg? I would rather call it a Crocon.
As you may imagine the coalition agreement is an expensive compromise on the combined promises made by both parties during their election campaign. Due to lack of money many a promise will remain on paper that, as we all know, is patient. In particular, one expenditure both parties agreed upon will be axed: an increase in the ceiling of BAföG. The Bundesausbildungsrderungsgesetz (Federal law concerning the support of high and tertiary school education and academic training) provides interest-free loans to students for financing their studies. Borrowers start paying back their loans once they earn some money. I do not want to give you a lesson on BAföG but instead would like to comment on a poster full of demands students at the Humboldt University in Berlin produced for the recent federal election:

As one of my most loyal readers observed, Red Baron likes alliterations and here we go:

These demands translate as follows into English albeit without alliterations:

BAFöG instead of bankruptcy. No more money for that. The parties instead agreed to serve their clients, i.e., aging mothers and worn-out skilled-workers with increased pensions. This did neither please the young Christian Democrats (Junge Union) nor the young Social Democrats (Jusos) who rightly criticized that once more the young have to pay for the old.

Student canteen instead of instant noodles means that students demand enough money so they can afford decent meals.

Work instead of illegal employment requests that it should be possible for students to find real jobs instead of working without paying taxes and without being insured.

Student dormitory instead of camper van. In fact, there is a lack of student accommodations all over Germany so that some do sleep in rather unusual places.

Advising instead of burnout. In comparison with the States, academic advising at German universities is an area still in need of improvement. Indeed, some students not guided properly in their studies have been diagnosed with signs of an early burnout.

Culture instead of console. Give the means to students so that they may participate in cultural activities instead of playing computer games. Here I do not agree. Already at the time when Red Baron was among the student population operas, theaters, and concerts were offering tickets at a reduced affordable price to students although we had to be early in line and stay there for long periods to get those.

Day care center instead of being childless. This demand I do not understand. Does that mean the female students aim to get pregnant and then will park their offspring in day care centers? I understand that women will always have a problem matching both family and career; but then nursing babies in lecture halls?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Women Power

In its weekend edition the Badische Zeitung published an article: Women catch up, slowly. The title is surely misleading when the female author proudly compares the number of female students with the number of male students in Freiburg and its sister (sic!) cities with the result that the former are dominating. With percentages ranging from 52.2% in Madison to a record 60.2% in Iran's !! Isfahan female students have the majority throughout. With 52.5% female students Freiburg is only slightly "better" than Madison. Red Baron attending physics lectures was never distracted by long-haired fellow students sitting in front of him. Those days are long gone.

A determined female student is entering Freiburg's Alma Pater? through the main entrance.
The photoshopped picture shows Homer's statue with red varnished fingernails
(©Badische Zeitung).
With respect to master degrees the figures are 51.1% compared with 51.6%. Here Madison's female students are ahead of Freiburg's students as well as in the percentages of doctor degrees with 45.4% to 50.6%. When it comes to the numbers of professors Freiburg is a "developing" university. It carries the red lantern among all sister city universities with only 17% female professors compared with 25.9% in Madison.

Why? Red Baron's experience with female bosses is only positive. When doing my thesis I was working at an institute headed by a male professor who was rarely visible. Instead the institute financed by federal money was "governed" by a lady the Ministry of Science had sent. She gave us youngsters all the attention needed during our entry into the world of science and I am still grateful for her encouragement and assertion.

What Freiburg really needs is a female university rector whereas the University of Madison has already its third female Chancellor.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Moral Bombing

On November 27, 69 years ago, Freiburg was bombed. The air raid lasted from 7:58 to 8:18 p.m. Within twenty minutes 14,525 bombs were dropped, 2800 citizens were killed, and nearly 90% of all buildings in Freiburg were destroyed or damaged. Air Vice-Marshall Robert Saundby named the air raid on Freiburg Operation Tigerfish.

Last Wednesday, the day of the remembrance, the Badische Zeitung devoted one page to the cataclysm that nearly annihilated Freiburg. The most famous aerial photo taken in early spring of 1945 is the one below showing the "intact" looking Münster church in the midst of the expanse of ruins of the surrounding houses.

©Stadtarchiv Freiburg
As early as 1942 the poet Reinhold Schneider had written a sonnet: Du wirst nicht fallen, mein geliebter Turm ... (You will not fall my beloved steeple ...) and indeed those Freiburgers who had survived the November 1944 air raid considered their Münster standing up among the ruins as a miracle. The fact is that the Münster was not directly hit. The blasts of the bombs detonating around untiled the roof but were not strong enough to topple the building. The reason is that in the Middle Ages all cathedrals were constructed based on previous experience. No calculation determined the necessary support for arches and roofs. Modern Computer Aided Design (CAD) techniques have revealed that medieval church constructions were usually built with safety margins of more than seven so that these buildings are extremely stable.

In the BZ article I read for the first time the English term: moral bombing. Up to now I knew about strategic, carpet, area bombings, and had even heard the phrase: We should bomb them back to the Stone Age but I never had come across the cynical combination of moral and bombing.

... pourvu que ça fasse des victimes boches
During the First World War the press wrote about anonymous killing in referring to the imprecise bombing of cities like Freiburg. A captured French pilot said that he had no precise target pourvu que ça fasse des victimes boches (except that there were German victims). In the Second World War in addition to bombing military and industrial installations also residential areas were targets to undermine the morale of the German populace through bombing German cities and their civilian inhabitants. Nowadays military people boast about their surgical strikes by simply sweeping aside the death of innocent people who happen to be there at the wrong time as collateral damage. A new form of moral bombing?

Monday, November 11, 2013

St. Martin

On the 11th day of the 11th month at exactly 11 minutes past 11 o'clock a.m. St. Martin's Day is celebrated in Germany in predominantly Catholic regions. In Cologne the Carnival season opens on Altermarkt at exactly the same hour.

©German Culture
In the evening of St. Martin's Day boys and girls traditionally light up the candles in their lanterns, walk around the houses, and sing: St. Martin ist ein guter Mann, der uns als Beispiel gelten kann (St. Martin is a good man who can serve us as an example). The best-known legend of St. Martin, the bishop of Tours who lived in the 4th century, is, when he, then still a soldier in the Roman army, tore his cloak in two to share it with a freezing beggar at Amiens.

You already met St. Martin in an earlier blog. While the controversy about a new picture on Freiburg's Martinstor (Martin's Gate) is not yet resolved another dispute has developed in Germany. Rüdiger Sagel, Chairman of Die Linke (Post communist party) in the state of North-Rhine-Westphalia, said that in Kitas (Kindertagestätten > day care centers) you will not only find Christians but children of other beliefs too. One should not impose a Christian tradition on them. He instead is advocating a Sonne-Mond-und-Sterne-Fest (sun, moon, and star fest). In fact, in Protestant Northern Germany without saints the kids promenading their lanterns usually sing: Laterne, Laterne, Sonne, Mond und Sterne, brenne auf mein Licht, brenne auf mein Licht, nur meine liebe Laterne nicht (Lantern, lantern, sun, moon, and stars, burn away my light, burn away my light, but not my beloved lantern), a tearful disaster that happens once in a while.

Sagel's remark caused a storm of indignation. One politician considered the obsessive political correctness as being very sad. Another proposed renaming the Day of the Ascension of Christ to Day of Manned (sorry Human) Space Flight. The President of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman A. Mazyek, was quick in pointing out that many Muslim families like this spectacle of lanterns and torches. The idea of sharing, personified in St. Martin, is also anchored in the Muslim tradition. Some Kitas in the state of Hesse already renamed the Martinsfest whereas Red Baron will enjoy the candle-lit St. Martin's processions in Freiburg tonight.

Pictures added in proof:

On my way to a conference about Switzerland during the Second World War I met some adults who have remained young at heart. I took a photo with my iPhone.

When I opened the Badische Zeitung this morning I found a photo (©BZ) showing a young lady on a horse playing the role of St. Martin. Do you consider this obsessive political correctness?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Let There Be Light

In its weekend edition the Badische Zeitung (BZ) showed some pictures of illuminated Freiburg landmarks. Your reaction will possibly be that this is nothing special, however it is a new kind of lighting solely based on light emitting diodes (LEDs).

The New Town Hall and Bertold-Schwarz-Brunnen (©BZ)
The Green City has long been been unhappy about the amount of electricity (ab)used for the illumination of its landmarks. When the Federal Ministry of Education and Research opened a contest: Cities in a new light Freiburg submitted its master plan based solely on LED technology and was among the winners of 2 million euros.

The Münster church with its permanent scaffolding (©BZ)
The installation started at the Münster church, eventually included the Rathausplatz (Town Hall Square), and Freiburg's two medieval gates. Although the LED technology is still expensive the savings in energy consumption compared with conventional lighting technology reaches 80%.. The illumination of St. Martin's Gate now consumes only 1500 watts. In total the city saves 21,500 euros on its electricity bill per year.
St. Martin's Gate still without a picture (©BZ)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Health Insurance Blues

When Red Baron visited Washington the other day the government was shut down. Many people told me that the reason for the shutdown was that members of the Tea Party were willing to vote on  the US budget only if President Obama agreed to curtail the expenditure of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I do not understand American politics well but the introduction of the German health insurance system in 1881 was highly political too.

Following the first unification of Germany in 1871 the economic boom of the Gründerzeit (period when many industrial firms were founded in Germany) based on an accelerated industrialization created a few rich industrialists and a growing proletariat. By articulating the misery of the industrial workers, the Social Democratic Party  became a political power.
Bismarck at his desk (©Wikipedia)
Chancellor Bismarck was not pleased and convinced the other parties in the Reichstag to pass the Gesetz gegen die gemeingefährlichen Bestrebungen der Sozialdemokratie (Law against efforts of the Social Democrats that are dangerous to the public) in 1878.  Although the Social Democratic Party remained outlawed as an organization until 1890 its members continued their agitation and successfully stood for elections to the Reichstag and state parliaments as private candidates. Bismarck, the ancestor of all Realpolitiker (political realists), well saw that "to take the wind out of the socialists' sails" social improvements for the working proletariat were necessary. He convinced Kaiser Wilhelm I, by then 84 years old, to send an Imperial Message to the Reichstag (parliament) on November 17, 1881. The legislature shall pass laws covering the workers financially in cases of medical treatment, workplace accidents, invalidity, and old age.

The Krankenversicherung der Arbeiter (Law concerning the health insurance of workers) came into force on December 1,1884, once the necessary infrastructure of statutory health insurance funds (Orts-, Betriebs-, and Innungskrankenkassen) had been set up. The accident insurance followed in 1885, the old-age and invalidity insurance was introduced in 1891.

The so-called gesetzliche Krankenversicherung (statutory health insurance) became compulsory for workers with an annual income of less than 2000 marks. The premium in 1885 was 1.92% of income of which the employee paid 2/3 and the employer 1/3. By 1920 the contribution was 4.5%, in 1950 6%, in 1990 12.53%, and is now 15.5% with the employee paying 8.2% of his basic salary and the employer covering 7.3% of the premium. The income threshold in 2013 is 55,000 euros per year. Presently 89% of the German population is covered by statutory health insurance, the others are privately insured. This has only been true since 2009 when health insurance became compulsory for all Germans. Those who earn more than the income threshold and thus are not entitled to statutory health insurance must take out a private one. To this end private health insurance companies must offer entry contracts offering the same catalog of benefits as the statuary health insurance. This sounds rather complicated but that is not the sticking point.

You surely noticed the increase of the premium as well as the income threshold for the statutory health insurance system in Germany. Many governments in the past tried to cap the costs of medical care. In vain. Doctors use more refined methods, prescribe new expensive drugs, and employ costly diagnostic tools that must be amortized. The positive effect is that we are all getting older than our grandparents, the negative effect is a steady increase in costs without a brake. The best measure of limiting the costs in Germany so far was a reduction in the number of annual visits to the doctor. This was accomplished by the introduction of a Praxisgebühr, some sort of an entrance fee to the doctor's office. All patients with statutory health insurance must pay 10 euros per quarter in cash and at the counter. In a last gasp before they were voted out of the Bundestag (parliament) the Liberals had the rather bureaucratic Praxisgebühr abolished on January 1, 2013. Since then the number of visits to the doctor has already increased by 5%.

I read figures that ObamaCare will charge the US-budget with $940 billion over the next 10 years. Higher taxes should finance $400 billion whereas greater efficiency in Medicare should pay for $483 billion. You may read in Wikipedia: A 2011 comprehensive Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate projected a net deficit reduction of the US-budget of more than $200 billion during the 2012–2021 period: it calculated the law would result in $604 billion in total outlays offset by $813 billion in total receipts, resulting in a $210 billion net reduction in the deficit. The CBO separately noted that while most of the spending provisions do not begin until 2014, revenue will still exceed spending in those subsequent years. This argumentation is illustrated in the following chart.

All these estimations are full of uncertainties and are based on figures that were known in the years 2010 and 2011. Note the difference between 2010 and 2011 with the latter estimate being significantly higher in the following years and who knows what will be the situation beyond the year 2017?. Does the chart underline the known fact that the costs for health care will have only one direction: going up?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Diderot and Political Power

On a recent Monday Red Baron took part in an all-day seminar jointly sponsored by Freiburg's University and the Frankreich Zentrum: Diderot und die Macht (Diderot and political power). One paper by Dr. Michel Kerautret of the Assemblée Nationale Française in Paris had my special attention: Diderot et la Révolution américaine.

My readers already met the French editor of the famous Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers Denis Diderot in an earlier blog although in addition to being an atheist he was a philosopher, critic, narrator, dramatist, essayist, moralist, materialist, scientist, psychologist, an entertaining letter writer and regarded as a witty discussion partner among his peers.

As a philosopher of the Enlightment Diderot advocates a positive philosophy in the education of man (and woman). That is all that counts for him. In his view any religion is pernicious and priests start poisoning people at birth with prejudices. Man (and woman) are contaminated by rules that hamper their natural development.

With respect to political power Diderot welcomes enlightened absolutism but criticizes its bureaucratic excesses. He stigmatizes the princes who market themselves with slogans like: I am the foremost servant of my state but who nevertheless remain despots. Even when princes force their subjects to their well-being they still remain nothing other than "enlightened despots".

Diderot points out the social injustice in France to his king without any hope of improvement. With high hopes, however, he travels to St. Petersburg in 1773 taking his message to Catharine the Great only to find out that she likes to listen to him but does what she considers best for her and her country. She just had exercised the First Partition of Poland jointly with the "enlightened" princes of Austria and Prussia. Disappointed, Diderot returns to France just one year later. During his travels he avoids his special friend Frederick the Great in bypassing Potsdam as the map shows: J'etais bien resolu ... d'eviter le roi de Prusse qui ne m'aime pas, a qui je le rends bien ... Ce roi est certainement un grand homme; mais quinteux comme une peruche, malfaisant comme un singe, et capable en meme temps des plus grands comme des plus petites choses. C'est une mechante ame, et, je trancherai le mot: une tete mal faite par quelque coin (I was well decided to avoid the Prussian king who does not love me and I return it to him ... This king certainly is a great man but grumpy as a parakeet, malicious as an ape, and at the same time is capable of the greatest as well as the smallest things. He is a vicious soul, and I say it distinctly: a somehow badly done head).

Diderot's travel to and from St. Petersburg (©Wikipedia)
For Diderot Frederick is the arch-model of a Machiavellian ruler. Once in power, he who had written an anti-Machiavelli in his youth throws his earlier principles completely overboard and develops Prussia into a brutal military state.

Already as early as 1769 Diderot predicts the secession of the American colonies from Britain for she does not observe her own principles. For Diderot one nation suppressing another is worse than a despotic ruler. With the outbreak of the American Revolution Diderot who as an unmitigated adversary of slavery accuses the British of being tyrants over other people treating their possessions in America like those in Africa. Britain considers the colonists as backwoodsmen not having any rights. Diderot takes on the British who regard the revolting colonists as rebels: Yes, they are rebels for they do not want to be your slaves. Rebellion is the legitimate exercise of the natural and inalienable right of oppressed people. Turning to the Americans and thinking about the slaves they in turn exploit he hopes that the revolution may provide wisdom to the people so that they may apply their freedom reasonably.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sleepless in Freiburg

Remember the movie Sleepless in Seattle? This time the story plays in Freiburg but without any romance. Over the years parts of the city have become noisier during night hours with students drinking and partying well beyond midnight. Freiburg's trouble spots are the Bermuda Triangle, a block of buildings near the Martinstor in triangular shape where students get lost in countless pubs, and the Augustinerplatz, a vast sloping square located between Bertoldsbrunnen and Schwabentor where students sit on the cobblestones not just quietly during mild summer nights.

Mid summer at Augustinerplatz. Only 20 minutes talk and drink-up time are left (©BZ)
Residents of the neighborhoods do not get much sleep and had approached the City Council already five years ago to look into the matter. Following a lengthy debate in 2008 the City Council decided against a private security service like the one in the university city of Heidelberg where so-called black sheriffs assure law and order during night hours. Instead they spent 18,000 euros erecting an illuminated Säule der Toleranz (Column of Tolerance) showing the time and changing its color to red after 10 p.m., time to leave the square quietly. Needless to say, the City Council "had thrown the money out the window". Although the column had no effect on the noise level it nevertheless became a tourist attraction. A good friend from the States could not believe his eyes when we passed by at 21:09 hours so he chose to take a photo.

Column of Tolerance (©KSchneider)
This year the noise situation aggravated to the point that a citizen's group formed and became active. In protest they disfigured the fronts of historical buildings with bed sheets showing texts reading Schlaflos in Freiburg (see the title of this blog).

Schlaflos in Freiburg (©Stadtkurier)
or more subtly Der Stadtrat schläft, wir nicht (The City Council is sleeping we aren't) meaning that the City Council is not doing anything.

Der Gemeinderat schläft - wir nicht (©BZ)
The president of the citizen's group said that it does not help switching between roundtables, technical discussions, and another debate in the City Council actually scheduled for the end of November. He added that the texts on the sheets are harmless compared to what they still have planned as protest. We had to suffer from the loudest, dirtiest, and most difficult summer and we shall not live through another. The City Council strangely has no plan, no ideas, no courage to solve the noise problem.

It may not be strange at all. The inaction of the City Council is probably rooted in the fact that next year there will be municipal elections in Freiburg and no party wants to snub either the local residents or the students. The argument is not far-fetched. Today's Badische Zeitung reported that a disc jockey founded a  citizen's group Pro Nachtleben fighting for the interests of pubs and discos: We would like to preserve Freiburg's subculture.

Photoshopped: Pro Nightlife (©fudder/BZ)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

It's Raining on Washington*

Red Baron likes Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story and likes to be in America, as the lyrics say. When Elisabeth and I arrived in Washington the government was shut down and with it the most important attractions and museums.
*Borrowing and translating the 1975 movie title: Il pleut sur Santiago

On our first day we walked from the hotel near Dupont Circle through a marvelous park to Georgetown. At the waterfront I showed Elisabeth the Kennedy Center and the Watergate complex, memories of times long past. Next we went to the Mall that being a National Park was closed although accessible. It was deserted except for an occasional tourist or jogger while the streets along the Smithsonian Museums being useless were barred.

The deserted Mall
The National Gallery of Art is closed during the shutdown of the Federal Government
The National Gallery of Art extends its compliments to Le Louvre
As a memento the earth quake-shattered and bandaged Washington Monument pointed into gray skies.

The umbrella was a must
The following day we had rain the whole day that occasionally changed from drizzle to downpours. So we spent most of the time on the siteseeing bus driving around the Nation's Capital talking to some lost co-passengers: Brazilians, Russians, and Australians.

The famous Washington fire station taken through the fogged window of the Big Bus
With the open upper deck and all the National Monuments closed the Big Bus Tours had on the occasion considerably thinned out their schedule such that we were deprived of circling around the Pentagon with a visit to a shopping center of the same name. So we wound up our tour of the city at the Union Station instead where we boosted our morale with a freshly prepared quiche and a pastrami with onion sandwich.

At the Union Station's food court
Back to the hotel I took a photo of the rain-soaked street with all traffic lights on no-go red.

When they eventually turned green people still had little hope hastening by with their umbrellas opened.

Let me finish this blog with an Ol' Blue Eyes medley: It's very nice to go trav'ling,
However not to London, Paris, and Rome, but
To New York, the city that doesn't sleep, where I never get any sleep either,
To my kind of town, Chicago is,
To Madison where I feel snug among friends,
But it's so much nicer
Yes, it's so much nicer to come home.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Streuselkuchen Story

In a recent blog I informed you that Brussels had granted a protected geographical name to the Bavarian Brezn (pretzel). Baker Michael Tschirch in Görlitz bakes not pretzels but Schlesischer Streuselkuchen (Silesian crumb cake) and that of an outstanding quality. With six shops in the region and still expanding his business he decided to sell his cake online. He already had labels printed showing his cake within the outlines of former Prussian Silesia and had started advertising when he received a letter from Brussels. The EU bureaucrats informed him that the Original Schlesischer Streuselkuchen is name-protected for the now Polish part of lower Silesia excluding all parts that nowadays belong to Germany and the Czech Republic.

Michael Tschirch and co-worker (©Der Spiegel)
In return the Central Association of German Bakers sent a letter to Brussels questioning their decision since for German bakers the Schlesischer Streuselkuchen is part of the culture of all people with Silesian roots. They now live in Germany all over the place baking the cake according to family tradition. Not its geographical origin but the generic concept of Streuselkuchen is important. In addition the protected Polish word is kołacz slaski which translates into German as Schlesische Kolatsche and not as Schlesischer Streuselkuchen. Citing from COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) No 510/2006 with respect to kołacz slaski: The yeast cake is rectangular in shape. It is produced with a cheese, poppy seed or apple filling or with no filling and is about 3,5 cm (± 0,5 cm) high. The cake measures 40 × 60 cm (± 5 cm) and weighs about 5-6 kg.

Kołacz slaski (©Wikipedia)
In the meantime a law suit was filed in Brussels leading an Austrian judge to get so excited that he wrote in a private blog: Will they argue about the "true" Silesian borders over a Streuselkuchen? He had apparently not forgotten the historical fact that in the 18th century and in three bloody wars Frederick the Great had stolen Silesia from Maria Theresa's Austria.

Baker Tschirch could not care less and is not waiting for the court decision. He now markets his cake under a new and somewhat obscure name: Schlesischer Butterdrückstreusel (Silesian butter-pressed streusel) emphasizing more the crumbs than on the cake.

Schlesischer Butterdrückstreusel (©Bäckerei Tschirch)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


The analysis of the results of the recent federal election in Germany shows that Chancellor Angela Merkel did everything right. During her campaign she remained vague and promised only little. In addition she had taken the wind out of the red and green sails over the past years. In promoting the phase out of nuclear power she forced the Greens to look for a new profile they eventually found in the social and financial field where they failed. She reduced the Social Democrats being in agreement with her handling of the euro crisis to a sideshow with topics like higher minimum wages and lower rents for housing. In embracing all main streams of German politics Mom Merkel now has the "best image of chancellor" since 1990 but no majority in parliament (Bundestag).

Losses and gains in the 2013 election. The decline of the Liberals was caused by losing more than 2.2 million votes to the Christian Democrats (for printing reasons here
presented in light blue instead of their traditional black), more than 500,000 to the
Social Democrats, but above all 430,000 to the recently formed populist
anti-euro party AfD (Action for Germany). Another important contribution of votes
for the AfD came from Die Linke until now considered as the country's protest party.
It looks like the "tea drinking" AfD will rather become the collecting tank
 for Germany's protest voters (©FAZ).
Excluding a Red-Green-Amber coalition with a majority of 5 votes that would shunt Mom there remain four other possibilities of deblocking the situation: coalitions of Black-Red and Black-Green, a minority government, or new federal elections. Fearing Mom's deadly kiss both Greens and Reds hesitate to share the bed with her but hesitating too long may imply new elections. Recent polls show that in such a case Mom's CDU will gain even more votes, the SPD will remain stable, the Greens will lose further but what is more important is that the anti-euro party AfD (Action for Germany) will get more than 5% of the votes and be presented in the Bundestag. Looking at the shift of the voters in the recent election suggests that Die Linke will further suffer in a new election from a drain towards the AfD. However, building stable majorities with five instead of four parties in the German Bundestag will become even more difficult, so all parties presently presented fear new election as the devil fears holy water. In the meantime the round of poker between Black, Red, and Green for forming a coalition government has started and will hopefully enter into horse-trading between two parties about the number of ministers in Mom's government.

Come on out! Think about your civic duty!! (©Stuttmann, BZ)
Why not try a Merkel minority government? Without a majority in the Bundestag and with the Bundesrat (Germany's Senate) dominated by Red-Green Mom would not even have her budget passed. Sounds familiar?

The other day Freiburg's Green Lord Mayor Dr. Dieter Salomon (right) congratulated his Financial Mayor and Christian Democrat Otto Neideck (left) for 20 years of loyal work
for the city with 12 years in a Green-Black constellation. A model for Berlin? (©BZ)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Food of the Gods?

I like Niklas Arnegger, a columnist of the Badische Zeitung, who regularly writes ironical comments about many a subject. The other day, however, he completely missed the point with his article: Götterspeise Currywurst (The currywurst, food of the gods). He wrote at great length about sausages in general but left out the important curry sauce that will "noble" any sausage to become a currywurst. Those who read my blogs remember that I brought the currywurst to you in August 2011, I showed you that even tofu, when cast into the correct form, turns into a currywurst, and later told you that any wurst will become a currywurst as long as the sauce is right. Here are some recent examples:

Currywust served in Berlin on September 23 with Pommes frites (French or fitting to
Berlin freedom fries) and a Berliner Weiße mit Schuss (white beer with green
 woodruff syrup). The wurst was indefinable but the sauce quite acceptable.

Currywurst prepared with Vienna sausages
 as lately served to the students
of the AYF 2013/2014 in Freiburg
Although Niklas missed the point, i.e. forgetting the sauce, he dug out astonishing remarks about the sausage by some of Germany's literary geniuses.

Wilhelm Busch who drew the first German comics rightly wrote: Des Schweines Ende ist die Wurst (The pig's end is the sausage).

Otto von Bismarck, acknowledged as a master of the German language not least because of his autobiography Gedanken und Erinnerungen: Je weniger die Leute wissen, wie Würste und Gesetze gemacht werden, desto besser schlafen sie (The less people know how sausages and laws are made the better they sleep).

Jean Paul the misunderstood beer drinking genius in remote Bayreuth: Wurst ist eine Götterspeise, denn nur Gott weiß, was drin ist (Sausage is a food of the gods for only they know what is inside).

Mind you: Everything even this blog has an end, only a sausage has two.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Alea Iacta Est

The die is cast. The German federal election is history and all parties are singing the blues. Actually, the Liberals (FDP) are not singing at all because for the first time since 1949 they missed with 4.8% of the vote the 5% minimum to get into the Bundestag (the German parliament). The winner took it all for practically all the 93 seats won by the FDP in 2009 went to the Christian Democrats (CDU) in 2013. Die Linke, the ex-communists, lost 11 of their 75 seats and even the Greens dropped from 68 to 65. Winners are the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats but these parties are not happy either. Looking at the results of the vote the SPD's hopes of toppling Chancellor Merkel and forming a coalition with the Greens turned out to be wishful thinking. Finally the CDU, though not singing the blues in C-minor, is still humming the same tune in C-major for it fell 5 seats short of an absolute majority in the Bundestag.
Germany has 298 electoral districts with 298 directly elected deputies. To this are added
the same number of candidates on lists to assure representation of the parties according
 to the percentage of votes they received. If strict proportionality cannot be reached
 Ausgleichsmandate (compensating seats) are added. Hence the German Bundestag 2013
 does not consist of 596 but 630 deputies (©Der Spiegel)
This means that Mutti (Mom) Merkel must find a partner to form a coalition government. Although adding up the seats in the new Bundestag a Red-Green-Amber* coalition would be possible that would put the CDU into opposition, nobody wants to talk with the bad amber guys of Die Linke. For Mom there remain only two acceptable coalition partners, the SPD or the Greens. In the past, however, marriages with Mom turned into disasters for her so-called junior partners. A grand coalition of Black and Red from 2005 to 2009 resulted in heavy losses for the SPD in the fall elections of 2009. Voters had identified the relative success of the Merkel/Steinmeier administration only with Mom and forgotten the contributions of the SPD. The Black-Yellow coalition from 2009 to 2013 turned out even worse for it meant Mom's deadly kiss for her junior partner FDP. With all this in mind neither the SPD nor the Greens are presently longing for Mom's cold embrace. Nevertheless, the collaboration between the Greens and the Blacks* works fine in Freiburg's City Council. Maybe our Mayor Dieter Salomon should travel to Berlin to teach his greatly perturbed Green colleagues there all the tricks.
*I explained Germany's party color code in an earlier blog

What happened to the triangulaire in the Freiburg electoral district? Gernot Erler (SPD) got only 30% of the votes compared with 35% for Matern von Marschall (CDU) and 21% for Kerstin Andreae (Green), hence Gernot lost his direct seat. Red Baron followed the duel between incumbent Gernot and his challenger Matern on the Internet. The city's polling stations were the first reporting early results and it was a thrilling neck-and-neck race between the two. When however the results of the rural districts came in later the many votes for the CDU made the final difference. With respect to the fight between Red and Green over the direct seat Erler had predicted that a "laughing third" may win. When he congratulated the winner von Marschall later in the evening he said: I saw the "laughing third".
Gernot Erler congratulates Matern von Marschall looking into the eyes of the "laughing third" (©BZ).
Nevertheless both Kerstin Andraea and Gernot Erler will sit in the new Bundestag via lists their parties have set up and will lobby for Freiburg in addition to Matern von Marschall. Maybe they will set up a Freiburg Stammtisch in Berlin.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pretzel Story

Just in time for the Oktoberfest in Munich*, an article in the Badische Zeitung addressed the beloved Laugenbrezel (lye pretzel) called Brezn in Bavaria. I, however, learned that not only names are different but the composition of a Brezn compared with a Brezel too. This was the main argument of the Bavarian bakers when they sent a letter to Brussels to have the name Brezn entered into the EU-register of protected designations for local products such as French Camembert.
*The original Oktoberfest is rather a Septemberfest for the beer-drinking always starts way in September and already ends the first weekend in October. In 2013 the starting date is September 21, and the ending date October 6. This year die Maß - in principle one liter but generally insufficiently filled (schlecht eingeschenkt) - costs a record 9.85 euros.

With 1.5 to 4% the Brezn contains less fat than the Brezel with 4 to 8%. The decisive argument however is their different shape: Während bei schwäbischen Brezeln der Ansatz der Ärmchen sehr tief liegt und dadurch der obige Bogen als Bauch bezeichnet werden kann, sitzt er bei den typischen bayrischen Brezn deutlich höher (While in the case of the Swabian Brezel the attachment of the little arms is extremely low and the arc above may be described a belly the little arms of the Bavarian Brezn are significantly higher).

Bavarian Brezn with highly attached arms (©Wikipedia)

Swabian Brezel with a belly showing a hernia (©Guido Augustin)

What a tempest in a teacup. Being in Freiburg, my grandchildren could not care less in particularly when a Brezel or Brezn is horizontally sliced and slathered with butter. Now being older, they still like Butterbrezeln for breakfast but do the buttering themselves. Mothers in town well know that the best way to keep toddlers calm in their prams is to feed them Brezeln.

American pretzel (©Sodahead)
Medieval Brezel in Freiburg's Münster church on the stained glass window donated by the bakers' guild. Note the rather Bavarian form of a Brezn

So that war may not break out in the border region between Bavaria and Swabia, the Bavarian bakers are proposing a pragmatic approach. The Swabian bakers should send a letter to Brussels too. Will this help? I bet that specialists are already working to find specific differences between a Swabian Brezel and one baked in Baden so that another border conflict is likely.