Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Last of The Franciscans

Near to my apartment at the corner Günterstalstraße/Prinz-Eugen-Straße there is a Franciscan monastery. Only five monks Bogdan, Desiderius, Eryk, Lucjan, and Marcjean still live in a building for 30 residents and they are all from Poland. All speak excellent German and are pastoring in Freiburg. Fact is that the number of Catholic priests educated in Germany is on a steady decline and does no longer cover the needs. Up to now the gap was filled with young clerics from Poland being the best Polish export item as I learned when I visited Breslau in 2010.

These last Franciscans in high spirits will soon be "flying home" (Photo ©Badische Zeitung)
Note the beautiful park in the background.
The friars minor are gentle people. I used to pull their legs about their habits. As in the photo they wear their typical brownish frocks with a white cord around their waists but sandals with socks* whereas in the past they used to walk barefoot (Barfüßermönche). They answered: Our prior told us to wear socks so that we won't catch coldTheir order having resided in Freiburg for more than 750 years, the last Franciscans will now leave the city. Apparently their services are needed at home. An old proverb says: Das Kloster währt länger denn der Abt (The monastery lasts longer than the abbot). Is this still true? Although the building has been designated an historical landmark "building sharks" are already turning around the real estate, a beautiful natural park with old trees. I shall keep you informed.
*Usually when you see men wearing white socks in sandals you can be sure that those guys are Germans.

The complex of the Franciscan monastery in the center opposite the city hall located
 at the bottom on the Sickinger map of 1589.
St. Martin's church as yet without a steeple is on the left, i.e., the north.
The west wing of the cloister still exists
as well as the buildings on the south side of the complex.
The mendicant order of the Franciscans settled in Freiburg in 1246 after Count Konrad had endowed the ordo fratrum minorum (OFM) with a chapel located opposite to the city hall consecrated to St. Martin plus four standard plots of 100 times 50 feet (possibly 5% longer than the modern foot). Here the friars minor built their monastery and had the chapel enlarged to a church in 1317. While the church still exists the south wing of the cloister was demolished in 1846 to make room for a bigger square in front of the city hall, subsequently called Franziskanerplatz. When the Nazis seized power in Freiburg on March 31, 1933, the undemocratically installed mayor Franz (sic!) Kerber did not like residing on Franciscan Square and had it renamed Rathausplatz (City Hall Square).

After the war most streets and squares the Nazis had renamed got their original names back with two notable exceptions. Freiburg's central street before 1933 known as Kaiserstraße was renamed into Kaiser-Joseph-Straße reminiscent of the Habsburg rule. The city by all means wanted to avoid any allusion to the last Prussian Emperor Wilhelm. The Rathausplatz however kept its name. This was somehow far-sighted for about a year ago the Dominicans took over the original Franciscan premises.

The following photo shows the corner of the St. Martin's church and what is left of the now glazed cloister. In this very corner a stage will be mounted on the occasion of Freiburg's Partnership Market on June 7 and 8. The city of Madison will be the guest of honor for this year we are celebrating the Silver Jubilee of the partnership between our two cities.

A quiet corner in Freiburg

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April 24, 1848

Today Freiburg commemorates the 165th anniversary of a skirmish between revolutionists and troops of the Grand Duchy of Baden at the Jägersbrunnen (Hunters' Fountain) close to Günterstal, a nearby village.  On Easter Sunday, April 24, 1848, one of the most famous encounters of the Baden Revolution took place between the feudal government and people fighting for a democratic republic. In 1848 revolutionary uprisings all over Germany made the princes tremble. The Baden Revolution was the longest, starting in Offenburg on September 12, 1847, with a paper: Thirteen demands of the people of Baden that called for democratic changes in government and ending in Fort Rastatt on Juli 23, 1849, with the fall of this last revolutionary refuge. Carl Schurz, well known in the States, escaped his imprisonment and shooting according to martial law through the sewer system at the last minute. You may want to read more about the Badische Revolution in German.

Already last Sunday afternoon about 300 people walked from Günterstal to the Freiburger Rathaus (town hall) and commemorated the skirmish, visiting three historical places on their way:

 The memorial stone at the site where the skirmish took place in 1848.

The Dortu-Mausoleum (read more) at the old Wiehre cemetery.

The site of the last barricade at the Schwabentor (Swabian gate).

Having left Günterstal, the 2013-revolutionists follow the historical trail
 and approach the memorial site.

Many heads with more or less gray hair constrain the view. The guy in front is rapping the Revolution. To his right you can see the by now mossy memorial stone. The gentleman holding the mike and the people in the back with their black-red-golden ribbons are the organizers of the memorial march. To the left the man with the tie is Freiburg's Social-Democrate MP Gernot Ehrler (you met in an earlier blog) who too said a few words about the historical implications of the aborted fight for freedom and democracy in 1848. The upcoming federal election in September oblige. According to Gernot Erler the word combination social and democracy was first used and its meaning explained in Der Festungs-Bote No 10 (Newspaper of Fort Rastatt) published July 18, 1849.

Some participants wore historical-looking outfits

and made a terrible noise firing blank cartridges.

We all sang revolutionary songs at the old Wiehre cemetery. 
Note the boy with his Brezel on the left.

He had followed the crowd on its long march to the Rathaus. 
Now, he is looking tired but clings to his Brezel.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Merkiavelli and the Spiked Helmet

Photo AFP/Getty
Yesterday I read an article by Dominic Sandbrook in the right leaning Daily Mail, sometimes considered as The Newspaper that Rules Britain : Angela Merkel has made Germany master of Europe in a way Hitler and Kaiser Wilhelm only dreamt of. The implications are frightening.

What attracts the potential reader in the first place is a picture showing our chancellor crowned with a spiked helmet and naming her Merkiavelli. This is an interesting photo composition, for the headgear marked FR - mirror inverted, by the way - is the helmet of the tragic Emperor Frederick III, FR standing for Frederick Rex of Prussia. The British newspaper choose the wrong helmet, for the Emperor who only reigned for 99 days before he died of cancer of the larynx was anglophile and known for his liberal views. This was partly due to the influence of his wife Victoria Princess Royal, the oldest daughter of Queen Victoria.

Frederick, mourned even in Britain (Puck)
Frederick had been the hope of the progressive forces in German society pushing for a transformation of the authoritarian Second Reich into a democratic constitutional monarchy. Most historians are convinced that history would have taken a different course if Frederick had lived on.

Court ball in the White Room of the Berlin City Palace in 1886. Star of the evening is the impressive crown prince Frederick surrounded by members of the Progressive Party. To the left Berlin's mayor and speaker of the Reichstag Max von Forckenbeck, on his side wearing the red gown of the dean of the medical faculty of Berlin's Humboldt University is professor Rudolf Virchow whose motto was liberty with its daughters education and affluence. In between there is the physisist and president of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt (equivalent to the National Bureau of Standards in the US) Hermann von Helmholtz. Painting by Anton von Werner.

Otherwise I learned from the article why Germany clings to the euro. It is trying hard to keep all those wobbling Mediterranean members in the eurozone. Its reason is not that it cares for the European Union but pure economic egoism. Admittedly, there is an element of truth in this statement.

Many countries spend more than their financial resources allow and they drown in their debts, not a good legacy to bequeath to our great-grandchildren. One way to escape the debt trap is to cut spending with all the consequences for the national economies. Bringing down social programs and reducing investments both give rise to an increasing unemployment. Will leaving the euro help those countries? I am not sure. Devaluating their new/old national currency will on the one hand help boosting exports and attracting euro-tourists, however on the other hand the debts remain counted in euro. Fact is that we Germans guaranteeing the eurozone bailout fund with billions of euros are slowly becoming fed-up by all those attacks of those who slipped under the so-called rescue umbrella and now moan about the consequences. Is there a solution to the problem?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Seume Two

In Seume, who? I introduced you to Johann Gottfried Seume, the German writer, soldier, editor, frequent traveler, and late enlightener. In the meantime, I read his journal titled Mein Sommer im Jahr 1805 (My Summer in the year of 1805) containing his impressions of his journey to the Nordic countries around the Baltic Sea from April to September 1805. Take the blog Seume Two as a natural follow-up of Seume Who?.

Like in 1802, when Seume had made his famous hike to Syracuse, he again had chosen a rather peaceful year, although, during 1805, Austria was preparing to battle Napoleon for a third time trying to lure Russia into the adventure. Napoleon had crowned himself emperor in 1804, and war eventually broke out in fall 1805. When in the Battle of the Three Emperors on 2 December, Austria suffered a crushing defeat at Austerlitz Seume was already back home in Leipzig.

Starting out from there in April of 1805, Seume visited Dresden, Breslau, Warsaw, Kowno, Riga, Reval, Saint Petersburg with a detour to Moscow, although most of the time he did not hike but instead used the stagecoach. Following a more extended stay in Saint Petersburg, he then continued to Turku, Uppsala, Stockholm, Helsingborg, Copenhagen, Kiel, and Hamburg back to Leipzig.

Actually, he visited only five countries: Saxony, Prussia, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark for Poland had ceased to exist in 1795 when Prussia, Austria, and Russia occupied the rest of what had been left of the kingdom following the first and the second partition of Poland in 1772 and 1793. Seume had participated in the third partition of Poland as a Russian officer and adjutant of General Igelström in 1794.

Finland's situation occupied by Sweden and Russia was ethnically even worse than that of Poland for the border Seume crossed split a homogeneous population speaking neither a Slavic nor a Germanic idiom posing the risk that the Finnish language might become extinct.

A page of  Uppsala's Codex Argentus (Wikipedia)
Writing about Germanic idioms: Most impressive for me was that Seume was allowed to take in his hands the Wulfila Bible or what remained of it in Uppsala's University Library. Already in the 4th century, Bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila) had the Bible translated into Gothic. The Bible text of the Codex Argenteus kept in Uppsala was written in Italy in the 6th century with silver letters on parchment. Of the original 336 folia, the former Benedictine abbey of Werden (near Essen, Rhineland) had 187 remaining. Emperor Rudolph II, interested in scholarship, bought the pages and kept them at his imperial seat in Prague. When the Swedes occupied the city in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years' War, they took the pages to Sweden as war booty from where they found their way to Uppsala rather than to Gothenburg.

Below is the Lord's Prayer in Gothic that English, German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish-speaking people are still able to understand at least in parts:

atta unsar þu in himinam,
weihnai namo þein.
qimai þiudinassus þeins.
wairþai wilja þeins,
swe in himina jah ana airþai.
hlaif unsarana þana sinteinan gif uns himma daga.
jah aflet uns þatei skulans sijaima,
swaswe jah weis afletam þaim skulam unsaraim.
jah ni briggais uns in fraistubnjai,
ak lausei uns af þamma ubilin;
unte þeina ist þiudangardi jah mahts jah wulþus in aiwins.

Note that the letter þ stands for the "th" that in German frequently changed into "d."

All in all, Seume's diary about his travel around the Baltic Sea is less entertaining than his book about his hiking tour to Syracuse. Was this the reason that no publisher wanted to print the manuscript? No, the reason was that the keen observer Seume had well noticed the misery of the peasants during his travels and had written it down. Throughout his text he criticizes the feudalistic society and outspoken passages like the one below about the superiority of the Napoleonic soldier compared to his German counterpart were politically dangerous:

Without any distinction, a Frenchman fights for his country that has become his love, that not only keeps him and his family given all the advantages but offers these benefits in reality. In France, a man is taken for what he is, in our country a man is estimated according to his entry in the Church register, the weight of his father's moneybag or what the Lord Stewart's office prescribes. For whom should a German grenadier throw himself on batteries and into bayonets? He stays what he is, carries on his knapsack, and hardly earns a friendly word from his grumpy ruler. He shall look death in the eye, while in drudgery at home, his old, weak father is plowing the fields of a merciful Junker doing nothing, paying him nothing and rewarding him with maltreatment. The sweating old man brings in the harvest of the Court and has often let rot his own crop outside. However, he has the miserable honor of being the only coolie of the State, a reputation that is better not recognized! Why should a soldier fight courageously only to enjoy such happiness later himself? He shall be brave while his sister or girlfriend are forced to serve at Court, for eight Gilders annually, year by year without any perspective in their lifetime; and his old, sick aunt barely living on dry bread must spin her allotted pile of flax for the Court lest she be forced to live on alms; and his little brother must serve as a messenger-boy running for a dime, day in, day out in cold and in heat. It is the small peasant who drives and pulls and gives; on the large farms, no hoof will stir, and no wheel will turn without him. That is what you call State, good order, and justice. Are you still wondering where the public unhappiness comes from?

I hope my translation has retained a little bit of Seume's emotional style.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Cliffhanger or Falling Off the Cliff

Cliffhanger or falling off the cliff was the title of a discussion we recently had at the Stammtisch of the Freiburg-Madison-Gesellschaft about US monetary policy. In spite of a positive vote of both US Senate and House of Representatives in the early hours of January 1st, 2013 on the compromise American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 it seems that both the fiscal cliff and the debt-ceiling will remain cliffhangers in the States throughout the year.

Looking through the Internet for an illustration of cliffhanger I discovered that others had the idea of a person falling off the cliff earlier (©Cardow Cartoon)
For me as a layman it is always astonishing to see how national economies get away with accumulating debts while private persons, e.g., must leave "their" houses when they are no longer able to serve the interest of their loans. The difference is that states will refinance their debts, an interesting practice particularly at this moment. With the massive volume of money circulating around the globe new bonds are issued at low interest rates. This practice also means interest rates of private investments approach zero, future benefits of pension funds will no longer cover the needs of old age people, and inflation looms. Experts have coined the term: Financial Repression.

The following table presents the financial situation in 2012 for a couple of countries. For sake of comparison figures are given in US$ (source Wikipedia):

Country Debt in TriUS$ Per cap US$ % of GDP2012>13 in %
USA 17.48 5555 107 +4.7
Germany 2.85 3495 83 -1.2
Japan 14.65 11508 237 +3.4
Greece 0.49 4404 171 +6.4
Italy 2.65 4345 126 +1.6
France 2.50 3937 90 +2.2
Spain 1.36 2915 91 +6.6
Cyprus 0.02 2520 93 -6.5

The world's burden of debts (©The Guardian, UK)
As far a the indebtedness per capita is concerned Japan sets the pace. The figure of 11508 US$ looks impressive but the Japanese state only holds few foreign bonds, i. e., mainly owes the money to its citizens. Other countries buy their bonds in all major currencies on the international money market at the lowest possible interest rate. With respect to its debt per capita recently bailed-out Euro-country Cyprus looks remarkably good with only 2520 US$.

Leverages shown in the table range from 83 to 237% of the Country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The classical view had it that a country is considered bankrupt when this figure exceeds 100%. Here the number for Greece sticks out in particular in view of its projected increase from 171 to 182% in 2013 whilst Cyprus will decrease its leverage from 93 to 86% possibly due to the massive financial help the European Union recently gave to the country.

There were times when financial situations were worse as in Freiburg in 1477. With the choir of its Münster church still under construction the city had a debt per capita of an equivalent of 23 000 US$ for a population of only 6000. The leverage was 1000% such that 50% of Freiburg's budget had to be earmarked to pay the interest on the accumulated debt. There was no hope of paying off the loans. To remedy the financial situation at that time, Freiburg's master, King Maximilian, increased the city's income by placing the trade of iron and salt under its control.

Today people complain about Freiburg's "enormous" indebtedness of an equivalent of 280 MioUS$. This however amounts to a debt per capita of only 1200 US$ and corresponds to 35% of the city's current budget. These figures are not negligible but low in comparison with cities in some regions of Germany where unemployment rates are permanently high: Duisburg, a city in the Ruhr district, has a debt of an equivalent of 2,9 BioUS$ or per capita US$ 5860.