Friday, May 31, 2013

Index of Inequality?

On May 28, 2013, The Economist published a graphic that supports my idea of opening "income-scissors", i.e., of widening income gaps in the "Western World". The chart below presents what the editors term the better-life index. It should give a closer indication of the well-being of people than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) generally used when classifying the wealth of countries.

Better-life index (©The Economist)
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has assembled several indicators in various countries over the last three years like as usual jobs, unemployment, and personal income but in addition housing, education, environment, satisfaction in life, safety, and civic engagement. The Economist then took the rough data considering how the upper 10% and the lower 10% of the people with respect to income and education fare in a given society.

I still remember the years after the war when Germany might have figured around an absolute better-life index of 0.4. However, it is not the absolute value that intrigues me but the gap between the upper 10% and the lower 10% with respect to their socioeconomic status. This must have been much lower than 0.1 in Germany when I was young.

As a student during my frequent trips to Italy I recognized a different world. I noticed enormous differences in the lifestyle of high-society and poor people. Today Italy figures on the chart of the better-life index somewhere in the middle, the gap between the two poles being only around 0.17.

The US is on top but the opening of the gap for its better-life index is wide being about 0.24. Germany's absolute index is lower than that for the States (remember, Germans always complain!) but the gap between the upper 10 % and the lower 10 % is 0.21, nearly as wide as for the US.
Will he haunt the capitalistic world afresh?

I want to single out two countries showing small gaps around 0.11. One is Japan, a country where I worked in 1986 for three months. Japan is a traditionally homogeneous society where apparently the less fortunate people do not consider themselves to be much worse off their wealthier country fellows.

The other country is Poland, which I just visited, a country on the move trying to find its way in Europe between tradionalism and an open western society. Polish people think high and those at the lower end have not given up their hopes for a higher better-life index in the near future. The question is, will we see in Poland an increase of the gap over the coming years?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Jeszcze Polska nie zginęa

starts Poland's national anthem: Poland Is Not Yet Lost. By no means; the country with 33 million striving inhabitants and its unpronounceable language nowadays is a key member of the European Union.

Polish Eagle during the Warsaw Uprising
From May 18 to May 23, 2013, the Society for Political Education in collaboration with the Badische Zeitung organized a trip to Poland visiting Warsaw, Krakau and Auschwitz. The discussions our group had with staff from the German embassy as well as Polish and German press people changed my picture of Poland profoundly.

Poland joined the European Union in 2004 and since then I have always been irritated by the, in my view, erratic actions of the Polish Government. One typical situation was the protest against the Russian-German project of a gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea. The real reason for the protest was neither the fact that Polish territory was avoided (because of mistrust?) nor the impoliteness of the builders in not having informed Poland beforehand about their plans but instead the close contact between Russia and Germany. Whenever these two countries worked together in the past it meant trouble for the Polish people. Twice in history Polish territory was annexed by Russia and Germany so that Poland no longer figured on European maps.

If Germany suffered in the Thirty Year War and under Napoleon's domination, the Polish people underwent many more alternating hot and cold water baths in their history. Whenever Germany was in its deepest humiliation, as German poets termed it, they still saw in our common language a sign of hope. For the Polish people throughout the centuries the cohesion was even stronger for the binding force was not only their language but a strong, patriotic Catholic church.

In 1386 Poland became a Great Power due to a marriage between the Polish and the Lithuanian dynasties where the joint territories represented the biggest land mass in Europe. The Empire's decline started in the wars with Sweden over supremacy in the Baltic. Eventually Poland became so weak that in three partitions Austria, Prussia and Russia swallowed the state. Marie Walewska* invoking the sufferings of the Polish people and granting favours to Napoleon hoped to influence the emperor to support Poland in its struggle to regain independence from Prussia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire. Eventually he created the Grand Duchy of Warsaw but this entity was of brief duration. As a consequence of Napoleon's defeat the Congress of Vienna in 1814 had Poland disappear again for the newly formed "Kongress-Polen" was no more than a satellite of the Russian Empire.
*Although presented as a romance in many movies, Maria in her memoirs maintained that she forced herself to get involved with Napoleon for purely patriotic reasons: The sacrifice was complete. It was all about harvesting fruit now, achieving this one single aim, which could excuse my debased position. This was the thought that possessed me. 

Daily life in Warsaw in the 1930ies
Diorama at the Exhibition commemorating the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
Poland was re-created as a republic following the First World War. The new state advocated an aggressive foreign policy, even waging war with socialist Russia. This by no means should be regarded as an excuse for Hitler's brutal invasion of Poland in 1939 fully backed by Stalin. Following Germany's Blitzkrieg both neighboring powers partitioned Poland for the fourth time.

Poland's Fourth Partition
When Germany lost the war Stalin kept the eastern parts of Poland that he and Hitler had agreed upon, driving out the Polish population. These people were moved westward to territories in eastern Germany out of which the population was subsequently expelled. The result was that Poland was shifted by 200 kilometers to the west.

I knew all this before but in re-digesting Poland's history on site I slowly began to appreciate the Polish trauma. There are efforts being made both in Poland and Germany to improve the relationship between the two neighboring countries and take them to the same level as the relation between France and Germany. This is a difficult task since West Europeans have lots of prejudices as far as the Polish people are concerned. Poles are lazy, steal cars but are potent plumbers as the French ironically earmark them. Fact is what our President rightly said: Polen sind fleißiger als Deutsche (Polish people are more hardworking than Germans), i.e., 1419 compared with 1939 working hour in a year.

Commemorating Willy Brandt's Genuflection
in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument.
One Polish official remarked: He knelt in front of the wrong monument.
Very few people in the west are inclined to learn the difficult Polish language whereas the Poles nowadays opt for English rather than German as their lingua franca. As a consequence the Viadrina University in Frankfort on the Oder although it was started as a German-Polish venture does not really bring the students of both nations together when they follow courses in their respective mother tongue.

At present there is a trend for Polish people to come to Germany because unemployment particularly among the young is much higher on the eastern banks of the Oder river. Let us hope that this and any further future moves will help to reduce the mutual prejudice.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Vauban's Legacy

The other day an article in the Badische Zeitung informed readers about a plan of the Consortium for the Revitalization of Freiburg's Schlossberg to make a part of Vauban's fortifications, the Fort Carré, visible again. When thinking about Schlossberg many of my Madison friends know Toni's place, the Greiffenegg-Schlössle, that due to its diminutive form neither sounds nor looks like a fort.

The Greiffenegg-Schlössle above Freiburg
and its chestnut-shaded beer-garden behind
Well, the Greiffenegg-Schlössle is like the tip of an iceberg where more than 90% of what once existed on Schlossberg is no longer there or rather invisible.

Without going back in history to the Romans it was Bertold II, Duke of Zähringen, who in 1091 decided to build his Castrum de Friburch on the strategically important hill above the future city of Freiburg. No pictures exist but Hartmann von Aue ought have written songs about the most beautiful castle in the region.

Over the centuries buildings and fortifications on Schlossberg were frequently destroyed but just as frequently reconstructed.

The Burghaldenschloss at the time of the Thirty Years War
In Merian's Topographia Germaniae, volume Alsatiae, a copperplate print of Freiburg in 1644 shows a building on Schlossberg called Burghaldenschloss. This castle was destroyed in the Thirty Years War but rebuilt at the order of Emperor Leopold in the 1670ties as a stronghold against French aggression.

The Leopoldsburg in 1670 looks like a stronghold
All in vain. In 1677 Louis XIV's marshal François de Créqui besieged the city and eventually took it. The subsequent Nijmegen Peace Treaty required Leopold to hand Freiburg over to the French crown.

Genius Vauban
Immediately Louis XIV ordered his fortress architect Vauban to embattail the city according to modern standards as a French fort on German territory. Genius Vauban considered incorporating the Vieux Château (Burghaldenschloss) into the new fortification not as a problem but rather took it as an opportunity. In enlarging the existing installations on Schlossberg he transformed them into a refuge. Should Freiburg be taken by an enemy the city's troops would initially retreat to Fort de l'Aigle - due to its form also called chamber pot - then in case of need move even higher up into Fort de St. Pierre, and eventually as a last resort pull back to Fort Carré.

Vauban's fortification around Freiburg and on Schlossberg:
Fort de l'Aigle, Fort de St. Pierre
, and at the far end Fort Carré.
When in 1745 the French definitely had to leave Freiburg they blew up Vauban's fortifications and leveled the buildings. Over the years nature took over and the last vestiges of Vauban's work disappeared. Now the Consortium would like to make the foundations of Fort Carré visible as an historical heritage.

The Fort Carré, the last resort (©BZ)
In Freiburg Vauban had to construct his fortification into and around existing structures. His masterpiece, however, he could build from scratch a few kilometers away from Freiburg: Neuf Brisach.

Vauban's masterpiece: Neuf Brisach

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Freiburg's Second Founding Father

Otto Winterer in half-relief in Freiburg's minster
The day before yesterday Freiburg commemorated Otto Winterer, its legendary mayor who they say founded the city a second time. Winterer took this position on May 25, 1888, at the age of 42 and retired from office on May 25, 1913, exactly 25 years later. During his tenure he transformed Freiburg, the medieval city, into a modern town doubling its population from 45 000 to 90 000.

Speaking on the occasion of this double commemoration (held a week earlier because of the Whitsun holidays) were Winterer's great-grandson professor Tilman Mayer, the director of Freiburg's Augustinermuseum Tilmann von Stockhausen, and Lord Mayor Dieter Salomon. Note the difference in the spelling of the forenames.

Winterer's great-grandson Tilman Mayer addressing in a grey-headed crowd
 (©Michael Bamberger, BZ)
Winterer, a national liberal, was conservative in preserving Freiburg's cultural heritage and at the same time avant-garde building new schools and bridges, investing in affordable housing projects, assuring a modern water supply as well as effluent disposal, creating a central gas supply, and electrifying the streetcar system as early as 1901. As his great-grandson formulated it: Otto Winterer was designer, innovator, and preserver.

The Wasserschlössle or how to hide a drinking water reservoir behind a historicizing front (©Wikipedia)
Winterer not only preserved Freiburg's historical building stock, e.g., when founding the Münsterbauverein (Society for the Preservation of the Minster) but he longed to exaggerate the existing Gothic and Renaissance buildings vertically. Sometimes, however, he overshot, e.g., when acting according to his maxim: A village has roofs, a town sports steeples.

Exaggerating vertically

The Martinstor before 1900. There is a painting of Saint Martin on its frontface (©Wikipedia)
The Martinstor as it looks today except for the missing painting
Historisches Freiburg)

The Schwabentor in its original form (©Historisches Freiburg)

The Schwabentor highly exaggerated (©Historisches Freiburg)

After the war due to damage and static reasons the Schwabentor had to be stripped down. During the present renovations cracks in the walls of the gate were unexpectedly discovered demanding the strengthening of its foundations (©Historisches Freiburg).
How were all these building activities possible? Winterer was a man of action, straightforward and he had visions, twenty-five years in office, and money. It was the Gründerzeit of the 2nd Reich (founding period) following Germany's unification, a period of robust growth. Most of Winterer's developments were sustainable, e.g., his solid school buildings and most of the original effluent system are still in use.

Winterer's oversized theater (©Historisches Freiburg)
Since Winterer wanted to make Freiburg an attractive town for tourists and rich pensioneers (at that time Freiburg was nicknamed the all-German Pensionopolis) he rounded out the city's historical jewels and the natural beauties of the Black Forest with a generous cultural offerings. The municipal theater he had built by 1910 was the second biggest in the Reich for a population of less than 90 000. It was finished in a period when the times of plenty had elapsed. Otto Winterer died on 26 February, 1915, half a year after the outbreak of the First World War that ended the good old times.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Rethinking Marx

2013 is a year of anniversaries so one for Karl Marx who was born in the city of Trier on May 5, 1818. To honor this 195th non-decanal birthday German artist Ottmar Hörl placed 500 statues of the bearded thinker throughout his hometown of Trier. He said to Der Spiegel: I want to encourage passersby to rethink Marx reminding us that although the German thinker is associated with labor, capital, and an impressive fortress of facial hair, his true impact is arguably far more complex.

Ottmar Hörl and his Marx men (© Der Spiegel)
The miniature Marx men are all the same size and shape, yet all cast in different shades of red. Karl's historical importance no one will deny but were his ideas about class struggle not interred with the communist regimes in eastern Europe? Not quite, for some governments around the globe still hold on to communism where in principle all goods are equally shared between the people. In this sense China is not a communist country. Any regime claiming to be a government of the people, by the people, for the people cannot overcome human nature, i.e., some people are better off than others. When these persons are party functionaries as in case of the Nazis or the GDR  the inequality is more than just annoying. The question is, are we in our democracies immune to inequalities that were recently caused by turbo capitalism?

In a TIME article: Marx's Revenge: How Class Struggle is Shaping the World I found Marx's statement: Accumulation of wealth on one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole. Without describing the content of the article and considering that we are still far away from workers of the world uniting and even further away from a dictatorship of the proletariat we still may ask the question how those who govern us can assure fairer economic opportunities. Fact is that in recent years the gap between the rich and the poor has been widening. In the 1970s the richest 10% of Americans earned 33% of the total income, by 2007 the percentage had increased to 49.7%, to nearly one half. In Germany where in the 1960s nobody imagined such a development the situation seems worse for in 2004 the richest 10% earned 49% of the total, a figure that increased to 53% in 2008.

On April 24, I published a blog about our revolutionary hike from Günterstal to Freiburg's town hall and mentioned Freiburg's Social-Democrate MP Gernot Erler who on that occasion traced back the word combination social and democracy to 1849 and an article written by Ernst Elsenhans in Der Festungs-Bote No 10 (Newspaper of Fort Rastatt) published near the end of the Baden Revolution on July 18, 1849: Was ist und was will die soziale Demokratie? (What is social democracy and what is its aim?). I read the article and I was stunned by one paragraph:

Die Demokratie an sich wird uns weder Arbeit noch Brod geben, sie wird unsere fälligen Zinsen nicht zahlen, sie wird uns nicht von Sorgen und Leiden befreien, denn sie stößt bei Lösung ihrer Aufgabe, das Volk zur Herrschaft zu bringen, stets auf das Mißverhältnis des Eigenthums, des Besitzes. Diese Ungleichheit, dieses Mißverhältnis sucht nun der Sozialismus durch Herstellung der Gleichheit herzustellen ... Die Vertheilung der Güter soll nach dem Verlangen der Sozialisten von der Arbeit abhängig gemacht und dadurch die möglichste Gleichheit unter den Menschen erzielt, es soll jedem fleißigen, ordentlichen und geschickten Mann Gelegenheit verschafft werden, so viel Besitz zu erwerben, als zu einem vernünftigen Genuß des Lebens nötig ist ... (Democracy alone will give us neither jobs nor bread, it will not pay the interest on our debts, it will not liberate us from sorrows and sufferings for when trying to bring the people to power it always stumbles against the disproportion of property, of possession. Socialism tries to solve this disproportion by creating equality ... According to the socialists, the distribution of goods shall depend on work. Thereby the best possible equality among people shall be achieved. Each hardworking, decent, industrious man shall have the opportunity to acquire sufficient property to assure him a reasonable enjoyment of life...)

Der Festungs-Bote No 10 of July 18, 1849
For Ernst Elsenhans socialism does not mean dispossession or leveling down but that every person should be able to earn a living while working. In addition remunerations shall be more than just sufficient to survive. The text is burning hot for in my country where unemployment luckily is low many a man or woman needs two jobs to earn his/her living or depends, while working, on additional government money supplements. The victims are young people, single parents and their children, and old people with insufficient old-age pensions. This is a social scandal in a country like Germany.

Like Ottmar Hörl I want to encourage you to rethink Marx and would like to add: How deep do you like the shade of red for your miniature Marx man?

Marx monument in Berlin (© Andreas Höfert)

Friday, May 3, 2013

I Do Remember It Well

Robert's Logo
Today the Badische Zeitung published a column informing me that 20 years ago on April 30, 1993, the World Wide Web was baptized as such at CERN. Yes, it is well known that at the place where I worked Tim Berners-Lee together with Robert Cailliau not only developed the idea of a global communication platform but as one of my colleagues from SLAC once formulated: They gave it to the world.

I must admit that the exact date mentioned above came as a surprise to me for those of us working at CERN had a sliding start by first getting an e-mail service with which we could communicate on-line with our American colleagues. Later we were introduced to the Web and our first browser was Mosaic that was soon replaced by Netscape developed in the States.

Windows 95: Wikipedia on Netscape
My contact person in those pioneer days was Robert, the charming Belgian, with whom I as a simple user chatted quite often over a cup of coffee. Neither of us then imagined the impact the World Wide Web would have.