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.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Don't Sleep

Up to now my understanding of the Energiewende was that when changing from fossil or nuclear to renewable energy sources the main problem was energy storage. The wind may not blow and the sun not shine when the demand for electrical power is high. Renewable energy generated at times of high production and low consumption must be stored and retrievable on demand. In the case of Germany an aggravating factor is the spatial distribution of renewable energy. Wind parks generating lots of electricity are situated in the north while the power is needed in the south. New direct current lines must be built meaning an investment of several billion euros over the coming years.

You can imagine my frustration when I read the other day that a pump storage hydro power station (PSHPS) planned in the south of the Black Forest near Atdorf may not be built. The reason is that due to the present overproduction of electricity even the 30 existing PSHPSs with their total potential power of 7 gigawatts are no longer profitable in Germany. As an example a written-off PSHPS near Dresden from 1926 is mentioned. In 2009 the unit generated power during 2800 hours whereas in 2012 the number of operating hours was only 280. No wonder the electricity company has no interest in necessary and urgent renovations of the installation. Under these circumstances it is obvious too that private electricity companies do not want to invest 1.7 billion euros in a new PSHPS at Atdorf.
Europe's biggest existing PSHPS, the Schluchseewerk, with a power of 1800 megawatts
 is located in the Black Forest (©BZ).
The situation however will change. On June 30, 2011, following the Fukushima disaster, the German Bundestag voted by a great majority to immediately shut-down 8 of Germany's 17 nuclear power stations with the others to be phased out by the year 2022. When the last reactor is shut down and most coal-fired power stations are scrapped it is estimated that Germany will need an energy storage capacity buffering wind and solar energy production of at least 40 billion kilowatt hours by the year 2050.

This is why many consider the energy policy of the present government short-sighted at the least, some would even call it chaotic. PSHPSs may turn the pumped up water masses into electricity without delay. In addition most experts claim that these installations are more eco-friendly than power-to-gas solutions where abundant renewable electricity is used to produce hydrogen or methane that in turn is fed into the existing gas grid.

The argument that the PSHPS Atdorf will fill the pockets of electricity companies
  no longer holds  (©BZ)
From the beginning the local Greens of Atdorf were against the PSHPS project objecting to the decision of the Greens in the Baden-Württemberg State Government. The opposition smirked: The Greens are against green electricity. The local "Not in our backyard" objectors argued with the preservation of nature.

The unexpected decision of the electricity company to withdraw from the PSHPS project left both supporters and opponents greatly perturbed. The local Greens suspect a deceptive maneuver and cite Günter Eich: Schlaft nicht, wenn die Geschäftigen der Welt mit eurer Schläfrigkeit rechnen (Don't sleep when the busy people of this world count on your sleepiness).

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

100% Democratic?

Back from my memorable trip to Madison where I enjoyed the opportunity to experience the booming beer culture in the States I opened my favorite newspaper Badische Zeitung and became depressed. Two gentlemen and a couple of younger guys drink Warsteiner Bier in Freiburg whereas our city has two local breweries Feierling and Ganter that are still run by the families of the same name. The Feierling Bier immediately comes to my mind for they brew and serve a naturtrübes, süffiges Bier vom Fass (naturally cloudy and pleasant-to-drink draft beer).

Prosten with Warsteiner Pils (©BZ)

Feierling: naturtrübes Bier
The two gentlemen in the photo are well-known in Germany as Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the former Chief-of-Staff in the Schröder administration (October 1998 to October 2005), supporting the other gentleman Gernot Erler in his efforts to gain the seat of the Freiburg electoral district for the Social Democratic Party in the upcoming federal election. The younger guys at the table are Jusos, SPD juniors, trying to follow in the footsteps of the two political heavyweights.

What is so peculiar about the election of Gernot Erler who has held the Freiburg electoral district for three consecutive terms and is now aiming at a fourth? The German electoral system is different from that in the UK and the US where candidates need the majority of votes to represent an electoral district in Parliament or Congress. However, already Winston Churchill knew: This system is not 100% democratic but it works. It works because it supports a two-party system with stable majorities, it is somewhat undemocratic since important minorities not likely to win a direct mandate such as the Green Party are not represented in the legislative bodies. A purely proportionality electoral system presenting each party with its weight in parliament according to the votes received is not ideal either. Such a system gave the fatal blow to the Weimar Republic in particular due to the mini-parties presented in the Reichstag to the extend that majorities for stable governments became impossible.

The present German electoral system is a mixture of both the direct and the proportional system. It tries to be perfect in electing half of the candidates in 299 electoral districts directly whereas the other half, i.e., 299 candidates are added from lists the various parties set up so that they are represented in the Bundestag (the German parliament) according to the percentage of votes they received in the election. This is why German voters cast two votes. The first one is for the direct candidate, the second one for the strength of the party. For stability reasons minority parties with less than 5% of the votes will not be represented in the Bundestag.

Red Baron likes persons with character and knows Gernot Erler as such. He supports this man of integrity and knowledge in his fourth run for a seat. However, this is not sure for in 2009 the votes for the direct seat in Freiburg were split among three candidates: 33% for the Social Democrat Gernot Erler, 28% for the Christian Democrat Daniel Sander, and 23% for the Green Kerstin Andreae. In 2013 too the Freiburg electoral district will be decided in a suspenseful triangulaire as the French call it.

The slogan of the Social Democrats for the election 2013 is: Das Wir entscheidet (It's the we that counts) against self-interest and greed. Erler when leaving the pub jokingly modified the slogan to: Das Bier entscheidet (Beer decides). Did he really mean Warsteiner Pils instead of a local Freiburg brew?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

That's Not My Beer

Das ist nicht mein Bier people say in Germany when they mean something does not concern them. No, what follows will not be a continuation of my previous blog but simply about beer. Although I blogged about beer in the past when I reported about a Beer Tasting and mentioned the Reinheitsgebot (German purity law) in my blogs about Thuringian Food and Baguette de Tradition today I must come back to beer because of some recent information and experience.

The other day I read an article bearing the same heading as this blog where the author sharply criticized the purity law: People claiming that German beer is a cultural heritage should admit that the beer brewed in our country tastes all the same. The reason is that although many traditional brand names still exist they are managed by only a few multinational food companies producing a uniform stuff. People drink a bottled premium beer of Brau Holding International e.g. a Fürstenberger brewed in Donaueschingen in a restaurant in far away Berlin. However, for reasons of preservability beer that is shipped over long distances is filtered several times depriving the liquid of most of its proteins. These proteins give beers their characteristic taste, their body, their Mundgefühl (mouth-feeling) and make them süffig (very drinkable). Therefore, the first rule of beer drinking my father taught me is: Always drink local! Local beers are less filtered.

Red Baron likes to drink naturtrübes Hefeweizen ohne Alkohol (naturally cloudy alcohol-free wheat beer), a beer with two issues. Firstly, this beer is not in conformity with the German purity law published on April 23, 1516, in Bavaria. In olden times wheat and rye had to be reserved for making bread. This was the main reason for the Gebot only allowing the use of barley - generally fed to the horses - for brewing beer. Secondly, alcohol is a flavor carrier. So alcohol-free wheat beer tastes different from the real stuff but drinking alcohol during the day makes me sleepy. Over the last years alcohol-free beer has become more and more popular in Germany for this liquid is isotonic meaning that the ions naturally eliminated from your body are naturally replenished when you drink beer with or without alcohol.

I still well remember the time when American beer had no taste. Don't protest, the story goes like this: It must have been thirty years ago. On my way to a conference in the States my incoming plane was late and I missed my connecting flight. Stranded in Kennedy they put me in a hotel near the airport. I was frustrated and I went to the bar for a beer. I don't remember whether the bottle the barkeeper took out of fridge was a Schlitz, Miller or Budweiser but I recall the glass he lifted out of the deep freeze. When he placed it in front of me beautiful frost patterns formed on its surface. He poured the cold beer into the glass, I drank, the beer was cold but had no taste. In later years whenever I ordered a beer in the States I asked for a warm glass until a waitress corrected me: I'm sorry, sir, but we can't warm it for you. During my recent visits to the US T. S. made me familiar with a Boston brew called Samuel Adams so that my atavistic American beer experience slowly faded away.

Coming back to the above mentioned article. The author wrote that German beers received poor marks in recent years compared to brews from Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, and above all the US. Compared to the experimental beers in these countries German beers are simply boring. In the States there are 2400 craft-beer brewers. Here comes my practical experience:

Ale Asylum's beer menu
A few days ago when I was in Madison, Wisconsin, with a delegation from Freiburg celebrating the 25th anniversary of our sister city relationship I had the occasion to participate in a pub crawl that our hosts being proud of their micro breweries had arranged for us. The by now classical German idea of selling beer by the meter in aligning enough glasses on a wooden plank to achieve the right length became a new experience at Madison's Ale Asylum. It was not that the length of the American plank is measured in feet but instead of meter, it was the glasses. They were not filled with a uniform dishwater but eight different beers of the ten the Ale Asylum generally has on tap. In choosing you could arrange your private beer tasting. What made our testing doubly interesting and even scientific was the presence of a Belgian beer expert in our drinking team making notes on a napkin. Indeed you had to write down your impressions in particular when we later moved on to the KARBEN 4 micro brewery for further testing.

Beer on the wooden plank at KARBEN4. Admire the various shades of beer.
All tasted beers were a unique experience. I would only like to single out a brew named Hopalicious. As the name suggests this beer was extremely bitter. Actually it was so strongly hopped that our Belgian expert explained that when drinking Hopalicious the taste buds become saturated such that you will no longer be able to taste other beers well.* Suddenly my memory came back about iced beer blocking the taste. Does history repeat itself? Are the Americans overdoing it again? It really does not matter as people love the taste of Hopalicious, it is the big seller but Das ist nicht mein Bier. Red Baron prefers a fein gehopftes Pils (finely hopped lager).
*The same is true for cheese tasting. Take the Emmental first and the Munster last.

Monday, September 9, 2013


In high school our English teacher had us read Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Eliot, we knew everything about British and American history but when I left school I was unable to order a beer in the UK. Instead of doing conversation we were writing compositions. When the teacher handed us back our texts he always had two complaints: prepositions and idioms. He admitted that using the correct preposition was the most difficult thing in any language. As far as idioms were concerned Dr. G. told us that only one German expression translates literally into English and keeps its meaning: Im Bilde sein (to be in the picture).

I like idioms and liked to translate German expressions for my English and French speaking colleagues at CERN. My favorite was: Nägel mit Köpfen machen (to make nails with heads) meaning that after all those long discussions we finally have to get down to work. When I tried my translation on my colleagues I looked into blank faces. Why should they be impressed when there are three English idioms expressing the same thing: We really do need to get down to brass tacks, we need to put wood behind the arrow (that will increase its momentum and boost its impact), and we must put our money where our mouths are.

Then there are a few askew comparisons the so-called false friends that are not lost but misleading in translation: Does auf den Busch klopfen (beat on the bush) translate into beat around the bush? Both expressions are taken from the hunting jargon but their meaning is not the same. While auf den Busch klopfen is done in German to sound things out to get information, beat around the bush means in English avoiding clear statements or talking around an issue.

Idioms are deeply rooted in a language and their translation into other languages is seldom successful. One typical example would be the German proverb: Morgenstund' hat Gold im Mund that translates into: The early bird catches the worm. However something strange happened. The English early bird and the worm are slowly but surely replacing the German morning hour and the gold coin. Is it the archaic picture of a gold piece in the mouth or simply the threefold alliteration* in the German translation: Der frühe Vogel fängt den Wurm that made this expression so popular in Germany?
*Alliteration was the archaic form of the rhyme in Germanic languages before the end-rhyme took over. Popular examples of alliterations are: Brot und Butter (bread and butter), Himmel und Hölle (heaven and hell)

Not only Red Baron but other people too like to play or experiment with languages. There are three German sayings that the vernacular has long since combined into one: Das schlägt dem Fass die Krone ins Gesicht > That hits the crown into a barrel's face. Here come the three ingredients:

Das schlägt dem Fass den Boden aus > that knocks the bottom out of the barrel > this really takes the biscuit, i.e., something outrageous happens. In olden times knocking the bottom out of a barrel was practiced by controllers who wanted to be sure about the spilling of a bad wine or an untaxed beer.

Das setzt dem Ganzen die Krone auf > that crowns everything, i. e., will add the finishing touch.

Das ist ein Schlag ins Gesicht > that is a slap in the face.

Sorry, folks, I again went back to my old habit of trying to translate German idioms into English.