Monday, January 27, 2014

On the Wrong Side of the Tracks

During the Cold War even before the Berlin Wall went up there was a clear separation between the communist East and the capitalist West. Although in 2014 we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall Berliners still distinguish between the East and the West, keeping a wall in their heads.

A clear separation in East and West we also find in Cologne. The city founded as the Roman Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium in 38 before Christ is located on the left side of the Rhine river in the West whereas the newer part of the city on the right side in the East is called the Schäl Sick (Lower German Rhenish for squint i.e. wrong side).

Yesterday a contribution in the local Sunday newspaper Der Sonntag revealed that people living in the western parts of Freiburg feel like living on the Schäl Sick. As the topography shows they literately live on the wrong side of the tracks.

The map shows the railroad Frankfurt-Basel separating Freiburg in an eastern and western
 part nearly coinciding with a separated water supply (read below)(©Badenova)
When in the middle of the 19th century the railroad between Frankfurt and Basel was built Freiburg was an important place to be connected. However, at that time steam engines could only tackle moderate inclinations with the result that the city could not be reached and the railroad tracks passed it tangentially in the West. The so-called Lerch plan of 1852 shows the new train station well out in the West of the city boundaries. Once the space between the station and the city had been built up in the second half of the 19th century Freiburg continued expanding beyond the railroad tracks in the West. Small factories and their workers settled in these new parts of town while the old part with the Münster church, the museums, and the university located in the East remained the noble side. At the time of Mayor Winterer the new residential quarters Herdern and Wiehre housed professors, medical doctors, lawyers, business people, and rich retirees living in villas on the right side of the tracks.

Freiburg in 1852 (clipping): Below is the Münster church, up in the West the new train station.
In between a few houses along Bertoldstraße and the still existing Colombi-Schössle.
A direct connection between the city and the station, the Eisenbahnstraße, was built later.
The article in Der Sonntag pointed out that more than one hundred years later Freiburg still is a divided city. It is remarkable that there are no tourists in the West. Nobody is interested to visit the new living quarters Weingarten and Rieselfeld with their multi-story buildings where unemployment is higher than in the East and with their high percentage of inhabitants of migrant background. Fact is that Freiburg touching the Black Forest in the East can only grow in the West. Today only 88 400 people live in the East but already 125 500 people in the West considering themselves as the stepchildren of urban development. To give an example: for years the Westerners have been moaning about a ramshackle and therefore closed public swimming pool, the Westbad (sic!). Now they fear further trouble coming up with the construction and operation of new ice and a soccer stadiums causing noise, increased traffic and dirt. A letter to the editor commented the city planning of a new town district: The West not only is depraved, it is sacrificed.

Curiously enough there is even a separation in Freiburg's water supply. In the East soft water runs from the taps whereas in the West the water quality is middle hard. The newly edited city map now comes in two parts too: East and West.

Reader, next time you come to Freiburg go West.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Merkel's Rhombus

Our chancellor likes to form a rhombus with her hands which I would consider a gesture of concentration. Until two week ago the nation thought that her habit had to do with her education. Being a physicist she surely had taken courses in mathematics aka geometry during her studies.

Angela's rhombus (©dpa).
I thought so too until two weeks ago, when the Badische Zeitung published a picture showing St. John, the apostle, on a painting in Freiburg's Augustinermuseum holding his hands like Angela. Some BZ readers criticized that the resemblance was pure coincidence but loyal readers of my blog know that Merkel was in Freiburg in December 2010. Why should she not have visited the museum copying St. John's posture?

A painting of 1540 in Freiburg's Augustinermuseum showing: St. John's ordeal.
The apostle is standing in a kettle of boiling oil (©BZ).
A known fact, however, is that at the time she was in Freiburg she visited the Münster church together with French President Nicolas Sarkozy guided by Robert Zollitsch, the archbishop, in person. So Angela surely saw Hans Baldung's painting of St. Mary above the high altar, a picture the BZ published today.

Painting by Hans Baldung: God the Father and Christ - what some people consider
a daring pose with naked legs - jointly crown Mary as Queen of Heaven (©Wikipedia).
Now here is the evidence: Angela, daughter of a Protestant minister, in the tradition of Martin Luther* who adored the Mother of God, adopted St. Mary's gesture.
*To be precise: Luther in his sermons did not adore Mary as Queen of Heaven but as an example of humility and purity.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Looted Art, 200 Years Ago

You may get as old as Methuselah but you keep learning. Last week I read in the Badische Zeitung that one-hundred years ago the older of the Brothers Grimm, Jacob, had stayed overnight in Freiburg, from January 16 to 17, 1814. The winter season explains the first phrase in a letter he wrote to his brother Wilhelm left behind in Kassel: Freiburg must be nicely situated in summer, however, the city is neither as well built nor as big as Heidelberg, but friendly and wealthy, although the Minster is very beautiful from both out- and the inside, spacious and full of stained glass, an altarpiece by Hans Baldung if I am remembering his name correctly (Freiburg muß im Sommer ausnehmend schön liegen, ist aber nicht so gut gebaut, noch so groß wie Heidelberg, doch freundlich und wohlhabend, aber der (!) Münster ist auswendig und inwendig sehr schön, geräumig und voll Glasmalereien, ein Altargemälde von Hans Baldung, wenn ich den Namen recht behalten habe).

Jacob had worked as librarian for Jérôme, Napoleon's youngest brother and king of Westphalia, in Kassel. Following the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813 German territories had been liberated from imperial troops. Now the anti-Napoleonic alliance was chasing the French emperor in his own country. On their way many crowned heads - among them the Austrian Emperor Franz, the Russian Tsar Alexander, and the Prussian King Wilhelm - and their armies were in town, a heavy burden for Freiburg. The poet and professor at Freiburg's university Johann Georg Jacobi however hailed the friendly invasion on his deathbed: Now I shall gladly die, for I am dying as a free German (Gern will ich nun sterben, denn ich sterbe als freier Deutscher).

Jacob Grimm had been nominated by his old and new ruler, the elector of Hesse, once Wilhelm had returned from his exile in Prague, legation councilor of a commission that was sent to Paris to track down art objects Jérôme fleeing Kassel had stolen from his residence Napoleonshöhe (now renamed Wilhelmshöhe). In fact, the Bonaparte kin had looted the museums in Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands and accumulated the objets d'art in the French capital. The most notorious theft from Germany was that of Johann Gottfried Schadow's Quadriga from top of the Gate of Brandenburg in 1806. The Prussian general Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher returned the four horses and the goddess of victory to Berlin in 1814.

Contemporary political cartoon: Napoleon himself stealing the Quadriga

Restored Quadriga: Victoria displaying a laurel wreath
surrounding the Iron Cross topped by the Prussian eagle
During his short stay in Freiburg Jacob noticed the attachment of the local people to the House of Habsburg when he wrote to his brother: By the way, city and countryside (the Breisgau) still heartily Austrian, Emperor Franz was fetched home with joy. When he entered the city people tried to pull his carriage, and when he refused to tolerate this and changed the carriage for a horse it is said that those people attached themselves to his horse.
Their only hope is that they will return to Austrian rule and the Government of Baden is regarded as pressure and tyranny, taxes are monstrous ... and I heard reasonable people movingly complain how stepmotherly Carlsruhe is treating this province (Übrigens Stadt und Land (das Breisgau) noch herzöstreichisch, Kaiser Franz ist mit Wonne eingeholt worden. Bei seinem Einzug in die Stadt hatten die Bürger versucht, die kaiserliche Kutsche zu ziehen, und als er sich das Ziehen verbat und deswegen aus dem Wagen auf ein Pferd gestiegen war, sollen sie sich an das Pferd gebunden haben.
Auch ist ihre einzige Hoffnung, daß sie wieder zu Österreich kommen und die badische Regirung wird wie Druck und Tyrannei betrachtet, die Auflagen (Steuern) sind ungeheuer ..., und ich habe brave und vernünftige Leute ordentlich rührend klagen hören, wie stiefmütterlich man von Carlsruhe aus diese Provinz behandelt).

Red Baron is looking forward to reading the full text of Jacob Grimm's letter in the yearbook of the Breisgau Geschichtsverein being published this fall.

Monday, January 13, 2014


It always is the same old story. I read a bestseller, the author writes one or more follow-up books, but they are not up to my expectations. This was the case with Umberto Eco who landed a world bestseller in 1980 with The Name of the Rose. In 1988 I found Foucault's Pendulum quite entertaining whereas The Island of the Day Before published in 1994 demanded some effort to reach the last page. In 2000 I had placed high hopes on Eco's fourth book Baudolino, a historical novel, dealing in part with Emperor Frederick Barbarossa's military misadventures in Northern Italy. I "worked" myself through half of the book and then put it aside.

The sequence was somewhat different with Dan Brown. I first read the The Da Vinci Code published in 2003, then I found the story about CERN and the stolen antimatter in Angels & Demons of 2000 somewhat weird. When in 2009 The Lost Symbol had just been published I bought the hard-copy on my way back from Madison to Freiburg at O'Hare Airport, started reading the book on the plane, and eventually got some sleep. Last year my son offered me Brown's latest novel Inferno but then I came across some mediocre reviews and I had other books to read like Danubia. I have not even opened Inferno.

Danubia written by Simon Winder is some sort of a follow up of his bestseller Germania. The fact that Winder had impressed me in 2010 made me jump on his latest "history book". In Danubia the author describes the fate of the Habsburg dynasty from its rise in 1278 to its fall in 1919. Descending from their ancestral Habichtsburg located in the Aargau (today a Swiss canton) around 1230 the Habsburgs acquired the Austrian provinces around Vienna and enlarged their territory on the Upper Rhine in the Alsace and the Breisgau including Freiburg in the 14th century. Later the dynasty extended its reign rather by marriages (Bella gerant alii tu felix Austria nube! Let others wage war, you happy Austria marry!). The Habsburgs supplied German emperors and Spanish kings so that on Charles V's empire the sun never set. The frequent, mostly inter-marriages eventually meant inbred rulers and not only Winder considered it a miracle that the Habsburg dynasty ruled for more than 600 years.

The content of Winder's book Danubia is not as dense as that in his book about Germania. He fills many pages with self-experienced cultural and musical details. I felt like book critic Noel Malcolm who wrote in the Daily Telegraph: There were times, reading this book, when I felt like someone who had been given a gallon bucket of whipped cream and ordered to eat it. But somehow, by the end of the meal, I found that I had absorbed a large quantity of hidden nutrients. I just wished that it hadn’t given me so many hiccups along the way.

Nevertheless having finished the book it became clear to me how much potentiality a multi-cultural society possesses and the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy possessed at the end of the 19th century but how much it was repressed with majorities dominating minority groups. It was the Romanian Aurel Popovici from the German speaking Banat who wrote in 1906: The great origin, language, customs and mentality diversity of different nationalities requires, for the whole Empire of the Habsburgs, a certain state form, which can guarantee that not a single nationality will be threatened, obstructed or offended in its national political life, in its private development, in its national pride, in one word - in its way of feeling and living. Popovici's proposal clearly followed the American example and was aiming to transform the existing Austrian/Hungarian monarchy into the United States of Greater Austria. His map shows the borders between the states defining ethnic groups, nevertheless leaving some minority enclaves at the mercy of majorities.

Popovici's idea came much too late and was highly controversial. In particular the Hungarians were bitterly opposed to such a federal construct insisting on their domination of huge Romanian and Slavic territories in Transylvania. Such domination naturally spurred nationalistic sentiments and eventually led to the break-up of the multinational empire after the First World War. Consequently the Peace Treaty of Trianon reduced Austria to its German speaking population leaving, however, the Sudeten at the mercy of the Czechs. Similarly Hungary lost seven tenths of its territory with important Hungarian minorities left living in Romania and bordering Slavic states. The Nazis forced corrections of borders on the Balkans in favor of the allied Hungarians during the Second World War but these were again corrected when after the war the Soviet Union integrated the whole region into the Communist Block. The Communist break-down in 1989 not only opened the Berlin wall but old wounds too. This resulted in genocide and ethnic cleansing particularly in former Yugoslavia that were only stopped by a massive American military intervention. In the meantime the US have pulled out but other NATO troops are still stationed in the region "keeping the peace".

With all what I said at the beginning about bestseller authors continuing writing books I am eagerly looking forward to the one Winder may already be writing: Rhenania, Germany's stream but not its boundary (Der Rhein, Deutschlands Strom, aber nicht Deutschlands Grenze).

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


With a spring-like weather presently roaming in Freiburg Elisabeth and I took a ride to Emmendingen, a small town north of Freiburg, where she had spent some years as a child.

What is special about Emmendingen? Before 1933 the town had a thriving Jewish community until October 22, 1940, when within one day all Jews from Baden and Palatinate were rounded up and were subsequently transported to a internment camp in Gurs in southwestern France. Many of those who survived the four day transport died in the camp in the following years. The rest was transported to Auschwitz in 1944 and ended in the gas chambers. A memorial plate at the place of the synagogue, already destroyed on November 9, 1938, recalls this barbaric act.

Memorial plate in Emmendingen at the site of the former synagogue
I found two other less disturbing information plates in Emmendingen referring to persons in two of my recent blogs. The plate on the residence of Johann Georg Schlosser commemorating the death of Cornelia, his wife and Göthe's* sister, contains a couple of names of people who had visited the place. Here you read the name of Johann Georg Jacobi, the poet, who came under attack by the Habsburg authorities accusing him of adhering to Schlosser's democratic attitudes.
*For the unfamiliar spelling of Göthe aka Goethe (the second occurrence on the plate) read my blog about umlauts

Information plate at Johann Georg Schlosser's residence

The second name that caught my attention is Lenz, Georg Büchner's hero. Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz on his way from Weimar to the Alsace actually lived in Emmendingen in a small house, a former summer house of the margraves, from 1776 to 1778 before he moved on and walked through the Vosges mountains.

Lenz-Häuschen in Emmendingen's Schlosspark

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Johann Georg Jacobi

2014 is a year of anniversaries: the outbreak of the First World War (100 years), the beginning of the Second World War (75 years), the Fall of the Berlin Wall (25 years), and many others. Yesterday evening Red Baron took part in a rather unspectacular anniversary: the unveiling of a commemorative plate on Herrenstraße 43 for Johann Georg Jacobi who died in this house on January 4, 1814.

The still veiled commemorative plate on Herrenstraße 45
Jacobi was a poet of the Enlightenment and the elder brother of the philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi. He was a friend of Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim who procured Johann Georg a sinecure at the Halberstadt cathedral to have him near to him. Naturally, Jacobi followed his mentor Father Gleim in writing anacreontic lyrics that Johann Gottfried Herder called tasteless nonsense. Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock laughed about Jacobi, my admired physics colleague Georg Christoph Lichtenberg called him a doctorem jubilatum, and a somewhat jealous Johann Wolfgang von Goethe asserted that Jacobi's success was merely due to "gentlewomen" who just think about sentiments and tingling verses but not about the true content.

Jacobi's life took a decisive turn when in 1784 and in an act of forced Enlightenment Emperor Joseph II  appointed Jacobi, a Protestant, professor of belles-lettres at the Catholic University of Freiburg paying him a yearly salary of 1000 guilders. Initially, the faculty members were appalled but slowly gentle Jacobi earned their confidence so that in 1791 they unanimously voted him Rektor (university director) for the year 1792.

Freiburg's citizens, in particular women, stormed his university courses. Jacobi's Teekränzchen (tea parties) in his house on Herrenstraße were famous. Maria Therese von Artner, a poet herself, wrote to a friend: Was wir also in unserem Kränzchen thun? Wir versammeln uns um den geselligen Theetopf, schlürfen seinen dampfenden Abguß, plaudern dieß und jenes, sind auch nicht ein bißchen altklug, und ich darf so viel und herzlich lachen, als es Lust und Laune zugiebt, tout comme chez nous … (So what do we do at our parties? We gather around the sociable teapot, slurp its steaming brew, chat about this and that, we are not a bit precocious, and I may laugh so much and at my heart's content like being at home ...)

Tea party at Jacobi's house
For the district government, Jacobi's Protestant faith and the fact that he had written a letter to the French National Convent in his excellent French made him suspicious of supporting the ideas of the Revolution. In 1792 the Habsburg president for the Breisgau Joseph Thaddäus von Sumerau wrote to his government in Vienna about Jacobi asking whether the university would not do better without him:  Er ist ein pur Poet und Belletriste und ein dummes Organ des bekannten markgräflich badenschen Hofrats Schlosser, (der Schwager Goethes), welcher sich unter andrem vorzüglich durch seine demokratischen Gesinnungen bey seinem Hof verhaßt machte ... Ich wünschte auch, Jacobi wäre mit seiner Ästhetik in Halberstadt verblieben (He is a pure poet and fiction writer and a stupid voice of the known margravial privy councilor of Baden Schlosser (Goethe's brother-in-law) who made himself hated at court in Karlsruhe in particular due to his democratic attitudes ... I only wish Jacobi had stayed in Halberstadt with all his aesthetics).

When under Napoleon the mostly Protestant Grand Duchy of Baden annexed the Catholic Breisgau belonging to the House of Habsburg Jacobi was one of the first to hail this as an essential unification alluding to the Zähringen roots of the ruling grand duke: Die seit Jahrhunderten getrennten Schilde / vereinen wieder sich, und eines Fürsten Milde / wird nun der guten Bürger Seelen /getrennten Ländern gleich / vermählen (Those coat of arms separated for centuries are now united again and your prince's kindness will marry the good citizens' souls, separated countries alike).

In founding a Lesegesellschaft in Freiburg in 1806 the Baden Besitznahmekommissär (commissary of seizure) Karl Wilhelm Ludwig Friedrich von Drais von Sauerbronn brought his newly arriving Protestant civil servants from Karlsruhe in contact with Freiburg's Catholic intelligentsia. "Reading societies" were popular in Germany at the time when books, newspapers, and journals were expensive but could now be shared by many. Jacobi not only was a founding member of the Freiburger Lesegesellschaft but one of its most fervent readers too.

When Jacobi died on January 4, 1814, everybody was sad, students carried his coffin to Freiburg's Alter Friedhof (Old Cemetery), an enormous crowd formed the funeral cortege, and his scholar Karl von Rotteck held the eulogy.

Group shot in front of the illuminated plate.  On the left Mayor Ulrich von Kirchbach,
on the right University Rektor Hans-Jochen Schiewer, framing the organizers.