Monday, March 31, 2014

Typically German?

Intolerance, schadenfreude (spitefulness), stubbornness,
smugness (narrow-mindedness), nitpicking, bureaucracy, jealousy (©Wikipedia)
According to Rolf Sachs, his exhibition Typisch Deutsch? (Typically German?) at the Museum of Applied Art in Cologne is intended to clear up out-dated prejudices about German traits. In taking the stringent trash separation practices of his paternal ancestors for a ride he places trash bins of various colors in front of the museum entrance. The bins are marked Intoleranz, Schadenfreude, Sturheit, Spießigkeit, Pingeligkeit, Bürokratie, Neid.

Sorry, which of those negative traits are really so typically German that we have to put them into the trash? You encounter intolerance, bureaucracy, and jealousy all over the world. Stubbornness is a rather personal feature and narrow-mindedness quite often is the result of strict upbringing. The cliché of stubbornness you often find in novels, theater pieces, and movie plots where, e.g., at the happy (?) end an Irma la Douce has - not without difficulty - transformed the stubborn but honest cop Nestor Patou into a bon vivant.

That leaves nitpicking and schadenfreude. It is true that many Germans are Prozesshanseln (litigious persons); they like to go to court for nullities. A typical issue may be the neighbor's high tree casting a shadow on the plaintiff's lawn. In Germany litigious persons are encouraged by the relatively small costs of court cases of a low Streitwert (amount involved).

As a student I once set myself the goal never to see a doctor or a lawyer. As you may imagine doctors I could not avoid but lawyers I managed not to see until three years ago when my neighbor took all the apartment owners in our building to court. We, the other owners, did not like some iron bars he - without being authorized - had placed in front of some windows in the entrance hall. Stepping out of our apartments made us feel like being in a prison. We simply and courteously asked him to remove the iron bars. To make a long and ugly story short: For the first time in my life I found myself in court. Needless to say, our neighbor lost his case but we all still had to pay our lawyer. Do you understand that I just say Good day and Good bye to the guy who has changed the course of my life?

That leaves the trait Schadenfreude being so typically German that the English speaking world adopted the word not having an equivalent in their language. There is even a German proverb: Wer den Schaden hat, braucht für den Spott nicht zu sorgen (The laugh is always on the loser).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stone Age Lost

For some beer lovers the title is metonymic with Paradise Lost. I am referring to the proposal of the European Union to ban beer stones. In their mania for regulations (Regulierungswut) Brussels' Eurocrats rarely do any good although many hail their regulation of the micro-USB plug as being the one and only for mobile phones as a successful Befreiungsschlag (act of liberation). According to one estimate the use of a single charger type for all mobile phones of various brands will avoid 51,000 tons of electronic waste per year in the EU. It will be interesting to see how Apple will solve the problem of the unique plug.

Coming back to the beer stones I initially thought that the Eurocrats' argument to ban them was based on their inherent lack of hygiene (the stones I mean). Due to the somewhat rough surface I always considered it more difficult to clean a stone than a glass mug. I had to accept that my idea was far from Brussels' argument: Customers shall be able to check the correct filling of their beer mugs.

They have a point. Red Baron remembers his days in Munich and his evenings at the Oktoberfest. Many visitors did not care about the filling level of their one-liter stones (Maß) but as students with no money to spare we wanted to get our fill. When Zenzi (the waitress, they are all called: Zenzi, schau, dass herkimmst) arrived at our table with those half-filled stones we took a few sips and then went back to the tap where strong men manipulating big barrels were filling them. In shouting and accusing: Schlecht eingeschenkt (badly filled) we always got our stones filled up for the conscience of those filling guys was as flexible as ours.

Admire the richness of beer receptacles in Germany (©Jörg Block Die Zeit)
The practice of schlecht eingeschenkt did not change when the Munich breweries changed their Maß from stones to glasses. Now you clearly see that occasionally there is more foam than beer in the glass. The only positive effect of the change is that glasses are less attractive than stones to souvenir hunters so that now the number of thefts has dramatically decreased at the Oktoberfest.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori ...

Jetzt wollen wir sie dreschen is a graphic by Max Liebermann, the famous German impressionist painter, on the occasion of the start of World War I. It shows the kaiser on horseback attacking the enemy.

Now we will thrash them (©MoMA)
I found this picture in an article in Freiburg's Sunday paper Der Sonntag dealing with the involvement of German artists in WWI. Is that the same Liebermann who said when he observed Hitler's SA hordes marching through the Brandenburg Gate on January 30, 1933: Ick kann jarnich soville fressen, wie ick kotzen möchte (I can't eat as much as I would like to puke)? At the age of 86 Liebermann had learned his lesson.

Is the same true for the American author Ezra Pound who under the impression of the horrors of WWI wrote his poem Hugh Selwyn Mauberley while in England in 1920?

THESE fought, in any case,
and some believing, pro domo, in any case . .
Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later . . .
some in fear, learning love of slaughter;

Died some "pro patria, non dulce non et decor". .
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy....

THERE died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization ....

Is Ezra among those learning later ... ? We read in Wikipedia: Outraged by the carnage of World War I, Pound lost faith in England and blamed the war on usury and international capitalism. He moved to Italy in 1924 and throughout the 1930s and 1940s embraced Benito Mussolini's fascism, expressed support for Adolf Hitler and wrote for publications owned by the British fascist Oswald Mosley. During World War II the Italian government paid him to make hundreds of radio broadcasts criticizing the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jews, as a result of which he was arrested by American forces in Italy in 1945 on charges of treason. What to do with such a person? Deemed unfit to stand trial, he was incarcerated in St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C., for over 12 years. You may like to read more.

What, however, impressed me most in Pound's poem and rang a bell was the line: Died some "pro patria, non dulce non et decor"... This is a corruption of Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori ... taken from Horace's Odes. The Latin translates into It is sweet and fitting to die for your country. With Horace's maxim in mind many rulers have since then convinced their young male subjects to die as objects on the field of honor.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori was carved into the marble of the entrance hall of Munich's university, the same place where in 1943 the Geschwister Scholl (Hans and Sophie Scholl), members of the White Rose - a non-violent resistance movement in Nazi Germany -, had launched flyers against the war from the upper floor.

When I arrived in Munich in 1958 a student had covered the inappropriate inscription with a banner: Turpe et stupidum est pro amentia loqui (It is infamous and stupid to speak in favor of madness). Demonstrating students demanded that Horace's maxim be erased, others suggested replacements. To some the proposal of the Catholic fraternities Vitam impendere patria (To sacrifice his life for his fatherland) sounded even worse, for in Germany in the years after the war the word Vaterland had an absolutely negative connotation. Following endless discussions somebody translated the German phrase Die Toten verpflichten die Lebenden (The living are obliged to the dead) into Latin: Mortui viventes obligant. Eventually the students approved this proposal supported by the Rektor (director) of Munich's university. So it be, amen!

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
at the entrance to the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington (©Wikipedia)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Germany's New Marx

As a postgraduate fellow in Munich Red Baron frequently tuned in to the American Forces Network (AFN). Here I listened to a man named Marx, his first name Groucho, and followed his last radio broadcasts of You Bet Your Life. Later I learned about the Brothers and on a bicycle tour around East Frisia in 2009 I visited the place of origin of the Marx family.

Germany has a few other "Marxes" that are better known. The first one was named Karl and is the author of the communist Bible and Catechism, i.e., Das Kapital (Capital) and The Communist Manifesto.

The second was Wilhelm Marx, chancellor of the Weimar Republic for the first time from November 30, 1923, to January 15, 1925. He was followed by a man named Luther, his first name Hans not Martin, until Wilhelm Marx again followed Luther as chancellor. In fourteen years, from 1919 to 1933, the Weimar Republic counted thirteen (sic!) chancellors until Reichspräsident Hindenburg nominated number fourteen, the gravedigger of the Republic, Hitler.

Since March 12, 2014, Germany has had a new Marx. His first name is Reinhard and he was born in Geseke near Paderborn, Westphalia. In Germany we do not compare the adjective black - synonym for being Catholic - blacker, blackest but we compare black, Münster, Paderborn. The comparison means that Catholicism is stronger in the Westphalian Münsterland but strongest in the bishopric of Paderborn.

The man from near Paderborn, cardinal and archbishop of Munich, was elected chairman of the German Bishops' Conference replacing the retired archbishop of Freiburg Robert Zollitsch. Marx was elected in Münster by the German bishops and auxiliary bishops only in the fifth round of voting in which a simple majority is sufficient (Wikipedia). The result of the election shows that Reinhard Marx is controversial: Nobody knows how to pigeonhole him. For some he is ultra-conservative, for others he is too progressive. However, two things are sure: Reinhard is a Macher (man of action) contrary to hesitant Robert, and he is absolutely loyal to the pope. With Pope Benedict Marx was a defender of the proclaimed doctrinal understanding; now he stands for the reform efforts of the new pope. When Francis published his encyclical Evangelii gaudium Marx rejoiced: He speaks to my heart.

Following his election as chairman of the German Bishops' Conference Reinhard Marx
 meets the media. In the back his predecessor Robert Zollitsch (©Focus).
The pope made Reinhard an advisor for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia in addition to his posts of Cardinal-Coordinator of the Council for Economic Affairs, member of the Congregation for Catholic Education, and member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He is head of the Committee for Social Issues at the German Bishops' Conference and president of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community. Do all these jobs reflect the Macher or rather the manpower shortage in the Catholic church?

On the question whether the Church should allow remarried divorcees to take Communion Marx advocates a clement treatment. If the divorced persons recognize their failure they could, following a penitential period, ask to be admitted to take communion again. Here Marx is in full disagreement with his fellow countryman and cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the new cardinal and head of the Congregation of the Faith at the Vatican. We know that there are difficult situations like cases where one partner was maliciously abandoned, but human regulations must not suspend the Word of God. Reinhard and Gerhard Ludwig will never become friends.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bring Our Gold Home

Holt unser Gold heim is the title of a German web page with 15,000 supporters requesting that Germany's precious metal be immediately repatriated, gold the Bundesbank (Buba or German Fed) has bunkered in foreign countries. In an earlier blog I wrote about the reasons why Germany kept and still keeps a big chunk of its gold reserve in France, in the UK, and in the States and why the Buba would like to recuperate part of it. The US Fed stores the German gold in New York buried in caves dug deep into Manhattan rock. Too deep and too hidden as some German hardliners argue.

Assiduous Wagnerians assume the Hoard of the Nibelungen somewhere at the bottom of the Rhine River where it is forever lost. However, the Manhattan gold resurfaces from time to time although so far only in the press. An article published in Der Spiegel this Monday drew my attention again to a subject that in the meantime is loaded with conspiracy theories.

In 2013 the Bundesbank repatriated 32 of 181 tons of gold from France but only 5 of 1531 tons from the States.The reasons given by the BuBa for the sloppy repatriation over the Atlantic were flimsy: Transports from Paris are simpler and therefore we were able to start up quickly. On the other side, the bullion stored in the basement of the Fed in New York does not possess the elongated shape with beveled edges of the "London Good Delivery" standard but has a previously common form. They will need to be remelted. And the capacity of smelters is just limited. This argument is the long awaited grist to the mills of those conspiracy theorists who maintain there is no longer any gold in US vaults.

Thus Americans and not Germans got excited about an article titled: The Fed only gave Germany back 5 tonnes of gold in over a year.

Here are some immediate comments on the article:

- Central banks don't trust each other?
- To H with that. Consider it as partial payment for WWI and WWII.
- Can't understand what the issue is since the Fed does not put any
    value in gold?
- Germany does not deserve it, regardless of whether it is worth anything.
- Dudes, there is no gold in Ft. Knox and hasn't been for years.
     It is all in banks and not much of it left. If you can't show it and
     won't show it it is probably not there don't you think?
- Very likely there is none, otherwise we could have sent Knox gold to Germany
     in place of the stolen German gold. When the truth of this comes out,
     it will rank with the Nazi's looting of Europe and more.

Location of German gold; present and final situation. With the British pound and the
US dollar still "global" currencies the gold left in the Bank of England and the
New York Fed will serve to calm down currency fluctuations should the need arise.
©Der Spiegel
The BuBa, however, remains calm and follows its plans (see graphic) although the 2013 repatriation was costly: 600,000 euros, melting included. At the end the total amount for bringing our gold home will probably greatly exceed 10 million. Yet this is a minor thing compared to the changing of the tide: With the Cold War presently reloading should we not better leave our gold in the States?

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Ein Unwort geht um in der Welt, das Unwort Anschluss (A monstrous word is haunting the World - the monstrous word Anschluss)*
* I apologize to Marx for persiflaging the Communist Manifesto: A specter is haunting Europe - the specter of Communism.

Why is it so that so many "bad" German words find their way into the English language? To cite a few: Berufsverbot, Blitzkrieg, Dummkopf, Kristallnacht, Lebensraum, Luftwaffe, Realpolitik, Rinderpest, Waldsterben, and Wehrmacht. The list is barely compensated by somewhat better words like Bockwurst, Doppelgänger, Kindergarten, Lederhosen, Mannschaft, Oktoberfest, Sauerbraten, Weltschmerz, and Wunderkind. One reason that foreign languages adopt such words is the possibility in German to create new and handy words by gluing two "old" words together and giving this combination a new and precise meaning. Other languages sometimes need a whole phrase to describe the same thing.

When these days the world press uses the word Anschluss it refers to the imminent integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation. With this Unwort in mind Hillary Clinton even compared Putin to Hitler but the Anschluss of Austria in 1938 must not be compared with what is happening in Ukraine in 2014.

When I leave out all the propaganda roar - here: the West subverted the elected Kiev government and fascists ousted the pro-Russian president, there: Putin's troops were needed to protect a Russian majority against Ukrainian and Tatar minorities on Crimea - I note when looking at the linguistic map that Ukraine is a melting pot of people with a majority of them speaking Russian in some parts of the territory. As in Yugoslavia such a multi-ethnic mix will cohere under a strict communist regime but breaks up when the oppressive forces slacken.

Percentage of Russian speaking people in Ukraine. Map thanks to ©BILD
What complicates the situation in Ukraine even further is that on 19 February 1954 communist Chairman Nikita Khrushchev - being born and having lived in a village near the Ukrainian border - transferred the peninsula Crimea from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. For Nikita this transfer had some logic with the peninsula connected to Ukrainian land whereas to reach Russian territory from Crimea you need to take a ferry boat. By the way, Putin has already announced that in no time he will have a bridge built spanning the Kerch Strait between Russia and Crimea.

Ukraine and Russia for all eternity (©Wikipedia)
In 1954 Tsarina Katharina must have turned in her grave, she who declared when she had defeated the Crimean Tatars on April 8, 1783: From now on and eternally Crimea will belong to the Russian Empire. The idea of eternity apparently was on Khrushchev's mind too. The fact is that 60 years were too short for Ukrainians to populate "their" new peninsula with the result that ethnic Russian living there still hold a majority of 60% while ethnic Ukrainians are trailing with 25%. The rest are Muslim Tatars. Therefore, the scheduled referendum whether Crimeans would like to join the Russian Federation is nothing other than window dressing. There even is no need to manipulate the people nor the voting; in short, the referendum is just a waste but is it illegal too because the Ukrainian government in Kiev was not asked? In the a priori referendum Putin may expect a solid majority of two thirds of the votes. Hitler wanted to be on the safe side. In an a posteriori referendum he obtained more than 99% of the Austrian votes in favor of the Anschluss to the Reich in 1938.

Ukranian soldier, too young to die (©Die Zeit)
What I fear most is that the Crimea referendum is just the start of a new trouble spot. Will there be ethnic cleansing? Will the Muslim Tatars, where they left off in 1783, start a new guerrilla warfare?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ten Years Wikipedia

Wait a moment -- didn't we read the title before? Yes, but this blog is not about Wikipedia's 10th anniversary already celebrated on January 15, 2011. In the earlier blog I mentioned my personal involvement with the Internet encyclopedia: I published my first biographical article in the German Wikipedia on March 6, 2004 at 13.57 hours Central European Time about Karl von Rotteck. So March 6, 2014, is my personal Wiki anniversary. The English article about Karl Wenzeslaus Rodecker von Rotteck appeared in Wikipedia much later, on August 24, 2011.

Wikipedia Stammtisch in Freiburg in December 2010 celebrating ten years of Wikipedia (©BZ)
Since then I have created a number of articles, mostly biographies, in German. My work in the English Wikipedia so far has been minimal. Many colleagues both in Germany and in the States make it their hobby to translate articles found in one Wikipedia to "write" an article in the other. This practice does not attract me for my remaining time is too short.

On the other hand I like to participate in our local and monthly Wikipedia Stammtisch. Last November I discovered the weird world of the Wikipedia community when I participated in the annual conference of Wikimedia Deutschland in Karlsruhe, the Wiki CON 2013. My experience was unique. It was the first time that I went to a Wikipedia conference but it will not be my last. Red Baron intends to attend the world jamboree Wikimania 2014 in London at the Barbican Centre from August 8 to 10.