Sunday, June 29, 2014

Gauck, a War Hawk?

On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austrian throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, Serbia, a murder that eventually led to the outbreak of the Great War. On the occasion of the centenary Germany's president Joachim Gauck had invited historians from the countries involved to his residence Bellevue in Berlin to discuss and implement a common European Erinnerungskultur (commemorative culture).

Joachim Gauck lecturing at Bellevue (©dpa)
Before the discussions started Gauck gave an introductory speech. He stated that one hundred years after the beginning of the First World War neither nationalism (Ukrainian conflict) nor salvation ideologies (ISIS invasion of Iraq) have disappeared. In this context our president had lately criticized pacifism. The disgust against military force is understandable but since we live in a world with violence it may therefore be necessary and reasonable to overcome violence by force, Gauck said at Germany's military academy in Hamburg. Especially Germany knows that peace, freedom, and the respect of human rights cannot be taken for granted and are not for free. Many Germans regard freedom and the pursuit of happiness as an obligation of their country to provide and confound freedom with thoughtlessness, indifference and hedonism. In taking up John F. Kennedy's leitmotif, ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country, Gauck continued: For a democracy to function it needs commitment, attention, courage and sometimes even the ultimate what man can give: his life.

In his inaugural speech of 1961 Kennedy had continued: My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Indeed, following the Second World War it was always up to the Americans to defend the ideals of the Western World successfully in the Korean War but less efficient in Vietnam where they took over from the French when the latter had already suffered their Dien Bien Phu.

U.S. Marines provide security for Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers
 as they investigate a mass grave in July 1999 (©Wikipedia/U.S. Marine Corps)
Again, it needed US forces leading a NATO alliance who intervened in the Kosovo of former Yugoslavia to reinstall peace and order. The Americans have slowly moved out of KFOR (Kosovo Forces) stationed in the region since 1999 and left the task of keeping peace in their own house to the Europeans.

Gauck quite natural took up Kennedy's invitation to share the burden and said you cannot have freedom without taking responsibility. Amazingly his cautious words were broadly accepted in hesitant Germany except for some Left Party members who called Gauck a war hawk.

President Joachim Gauck inspecting his Marines (©dpa)
As far as the Bellevue discussions with the historians about a common Erinnerungskultur were concerned it turned out that our president had been quite blue-eyed. The multi-national experts did not iron out Red Baron's previous observations but rather accentuated them. I had stated: For France it is the Great Patriotic War, for Great Britain it means the decline of the British Empire, for Russia it is the trigger of the Communist Revolution, for Poland the beginning of its fight for independence from Russia.

In fact, the Polish historian stressed that the Great War had been the Big Bang of Poland's nationality and in view of their losses of 1.5 million people his country is not interested in the suffering of others. In the UK people now regard 1914/1918 as a futile and superfluous war. The Turks consider that the war was fought against them as a crusade with Germany playing the role of the forgotten (useless?) ally. For France the Great War against the one and only aggressor was justified and one French historian added: Sorry, we must deal with a fragmented memory.

Gauck was not amused.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Roger Chickering

French air raid on Freiburg without any particular target:
Pourvu que ça fasse des victimes boches
(provided there are victims among the Krauts) 
The night before last Red Baron listened to a lecture on Freiburg im Ersten Weltkrieg (Freiburg during the First World War). Professor Roger Chickering, author of The Great War and Urban Life in Germany: Freiburg, 1914-1918 published in 2007, had come to Freiburg at the evening of the outbreak of the First World War one hundred years ago. His timed visit was one of the reasons that the lecture hall was packed.

In 2008 I had read his 630-page book about Freiburg during the Great War and was impressed not so much by the abundance of information, i.e., the total history, the author presented* but rather by the way Chickering told his-story. Is that the reason why the best books on German history are written by Anglo-American historians?
*I incorporated many a citation from Chickering's book in my web page on Freiburg's history

I also read and admired Peter H. Wilson's 996-page narrative about Europe's Tragedy, A History of the Thirty Years War and learned that the British Isles influenced the battles on the continent in furnishing quite a number of mercenaries to fight on both sides.

Although British humor sometimes over-dominates Simon Winder's history book Germania I could not stop reading his rather personal story of German history.

Presently Red Baron is reading the most recent addition to successful essays on German history as an e-book: Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, has already been sold 200,000 times as a hard copy in its German translation: Die Schlafwandler. The controversial content of Clark's book was on the mind of many who had come to listen to Roger Chickering.

Hence, the discussion following Chickering's lecturing in German quite naturally came back to the question of Germany's exclusive responsibility for the war. The professor was rather diplomatic saying that a few statements in Clark's book were wrong although all governments had made mistakes that led to the outbreak of the war. Germany, however, had made the biggest mistakes.

Interesting was the discussion about how the various countries are commemorating the First World War. For France it is the Great Patriotic War, for Great Britain it means the decline of the British Empire, for Russia it is the trigger of the Communist Revolution, for Poland the beginning of its fight for independence from Russia and for Germany? My question whether the quasi indifference of Germans to the outbreak of the Urkatastrophe (seminal catastrophe) of the 20th century in 1914 would change in 1918 when we may celebrate the beginning of democracy that led to the Weimar Republic, Chickering answered with a smile: This is an interesting but early question. We shall see in four years whether a German Erinnerungskultur (commemorative culture) will develop.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


During my recent trip to Flanders our group visited Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer. Most impressive was Auguste Rodin's group Les Bourgeois de Calais (The Burghers of Calais).

Driving along the Côte Opale we saw the white cliffs of Dover in far distance and in sunshine.

Following arrival in Boulogne-sur Mer our coach parked near the fishing harbor. My readers probably know that Red Baron likes lobster but what I saw cut my appetite. A fishmonger offered a mutilated lobster still alive and moving on a bed of crunched ice for 18 euros the kilo and its right claw separated for 15 euros the kilo. This was not the place to linger.

We walked up Main Street to the old city. On our way we again met French children with their questionnaires visiting the historic place but English school classes too. They were without sheets of paper and rather buying pink berets.

Boulogne's upper town is built at the place of the Roman castra surrounded by a wall following the ancient perimeter. There are the typical two main streets running east-west and north-south crossing in the middle. The four Medieval gates are at the position of the former Roman gates.

The castle surrounded by moats situated at the highest point of the hill dominating and controlling lower city and harbor is strange. I was puzzled. Where did the rulers get the water from to fill the ditches in times of a simultaneous drought and attack? The construction of the castle nevertheless is impressive and the photo taken out of the moat from below of Boulognes' neo-baroque basilica even more so.

The Basilica of Notre-Dame is the other place to visit. According to a legend a wood carved sculpture of Mary with Child reached the shore of Boulogne on a skiff guided by two angels. The city already rich as a seaport and fishing harbor became even more prosperous as a place of pilgrimage. The original church Our Lady of the Sea where Mary's effigy was worshipped was completely destroyed during the French Revolution and the rubble sold as building material. In 1801 Boulogne lost its bishop seat becoming part of the bishopric of Arras.

Our Lady of the Sea, statue with miraculous powers
 In the early 1820ies Benoît Haffreingue, a local priest, driven by divine inspiration, pushed for the construction of a new church that was eventually erected as a basilica in neo-baroque style.

Benoît Haffreingue offering his church to Our Lady
There were only two drops of bitterness:
Haffreingue died in 1871 before he saw his church consecrated.
The episcopal seat was not returned to Boulogne and the building never regained the status of a cathedral as Haffreingue had prayed for.

PS: A day later I had overcome my nausea for seafood. In Lille I had oysters, a demi-douzaine, and a glass of Pouilly-Fumé for lunch.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Louvre in Lens

Last week Red Baron was in Flanders in the north of France. The Louvre in Lens was among the many highlights our group visited. The Louvre? Is that famous museum not located in Paris? Going back in history, here is the full story:

Le Louvre in Lens
Following the Hundred Years War and once the rich and influential Dukes of Burgundy had been subjugated France became a unified kingdom. In order to keep the vast and round off territory well under control the French kings not only centralized all administration in Paris but attached the still existing princes to the royal court thus keeping a close eye on them. The centralization continued under the various French Republics (up to now we count five) so that when you ask a Frenchman or -woman today they will proudly answer de Paris even when they live well outside up to one hundred kilometers away from the capital.

Red Baron is a dedicated federalist. The Federal Republic of Germany developed naturally out of historically grown structures. Since the Middle Ages the Holy Roman Empire was a loose alliance of dukedoms, bishoprics, and free imperial cities under a German king holding the title of Roman Emperor. Following the Napoleon wars the German Confederation, the Second Reich, and the Weimar Republic kept Germany's Federal structure that only the Nazis destroyed during their twelve year rule. Now we are happily back to our federal structures.

Being aware of the deficiencies of a centralized system the French government tried to give more autonomy to regions like Rhone-Alpes or Alsace over the last 40 years. However, this is an artificial and slow process not being on the mind of the rooted Frenchmen and -women. Nevertheless various central governments made an effort, e.g., in creating branches of Paris museums in the provinces. There exists a Centre Pompidou in Metz and the Louvre in Lens.

The branch of the Louvre was built in the north of France - an area severely hit by the decline of industry (coal, steel, textile) - in particular to attract visitors to the region. The modern exhibition hall of the museum is vast and impressing by the ample space between the objects exposed. When you walk up the hall the historic time scale starts with Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt and takes you to la Belle Époque. What impressed me was the quality of the selected exhibits but even more so the presence of many school classes with their teachers meaning that those empty spaces between the objects are really needed.

Gudea, prince of Lagash, Mesopotamia, 2120 BC.
Note the children in the back looking at a sheet of paper.

Praetorian Guard, i.e.,
bodyguards to the emperor as decoration on a triumphal arc around the year 50.

My friend Denis Diderot by the famous Jean-Antoine Houdon, 1775
Previously I had seen French girls and boys running around Freiburg with sheets of paper given out by their teacher containing all the questions about the city to answer. Sometimes they ask me and  I like to help with the answers.

My German-learning pupils with their teacher.
Au revoir et à bientôt!
This time in the museum the children approached me but did not ask about the exhibits. They rather wanted to know how to say Bon jour en allemand: Guten Tag. To make an enjoyable story short I ended up giving them a German lesson finishing with Au re-voir = Auf Wieder-sehen (it is a one to one translation) and Adieu = Tschüss.

Tschüss is a cacography of the French word Adieu that dates back from the times of the Napoleonic rule of the city of Hamburg. The Hamburgers had become French citizens of a newly created Département de Bouches d'Elbe and had difficulties with the French pronunciation speaking their lower German dialect. During recent years Tschüss for Auf Wiedersehen made it from Northern Germany to Bavaria. This is how languages develop with time.

On the photo the pupils look all content including their teacher they call maîtresse in France.

Friday, June 13, 2014

At the Very Top, at the Very Bottom

A few days ago Christian Wulff presented his book: Ganz oben Ganz unten (At the very top, at the very bottom). Christian who?

©Der Spiegel
Wulff was Germany's Federal president for 598 days when on February 17, 2012 he eventually stepped down following a multitude of allegations. Most of them had to do with money and his friends. At the time when he was Ministerpräsident (governor) of Lower Saxony they procured him an advantageous loan for a house he was building, being divorced from his first wife, for his new family. Friends offered him and his new wife stays in hotels and private houses located in shiny places and they even paid the couple an evening at the Oktoberfest where they rather filled up on champagne instead of beer. Nothing was really illegal; it was just favoritism. Angela Merkel never should have proposed this guy for president and the German Federal Assembly never should have elected him.

On February 17, 2012, Wulff announced his resignation.
While he tries to appear statesmanlike,
Bettina looks somewhat bored (©Maurizio Gambarini/dpa)
Wulff's second wife Bettina was even more opportunistic than Christian. In her book already published in September 2012 with the title: Jenseits des Protokolls (Beyond the protocol) she heavily criticized her husband and complained that she had not been able to live her life during the time as Germany's First Lady. In January 2013 the couple eventually separated. My opinion is that she left her husband having lost the glamor of the First Lady. Eventually Wulff was put on trial but was acquitted of backscratching. As the prosecutor did not appeal the judgement it became final as from today.

Christian presented his book at a press conference. He talked himself up as a victim of an alliance between press and justice. He said that when the press brought to light the services of his friends bit by bit prosecution was all to eager to jump on any of those allegations. In his presentation he insisted that his resignation had been a mayor mistake and ich wäre auch heute noch der Richtige in dem Amt (today I would still be the right man in office). Is there anybody out there who likes to buy Wulff's book?

In his case the famous citation from Friedrich Schiller's drama Die Räuber must be corrupted: Dem Manne kann nicht mehr geholfen werden (This man can not be helped).

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Travel Chippings

Red Baron likes to travel. During my professional life I presented papers at conferences and worked on committees in many places. I hated to check in for an event at the last minute and rather preferred to arrive a day earlier. This gave me time to explore the surroundings of my place of work. I was reminded of my traveling experience by one remark and one photo in yesterday's Badische Zeitung.

During the Whitsun weekend the Schwarzwaldverein (Black Forest Society) celebrated its 150th anniversary in Freiburg. Baden-Württemberg's Ministerpräsident (governor) Winfried Kretschmann was not only the keynote speaker, but he is a well-known hiking guide too. Referring to the blaze of the Schwarzwaldverein he claimed that our chancellor must be its most prominent supporter whenever she forms the famous rhombus with her hands.

That was just a joke but another of Kretschmann's phrases alerted me: Nur wo du zu Fuß warst, bist du auch wirklich gewesen (Only where you were walking, you have really been). Exploring by walking around was my way of getting the feeling for a place. I still remember a day in New York when I walked, mostly along Broadway, from the tip of Manhattan to Central Park.

As a frequent traveler I kept and still keep a critical eye on myself and my fellow countrymen. It is not easy to behave properly in a foreign country but it is easy to recognize Germans from a distance. In summer most of them wear sandals and white socks.

Remember my blog about the Franciscans that used to walk barefoot (Barfüßermönche) in the past? I was shocked finding them wearing sandals although with black socks: Their prior had told them so that they won't catch cold. Red Baron wears sandals from the end of May to the middle of October ... barefooted.

Sunday, June 8, 2014


Dear readers,

Here is my 250th blog. Today my sentiment resembles that of Count Axel Oxenstierna, chancellor of King Gustavus Adolphus from 1612 to 1632, when he, following the victory in the first Battle of Breitenfeld, commented on the Swedish position on German territory: Hätten anfangs soweit zu kommen nicht vermeint (In the beginning we, i.e. I, did not think to get so far). However, instead of drinking to my health I shall bore you with some statistics. In four years from May 26, 2010 to today I had 69334 blog views. The following chart shows the ten most visited blogs.

The undisputed winner is Annoying the French? from July 2010. Why is this so? I have no idea. The first part of the text consists of commented citations from Clarke's book, in the second part I added some of my personal experience regarding the French-German relationship.

The silver medal, although with only half the page views than Annoying the French, goes to a picture gallery illustrating a two day excursion to southern Burgundy in 2012. As member of the Museumsgesellschaft, Freiburg's oldest civil society founded in 1807, Red Baron took part. As webmaster of the "Museum" I usually pose the photos of our yearly excursions on the web site of our Gesellschaft. It is normal that members like to visit the souvenirs of past events.

Third place is taken by the blog about my fairy tale in former Breslau that I like to see together with my visit to Ferdinand Lasalle's tomb (place 7) in the same city.

Weimar in October 2012 (place 6) too does not stand alone but rather belongs to a series of four blogs (quatrology) about my experience in Thuringia: Weimar, German History in a Small Thuringian Town, Weimar, the Second Time Around (Spring 1990), Weimar in October 2012, and Weimar Literature.

As I expected my American friends are the most assiduous visitors of my blog closely followed by my German viewers, and there are even 612 page views from China.

Google (and they are not the NSA!) even offers statistics about the soft- and hardware used when people are viewing my blogs. It is obvious that Windows and PCs are still dominating the market. With respect to browsers the former leader Internet Explorer is now in healthy competition with Chrome and Firefox.

Where do I go from here? Only God knows whether I shall remain mentally healthy to complete another 250 blogs.

Friday, June 6, 2014


Yesterday the president of the European Central Bank Mr. Draghi lowered the base rate of the ECB (corresponding to the FED's Federal Funds Rate) from 0.25% to an historic low of 0.15% for the euro.

Today the daily BILD titled:

(No interest, increasing rents, mini pension) and asked:

Wie schlimm wird die Altersarmut? (Old-age poverty, how bad will it become?)

Such a message is typical for the mass-circulation press: The reader is panicked, manipulated and eventually made stupid.

There is in fact a development of the money market with the man in the street draining the cup of the financial crises of 2008. Statistics show that there presently is no inflation in Europe but there rather is a risk of stagflation.

My pension fund has not increased my benefits over the last five years. I shall receive no annual adjustment unless my individual accumulated loss of purchasing power account maintains a balance of 8%. Luckily Red Baron bought an apartment such that increasing rents do not concern me. Nevertheless the monthly utilities for the apartment increased from 420 to 475 euros over the last four years. Otherwise already without Mr. Draghi's announcement the interest rate on my money in the bank is so low that it has approached zero after tax. Do not worry, with age your needs become less so Elisabeth and I will survive.

Let us look at Altersarmut in Europe. In Germany somebody is poor if his/her revenue is below 382 euros plus the rent he/she has to pay. In principle people during their working life should put aside enough money for their retirement. Since long the obligatory contributions to social security do no longer guaranty a carefree existence following retirement. People therefore take a life insurance or other private investments to supplement the government pay. With the low interest rates at present it is nearly impossible to fill the gap between the basic social security payment and what one needs to end his life in a decent manner.

The following graphic shows that in some European countries old-age poverty is already higher than 10%, in others as in Spain it has increased from 9% in 2008 to more than 12% in 2012. This is due to the bad economic situation on the Iberian peninsula. Germany, France, and Italy show increases in Altersarmut from 2008 to 2012 whereas in the Netherlands, the UK, and Sweden the situation seems to be stable.