Monday, September 28, 2015

Bread Market

The twenty-sixth edition of the traditional Brotmarkt in Freiburg's Rathaus square took place last sunny Saturday. Today there was just a small note in the Badische Zeitung with only one picture of a booth I had visited and photographed too. Watch the girl on the left and the enormous loaf of bread on the right-hand side.

©BZ/Thomas Kunz
When I passed the booth the girl was taking up the loaf ...

Oh, that is heavy ...
... and started cutting it. Her efforts are documented in the following sequence:

... but this will be an easy job.
Oh, that's harder than I thought
Now it's getting easier
I made it. Her boss gave me a friendly smile.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Napoleon Is to Blame for Everything*

*Translation of the title of a famous German film comedy of 1938 by Curt Goetz: Napoleon ist an allem schuld.

The Freiburg Writers' Group's writing prompts for September: Write a character who embodies one of the seven deadly sins, but make them likable. Heaven and Hell now have visiting hours. Write about one of your first visits and who you went to see.

In the following text I tried to combine both topics.

The invitation arrived by snail mail. The paper in the gray envelope informed me that my date with Napoleon was set for May 5 at 1700 hours and that I should be at the gate to hell a quarter of an hour earlier. The day and hour of Bonaparte's death! Was it only a coincidence?

I was there on time. Two men in black uniforms were already waiting for me. They asked me to follow them and started walking at a rapid pace. Being an old man I had some difficulty following. We walked long corridors with doors on both sides all bearing names.

Suddenly my guardian devils stopped short and knocked on a door marked Napoleon Bonaparte. A voice from inside answered: Entrez, and one of my watchdogs opened the door.

There he was sitting in an armchair looking at me, the great Napoleon, le grand mécanicien, clad in his used, green uniform, his right hand in his vest as usual. I remembered having read that he kept his ailing liver warm with that pose.

Sire, I said, j'aimerais vous poser quelques questions. He answered: I recognize a German accent. I retorted: Your Corsican French is not at the level of the Académie française either.

Never mind, he said, what is important: My soldiers, even the Germans, understood my orders and besides: un homme parle comme une vache pourvu qu'il sabre à la française (A man may mangle the language as long as he wields his saber like a Frenchman).

I became angry: Yes, I know what you said when you came back from Russia in the winter of 1812/1813 with only 23,000 men of the more than half a million you had sent blinded by your pride in June 1812: "The French should not complain. I sacrificed the Germans and the Poles to spare my compatriots." You know this was a damned lie. It was your arrogance that brought you to hell.

Napoleon pressed his lips but otherwise did not show any reaction. So I continued:

Well, let's drop the subject. I came here to ask you how you managed to restore Catholicism in France after the French Revolution had abolished it.

This was a topic Napoleon seemed to like: It was your Frederick the Great who gave me the idea: Chacun devrait être bienheureux à sa manière (Everybody should seek salvation in his own manner). The French people actually could not care less that the Revolution had replaced the Christian God by L'Être suprème but they were unhappy about losing the church festivals, their fun fairs. So I not only restored the Catholic Church in France but simultaneously abolished the Revolutionary calendar. Let the people have their church festivals or even better let the Church teach that the people should obey their emperor. Yes, I made myself emperor knowing that the clergy will always preach: "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's."

And above all: A Christian grenadier dies an easier death than a soldier without faith. By the way, I am still quarreling with Charles Marx who lives next door for taking my idea when he declared religion to be the "Opium des Volkes".

Napoleon looked at the tall-case clock: I must bid you good-bye for I have an appointment with Fredrick who invited me to his apartment to have supper with him. You know, this is the only guy I admire down here. You, having studied my stay in Germany so meticulously, will certainly remember what I said when I visited his tomb in Potsdam's église de garnison.

I nodded, but I am not sure what would have happened if the two overachievers had met on the battlefield. Possibly the bloodiest battle in history, considering Fredrick's shout of encouragement to his soldiers: Dogs, do you want to live forever?

Napoleon rang his table bell and the two gorillas who had accompanied me suddenly appeared and rudely dragged me from my chair. I did not even have time to say good-bye to the small but great guy clad in his shabby green uniform and sitting in his armchair.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Luther. In Rome Again

Martin Luther made his first trip to Rome as an Augustinian monk in 1511. He had started in Wittenberg in December 1510 and crossed the Alps in the winter at 2300 meters via the Septimer Pass. Two months of long and hard pilgrimage lay behind him when he saw the Eternal City from a distance in January 1511. He threw himself on the wet Italian soil praying: Hail, Sancta Roma! Yes, made truly holy by those holy martyrs, dripping with their blood.

Rome as Luther saw it. The old St. Peter's Church is in the back in the middle
Once in the city Luther went through the full traditional pilgrimage that promised indulgence from all sins. Later in his life he recalled: At Rome, as I was such a great saint, I ran through all the churches and holy corners believing everything although it was all lies and it stank. In Rome I probably read one or ten masses and I almost felt sorry that my father and my mother were still alive, because I would have liked to redeem them from purgatory with masses, good works, and prayers. But it was too big a crowd, and I could not get through; so I had a salted herring instead.

Eventually I wanted to redeem my grandfather from purgatory. So on my knees I ascended the 28 steps of the Scala Sancta, the Holy Stairs in the Lateran praying an Our Father on every step ... But when I got to the top, it occurred to me: Who knows if it's true?

I wasn't in Rome for long, but read many masses and saw others reading mass. I still shudder when thinking of it. I heard courtiers laugh and brag at the dinner table, how some clerics read mass and speak bowed over bread and wine: Bread you are, and bread you stay - and then hold up bread and wine. Well, as a young and devout monk those words insulted me. And besides, I was disgusted that they read mass so rapidly as if they were performing a jugglery. Before I came to reading the gospel my neighbor and colleague had already finished mass, and shouted at me: Passa, passa, get on, finish up.

In retrospect Luther regarded the outcome of his journey as a flop both religiously and spiritually: Anyone who went to Rome and brought money, got the forgiveness of his sins. I, fool that I was, took onions to Rome and brought back garlic. It is obvious that Luther's Roman experience laid the groundwork for his later disputes with the institutional Church.

Last Wednesday after more than 500 years Luther returned to Rome. It had taken the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Italy (CELI) and the Seventh-day Adventist Church six years before the Roman magistrate agreed to name a street or a square after the reformer, just in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 1517.

Una piazza su Colle Oppio intitolata al padre della Riforma protestante 'Piazza Martin Lutero - Teologo tedesco della Riforma (1483-1546) (A square on the Oppio Hill was named after the father of the Protestant Reformation Piazza Martin Lutero, German theologian of the Reformation).

©La Repubblica Roma
Rome's mayor and a German delegation from Wittenberg unveiled the street sign. Some commentators hailed the event as a milestone in ecumenism. I doubt it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Garbage Story

When we lived in Geneva we had three big garbage containers for my neighbors and my family. You just threw in any rubbish, kitchen scraps, broken furniture, paper, glass and plastic bottles, obsolete electronics, e.g., whole television sets, and garden waste. You just name it. A garbage truck came by once a week and emptied the containers.

In an earlier blog I informed you that Freiburg has an elaborate system for the separation of waste using a green (?) container for paper, a brown bin for organic compostable stuff, and a yellow plastic bag for used packaging materials. All these things will be recycled. But there is more separation. Near my house a row of containers accepts bottles of brown, green, and clear colored glass separately, and in addition there are special bins for scrap metal, used electronics, and clothing.

Materials that cannot be recycled are regarded as Restmüll (garbage) and go into a dark-gray bin. When we moved to Freiburg I roughly understood that I had to rent a standard Restmülltonne (garbage bin) with a capacity of 140 liters where the volume can be adjusted by an insert according to the needs. I had the choice between volumes of 35, 60, and 140 liters and a frequency of emptying the Tonne every one or two weeks.
35 Liter
60 Liter
140 Liter
36,78 €
63,12 €
147,12 €
73,56 €
126,24 €
294,24 €

Garbage generally "stinks" so I opted for a 60-liter volume to be emptied once a week and costing about 100 euros a year (prices have increased since then). The other household containers (brown, green, and yellow plastic sacks) are free of charge as recycling of materials largely compensates for the emptying of those bins.

My Restmülltonne had hardly arrived when my doorbell started ringing insistently. My neighbor was standing there: Das geht aber garnicht (That doesn't work at all) and started to give me a seminar in Müllogie (garbagery). Here in our building we have two garbage bins of 140 liters to be emptied once a week where we, the apartment owners, share the charge. You have to send back your private garbage bin and join our garbage club. She insisted so much that I became intimidated. I have to admit, the system of sharing worked fine as it does in my new apartment.

However, not all works well in the system. Some people try to minimize costs and choose a much too small volume for their garbage bin hoping that there will be free space in their neighbor's bin. If this is not the case they heap up their garbage so the lid of the bin can no longer be closed. This happens in 10% of all bins.

From today on Freiburg's garbage men will issue a warning in the form of a yellow sticker when the lid of a bin is not closed. The color will change from yellow to red starting November 1, and the garbage bin will be left behind un-emptied. Things are looking grim but the households concerned have three choices to get rid of their garbage:

Legally: You buy a special red Restmüllsack (garbage bags of 35 liters for 3,96 euros or 70 liters for 7,92 euros), fill the red plastic bag with your garbage, and have it wait to be collected the next week.

Semi-legally: You make small packages of your garbage and carry those to the nearest public waste bin.

Illegally: You dispose of your garbage somewhere in Freiburg and its surroundings.

With all those lids not closed and ticketed, some people fear a littered Freiburg. Will the Green City eventually need a Stadtkümmerer?

Monday, September 14, 2015


The import of German words into the English language has a long tradition. It probably started with Werther's or better Goethe's Weltschmerz, continued with Blitzkrieg and Waldsterben, and will certainly not end with Willkommenskultur.

The way Germans have greeted Syrian refugees following their miserable trip through the Balkans even made it on to the front page of the New York Times. What a change in public opinion!

Mostly young people (©NYT)
Happy people and smokers: A journalist who had accompanied refugees on the train
from Budapest to Vienna reported that during the trip the smoke detectors
in the toilets triggered at least twenty fire alarms (©NYT)

Merkel über alles (©NYT)
The Greeks hate stubborn Germany. It definitely became Europe's bogeyman when it, assisted only by some smaller north European countries, insisted on coupling another, a third European loan of 86 billion euros to profound social and financial reforms in Greece. Even American Democrats would get headaches if more than 20% of the population were employed by the government thus living on taxpayers' or even worse on borrowed money. The Greeks favor early retirement and their military expenses are high. No wonder that Greece's debt-to-GDP ratio is 171% compared to the US with 106% and Germany's 71%.

With all the Willkommenskultur extended to those mostly Syrian war refugees asking for political asylum in Germany, we are making some of our European neighbors rethink their refugee policy. Mind you, not all that glitters is gold. Right-wingers in my country are becoming more and more virulent throwing Molotov cocktails into asylum-seekers' hostels. While a right-wing scene is regarded as normal in other countries, the vast majority of Germans does not accept such a movement in view of our past. At present, proceedings are pending before our Constitutional Court for a ban of the right-wing party NPD. Red Baron is against such a ban for it will only force the right-wingers into the underground. An established democracy should know how to fight right-wing excesses politically.

Presently Sweden and Germany are welcoming most of the refugees. Stefan Löfven, Sweden's prime minister said, while visiting Angela Merkel, that the burden is acceptable: When on a market square 500 Germans are gathered and one foreigner joins them they do not feel the additional person. Still, like our chancellor, he is asking that other European countries share the burden.

Germany's Willkommenskultur was heavily critized by Marine LePen, leader of the Front National, France's right. She who asked for a closure of France's borders - le bateau est plain - accuses Germany of giving political asylum to people that it will subsequently force into slave labor. Compared with the French Germans do not make enough babies. So they are attracting young foreigners to fill the gap.

Marine possibly does not read Charlie Hebdo. Nevertheless, she may have liked the following "joke" published by the French satirical paper: What is the difference between a refugee and an immigrant? A refugee is a guy who was badly treated in his home country. An immigrant is a guy who likes to be badly treated as slave labor in a foreign country.

Indeed, many Germans regard the refugees as an antidote for their country's shortage of skilled workers and their anemic birthrate leading to a rapidly aging society. As a first measure Germany will set aside six billion euros to integrate the mostly well-educated refugees, with the lion's share of the money flowing back into the country's economy:

Refugees, Welcome! Two refugee are passing by and one of them asks his colleague:
 Is the guy a trafficker of refugees? No, he owns a factory making tents.
Enter Victor Orbàn, the Hungarian prime minister: While our country is trying hard to fulfill the Schengen Treaty protecting the outer boundaries of the European Union against the influx of refugees Chancellor Merkel is suspending the Treaty and accepts the refugees. Therefore those refugees are no longer a European but a German problem. Chancellor Merkel's policy will attract even more people to flee their country.

On the other hand columnist Matthew Karnitschnig writes in politico titling: Merkel's migrant morality play: Willkommenskultur marks a startling shift for a country more often associated with Schadenfreude than benevolence. Germany has struggled for decades to escape the shadow of the Nazi period, but some observers say the response to the refugee crisis represents a seminal shift in Germans' view of their role in the world.

Is Germany turning into an Einwanderungsland, a country of immigration, accepting people of different colors, faiths, and origins? Here is a flattering cartoon:

Here is a very angry cartoon giving the reason for the flood of refugees:

Secure Germany's Future: Without our arms exports no wars!
Without wars no refugees! Without refugees no skilled labor!!

Note added in proof: Although the Willkommenskultur of the German people is still unabated: on September 13, our government suspended the Schengen Treaty a second time by introducing border checks between Austria and Bavaria. This should control the stream of war refugees entering Germany at such a rapid rate that necessary housing could not be provided. At the same time economic migrants from the Balkans will be filtered out and sent back home.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Freiburg's Amerikahaus Demolished

Stay calm. Nobody will demolish the Carl-Schurz-Haus.

What is known as Freiburg's Amerikahaus has nothing to do with American cultural centers that were founded in all major German cities including Freiburg in the aftermath of World War II. These Houses made those defeated Germans familiar with American civilization and values. As a high school student Red Baron remembers the black-and-white Hollywood productions he used to watch there in English, luckily with German subtitles. Casablanca was my favorite movie. It was a pity that I often missed half of the action by reading the translation of the dialog in yellow letters at the bottom of the screen. Sorry, that is history.

Starting in the 1960s many America Houses disappeared not so much because the US regarded the education of the German people in democratic values as finished but rather due to a lack of money from the States. In some places German authorities took over the financing of existing Houses. In the case of Freiburg the city council guaranteed the existence of the American bridgehead in town while renaming the America House after Carl Schurz, the revolutionary who fled Germany as a 48er and launched his career in Wisconsin.

This naturally leads me to Freiburg's other Amerikahaus, the Wirtshaus zu Amerika, a popular pub from the 18th to the 20th centuries. It was the meeting place for Freiburg's liberal democrats including the revolutionaries of 1848/49.

The Amerikahaus on Habsburgerstraße under demolition (©BZ/Hasi/Bamberger)
Where is the link to Carl Schurz? He was fighting for the revolution in northern Baden in 1849, ultimately escaped the besieged Fort Rastatt via the sewage system but never had a Schoppen (half a pint) of wine or a Halbe (a pint) of beer at the Wirtshaus zu Amerika. Nevertheless Carl Schurz was a revolutionary.

Why did the pub carry the name Wirtshaus zu Amerika and later become known as Amerikahaus? The story goes like this: The builder of the house, Johann Baptist Messy, had made a fortune in Surinam (South America) as a farmer. When he returned to Freiburg he bought the plot in 1775 to build ein großes Wohnhauß an der Landstras (a big residential house on the road). In his building he operated a pub he named Wirtshaus zu Amerika.* Johann Baptist used to entertain his guests with quixotic stories about his stay in America.
*It is often conductive to business to give an establishment an "exotic" name. Recently a Freiburg Gastropub opened in Madison.

Many organizations and people in Freiburg bitterly opposed the demolition of the "cultural monument" Wirtshaus zu Amerika. However the building stock was rotten and a new building is planned.

The planned new building (©BZ/Thomas Kunz)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mein Kampf

Seventy years after the dictator's suicide his book, a biography of his younger years and a catechism of his political ideas, is being discussed again. The obvious reason is that copyright expires after seventy years so Mein Kampf may be freely printed from January 1, 2016, on. On the other hand reprinting the book in Germany will be punished under the law as "hate writing" although you may buy and own a second-hand copy of Mein Kampf.

I remember having seen a copy of Mein Kampf as a boy that my parents kept in their bookcase. Knowing their political attitude* I am sure they never read the book that they did not buy. Like all young couples in Nazi-Germany my parents reveived it as a gift when they got married at the registry office in 1934. And this happened not only in Germany as my son told me.
*She, a practicing Catholic, he, a convinced Lutheran, fell in love!

When he, having passed his baccalaureate in Geneva, toured Europe by rail together with his friend Christroph they also visited the latter's relatives in French Lorraine. Christroph's grandma greeted my son in perfect German and later showed him a copy of Mein Kampf she had received when she got married in 1941 under German occupation.

Red Baron never understood the hype about Mein Kampf. With my retirement in Freiburg I decided to find out by reading the book. Looking for a copy on the web I eventually made a find in the States. A right-wing internet site offered a free download of Mein Kampf not only in English but in German too. So I downloaded the book and read it on my hand-held HP Jornada 720 mostly (secretly?) in bed, quickly falling asleep. When I had eventually finished the book I was not impressed. Some readers criticize Hitler's bad style but this is just a side issue. The book clearly shows that in the early 1920s the author was an anti-Semite with plans to gain Lebensraum (living space) for his Volk ohne Raum (people without space) in eastern Europe. He failed miserably and led his people into destruction.

So who wants to read the book today when apparently only few people had read it before Hitler came to power? In the Third Reich the interest in Mein Kampf was small. This is nevertheless strange for a book that had a circulation of nearly 13 million copies by 1944. Did people indeed not read the book because of Hitler's bad style?

Presently the Vergangenheitsbewältigung (process of coming to terms with the past) with the book is taking place on stage. The play Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf Band 1 & 2 is being staged in Weimar and following its first run will tour all over Germany next year.

Why did they choose Weimar? Is this due to the fact that the Nazis had two ministers in Thuringia's state government as early as 1926 and eventually ruled alone in the state capital Weimar by 1932, i.e., before the Nazis took over in Berlin in 1933? Or is it because Hitler liked Weimar's Elephant Hotel so much?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Detroit City

The Freiburg Writer's Group Mistress of Ceremonies asked the participants to take the lyrics from a song and turn them into a short story, but don't reveal the song's name. Here is my story:

When he left the motor works it was already dark and cold rain slapped into his face. His hands deeply buried in his pockets, he tried to cover his head with the hood of his parka. With his eyes closed to slits he could barely make out the street lights while he walked home. Slowly his miserable situation came to his mind. What his foreman had said this morning suddenly haunted him. When Bill had mentioned massive layoffs he had been shocked although he had long known that the company couldn't sell the cars he produced during his day shift.  But still, why would he be the guy to be fired? His head turned when he reached his favorite bar. A beer surely would calm him down.

A few drinks later he found himself on the street again. The rain had stopped but there were puddles on the pavement and he had to watch his feet not to step in. For the first time a few beers had not calmed him down but had made him tired. He eventually reached his shabby apartment.

©Political Outcast
He opened the door and went right to his unmade bed to lie down. Soon he fell asleep and dreamed about his home in the south. He saw his parents sitting on the front porch of their house watching his brother trying to shoot the ball into the basket he had once mounted on the barn door. And then he saw himself walking through those cotton fields hand in hand with his girl he had wanted to impress by making big money in the north. It had not worked out for him but in his letters home he had carefully hidden his misery.

He awoke in the middle of the night soaked with sweat. While he went to the bathroom he took the decision to take the next southbound freight train. Back in the bedroom he took his guitar from the wall, tuned it and in spite of the late hour started to sing his favorite song:

I wanna go home I wanna go home oh how I wanna go home
Home folks think I'm big in Detroit City
From the letters that I write they think I'm fine
But by day I make the cars by night I make the bars
If only they could read between the lines
I wanna go home I wanna go home oh how I wanna go home

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Beer Capital of the World

In domesticating wild plants and animals over thousands of years and by selecting the most appropriate strains, people have changed the genomes permanently. For the first time molecular biologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have looked into genetic changes in domesticated yeast as it is used for beer brewing.

Red Baron already posted that beer brewing in the 16th century was not really understood. In fact, the German Beer Purity Law stated that only hops, water, and barley must be used for making beer but the necessary yeast was not mentioned. At the time of Goethe brewing was still an alleatoric process as undefined microorganisms in the environment entered the open mash and started its fermentation.

Nowadays beer brewers use well-defined yeasts that are hybrids of two Saccharomyces, i.e., S. eubayanus and S. cerevisiae (Latin for beer). For brewing lager-style beers two known S. cerevisiae are added to the mash: S. pastorianus syn. and S. carlsbergensis (sic). These yeasts recognized by brewers are also known as the Saaz and Frohberg lineages.

When comparing the known yeasts to their original wild forms Madison researchers found out that due to a lucky spontaneous hybridization in the 15th century the strain of yeast was formed that today is used for 90% of beer production. At that time at least another lucky hybridization happened so two lines of lager beer yeasts co-existed for quite a while. Dr. Chris Todd Hitting of the University of Wisconsin-Madison states that people have been unwittingly using yeast; mixing, matching and recombining different species without even understanding that microbes were involved in the process. So nowadays the two lineages are quasi identical. The Madison research scientists published a detailed account of their findings in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

With this breakthrough in research on yeast Madison has become the beer capital of the world in particular when Dr. Hittinger continues: Investigating and discovering new lineages of yeasts involved in brewing beer opens up an exciting area for designer strains. The brewing industry could isolate more strains from the wild and hybridize them with strains well adapted to brewing conditions. It could be used to create novel flavors.

When Red Baron was a student in Munich he learned that Weihenstephan, a rather small town 30 kilometers farther north, was the world center for the science of beer brewing. The place was so famous that some of my fellow students seriously considered the possibility of transferring and getting a doctorate in beerology instead of science.

Apparently the problem of how to marry studies and excessive consumption of beer exists on both sides of the Atlantic. Here I quote an American student (original spelling): 4 years of college and all i have is a P.H.D. in Beerology!

By the way, the French call it la bièrologie. Note: also in France beer is more popular than wine among students.

©Laurel White/
On the afternoon of Saturday, August 29, more than a thousand people gathered in the backyard of Madison's Ale Asylum for the Ferment Dissent Imperial Stout Riot & Festival. The attendants celebrated the release of two imperial stouts, both aged for one year. The two beers, a Russian imperial stout called Impending Descent and a Belgian-style imperial stout called Impending Dissent, are identical, except for the yeast strains they were fermented with. Are the new beers already the result of the research on yeast at the University of Wisconsin-Madison?