Thursday, October 29, 2015

In Memoriam Gerhard Bronner

My father being a technology freak bought the family's first television set in 1953. Red Baron remembers well Queen Elizabeth's coronation being one of the first Eurovision transmissions from Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953.

In 1954 many of my former class mates were assembled around the 35 cm diameter black-and-white screen watching the soccer match between Hungary and "West Germany". The Germans became world champions in beating the favorite Hungarians 3 to 2 at Bern's Wankdorf Stadium on July 4, 1954.

At that time one of my highlights on television was a cabaret show or rather a one-man-show by a guy at his piano called Gerhard Bronner singing his critical political songs. In 1953 Bronner had traveled from Vienna to Hamburg changing his career from an Austrian cabaret artist to a job at the German television. In those years Hamburg had the one and only television studio in the German speaking world where Bronner wanted to try out the new media. Until 1955 he was the leader of the entertainment department of the North German Broadcasting Corporation (NDR).

In the following years I lost sight of this talented man until 2005. Two years before his death in Vienna, he came to Freiburg.

In his show the old man read from his autobiography Spiegel vorm Gesicht (Holding up a mirror) interrupted by some of his better known songs. I was so fascinated that I bought his book and learned about the poor Jewish boy born in Vienna in 1922 who on several occasions had escaped the Nazis at the very last moment. Once he had to cross the Danube river swimming together with a friend who perished.

Last week my memory came back reading Bronner's name on Facebook together with the following citation being typical for him. At the commemoration ceremony for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Concentration Camp Gunskirchen on May 7, 2005 he had held up a mirror to his Austrian fellow citizens: There are three things that cannot be combined: intelligence, honesty, and National Socialism. One can be intelligent and a Nazi but then he is not honest. Somebody being honest and a Nazi is not intelligent. When one is honest and intelligent he will not be a Nazi.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


The other day I read an article: Die neuen Münzen des Alten Fritz (The new coins of Old Fritz) describing Frederick the Great's efforts for a unified currency in German territories.

The representatives of the Holy Roman Empire* had been struggling in vain at the Perpetual Diet in Regensburg for more than 100 years to create a common currency for the more than 300 political entities in Germany.
*a mere shadow of it's former self following the Thirty Years' War

"Friedrichsthaler" of 1785 minted in Berlin (A): FRIEDERICUS BORUSSORUM REX, EIN REICHS THALER (©Wikipedia/GNU Free Documentation License)
It was the Prussian king taking the initiative in 1750 who created the Preußenthaler (Prussian Thaler). Was this a reaction to the imperial Maria-Theresia-Thaler* of 1741?

Maria-Theresia-Thaler of 1780 (©Wikipedia/Carlomorino)
In fact, initially the Prussian Thaler carried the stamp REICHS THALER. Were they cheating? The Prussian coin had a fine weight of only 16,704 gram silver while the Austrian Thaler had a fineness of 23,389 grams.
*The name Thaler originates from the silver mining city of Joachimsthal in Bohemia being part of the Holy Roman Empire. Later Thaler became eponymous for many other coins: Daalder in the Netherlands, Daler in Skandinavia, Talero in Italy, Talar in Poland, and Dollar in the USA.

Joachimsthaler of 1525 (©Wikipedia/Stephan Schlick)
All silver coins of the First Reich were based on a silver weight, the mark, in particular the Kölner Mark (mark of Cologne) weighing 233,85 grams of fine silver. This is to be compared with the Pound Sterling based, as the name suggests, on a weight too, a pound of silver. German Thalers had another feature in common with the original non-decimal English system. Thalers were divided into 24 Groschen. In some regions of the Reich Gulden (guilders) based on gold and divided into 60 Kreuzer were in use.

As would be expected. Without exception European rulers manipulated currencies based on the weight of silver or gold. Gold coins were "diluted" with silver whereas silver coins lost their fineness with time.

Three mark coin of 1910
Later the Prussian Thaler had quite a success in Northern Germany with the creation of the German Zollverein (tariff union) in 1834.

Following the foundation of the Second Reich in 1871 all existing German currencies were replaced by the Goldmark* deliberately using the old name Mark. As a curiosity and a reminiscence the Second Reich minted a silver coin with a value of 3 marks! corresponding in value exactly to the Prussian Thaler. This "new" Thaler coin was still used in the Weimar Republic.
*divided into 100 Pfennig

Monday, October 19, 2015


Andreas passed away in New York City Tuesday morning, October 6, at 7:12 a.m. from a heart attack.

The last contact with my son I had on Monday, October 5, at 7:53 p.m. New York time. A query that I had sent him on Facebook, he answered by a single line in German: Papa, 6 von 8.

Me, an old man on Facebook? It was the best way to follow my son on his world-wide travel, to admire his photos, and to read his economic views and articles.

Last photo of his kind of city taken by Andreas on October 1, 2015
In fact, earlier that very evening I had found an entry on Facebook giving a list of 8 essential books that Neil deGrasse Tyson, the well-known American astrophysicist, thinks everyone should read. So when I asked Andreas: How many have you read, son, he answered: 6 out of 8. His father had only read 3 of those 8.

It was always like this. Andreas was not my alter ego but my melior ego. My weekends together with him in New York were great moments in my life when he showed me parts of the city I didn't know, when we went to jazz clubs and when we had those long discussions.

Once in awhile Andreas visited Elisabeth and me in Freiburg. On his last too short a visit this summer, I showed him a catalog about a cultural tour of Greece I was planning for 2016. Imagine my joy when he spontaneously said: Papa, da würd' ich gern mitkommen (I would love to join you). And then he turned to me, showing his priceless sly smile saying: But in Greece, we shall speak French.

We all lost an exceptional person, we parents a unique son, his wife a gentle, generous husband, and his sister an admired brother.

Here comes the list of eight books that Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks everyone should read and his reasons why. The recommendations are from a 2011 Reddit Ask-Me-Anything.

"The Bible": “To learn that it's easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself."

"The System of the World" by Isaac Newton: “To learn that the universe is a knowable place.”

"On the Origins of Species" by Charles Darwin: “To learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.”

"Gulliver's Travels" by Jonathan Swift: “To learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time, humans are Yahoos.”

"The Age of Reason" by Thomas Paine: “To learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.”

"The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith: “To learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.”

"The Art of War" by Sun Tzu: “To learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.”

"The Prince" by Niccolo Machiavelli: “To learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it.”

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Germany's Unity Myth

Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit (Unity and Justice and Freedom): Germany's national anthem emphasizes unity before justice and freedom.

25th anniversary of German reunification in New York (©German Consulate)
The 3rd of October commemorates  the decision of the parliament of the German Democratic Republic, the Volkskammer, to accede to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany according to Article 23 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) effective as of 3 October 1990. In the matter Nr. 201 there have been 363 votes. There were no invalid votes. 294 deputies have voted 'yes'.

Somewhere in united Germany ©dpa.
The picture clearly marks the former border between East and West Germany.

As a young boy I was impressed by a stamp issued in 1900 when I read Seid, einig, einig, einig. What an issue in my early youth when even the Austrians belonged to the Third Reich. During twelve long years there was unity but neither justice nor freedom.

©Wikipedia/Bruce Martin
Later in history lessons I learned that Bismarck had forced all Germans into a Second Reich by using his Blood and Iron strategy against France. He "unified" the mostly Protestant north and the Catholic south excluding the German-speaking Austrians.

The motif of the old stamp, known among philatelists as Nord und Süd, was borrowed from Adolf Werner's painting Viktoria showing two Teutonic-looking guys, one from the Alps, the other from the Baltic Sea, shaking hands. Strangely enough it was the founder of the Second Reich, Bismarck, who on several occasions jeopardized German unity by making several groups second-class citizens such as Catholics or Socialists.

In the Second Reich it was important to demonstrate German unity at any appropriate or inappropriate occasion. Another stamp of 1900 titled Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Gott (One Reich, One People, One God) shows the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Second Reich on January 18, 1896: The Reformation had divided the German states profoundly and animosities between Catholics and Protestants were still great so the stamp emphasizes that all Germans worship the same God.

The German painter William Pape placed Kaiser Wilhelm II with his funny helmet in the middle of an eerie scene. Imperial crown and orb are bedded on two cushions while an assembly of old men attending the ceremony is looking somewhat bored.

Forty-two years and two months later and following Austria's Anschluss the message had changed to a godless: Ein Volk, Ein [Drittes] Reich, Ein Führer.

The First Reich carried the bombastic name Holy Roman Empire but was nothing else than a colossus standing on feet of clay. The Reich was composed of a conglomeration of mostly powerful duchies, prince-bishoprics, and "free" imperial cities with the emperor holding together what in 1667 the expert in constitutional law Samuel von Pufendorf described in his book De statu imperii Germanici as einen unregelmäßigen und einem Monstrum ähnlichen Staatskörper (an erratic body politic similar to a monstrosity).

In the 16th century the Reich was more precisely called Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation although many of the emperor's subjects did not speak German at all and those who did preferred to communicate in their local dialects. Tribes that spoke vernacular Low German were not easily understood by those speaking High German dialects and vice versa.

An emperor lacking money and soldiers has no real power. A good example is Habsburg's Ferdinand II, so poor that at the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War he had to beg his rich Catholic cousin, the Bavarian Duke Maximilian, for troops to fight the Protestants in Bohemia.

Nearly two centuries later in 1792 and impressed by the chauvinistic outbreak in France during the Revolution Christoph Martin Wieland remarked: Wer das deutsche Reich aufmerksam durchwandert, lernt zwar nach und nach Österreicher, Brandenburger, Sachsen, Pfälzer, Baiern, Hessen, Württemberger, usw. mit etlichen hundert kleineren … Völkerschaften, aber keine Deutschen kennen … Jeder von dieser ungeheurn Menge Staaten im Staat hat seinen eigenen kleinen Gemeingeist …; was Wunder also, wenn Gleichgiltigkeit und Kälte gegen allgemeines Nationalinteresse … den Fremden als ein Charakterzug der Deutschen auffällt (A contemporary attentively wandering the German Reich will successively meet Austrians, Brandenburgers, Saxons, Palatines, Bavarians, Hessians, Württembergers, and in addition several other smaller peoples but no Germans. Strangers are stunned and regard the general indifference to national consciousness as being a German trait).

It is still true. When I am asked in a foreign country "Where are you from" I answer rather Freiburg than Germany adding sometimes Black Forest.

Napoleon's invasion of Germany gave birth to considerable subliminal German nationalism. Goethe and Schiller stricken by France's aggression preferred to ask the following salient question in their Xenie:

Deutschland? Aber wo liegt es?
Ich weiß das Land nicht zu finden,
Wo das gelehrte beginnt, hört das politische auf ...
Zur Nation euch zu bilden, ihr hoffet es, Deutsche vergebens;
Bildet, ihr könnt es, dafür freier zu Menschen euch aus.

Germany? But where is it?
I do not know where to look for the country,
Where the educated [Germany] starts, the political ends ...
Germans, your hope of building a nation is vain;
Form yourself freely into human beings instead, you know how to do it.

Following the Napoleonic era the Congress of Vienna gave birth to a Deutscher Bund binding all German-speaking states into one loose confederation. The old pre-Napoleonic structures had simply been restored so Heinrich Heine sarcastically wrote:

Und als ich auf dem Sankt Gotthard stand,
da hörte ich Deutschland schnarchen:
Es schlief da unten in guter Hut
von sechsunddreißig Monarchen.

While I stood on the Saint Gotthard Pass
I heard my Germany snoring.
It was sleeping below and well cared for
by thirty-six monarchs.

The revolution of 1848/49 was a chance but failed to create a German Republic. One of the reasons was that the revolutionaries wanted too much too soon. Freedom from the yoke of the princes, no internal German borders, and unity of all Germans.

Remember France. Following the Revolution of 1789 republics replaced kingdoms and once an empire even a republic but the country always stood united. At the end France's motto remained: Liberté, égalité, fraternité, in that order.

Bismarck's Second Reich was nothing else than a poor ersatz for a German republic. The new Reich had no real democratic foundation and eventually failed following Germany's defeat in 1918.

The Weimar Republic, an attempt at democracy that followed, was not popular among people used to living in an authoritarian state.*  So the republic was easily blown away by Hitler's Third Reich ending in another defeat, this time total, and in the division of Germany. Now Germany's dividing line ran not west-east but north-south from the Baltic Sea to the Alps forming part of the Iron Curtain.
*Look at Russia: In 1917 the people mostly farmers and industrial workers suffering under the czarist lash revolted in the October Revolution. However their jumping out of the frying pan ended up in the fire of the dictatorship of the proletariat with Stalin being the new red czar. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s there were tender beginnings of democracy in the Russian Federation although presently President Putin certainly is not a flawless democrat his Duzfreund (good friend) Gerhard Schröder, former German chancellor, once praised him. Apparently the Russians unaccustomed to democratic rule need a firm hand.

When the Berlin Wall fell and the Iron Curtain opened in the fall of 1989 a few Germans and many foreigners were opposed to a unified Germany echoing François Mauriac's famous words: J’aime tellement l’Allemagne que je suis heureux qu’il y en ait deux (I love Germany so much that I'm glad there are two of them).

The late Günter Grass, Nobel Prize winner for literature, advocated two German states too when he declared: Da wir, gemessen an unserer Veranlagung, keine Nation bilden können, da wir, belehrt durch geschichtliche Erkenntnis und unserer kulturellen Vielgestalt bewußt, keine Nation bilden sollten, müssen wir endlich den Föderalismus als einzige Chance begreifen (According to our predisposition, as historical insight teaches us, and aware of our cultural diversity, we are unable to form one nation and therefore should not form one. We must finally understand federalism as the only chance).

How true. The West German Federal Republic (BRD) just had to wait until the districts of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) were restructured into new federal states. The neue Bundesländer were formed following historical borders so that the other Nobel Prize winner Willy Brandt eventually stated: Nun wächst zusammen, was zusammengehört (What belongs together will now coalesce).

A marked federalism is the magic formula for the united Germany
Following 25 years of a united Germany have we become one people? Possibly we are doing as well as the 50 United States and even better than Spain and the UK with their Catalans and Scots seeking some sort of independence. Although Bavarians are somewhat special a popular vote on their separation from the Federal Republic would fail. Even the former critics of a unified Germany could not deny that the country is a success story in spite of some hiccups.

I started this special blog with some stamps. Here are a few more:

The first all-German stamp: October 3, 1990: It was issued jointly by the Deutsche Bundespost (BRD)
and Deutsche Post (GDR) but it is marked Deutsche Bundespost.

October 3, 1995: To the victims of division and
oppression. Note: The Deutsche Bundespost
 has changed to Deutschland.
October 3, 2000: The motif emphasizes
 Willy Brandt's coalescence.

October 3, 2010: Twenty years
of celebrations already.

October 3, 2015: Why are we upside-down?
Note the golden instead of
a red-mellon yellow dot.