Friday, December 16, 2016

Name Bashing

As I had predicted: the renaming of street names with a loaded past excited Freiburg's citizens. There was a flood of letters to the editor, mostly complaining about the money involved that could be used better.

In fact, in my letter published in the Badische Zeitung, I proposed that instead of renaming Rennerstraße*, it would be easy to look into Wikipedia and find another famous innocent Renner as godfather for the street thus avoiding that residents had to change their addresses.
*named after Johann Jacob Renner the "burner of witches." In the meantime, I wrote his missing article in Wikipedia.

In the case of Alexander Ecker, I criticized the argumentation of the naming commission that a skull collection in the 19th century would have given rise to the racist ideology of the Nazis. At that time, the study of skulls was à la mode and even practiced by Goethe.

In 1826 the mayor of Weimar presented him with Schiller's skull which Goethe gauged according to the then latest method: the Gallische Schädellehre (Gallic skull theory). He even wrote a poem: Bei der Betrachtung von Schillers Schädel (In contemplation of Schiller's skull).

Goethe's choice. With three skulls in front of him, doesn't he look skeptical?
Weimar's mayor simply picked the biggest skull out of the many skulls he found in the ossuary, for he thought that Schiller must have had a bigger brain than ordinary people. It was an irony for already at the end of the 19th-century scientists were pretty sure that the skull Goethe had contemplated was not Schiller's skull. This was confirmed by DNA analysis in 2008 with the result that Schiller's skull is lost.

A recurring remark in those letters to the editor concerned Luther's anti-Semitism and why the street bearing his name was not proposed for renaming. Did the naming commission beat Alban Stolz but meant Martin Luther?

Alban Stolz's bust in Freiburg (©BZ)
It indeed is remarkable: Freiburg's Catholic Cathedral Prelate and Lutheran City Deacon united in writing a press release: Nobody is morally perfect. If we judge persons, we place ourselves above them.

In their argumentation, they simply follow John 8:7 when Jesus was asked about the fate of a woman caught in adultery he answered: Whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her. The two clergymen pleaded to leave all street names, including that of Martin Heidegger, but add explanatory texts to the street signs.

©Michael Bamberger/BZ
In the meantime, the city council decided to follow the recommendation of the renaming commission. However, the renaming of each of the dozen streets will individually be discussed at a later date. Haben die keine anderen Sorgen? (Don't they have any other worries?)

As you already know, they have.

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