Saturday, February 24, 2018

On the Stones of the Synagogue

There is one iconic photo of Freiburg’s burned-down synagogue taken on November 10, 1938, that not only is part of my web page Freiburgs Geschichte in Zitaten (Freiburg’s history represented in quotations) but also serves as historic evidence on the newly installed municipal information panels at the Platz der Alten Synagoge.

Middenhoff's famous photo (©Staatsarchiv Freiburg)
Although it was strictly forbidden to take pictures of the smoldering ruins of the Jewish house of prayer, the student of law Wolf Middendorff took a risk and shot the only known photo, becoming a sort of hero after the war. He not only was honored for his audacity but became a professor of law serving at the renown Max Planck Institute of International Law located one block away from my apartment.

Tall Middendorff in HJ uniform
(©Staatsarchiv Freiburg)
This morning an article in the Badische Zeitung changed Middendorff’s image dramatically. Markus Wolter, historian and librarian, has unveiled the Nazi past of this “hero” who in fact was not just a Mitläufer (nominal follower) of the regime but an active member of the Nationalsozialistischer Schülerbund (Nazi Schoolchildren's League). Later he rose through the ranks of the Hitler Youth (HJ) to become Unterbannführer (Local leader of HJ) in Freiburg. Having reached the age of 19 in 1935, Middendorff became member 3,594,133 of the NSDAP (Nazi Party). During the war, he served in the Luftwaffe (air force). In the winter semester 1945/46, he was one of the first law students in Freiburg. By keeping his Nazi past secret, he obtained the famous Persil-Schein* (denazification certificate) by fraud, opening him a public service career at court. In this capacity, he later boasted to have “whitewashed” many old Nazis.
*Brand name of a famous washing powder: “Persil, nothing washes whiter”.

What makes the Middendorff Affair unbearable are his anti-Semitic notes found after his death when, e. g., he welcomes the fact that in the winter semester of 1938/39 Freiburg’s university was judenfrei (free of Jews). To cap it all off he wrote a "poem" modifying the text of an old ballad: Wetzt die langen Messer am Synagogenstein, daß sie besser flutschen in den Judenbauch hinein (Sharpen your long knives on the stones of the synagogue, so they may more smoothly glide into the belly of Jews). Nauseating!

Knowing Middenhoff’s story, his famous photo reproduced on municipal information panels derides the Jewish victims. Unfortunately, this is just another chapter in the unfinished saga of the Platz der Alten Synagoge. Markus Wolter rightly demands that the photo must be commented extensively in the final version of those information panels.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Original Sin

Yesterday Elisabeth and I went to a lecture about Erbsünde, ein irreführender Begriff (Original sin, a misleading term) by Professor Ludwig Wenzler, former director of Freiburg's Catholic Academy. While the notion of "original sin" may well be understood in English, Erbsünde (inherited sin) in German is frequently misinterpreted.

Are we all born with the personal sin (peccatum originale originans) Adam once committed when in paradise he ate an apple (?) of the tree of knowledge and why is a new-born child already fraught with Adam's sin (peccatum originale originatum)?

Do you see this big black spot? That is the original sin. (©Cosmiq)
Let us start at the beginning. Not taking for serious the “literal” interpretation of the Book of Genesis by creationists, science now explains that the world came into being following the Big Bang with life developing on earth later. Out of primitive forms of DNA have evolved viruses, bacteriae, protozoans, plants, animals, and eventually man/woman or better men/women for it is hard to believe that mankind is the result of only one common ancestor.

Bible stories are great explaining in their way the mystery of creation to Jews and Christians before science inspired by Darwin revealed the development and the selection of species and later the transfer of our DNA to our offspring.

Martin Luther in his time, although proclaiming the Freiheit eines Christenmenschen (On the Freedom of a Christian), was still deeply rooted in the Middle Ages. For him, freedom meant freedom from the paternalism, the tutelage of the Catholic Church, i.e., freedom for any man/woman to find his/her individual way to God guided by reading the Bible. Nothing was more important to Luther than fighting illiteracy even for women (!) so that everybody may study the Bible in his German tongue and find his way to Christ.

According to Luther, man/woman has no free will for although the spiritual human being is free the flesh is weak and bound to sin, so he read in St. Paul's letter to the Romans 7:19, "For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing".

As Luther writes in his scripture De servo arbitrio (On the Bondage of the Will), human beings are slaves and bound in their will. They are either “ridden” by the devil or by God. This was his rude answer to Erasmus of Rotterdam’s scripture De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collatio (On Free Choice of the Will, Discourses or Comparisons) in which the latter explains that God does not interfere with man’s/woman’s free will and lets him/her decide between good and evil.

Back to the original sin. It is widely acknowledged that it was Augustinus who forwarded the concept. The story of Adam and Eve losing the paradise by disobeying God’s order and eating of the tree of knowledge was Augustinus' way of explaining the evil in this world and the misery of medieval life. Is there not a more modern interpretation of the “original sin”?

Man/woman is indeed in the bondage of his/her origin. Although the genetic code has evolved, the original traits of evolution that the fittest will survive and proliferate are common to all species. Being essential for their survival, animals have no scruples eating other animals and strong males will fight for females to pass on their genetic material. We, however, intelligent beings, became conscious that it is wrong to kill neighbors, take or destroy their possessions, impose the genes in raping their women. Professor Wenzler called the inclination of man/woman towards evil an Erbmangel but interpreted the "genetic defect" rather in a religious context. The insight of our ancestors that there is evil apparently came in pair with their queries about the meaning of existence.

Here I dare to claim that a paradise never existed although such a condition is the starting point of many other non-Jewish mythologies too. The paradise lost serves as an auxiliary construction to explain how good and evil came into this world and how man/woman acquired the “knowledge”, i.e., became conscious to decide between those two.

Although Professor Wenzler tried hard to get rid of the German word Erbsünde, replacing it by Ursünde and even introduced the concept of Erbgnade (hereditary grace), for me the element Erbe gets a whole new significance. We carry the basic information of egoistic life preserving and life proliferation in our genes as the lyrics of the song "As Time Goes by" describe:

It's still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die ...

Or with respect to our heritage, as Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust states in his defeatest way:

Es erben sich Gesetz und Rechte
wie eine ew’ge Krankheit fort;
sie schleppen von Geschlecht sich zum Geschlechte
und rücken sacht von Ort zu Ort.
Vernunft wird Unsinn, Wohltat Plage:
Weh dir, daß du ein Enkel bist!
Like a disease, an heir-loom dread,
Still trail their curse from race to race,
And furtively abroad they spread.
To nonsense, reason's self they turn;
Beneficence becomes a pest;
Woe unto thee, that thou'rt a grandson born!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

In God's Own Country

Yesterday the Freiburg University winter lecture series “500 years Reformation, Luther and the Consequences” came to an end with a talk by Professor Michael Hochgeschwender, University of Munich: “Radical Reformation and Reform of Society in the States in the 19th Century”. As on all previous Saturday mornings, the auditorium was fully packed.

Already in his first sentence, Professor Hochgeschwender made it clear that America’s society was and still is influenced by Calvinism and not by Lutheranism. The Pilgrim Fathers looking for new frontiers were Puritans. Later Anglo-Saxon Protestants continued to mark the religious development in the States; this to the detriment of Irish immigrants being fervent Catholics. Settlers arriving on the American continent took along the Puritan Anglosaxon slogan “Thy mercy on thy people Lord” regarding themselves as the newly chosen people.

Professor Hochgeschwender’s lecture was a bit too detailed referring to the religious situation that led to the War of Independence and that in the 19th century developed into revival movements. These were soon teaming with liberal groups to form the capitalistic system in the northern states.

For Protestants the King James Bible was the measure of all things; sometimes the only book at home. Reading was an essential skill. The message is: all men can be saved; they only have to meet God on their own, individual way.

God alone will choose his people although the idea that those selected by the Lord are already successful here on earth does not sound very biblical. But did not St. Paul clearly write in his second letter to the Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” This led to the distinction between undeserving and deserving poor.

In the States, the religious development in the north clashed with the more traditional living style in the south, a democracy of free white men. Eventually, tensions over the justification of slavery culminated in the Civil War that in view of the endured carnage left religious groups speechless and in trouble explaining.

Not for long. In the second half of the 19th century, the ministering zeal revived to give the American way of life to the world. Herman Melville carried this sense of mission even further, “And we Americans are the peculiar, chosen people - the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of liberties of the world,” and he continues, “Long enough have we doubted whether, indeed, the political Messiah had come. But he has come in us.

Religious affiliation in the U.S.
Although the number of atheists is on the rise, the spectrum of Protestant religious movements in the States still is broad, e.g., Evangelicals, Presbyterians, Baptists, Mormons. This Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perfected the view of the last days being near and taking place in new Israel, the United States. Christ will eventually exult in God's own country.

As Professor Hochgeschwender explained all this is far more complex, but he showed that some of those religious attitudes still influence a great part of today’s American society.

Friday, February 16, 2018

For a Big Fee, a Map of America

This morning, reading the Badische Zeitung Red Baron shook his head when he read that a copy of the famous map of “America” by Martin Waldseemüller held at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library) is a fake. Yes, the BSB proudly had bought a fake copy of Waldseemüller’s map for 2 million Deutsche Mark (1 million euro) in 1990. The report immediately brought to my mind the lyrics of “I want to be in America” from the musical West Side Story.

When last December Christie’s London put up another map for auction experts became suspicious by comparing their specimen with the copy in Munich. Subsequently, material science tests revealed that around 1960 both copies were drawn from an original kept at the University of Minnesota in the States; where else? At least we know that the specimen kept at the Library of Congress, in Washington, DC, is an original.

There is another copy in Freiburg near the place where once Waldseemüller’s parents’ house, the Haus zum Hechtkopf (pike head), stood.

Visiting the place this morning I learned that it was not Martinus Ilacomilus who had invented the name but Philesius Vogesigena (Matthias Ringmann).

Note the reflection of the Haus zur lieben Hand (House of the Kind Hand)
Then Waldseemüller wrongly (?) wrote America on the map.

Coming back to the two fake copies in Munich and at Christie’s. Why had they not found out earlier? Oh, those experts!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Churches to Beer Halls

People well-versed in the Bible know the famous lines in the Book of Isaiah, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares.” This is snow of yesteryear for you read in the Book of Gambrinus, “They will transform their churches into beer halls.” It is a fact: while the number of churchgoers is on the decline, gesoffen wird immer (people will always booze).

Initially, Red Baron was shocked when he read in the Badische Zeitung that in the States churches are transformed into large beer bars. In Freiburg, the Luther Church situated near the complex of clinical buildings of the university was lately deconsecrated too ... to become a lecture hall for the medical faculty. The future multi-functional auditorium will have 460 seats.

Luther Church in Freiburg (©Joergens.mi/Wikipedia)
Back to the beer churches. Instead of an altar, you will find a brewing kettle and instead of wine, beer will be served. Names for the beers are easy to find since the Middle Ages the best beers are brewed by monks. Subsequently, you will find the Pious Monk dark lager, Organ Pipe pale ale, and Celestial Gold on tap or in bottles at those booming Beer and Bible Bars. Note the quadruple alliteration.

In Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, the Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh are housed in a former church building. While we read in Genesis 2:2, “And on the seventh day God came to the end of all his work, and on the seventh day he took his rest from all the work which he had done,” the Pittsburg brewers completed, “On the eighth-day man created beer”.

Church naves with large stained glass windows
are hard to make into condominiums (©Dake Kang/AP)
In Cincinnati, Ohio, the Taft's Ale House opened in the 167-year-old St. Paul's Evangelical Protestant Church with a "blessing of the beers” by a Catholic priest, Rev. John Kroeger. Eyes cast upward he said, “God of all creation, you gift us with friends, and food and drink. Bless these kegs and every keg that will be brewed here. Bless all those freshened here, and all those gathered in the days, and months, and years to come!. Amen." It proves, Beer is ecumenical.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Fire and Fury

At the beginning of the year, Red Baron learned about a whistleblowing book by Michael Wolff reporting from inside the White House. The book titled Fire and Fury was to be published on January 7, but when I looked into Amazon it was available in Germany only on January 9.

Somewhat angry I browsed the Apple store on January 5, and there it was Fire and Fury alright ready for download. What had happened? The Little Brown publishing house had advanced the delivery by two days fearing an injunction that President Trump’s lawyers were preparing forbidding the publishing of the book.

Some people hate e-books, but they have several advantages. They do not need precious space on your bookshelf, let you read the book in parallel, synchronized on multiple devices, allow the marking and annotation of text as well as the looking up of unknown expressions in online dictionaries. Wolff writes a demanding style using a vocabulary sometimes unknown to me.

In the States, Michael Wolff writes for a couple of newspapers and had published in 2008 a biography about the Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch titled: The Man Who Owns the News. In the U.S., Murdoch owns the 20th Century Fox studios, the television network Fox, and the influential Wall Street Journal.

Michael Wolff had already accompanied Donald Trump during the election campaign and writes, „Shortly after January 20, I took something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing of the White House. Since then I have conducted more than 200 interviews.“

The first Freiburg-Madison-Gesellschaft Stammtisch of 2018 was on Wednesday this week and I presented Wolff's book to a considerable audience.

The Transition
Almost no one in the Republican camp had counted on Trump's victory. The electoral team was totally surprised and inexperienced when they moved into the White House. Such as Kellyanne Conway, Trump's election campaign manager, who coined the term "alternative facts" while she had intended to say, "The president has other information," by the way also a peculiar way of describing Trump's fixation on the size of the crowd present at his inauguration on the Mall in Washington.

Wolff’s book then reveals that it had been Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon who was behind those hasty Executive Orders restricting the entry of citizens from some Arab states.

The ultra-right, all-right activist and Breitbart TV maker Steve Bannon tried, until his dismissal in July 2017, to turn America morally and politically back into the good old 1960s. As the chief strategist, he often had the president's ear, if the latter had not listened to Jarvanka — an artificial word formed from the names of Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and of daughter Ivanka.

It turned out that the president had no long-term strategy except for "Make America great again". Often the last person to see Trump influenced his opinion. As Wolff knows: "It was one of the key elements of Bannon's understanding of Trump: the last person Trump spoke to ended up with enormous influence.” So the chief strategist was permanently present in the White House; sometimes he slept a few hours on a couch.

There are the long nocturnal phone calls, the evening cheeseburger, the three television screens, and the morning tweets in the bedroom that determine POTUS's daily routine, "If he was not having his six-thirty dinner with Steve Bannon, then, more to his liking, he was in bed by that time with a cheeseburger, watching his three screens and making phone calls — the phone was his true contact point with the world — to a small group of friends.“ And so, “Trump would brag that Murdoch was always calling him; Murdoch, for his part, would complain that he couldn't get Trump off the phone.“

And then there was Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, rather than being a personnel manager, playing the role of a prime minister in the White House taking care of the president's day.

As in any organization, there are power struggles and intrigues in the White House too. Here the main front line ran between the right wing Bannon/Priebus and the liberal Jarvanka. It would need an intelligent boss smoothing the waves and knowing the game of divide et impera.

The Media
Wolff writes that Trump is not interested in politics. In a televised expert meeting of Republicans and Democrats on a new bipartite immigration law, Potus said, when it came to the legalization of the Dreamers illegally residing in the States, "I'll sign anything you guys will come up with", but later rejected a hastily elaborated draft bill submitted to him.

It was unique that such a special meeting in the White House took place in front of live television cameras, but, “The president’s most pressing concern was his media reputation.“ As Wolff knows, “The media treat him in a way that no other president had ever been treated”.

“His enemies were out to get him. Worse, the system was rigged against him. The bureaucratic swamp, the intelligence agencies, the unfair courts, the lying media — they were all lined up against him. This was, for his senior staff, a reliable topic of conversation with him: the possible martyrdom of Donald Trump,”

Here Trump is paranoid as Wolff describes the president’s feelings, “The media were sore losers and hated him for winning, they spread total lies, 100 percent made-up things, totally untrue, for instance, the cover of Time magazine — which, Trump reminded his listeners, he had been on more than anyone in history.“

„The cover showed Steve Bannon, a good guy, saying he was the real president. ‚How much influence do you think Steve Bannon has over me?‘ Trump demanded and repeated the question, and then repeated the answer, ‚Zero! Zero!’”

More Challenges
The president’s collaborators had more challenges, as Wolff reports, “Everyone was translating a set of Trump’s desires and urges into a program, a process that required a lot of guesswork. It was, said Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh, ‘like trying to figure out what a child wants.’ But making suggestions was deeply complicated. Here was, arguably, the central issue of the Trump presidency ... he didn't process information in any conventional sense — or, in a way, he didn't process it at all.”

“Trump didn't read. He didn't really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate ... Some thought him dyslexic; certainly, his comprehension was limited. Others concluded that he didn't read because he just didn't have to and that in fact, this was one of his key attributes as a populist. He was postliterate — total television.”

“But not only didn't he read, he didn't listen. He preferred to be the person talking. And he trusted his own expertise — no matter how paltry or irrelevant — more than anyone else's. What's more, he had an extremely short attention span, even when he thought you were worthy of attention.”

And then there was the failure in the appeal of Obamacare, "Trump wanted to break things, he wanted a Republican Congress to give him bills to sign, and he wanted the love and respect of New York machers and socialites.”

Obamacare was the acid test for the Trump administration, "It was Bannon who held the line, insisting, sternly, that Obamacare was a litmus Republican issue, and that holding a majority in Congress, they could not face Republican voters without having made good on the Republican catechism of repeal. Repeal, in Bannon's view, what the pledge and repeal would be the most satisfying, even cathartic, result.”

On the other hand, the Republican speaker of the House Paul Ryan knew that, if at all, he would succeed with his majority only sticking to a "repeal and replace" approach. In fact, Trump, now indifferent to everything, had, during the election campaign, offered to voters a better health insurance than Obamacare.

Then, as the various attempts in Congress failed to abolish and replace Obamacare, "Bannon was careful to take a back seat in the debate. Later, he just said, ‘I hung back on health care because it's not my thing.’”

Foreign policy
Steve Bannon behaved differently when the Trump government was challenged in the field of foreign policy: “In the beginning of April, Bashar alAssad's government, once again defying international law, had used chemical weapons at Khan Sheikhoun. There was video documenting the attack and substantial agreement among intelligence agencies about Assad's responsibility. Barack Obama had failed to act when confronted with a Syrian chemical attack, and now Trump could. The downside was small; it would be a contained response. And it had the added advantage of seeming to stand up to the Russians, Assad's effective partners in Syria, which would score a political point at home.”

“Chief Strategist Bannon's approach was very much it was not our mess, and judging by all recent evidence, no good would come of trying to help clean it up. That effort would cost military lives with no military reward. Bannon, believing in the need for a radical shift in foreign policy, was proposing a new doctrine: Fuck 'em. This iron-fisted isolationism appealed to the president's transactional self: What was in it for us (or for him)?“

“To son in law Kushner it seemed obvious that the president was more annoyed about having to think about the attack than by the attack itself.”

Checks and Balances
Let us have confidence. “At the heart of the U.S. Constitution is a system of checks and balances that was established primarily to guard against the concentration of power in an executive branch that might tend toward royalism. The founders of the American experiment wanted to prevent a repeat of the monarchical abuses of King George III, against which their constituents had risen in the revolution.” To this day these checks and balances have prevented that Trump did not get out of hand.

Trump's narcissism, however, continues. About his State of the Union speech, he twittered, "Thank you for all the nice compliments and reviews on the State of the Union speech. 45.6 million people watched, the highest number in history ...“

Fake news! Obama had 48 million viewers in 2010, G. W, Bush holds the record with 62 million in 2003 while POTUS came in only in seventh place.

Last week in Ohio, while stock prices fell through the floor, Potus said, “I am not braggadocios,” although two days before he had bragged that he was the cause of the booming stock market.

My presentation stimulated an interesting discussion that however diverged into present German politics. While I was partly listening to the arguments thrown around I became possessed by the idea: Will Donald Trump permanently damage the position of the U. S. presidency by his behavior? Will this result in the fact that future American presidents will have less authority? We shall see.

Monday, February 5, 2018

First Collisions

Red Baron is an alumnus now. I reached the status last weekend not at the University of Munich from which I graduated, but at CERN, where I spent 32 years of my professional life until my retirement. I participated in the jamboree called First Collisions organized at the CERN site. So it was quite natural that, when I arrived, the first place to visit was my former office.

The isotope chart behind the desk was still there as well as the pinboard. Instead of the one clumsy tube monitor I had, now two (!) flat screens are on the desktop. I also noticed that my small wooden bookshelf behind my (chair where I kept my reference books is still in use.

Later I met my last Division Leader from Austria and three of my former collaborators from Germany, Italy, and France all smiling. With all the others long-retired Belgians, British, Danish, Dutch, Norwegians, Swedish, Swiss, and one of the first physicists from Slovakia (not retired) I recruited at CERN, my group was truly European not forgetting those many visiting colleagues from China, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

I hurried to the Main Auditorium and arrived just in time to listen to CERN’s Director-General Fabiola Gianotti welcoming the assembled alumni. She started with a slide showing the Large Hadron Collider and the location of the four experiments situated underground in the Canton of Geneva and the Pays de Gex of France. Note the snow-covered Alps beyond Lake Geneva in the background.

The age structure at CERN presented by the DG really astonished me for I was retired, i.e., had to leave at the age of 65. Today the official age of retirement is 67. So it was comforting for me to see that beyond the age of 82, the professional life at CERN finally seems to come to an end.

Back to high energy particle physics.

The lab still lives on the discovery of the Higgs boson with its mass now precisely determined at 125 GeV plus-minus a quarter of a GeV, but many questions still remain unanswered in physics, and some problems need to be solved. Why is there more matter than antimatter in the universe, and how did the plasma look like in the time slot before 10 µsec after the Big Bang?

To investigate those questions further, particle physicists ask for more powerful accelerators. The quest for higher particle energies is on leading to new R&D (research and development) at CERN.

Note the plans for a Compact Linear Collider to be located in the Pays de Gex? But above all for the Future Circular Collider that should fit into the given landscape. Why? The official reason is that the LHC will serve as an injector to the FCC, or is it r the region around the Lake, between the Jura Mountains and the Alps being so beautiful and attractive?

The DG showed her last slide:

And thanks to the CERN management for sponsoring the successful event, the first one of its kind and likely to be followed by others.

The activity during the weekend was so dense; there is more to report. Stay tuned in particular for some nostalgic notes (what else?) in a future blog.