Tuesday, March 27, 2018

White Asparagus

We are approaching Easter, but the weather remains cold. This is a disaster for asparagus lovers. See what Elisabeth and I had last year for Easter when on April 27, the asparagus harvest was in full swing:

White asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce, Kratzede (pulled pancake), and Wiener schnitzel
Germans adore white asparagus spears. An article in the Badische Zeitung told the full story titled, “The Asparagus Roulette”. While in March local asparagus is extremely rare and expensive the Greeks are coming to the rescue of German enthusiasts of the "white gold".

Mr. Anastasios Karkatzalos from Nestos said, “We don’t know how the Germans do their cooking. We only eat green asparagus as a salad.” And Kostas Maragkosis from Nespar added, “We made several attempts to export green asparagus. but it did not pay.“

More than 90% of the white asparagus harvested in Greece is exported to Germany, but the timing must be right. Maragkosis knows, “Asparagus is a nervous vegetable, don’t stress it.” It is quite tricky to hit the market early enough before production starts in Germany. Indeed, Spyros Papadopoulos, regional councilor of the asparagus-producing region East Macedonia-Thrace, said, “With respect to white asparagus the Germans are chauvinists. When their own production is ready to be harvested they take German asparagus and disdain imported spears.” In fact, we Germans, eating on average more than 1.7 kg of white asparagus in a year, are the biggest European producer and cultivate the vegetable on 233 square kilometers.

For my French friends on the other side of the Rhine river white asparagus always is served cold and as a starter. So when a couple of years ago Freiburg’s Cercle Francophone had organized a Spargelessen (asparagus eating) in a restaurant at the Kaiserstuhl our French guests were somewhat vexed waiting for the main course still to come.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Kandidat-O-Mat

To foster their objective of political education the Landeszentrale für politische Bildung (LpB = Baden-Württemberg State Center of Political Education) developed a Wahl-O-Mat (Election-O-Tomat) where during a run-up of an election, parties are requested to present their positions on political issues in a written form. These questions and answers are then compiled into a table so voters may directly compare the positions of the parties standing for election.

For the upcoming election of Freiburg’s mayor, the LpB modified the system calling it Kandidat-O-Mat (no translation necessary). Students were asked to formulate theses to topics that they regard as important for the city. Following some iterations, the Badische Zeitung (BZ) and the LpB proposed to launch their new tool for the first time in the upcoming election. The result was a crushing belly landing when the incumbent mayor, Dr. Dieter Salomon, refused to participate in the Kandidat-O-Mat calling its format superficial.

Green incumbent
Independent hopeful
Green alternative
The other Green
A shitstorm broke loose on Facebook and in the discussion forum of the BZ where I seconded Dieter’s decision writing: So ein Kandidat-O-Mat ist eine feine Sache für die Herausforderer, können sie doch in der Gewissheit, nicht gewählt zu werden, das Blaue vom Himmel versprechen. Ein Amtsinhaber muss jedoch im Rahmen der ihm bekannten Möglichkeiten (Finanzen und Mehrheit im Stadtrat) agieren und sieht dann gegenüber den anderen Kandidaten »alt« aus. Dem Kandidat-O-Mat fehlt die gemeinsame Ausgangsbasis und deshalb finde ich die Entscheidung Salomons richtig (Such a Kandidat-O-Mat is a fine thing for the challengers since they can promise the blue in the sky while being certain not to be elected. An incumbent candidate, however, has to maneuver within the scope of the possibilities he well knows about (the budget and majorities in the city council). He, therefore, will look "old" compared to the other candidates. The Kandidat-O-Mat lacks a common starting point. This is why I regard Salomon’s decision as being justified).

I got the shit right blown into my face: Herr Höfert, Sie denken also auch, daß der Wähler so dumm ist und das nicht berücksichtigen kann? Der Wähler zu dumm, um selbständig zu denken? Zu dumm für Volksentscheide? Ja, das ist gängige Meinung der Herrschenden, Lammert und Gauck hatten es ausgesprochen (Mr. Höfert, do you think too that the voter is so stupid and is unable to take this into account? Is the voter too stupid to think independently? Too stupid for referenda? Yes, that is the common opinion of rulers, Lammert [former speaker of the Bundestag (parliament)] and Gauck [former federal president] said it).

Well, I am far from being a ruler and the Kandidat-O-Mat is not a referendum, although having lived in Switzerland for 32 years I noted that in many cases people were overstrained by the topics of the referenda the had to vote on.

As far as my argument in support of Dr. Salomon is concerned I soon was proven right with respect to the financing of Kitas. Kindertagesstätten (daycare centers) are an essential part of the German society where single mothers and fathers can park their not yet school-age children during the day while earning the bread for their small family.

The city of Freiburg subsidizes the municipal Kitas up to 60% financially, but lately envisaged an increase in the parents' financial contributions due to increasing costs. This increase initially planned for the near future was postponed when the city encountered strong headwinds. Quite naturally the Kandidat-O-Mat confronted the candidates for mayor with the following thesis: The fees for Kitas must be increased.

On Facebook Candidate Martin Horn answered no: Klares Votum: Mit mir wird es keine Gebührenerhöhung geben! Ich stehe für eine Reduzierung der Kita-Gebühren und werde mich aktiv für eine Abschaffung einsetzen - vor allem auch auf Landes- und Bundesebene (A clear vote: With me there will be no increase in fees! I stand for a reduction of Kita fees and will actively work for their abolition - especially on the national and federal level too). Well roared, lion.

No word on how to finance his promises.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Siegesdenkmal

Rarely a local topic caused more letters to the editor than the discussion about Freiburg's victory memorial. What kind of victory? Well, the memorial commemorates Prussia's and its allies' victory over Germany's Erbfeind (hereditary enemy) France in 1871, Germany’s War of Unification.

You may know that in 1870 France declared war on Prussia answering Bismarck's provocation and in the end, the French Emperor Napoleon III. was a POW at Bismarck's mercy. Read more in German.

In 1876 it was the then German Emperor Wilhelm I. who inaugurated in the presence of the Grand Duke of Baden, Friederich I., and the then Imperial Chancellor Bismarck the Siegesdenkmal (Victory Memorial) glorifying Baden's role in the War of Unification.

Siegesdenkmal, now without any decorations and barriers
in Freiburg's pedestrian zone
For decades the memorial had stood in the axis of Freiburg's Kaiser-Joseph-Straße when in 1961, traffic oblige, it was placed somewhat off-axis on nearby Friedrichring rarely discovered by visiting tourists. With the complete redesign of the site due to the new streetcar line, the Siegesdenkmal was moved to its old location, now a pedestrian zone, causing a storm in the media.

Photo of yesterday. Siegesdenkmal back at its original position
While a few pleaded for the memorial being part of our history others proposed to move it to the outskirts of the city, and some wanted the bronze to be melted down. The city council was startled by those reactions, promised to name the square around the memorial presently called like the streetcar stop Siegesdenkmal, and proposed the name Europaplatz (Europe Square).

A new avalanche of letters was the result mostly criticising the name Europaplatz as a cheap plugin. Some wanted to retain the old name calling it Platz des Siegesdenkmals, others favored Freundschaftsplatz (Square of Friendship [with France]), while the socialist camp proposed Jean Jaurès, the French socialist, who was assassinated for his pacifist ideas at the eve of World War I., the bloodiest confrontation between the two European neighbors.

Red Baron preferred a last-minute proposal Badische Freiheit (Baden Freedom) commemorating the Baden Revolution of 1848/49.

Without any clear majority for one of the proposals the vote of Freiburg's city council scheduled for mid-February had been postponed. Yesterday evening the deputies finally decided in a close vote of 20 against 19 to name the square Europaplatz, admitting that Freiburgers will continue to call it Siegesdenkmal.

Monday, March 19, 2018

What's New

1. The weather! 

When Red Baron awoke last Saturday and looked out of the window he saw that winter hath incumen in and no cuckoo was singing

My backyard

Forsythiae are suffering, so do I.
Mind you, tomorrow is Tagundnachtgleiche (vernal equinox) conventionally marking the beginning of spring but the maximum temperature in Freiburg will only be 3 degrees Celsius (37 degrees Fahrenheit) continuing throughout the week.

My experience with the climatic change is a shift of the winter season in Europe. While we enjoy warm Christmases, frosty nights extend well into March. How the magnolia between my apartment and the house of the student fraternity Teutonia blossomed end of March last year. Compare this with the photo of this year's cold snap.



2. Wikipedia

As you may know, Red Baron works for the German Wikipedia proudly tooting that the German Wikipedia with respect to its number of articles - more than two million - is only surpassed by the English Wikipedia with more than 5 million. As far as my contributions are concerned you may consult my earlier blog.

When you study the list of all my articles you will note that since last Sunday the Freiburg-Madison-Gesellschaft has an article in the German Wikipedia. Click on the logo:

This is only the 46th article I have created, a somewhat miserable quota in fourteen years, but you should not forget all my editing work, in particular, correcting crappy German texts. Young people are sometimes very active in writing but they don’t know any German. In addition, as you may know, Wikipedia is not the only purpose in my life.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Freiburg on Foot

Yesterday Red Baron participated in a guided tour Freiburg zu Fuß on the occasion of the International Women’s Day. German women went onto the streets for the first time on March 8, 1911, demanding female suffrage.


This year German women celebrate the 100th anniversary of the right to vote that was granted to them in 1918. Although the annual Women’s Day is on March 8, the guided tour had been scheduled for the following Saturday so that women and men (there were three of us) might more easily participate.

A series of travel guides with the name of the city and the suffix zu Fuß were published in the 1990s, became extremely popular, and later were regarded as iconic. These books guided the left-leaning liberal to historical places in various cities, describing their historical significance. Red Baron still owns the books München zu Fuß, Frankfurt zu Fuß, and Köln zu Fuß. Some of the guides were soon out of print. So for Hamburg, I own a newer edition titled differently: Zu Fuß durch Hamburg.

When I moved to Freiburg in 2001, the local zu Fuß guide was no longer available. Later I met the author in a beer garden and tried to convince her to write a new and updated edition. This was ten or more years ago, so it was a surprise when I saw the lady last year as a new member of the Freiburg-Madison-Gesellschaft and learned that she was working on a new edition of Freiburg zu Fuß. The book is crowdfunded and will be published this April.


Coming back to her guided tour of yesterday. From her rich material about Freiburg she had selected parts that had to do with women and women’s rights in Freiburg starting with angry wives freeing two of their husbands from prison, women who ran soup kitchens for needy families during and after the First World War, or women who initiated a general strike for milk that was lacking and had therefore become expensive. This general strike somehow coincided with a successful national general strike of the united left (Social Democrats and Communists) against the right-wing Kapp Putsch in 1920.

Woman gargoyle with only one tooth
In the Middle Ages, ugly women sculptured as gargoyles served as a deterrent against evil spirits on many buildings, including Freiburg’s Minster Church.

Even the gargoyle butt is female.
On the more poetic side, we passed a house on Wallstraße where the Russian Marina Tsvetaeva, aged 22, had lived in 1904/05.


I did not know Marina, so I looked her up. Apparently, this Russian poet is popular in my country because of her life-long declaration of love to Germany and in particular to Freiburg. Here is a poem she wrote in December 1914 while the First World War was in its fifth month.

An Deutschland

Germanien, alle Völker hassen
Dich jetzt und hetzen gegen dich.
Ich aber will dich nie verlassen.
Verraten gar – wie könnte ich?

Nie war dies meine Überzeugung,
Dies: Aug’ um Auge, Zahn um Zahn,
Germanien, meine tiefste Neigung,
Germanien, ach, mein edler Wahn!

Ich halte nicht zu deinen Schergen,
mein arg gehetztes Vaterland,
Wo immer noch der Königsberger
Spaziert: der schmalgesicht’ge Kant,

Und Goethe wandelt durch Alleen
– sein Städtchen ist kaum mehr bekannt –
Er sinnt, lässt seinen Faust entstehen,
Hält den Spazierstock in der Hand.

Wie könnte ich mich von dir wenden,
Germanien, mein lichter Stern,
Denn meine Liebe nicht verschwenden,
halb Lieben hab ich nicht gelernt!

Erfüllt von deinen ew’gen Liedern,
Hab ich für Sporenklirrn kein Ohr,
Mein Heil’ger sticht den Drachen nieder
In Freiburg an dem Schwabenthor.

Nie werde ich von Hass erbeben,
Weil Wilhelms Schnurrbart aufwärts zackt.
Verliebt in dich, solang ich lebe,
Schwör ich dir ew’gen Treuepakt.

Nein, weiser, magischer und tiefer
Ist keins, du reich beschenktes Land,
Wo Loreley von hohem Schiefer
Die Schiffer schlägt in ihren Bann.

1. Dezember 1914
To Germany

Germania, all nations hate
You now and agitate against you.
But I never want to leave you.
Betray you - how could I?

It never was my conviction
This eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth,
Germania, my deepest inclination,
Germania, oh, my noble illusion!

I do not stick to your henchmen,
my harshly harried fatherland,
Where the Königsberger is still strolling,
the narrow-faced Kant.

And Goethe is walking through avenues
- his town is hardly known anymore -
He muses, makes his Faust nascent,
Holding the walking stick in his hand.

How could I turn away from you,
Germania, my bright star,
How could I not waste all my love,
I did not learn to love only half!

Full of your eternal songs,
I have no ear for rattling spurs,
My saint stabs the dragon
In Freiburg on the Schwabenthor.

Never will I bristle with hate,
When Wilhelm’s mustache jabs upward.
In love with you as long as I live,
I vow to you eternal loyalty.

No one is wiser, more magical and deeper
You richly gifted land,
Where Loreley on a rock of slate
is casting her spell over skippers passing.

December 1, 1914

Note that St. Michael killing the dragon is Russia’s patron saint and Wilhelm is the German Kaiser.

Another strong woman is Lily Braun who on the eve of the First World War summarized the demands of the German feminist movement in a talk at Freiburg’s Harmonie, a historical building on Grünwälderstraße, known for its important role in the Baden Revolution 1848/49.

The Harmonie today
For me, yesterday's guided tour ended at the Martinstor where a tablet commemorates Marghareta Mößmer, Catharina Stadelmann, and Anna Wolffart, citizens of Freiburg who were incarcerated there. After standing trial, they were condemned by Chief Judge Johann Jacob Renner as witches and burned in 1599. The Rennerstraße in Freiburg will be renamed.

During our walk, a participant told me that she had the first edition of Freiburg zu Fuß in her pocket. Impatiently waiting for the second edition to be published in April, I took a photo of the precious book.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Journalism 2.0

On Tuesday evening Red Baron listened to a talk by John Nichols, a journalist from our Sister City Madison, WI.,  about "Journalism 2.0: Fake News and Democracy in the Digital News Age - Legal and Policy Challenge." Considering the lengthy title I had expected a well-filled auditorium, but it turned out that John gave his talk to invited people sitting around an oblong table richly decorated with food and drinks.

John Nichols speaking and the organizers of the Carl-Schurz-Haus listening
John started his lively talk with a provocative thesis: President Trump is not the origin but the result of the crisis haunting the United States. He then concentrated on three points that strain the political system in the States.

Actually, you may become president of the United States with only 30% of the popular votes. This hypothetical extreme is possible within the American voting system where an electoral college elects the president. During the presidential election Trump’s campaign managers where clever in concentrating their efforts on four states traditionally voting Democrat. In the end, Republicans succeeded to swing Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Was this the result of lazy Democrat voters assuming that their state would be safe anyway? I still remember when in the morning following the election day the final results for Wisconsin came in and sealed the fate of Hillary. Admittedly, the margins in those new swing states were small but in the electoral college, the winner takes it all.

I know that the electoral college is a historical relic but my remark in the discussion that it could be reformed did not go down particularly well. Ironically it was Donald Trump who had criticized in 2012, “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.” Then in 2016, the college helped him to become president without the majority of the popular vote. This fact and the “alternative news” about the size of the attending crowd during his inauguration are two permanent thorns in Trump’s flesh. John prefers the French system where the president is directly elected by the people.

In the States the president chooses the members of his cabinet to be confirmed by the Senate. Donald Trump, an apprentice in governmental affairs himself, recruited mostly friends into key positions who came from finance and industry, i.e., with no or little experience in government administration either. Red Baron was shocked when he listened to the confirmation hearing in the Senate of incompetent Kathleen Hartnett White, nominee to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She stammered through her hearing arguing like a pupil not having done the homework. Have a look at the video on YouTube. Are these Trump’s apprentices? As on his former TV Show The Apprentice, many who were initially hired are already fired or left in anger. I get the impression that the Trump administration is running out of people. By the way, the White House eventually withdrew Kathleen Hartnett White’s candidature.

As a former host on TV Donald Trump knows the show business well. While classical media like newspapers, radio, and even TV are on the decline the young generation gets its bits of information in small bites on the Internet. The classical media are obsessed by Trump’s outrageous remarks and aggressive tweets. John rightly said, “Trump’s tweets are the headlines of tomorrow’s press“ and I may add, „By that time it‘s already old stuff.“

The influence of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media on politics and election results has not been fully understood but will be growing in the future.

I did not really follow the lively discussions on the subject around the oblong table but rather tried to come to grips with the Internet policy of the German government. Since 2005 the demand for a fast Internet in my country was part of various governmental programs but very little with respect to broadband expansion has happened. At the end of 2017 industrialized Germany ranked only 32 among its European neighbors. Note the Silver Medal for Norway! POTUS will love it.


My conspiracy theory goes like this: The decision makers in Berlin being afraid of showing their incompetence with regard to the Internet are trying to keep the German voters dumb while the latter are hanging on their slow telephone lines waiting for their e-mails to be sent.

P.S.: Yesterday, March 9, Daniel Dettling, author of an article in the Badische Zeitung about digital awakening attested anxious Germans an angst 4.0. That angst is driven by automation going in parallel with millions of jobs lost to machines and by algorithms deciding over life and death, e.g., autonomous driving. In the meantime, in Japan, artificial intelligence is guiding the people into society 5.0.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Hitler's Bell

The small town of Herxheim has a problem. Herxheim where? Am Berg in Rhineland-Palatinate. Don't the Herxheimers have an opportunity rather than a problem*?
*An English colleague at CERN tried to convince us that there are no problems, only opportunities

Sankt Jakobskirche mit Glockenturm (©dpa/Uwe Anspach)
Once upon a time, the people of sleepy Herxheim enjoyed the harmonious triad in B-minor of three bells hanging in the belfry of the local Lutheran St. Jacob Church calling them to services on Sundays. It is somewhat strange that the municipality is the owner of the dominant bell but it serves as a fire alarm. During World War II the bell warned of air raids too. Many citizens thought that this was the reason why the big bell remained in its cage when in 1942 the two smaller bells were taken down to be melted for their non-ferrous metal, it being essential to the Nazi war effort.

Bells stored to be melted down in Hamburg's harbor in the fall of 1945, but the war was over.
Note the destroyed buildings in the background. Some of the bells could be restituted.
Already in 1951, the two missing bells were recast and the people of Herxheim lived peacefully and happily thereafter.

©dpa/Uwe Anspach
Not quite, for in 2017, an organist made public that the dominant bell in St. Jacob’s belfry dates back to the Third Reich. It shows a swastika and the text: Alles fuer’s Vaterland - Adolf Hitler (All for the fatherland - AH). However, Lutheran Pastor Helmut Meinhardt and Mayor Ronald Becker of the Free Voter’s Community refused to take down the Hitler bell stating, “We are proud to possess such a bell”, while Becker added, “Not all that Hitler did was bad”, continuing, “There are things that he got off the ground and we still use today.” Herxbach’s municipal council was appalled so Becker had to step down as mayor. Suddenly the small town was all over the news.

His successor Georg Welker, a retired pastor, put his foot in his mouth too when he stated on national television, “I am just saying, in the ringing of the bell I hear the victims. These were German citizens, too, not only Jews.” The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany commented, “A bell with such an inscription must not commemorate victims of the Nazi terror”, and “The distinction Welker has made corresponds exactly to the Nazi ideology," i.e., regarding German Jews as non-Germans.

Although the Lutheran Church has offered to pay for a new bell, on February 26, 2018, Herxheim’s municipal council decided by ten votes to three not only to keep the Hitler bell in its cage but to use it. Previously, a group of experts had classified the bell as a monument, either to be placed in a museum or to be kept in place. The municipal council argued that replacing the bell would be an escape from a culture of memory (Erinnerungskultur). Say what?

In voting for, Herxbach's counselors had suddenly changed their “problem” into an opportunity, i.e., making their town known nationwide. Is Hitler’s bell now a tourist attraction or even worse a place of pilgrimage attracting neo-Nazis similar to the tomb of Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess in the past? In 2011 the small town of Wunsiedel in Bavaria was eventually tired of neo-Nazis hanging around Hess' tomb. The city council had Hess' corpse dug up, burned it, and scattered the ashes on the high seas. End of story.

Herxheimers, why can't you just have the damned bell melted down and the molten mass highly diluted with "innocent" bronze?

P.S: Herxheim remains in the news. Due to a formal error, the vote of February 26 is null and void and has to be repeated. The “final” vote is now scheduled for March 12.