Monday, May 14, 2018

And Marx Stood Quietly in Darwin’s Garden

My review of a novel by Ilona Jerger, Und Marx stand still in Darwins Garten, is fitting for Karl's 200th birthday. Jerger based her book on the fact that old Charles Darwin and semi-old Karl Marx not only shared their first name but lived in London simultaneously only ten miles apart.

They could have met but they did not although Marx had read Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species (1859) while Darwin owned Marx‘s Das Kapital (1867) of which he only read a few pages for the book was written in Marx’s torturous German. In 1881 both men were ailing though pronounced hypochondriacs, providing Jerger with the literary pivot: In her novel, they happen to have the same doctor who arranges a meeting in the form of a dinner at Darwin’s house. Both protagonists end the evening in Darwin's garden.

The style of Jerger’s novel is both superb and enchanting. For her text, the author uses quotations from letters and books both men wrote and combines them in the form of monologues and dialogues the two men have with their doctor and during their fictitious dinner.

In one of his many discussions with Doctor Beckett, Darwin goes into politics, "I fear that in our society trade unions and left-wing politics carry the bad, thus fostering the weak and the rotten. I tell you, it's not good when too much welfare undermines natural selection." When Dr. Becket frowns, Darwin mitigates his statement: "Of course, here too everything is a question of dose. Helping the poor without pampering them is something that modern government must offer to some extent."

The doctor wrinkles his nose, "Whoever is weak, remains poor? And whoever is poor, goes down? Now I'm a bit surprised. I used to think you kept your theory out of political discussions. But what you just said sounds to me as if competition and selection govern survival not only in nature but also in human societies. Survival of the fittest not only in bees but also in humans?"

When Dr. Becket tells Marx about his conversation with Darwin, Marx clenches his fist, holds it up and lets it bang down on Darwin's book, "It's a classic circular." He uses his forefinger to draw circles in the air, "Darwin has transferred the struggle for survival that he observed in the capitalist system to animals and plants. No, it's no coincidence that he recognizes his English class society in nature.“

When at the dinner Dr. Becket makes Darwin aware of Marx's reaction the latter starts to argue but the doctor wants to change the direction of their conversation, “I believe there is another connection between your two theories of revolution and evolution. And it seems exciting indeed. I asked Marx what he thinks of your theory of evolution. And he praised you in the highest tones for having swept away the 'otherworldly gossip', as he put it. He literally said that your theory created the historic and natural basis of communism."

In the following discussion, Darwin somehow feels guilty for sidelining Christianity. He vigorously claims that he is an agnostic and not an atheist, "Just the fact that chance is the greatest force of evolution, is not satisfactory although I don't doubt for a second that it is so, I don't like this aimlessness myself. Our lives get a sour taste that nobody wanted us. The earth as a huge casino, where nature scores hits and misses. This is an attitude to life that few people appreciate."

Nevertheless, Marx's reaction to Darwin's statement is prompt: "He has given us the sword to behead religion! In this respect, Darwin is quite excellent."

When writing her book, Jerger observed, “The more I researched, the more amazed I was that two such different characters, represented by the conceptual pair of evolution and revolution, had so much in common. When I noticed that, I started to keep a list that became longer and longer. It says, for example, that both Darwin and Marx lost several children and could hardly cope with the death of their respective favorite child (Darwin’s daughter Annie died in 1851, Marx’s son Edgar, called Musch, died in 1855); that both suffered from nausea, hypochondria, migraine, insomnia, and massive skin problems. That both got opium. Both had their “racetracks” to think about. Not to forget their iconic heads with the flowing white beards. But above all, that both wrote works that people will never let go.”

“They also had great battles with their religion and seemed to feel guilty in a similar way. Darwin had studied theology and, as a devout young man with the Bible in his luggage, had boarded the Beagle; Marx coming from a rabbi family would certainly have been considered a rabbi of Trier. However, the Marx family converted to Protestantism because as a Jew, Karl’s father would not have been able to run a law firm.”

On the occasion of Marx’s 200th birthday, I hope Jerger’s exceptional book will find an anglophone publisher.

Here as a lagniappe, Marx's statue, in the meantime unveiled, in Trier. A walking giant of 18 feet (5.5 meters) carrying Das Kapital in his left! hand.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Tough Cookie, a Young Charmer, and a Spineless Chancellor

For a new US ambassador, POTUS sent us a harter Hund (tough cookie). After his arrival in Berlin Richard Grenell tweeted his master’s voice:

This clearly is a paradigm shift, for in olden times ambassadors used to hand ultimati on paper to foreign ministers. Note that Grenell did not tweet “shall” although he used “should” and “immediately”.

In vain Wolfgang Ischinger, Director of the Munich Security Conference, retweeted:

However, Ambassador Grenell did not bend. In an interview, he said, "I have a different style. I'll be perfectly honest with you. Diplomacy stuck in groupthink has done great damage: North Korea is on its way to becoming a nuclear power - and a genocide has been taking place in Syria for years. I'm against groupthink in diplomacy."

Grenell continued, "If you want to avoid war, you better have diplomats prepared to be tough. You have to speak plainly - especially to friends. When asked what should happen to German companies that continue to do business with Iran, Grenell said, "The German government must answer this question, not us". Strange. Shall our government interfere with free trade in the way the German Democratic Republic did?

What a contrast in Aachen. On May 7, French President Emmanuel Macron was awarded the International Charlemagne Prize.

Lined up for a group photo after a Catholic mass and before the award ceremony.
From left to right: Bishop of Aachen Dr. Helmut Dieser,
provost of Aachen’s cathedral Manfred von Holtum,
the former mayor of Aachen and chairman of the Charlemagne Prize Committee Jürgen Linden,
Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Emmanuel Macron,
his wife Brigitte, and Aachen’s Mayor Marcel Philipp (©WDR)
Aachen's magnificent town hall showing the flags of Europe, la Tricolore,
black-red-gold, and the state flag of North Rhine-Westphalia (©WDR)

Inside distinguished guests. Chancellor Merkel sits with Spanish King Felipe.
I recognize former prize winners Mario Draghi and Martin Schulz.
In his speech, Mayor Marcel Philipp praised Emmanuel Macron
who is nervously waiting in the back (©WDR)

Jürgen Linden reads the award certificate
 while the laureate and Mayor Philipp watch (©WDR)

A close-up of the Charlemagne Prize (©WDR)

Charming Emmanuel (©WDR)
Macron's acceptance speech became highly political. Addressing Chancellor Merkel directly, he said, “We must act now. The nationalists, the demagogues have a clear language. Europe must be just as clear." This was followed by four commandments for Europe's future, "Let us not be weak, let us not be divided, let us not be afraid, let us not wait."

After the ceremony: Losers Martin Schulz and Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko
with winner Emmanuel Macron (©WDR).
In a sinister contrast to Macron, Merkel murmured about difficult discussions with respect to the reform of the economic and monetary union and added, procrastinating as usual, “The refugee policy must go ahead and investments in crisis countries must be taken up. Something will be presented in June.”

Let’s face it. Merkel’s time is up. With a reduced majority in the Bundestag (parliament) Angela's grand coalition government is weak and facing strong opposition from the right, the left, and the center. They are trying hard to survive. In addition, our chancellor is still practicing the classic German balancing act between the States and France although first German defense minister and late Bavarian Governor Franz Josef Strauß already knew thirty years ago, “You can’t be everybody's darling.”

Apparently Emmanuel‘s speech impressed Angela, and miracles still happen. At the annual Catholic Church Congress on Ascension Day, the daughter of a Protestant pastor head-on criticized POTUS’s decision to terminate the treaty that is supposed to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. She described this as a serious break in international cooperation and as a cause of great concern. The behavior of the USA will destroy confidence in the binding force of international treaties. Multilateralism, i.e., reliable exchange within the international community, is in a real crisis. The US under Trump’s leadership has terminated not only the nuclear agreement with Iran but also international climate and trade agreements. Merkel finished, “If we always say we do not like it, we will lose international order and eventually everybody will do what they feel like doing. This is bad news for the world.”

Europe first? Or as the host of a political comedy show demanded, “It's time for Europe to grow balls.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Habemus Nuntium Americanum!

Following German reunification in 1990, the US-embassy historically located at the Brandenburg Gate and within spitting distance to the Reichstag building was rebuilt as a fortress. Over the last fifteen months, the new embassy in Berlin had been without the chief diplomat. Today the new ambassador for Germany Richard Grenell will take office. In spoofing Schiller, "And so is ended the long, the endless waiting, that time of angst with no American ambassador."

US embassy with the Reichstag building in the background ©dpa
Last Thursday US Vice President Mike Pence swore in the 51-year-old Grenell as America's new ambassador for Germany saying that Grenell is highly qualified for his future role and will strengthen relations between the two countries. Present at the ceremony were Grenell’s mother and his partner Matt Lashey.

The swearing-in of gay Richard was possibly annoying for Evangelist Mike Pence although the fact that the former swore to a historical Bible will have mitigated the situation somewhat.

Grenell is considered a conservative patriot and recently has openly criticized Berlin's attitude towards the military strike in Syria in a tweet following POTUS's habit only missing the words "too sad":

In spite of these remarks, liberal Berlin will welcome Grenell without fear of contact and with open arms. He is in a good company of former Governing Mayor* Klaus Wowereit (Wowi).  Silencing rumors Wowi told a crowd during his 2001 mayoral election campaign, "Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so." (I'm gay, and that's a good thing). “There was half a second of surprised silence, then spontaneous cheering and loud applause to support him.” Needless to say that by his well calculated coming out popular Wowi won the election by a great margin.
*Contrary to Washington D.C. Berlin is a Bundesland (federal state) with a parliament and governing mayor (governor) elected by the people

Welcome, Mr. Ambassador to the city that is poor* but sexy, as Wowi once formulated.
*At the end of 2017, the Land Berlin had a total debt of 57 billion euros corresponding to 16 000 euros per capita

PS: When POTUS announced the US withdrawal from JCPOA the reaction of European spokesman and French President Emmanuel Macron was clear on the issue:

And the just-arrived US Ambassador Richard Grenell for Germany introduced himself with a bang by tweeting his master’s voice:

Monday, May 7, 2018

An Addendum

Hopefully, my readers will excuse my yesterday’s Freudian slip. Is it old age or was I just overtired?

As the new mayor, dynamic Martin Horn has promised not to “brake” but to ”break” 16-year-old structures in Freiburg’s town halls. Correct, we actually have four town halls but that is another story.

It was late yesterday. So here are some additional photos (all are ©BZ) and news of Freiburg’s historical voting out an incumbent mayor.

The crowd on Sunday evening on Rathausplatz
Monika Stein, the bronze medalist, is interviewed
At the Green election party.
Watching the incoming results Dieter and Helga Salomon are disappointed
A supporter is consoling the outgoing mayor
Dr. Dieter Salomon announcing his defeat
My friend, Professor Michael Wehner, head of the Lpb (State Agency for Civic Education) in Baden-Württemberg, said, “It is highly symbolic when the green capital is lost. However, the core of the defeat is less to be sought in party politics than in the communication style of the incumbent. Now, the designated successor must ‘deliver‘. So far Horn has primarily led a nice election campaign.”

Winner Horn and his charming wife
Indeed, the central topic of the election campaign was affordable housing. In his acceptance speech, Horn already abated the hopes of his voters. He has no general recipe for the speed with which affordable apartments could be created in Freiburg.

Suddenly the shock at Martins election party.

Here is the police report: Around 8:50 p.m. the police were informed that an assault had taken place at the election party for today's mayoral election.

According to present knowledge, the elected candidate for mayor Martin Horn was suddenly struck in his face, causing a wound under his eye and a knocked out tooth. He was taken to the university hospital for further clarification.

A suspected perpetrator was arrested on the spot. It is a 54-year-old man from Markgräflerland already known to the police as psychologically conspicuous due to several incidents in the past. The State Police will take over for further investigation.

In addition a broken nose.
Martin's video message from the hospital to his supporters, "I shall return."
Freiburg’s outgoing Mayor Dieter Salomon was shocked by the incident: “I wish Martin Horn a speedy recovery. This is a terrible thing to happen in our town.”

Following a treatment in the hospital, Martin indeed returned to his election party.

Although Horn ran for mayor on an independent ticket he had the support of the Social Democrats. On the decline, the SPD suddenly sees its chance although Martin clearly said that he does not want a party card.

Horn together with smiling Luisa Boos, secretary general of the SPD in South-West Germany.
She is regarded as Horn's creator, while Horn's wife, the lady with the flowers, is smiling too.

Will holding hands with Leni Breymaier, chairwoman of Baden-Württemberg's SPD,
convince Martin? Watch Social Democrat Doyen Gernot Erler watching.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Martin Has Landed!

The sensation is perfect. Martin Horn is Freiburg’s new mayor. Did young voters* called to the polls for the first time decide the vote hoping that Freiburg will now become a party town?
*16 years and up 

All jokes aside! This morning Elisabeth and I cast our run-off ballots. The first vote of April 22, had ended in a "triangulaire" (triangle vote), i. e., three candidates who stood for election had polled around 30% each. Red Baron reported.

Subsequently, Freiburgers were called to the ballot boxes a second time to choose between the three candidates. This time a simple majority of the votes decided who will govern Freiburg for the next eight years.

Between the first and the second ballot frontrunners Horn and Salomon had changed their strategy. “Together for the change”, challenger Martin Horn (34) suddenly posed in a suit and tie on his election posters for May 6, ...

... while incumbent Salomon (58), “Dieter wählen, honest, green, straight”, in his open white shirt looked decidedly sporty and dynamic. Apparently, both candidates were trying to poach in the opponent’s territory. In the case of the incumbent mayor, the strategy failed.

On our way home from the ballot, Elisabeth and I suddenly saw a bicyclist turning around a corner. I could not believe my eyes: It was Martin Horn. We took a photo and I told him that when he is elected he should not neglect Freiburg's sister cities. He started to convince me that this topic has a high priority and that his international experience will help him a lot in dealing with the matter. I answered, "You are certainly busy," being impressed that Martin took his time to talk to a senior citizen on the day of his not yet known greatest triumph.

Thank you, Martin, for the conversation
I followed the evening on the Internet.

6:30 p.m.: Winner Martin Horn kissing his wife. His young and enthusiastic supporters are applauding.
The grey eminence in the back is Social Democrat and Doyen Gernot Erler (©BZ)

7 p.m.: Election night in front of Freiburg’s town hall (©BZ).
The final not yet official result in percent of the votes cast*: Martin Horn 44.2% (34,7),
Dr. Dieter Salomon 30.7% (31,3), Monika Stein 24.1% (26,2).
*Percentages in brackets are those of the April 22, vote

Martin Horn talking to two journalists of the Badische Zeitung.
Motto: Hautnah (up close) (©BZ).
Congratulation Martin!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Happy Birthday, Moor

Today is the 200th birthday of Karl Marx, affectionately called Mohr, German for Moor, by his family and his friends.
Marx in Trier.
Statue presented by the People's Republic of China to the citizens of Trier, Karl's birthplace.
To be fully unveiled today (©dpa)
Moor, Latin Maurus, goes back to Greek Μαῦρος (Mauros), "inhabitants of Mauritania", although the ancient kingdom has nothing in common with the present West African state of Mauritania where dark-looking people originated in the 19th century.

Why did Karl get this strange nickname? Did his student friends originally call him Mohr in reminiscence of Karl Mohr, one of the two brothers in Schiller’s popular Freiheitsdrama Die Räuber (drama of freedom The Robbers)? Or did his noble wife Jenny von Westphalen give the name to her husband referring to his dark complexion and black curly hair?

Marx’s son-in-law Paul Lafargue wrote in 1890 in his memoirs that his children never called him father, but Mohr. When Marx returned to Paris from a recuperative stay in Algeria, Paul wrote in a letter to Marx’s patron Friedrich Engels (nicknamed the General) in London, “I am deeply pleased with Marx's complexion - he's keeping himself straight, his eyes are sparkling life, in a word, he seems much stronger than when he left London ... Besides, I have to tell you that Marx is brown as a chestnut, he's a real Moor now.

Der Spiegel comments on the anniversary, ”Today the pilgrimage of the worldwide Left to Trier begins. Where pilgrim troops usually arrive in May in honor of the Holy Robe (on exhibition at the Trier cathedral), Karl Marx’s 200th birthday is commemorated today.”

“A 2.3-ton sculpture of the philosopher, a gift of the People's Republic of China, will be unveiled. The German Communist Party (marginal) and the Left (significant) are organizing a parade. The AfD (right-wing Alternative for Germany) wants to walk silently through the city - a protest march. The Falun Gong sect will be demonstrating for freedom of expression and religion. Former Governor Kurt Beck will open the new exhibition in the Marx Museum, and, yes, Günther Jauch (Germany’s famous host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire) will read aloud the birth certificate of the celebrant to mark the occasion. What would Karl Marx have said? ‘Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programs.’”

Last Wednesday night I saw a documentary about Karl Marx on German TV. While the whole world attributes the color “red” to Marx, did you know that he instead was a Green? He wrote, “We are not owners of the earth, only beneficiaries and have to leave it to future generations in an improved state.” In an improved state? Marx must have been thinking even super-Green when comparing his vision with the present generation struggling to cope with climate change.

Risen from the dead in Trier: Gray Karl
and as a "green" walker on a pedestrian traffic light (Ampelmännchen) (©Heute/AT)

Tuesday, May 1, 2018


Due to the Rhine valley fault, Germany‘s southwest is a region of frequent but minor seismic activity.

The strong earthquake in Basel of 1356 was an exception although its impact was not as severe as that of the famous one in Lisbon of 1755. It is strange that in Freiburg there is no testimony about the Basel earthquake. Shock waves certainly must have been felt. On the contrary, the generous help Freiburgers gave to the people of Basel afterward is well documented.

Exaggerated damage in the Basler Chronik of 1580 by Christian Wurstisen
A cut through the Rhine valley with the granite Vosges on the left, the tectonic faults covered by sediments in the valley, the volcanic cone of the Kaiserstuhl, and the uplift of the Black Forest gneiss on the right.  All these distortion lead to an unrest in the underground.

The combined lecture by Drs. Brüstle and Braumann: Earthquakes in Baden-Württemberg from the Middle Ages to today. Historical research and seismological evaluations was hailed as a fruitful collaboration between science and humanities. No wonder that the auditorium was overcrowded. Against my habit, I was late but luckily got the last seat in the first row.

While Braumann had dug up old written testimonies of seismic activities in the region Brüstle had analyzed the events preparing and completing the input for a database with about 10,000 events over the last 1000 years. Braumann found 700 original documents about seismic events unknown so far.

Hand-written entry in the top margin of a Medieval Stundenbuch (a prayer book also book of hours)
 about an earthquake in Nördlingen on March 26, 1511

The hand-written Council minutes of Endingen in1728.
The report about the earthquake starts in the middle of the left page.

Semi-scientific approach to the recording of seismic acitivities.
Entering observations about St. Blasien on July 2, 1899, hand-written into printed forms. 
In the discussion following the presentation an abyss opened between humanities and science when people tended to confuse the measured frequency of earthquakes with their likelihood and even worse with their predictability.

More STEM education now!