Sunday, June 24, 2018

30 Years Already

On Friday evening the Freiburg-Madison-Gesellschaft celebrated the 30th anniversary of the partnership between the cities of Madison and Freiburg.

On 31 May 1988, Madison’s Mayor Joseph Sensenbrenner and Freiburg’s Mayor Dr. Böhme signed the partnership certificate. Both city councils ratified the agreement unanimously.

Here is the link to a photo gallery of FMG’s Jubilee party.

Note that the Freiburg-Madison-Gesellschaft proper was founded one year later giving us the chance to celebrate next year 30 years of FMG followed by a seamless handover into Freiburg’s 900th anniversary in 2020.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

All Justice Is Gone in Hindenburg's Name

Alles Recht ist dahin in Hindenburg‘s Namen, was an entry in the diary of Engelbert Krebs, a priest, philanthropist, and professor of theology at Freiburg’s University, on July 21, 1933. Needless to write that under the Nazi regime Krebs lost his venia legendi in 1936 and was forced into retirement in 1937.

The above citation was contained in the most interesting slide that physicist Professor Werner Heiland showed during his talk at the Stube (parlor) of the Breisgau Geschichtsverein (historical society) Schau-ins-Land last Monday, although the catch title of Heiland’s presentation was “Engelbert Krebs and the atomic bomb.”

In fact, the physicist Karl Wirz was Krebs’ nephew who had after the war sent a letter to his uncle morally condemning the bomb. For me, it is still a mystery that the US should not have known that the German efforts to build a bomb were null. In fact, a conspiracy theory claims that this information was well known but deliberately withheld from the scientists working at the Manhattan Project. The aim was to keep them on board in particular because many project members had moral scruples in building the US atomic bomb.

Instead of the bomb Professor Heiland who wrote a biography about Engelbert Krebs talked in extenso about the family and non-family relations Krebs maintained before and during the Third Reich.

Krebs associated with the Zentrum, the Catholic party in the Weimar Republic, was extremely bitter about Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen’s treachery that he called a putsch with the consent of Hindenburg, the president of the Reich. Although Krebs named the Nazis somehow belittlingly Hitlerianer they had already seized full power by the month of June 1933. So it is strange when on Juli 21, Krebs was still referring to World War I hero Hindenburg, an old man of 86, when he writes,“The saber rules, the lie of betrayal - in the name of Hindenburg! The worst thing that has come over Germany since 1918! Oh, God!“

The worst? The worst was still to come.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Semi-Barbaric Language

Two weeks ago an article in Freiburg’s Sunday paper titled Allgemeines Deutsches Glossarium (General German Glossary) described a sensational find in the basement of Basel’s university library. In 1750 the linguist and theologian Johann Jacob Spreng had started his dictionary or rather encyclopedia that at his death in 1768 comprised twenty hand-written volumes with 96,000 entries, translations, references, and explanations.

©University of Basel
Spreng‘s opus magnum was never published. One hundred years later the Grimm Brothers started their German Dictionary but only arrived at the letter F while Spreng covered the full alphabet. In addition, he left behind a big box with 35,000 additional well-ordered hand-written articles to be glued into his volumes.

Spreng was one of those many linguists who tried to transform the bits and pieces of the many German dialects into a common German language. While Martin Luther had laid the basis, the great Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz started it in 1697 in a systematic and scientific way by publishing „Unvorgreifliche Gedanken, betreffend die Ausübung und Verbesserung der deutschen Sprache“ (Non-enjoining thoughts regarding the practice and improvement of the German language).

Trying to bring the German language into shape, Spreng was a member of several Sprachvereine (language societies). Basel University celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1760 in Latin, and in 1780 Prussian‘s Frederick the Great lamented in French about German as a „semi-barbaric“ language. In his dictionary, Spreng made the point that everything could be said just as well in German. Consequently, terminology and the translation of the anatomical knowledge of his time form a large proportion of the glossarium. A real political push for the German language only came 50 years later following Napoleon‘s invasion.

Spreng tried to convey general knowledge instead of vocabulary. So the entry for Bargilden* describes the legal situation of free, taxable peasants in the Middle Ages who were under the protection of a feudal lord and therefore paid him fees.
*Literally ”free of guilds”, a word no longer relevant and used. I had to look it up.

You learn that Lohnheulerinnen (paid mourners) were abolished in the 14th century because during church services they whined too loudly. At nine in the morning maids and servants were fed eine halbe Zeile Brot (half a line of bread) and offered one measure (Maß) of beer. In case of heavy work, this amount was increased to four Maß.

For the first time I read the word hodenbrüchig and learned its meaning. Hodenbrüchig bis an Hals, sprüchwörtlich gesagt von Einem, der sich überweibert hat, und seiner Frauen Knecht ist (Ball busted up to the neck, said proverbially of a man who has taken on too many women and is in servitude to them). The reference given is Sebastian Franck, an early reformer and translator of Latin texts into German, who may have met Luther at Heidelberg in 1518.

You may read in Wikipedia that Spreng had a hard time at the University of Basel. He did not became full professor until 1762, six years before his death.

The University of Basel has opened the treasure chest and will transcribe and publish Spreng's General German Glossary in the coming years. So far they have finished the letter H with 294 (!) pages. Here is page 215 with the entry hodenbrüchig:

©University of Basel

Saturday, June 16, 2018

In War There Is Neither Fortune Nor a Star

was the motto of a one-day colloquium at the Hotel Stadt Breisach on the city’s Münsterberg. Already occupied by the Romans as a strategic landmark, this rock was later disputed by many rulers, in particular during wars between Germany and France.

The coat of arms of Breisach’s rulers throughout the centuries
 are painted on the wall of the town hall (©Flominator/Wikipedia)
At the time of the Holy German Empire, Fort Breisach was described as the key to enter into German territory. The fortified city and its inhabitants, in particular, suffered during the Thirty Years’ War.

Fortification of Breisach on the Rhine under French rule (©Bertram Jenisch)
In the wake of the 500th anniversary of the outbreak of the traumatic war, Breisach was the "suitable" place for a colloquium on forts, entrenchments, and battlefields during this sinister era of German history. Although Red Baron has covered the period extensively, he still learned a lot of details.

Initially, the southwest of the Holy Roman Empire was spared by the war, for the Dukedom of Württemberg worked like a protective shield for the Habsburg territories located further west on the two banks of the Rhine river. Duke John Frederick was a member of the Protestant Union standing against the Catholic League, but after the defeat of the Union at the Battle of Wimpfen on May 6, 1622, where he lost his youngest brother, the Duke concluded a non-aggression treaty with the Habsburg emperor.

In the countryside, the impact of the Battle of Wimpfen is still visible (©Rudolf Landauer)
This favorable political situation came to an abrupt end on March 6, 1629, when Emperor Ferdinand II decreed the Edict of Restitution demanding the return of territories that had come under Protestant rule after the Treaty of Passau in 1552. This involved more than one-third of Württemberg’s areas that once had belonged to monasteries and bishops. When Catholic troops invaded Germany’s southwest to force implementation of the edict, Duke Eberhard III fled to Protestant Strasbourg, and only Fort Hohentwiel in Württemberg resisted the Catholic assault.

The Spanish Road (©Miguelazo/Wikipedia)
In 1635 Catholic France entered the war supporting the Protestants against the Habsburgs. One of their first war goals was cutting the Camino de los Tercios españoles, the road on which Spanish foot soldiers marched from northern Italy to Flanders in 60 days, feeding the war between the Protestant Netherlands and the Spanish Habsburgs. By cutting these Spanish supplies, France gained passages into the Empire, in particular following the fall of Breisach, the key to the Reich.

Red Baron also learned that one of the reasons why Emperor Ferdinand III ceded the German-speaking Alsace to France in the Peace Treaty of Westphalia was that he did not want the French having a seat and a vote at the Imperial Diet. On the other hand, occupying the German territories of Verden and Pomerania, the Swedes had that right.

The Battle of Wittstock (©Sabine Eickhoff)
The audience learned that modern forensic techniques were applied when some years ago, a common grave was discovered containing 131 skeletons of soldiers killed in the Battle of Wittstock 100 kilometers north of Berlin. On October 10, 1636, a combined Swedish-Scottish army defeated the Catholic imperial troops decisively. The latter were seconded by forces of Protestant Saxon Elector John George I, the initiator of a German peace, i.e., the 1635 Peace of Prague, to dislodge foreign troops from German territory.

Man is man’s death (©Stefan Mäder)
Smashed skulls and damaged bones partly destroyed by bullets were the causes of death. Examination of teeth allowed the determination of the age of the men who measured between 160 to 182 centimeters, where the median age was 24 years. DNA analyses of bone material confirmed the predominant Scottish and Swedish origin of the men killed in action. In fact, a battle was a rare activity for soldiers in the Thirty Years' War compared with marching and digging trenches. Subsequently, most of the skeletons show heavy osteoarthrosis. Effects of earlier wounds with bone damage and chronic illnesses (syphilis) were also diagnosed, i.e., the general health of those buried was terrible. Artifacts except for bullets were rarely found, so it is assumed that the men, stripped of any clothing and equipment items, were buried naked. Rest in peace!

Monday, June 11, 2018

An Iconic Photo

By now POTUS is in Singapore, but the echoes of the Canadian G6+1 Summit are still resounding.

Here is the iconic picture. POTUS like a stubborn child sitting at a table complaining to Summit participants standing around him that America is "like the piggy bank that everybody is robbing.” His newest compelling argument defending protective tariffs on “national security grounds” had been put into POTUS’s head by Security Advisor John Bolton, the guy with the open mouth and mustache.

On the photo, you will recognize Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, flanked by Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japanese deputy chief cabinet secretary, an expert in trade, and Kazuyuki Yamazaki, Japanese senior deputy minister for foreign affairs. The Europeans stand united from right to left: Angela Merkel, federal chancellor, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and Theresa May, UK prime minister.

Here the scene seen from another, the French angle covering Merkel but placing Macron in full view.

All photos are ©AP except this one ©French Presidency
Was it Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau entering the scene who had told a joke? On the left is Larry Kudlow, director of the US National Economic Council who had put into POTUS’s head that eliminating all tariffs between G7 nations was the "best way to promote economic growth".

Here are more photos:

POTUS kept the ladies waiting at the breakfast table
Still in perfect harmony?
Ici on parle le Français
POTUS doesn't seem amused by Merkel's proposals
Leaving in anger for Singapore
In an interview back home Angela told her people that she had made Trump a proposal to avoid the next escalation stage in the dispute over penalty tariffs on German cars. The US should examine whether these imports really are a strategic weakening of the country. In return, Europe could check whether the US tariffs would also bring about a strategic weakening. Before unilateral action is taken, the strategic impact of such measures should be discussed.

I think the US resident won‘t give a hoot about Merkel’s proposai when he takes his decision on car tariffs. About Angela’s remark that the US had acted illegally with respect to the rules of the World Trade Organization POTUS won‘t give a damn, either.

Merkel finished her interview, "It's not a pretty thing. I was talking about disillusionment; it’s meaning a lot for me."

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Wolfgang Hug †

Today I attended the funeral mass for Wolfgang Hug, professor emeritus of history and its didactics at the Pedagogical University in Freiburg.

Professor Wolfgang Hug (right) in conversation with the late
 Chairman of Freiburg’s Museumsgesellschaft Dr. Ulrich Dold in 2010
When I read about Wolfgang Hug's passing away I was extremely sad. Like Red Baron he was a member of the Freiburger Museumsgesellschaft and the Freiburg Historic Society Schau-ins-Land so I saw him quite often. We always had lively discussions about God everything under the sun but unlike me, he was an inexhaustible source of knowledge with respect to history. Although I studied physics, Wolfgang leniently supported my late-in-life efforts in Freiburg’s history.

Whenever he gave a talk about Baden’s history or about religious topics I hung on every word, reading his lips. Nobody was able to talk as eloquently and with a subtle ironic undertone about Erasmus of Rotterdam* as Professor Hug. His last publications concerned the Reformation, a topic he as a committed Catholic filled with his hopes for ecumenism.
*Erasmus spent a couple of years in Freiburg

It was impressive to see Wolfgang living in peace with his Catholic Church. He did not excuse the crimes committed by and in the name of the Church but tried to explain to posterity the conditions under which people made their decisions in the past even if they had the chance to make a different one.

Historians and amateur historians miss you, Wolfgang. Rest in peace.

Sunday, June 3, 2018


This blog is not about Alice in Wonderland but about Alice in Badenland, i.e., Alice Schwarzer, Germany’s feminist par excellence. The lady turned 75 and got the Gutedelpreis 2018 of the Markgräfler Land, the Wineland just south of Freiburg. Happily, she accepted the 225-liter barrel of locally grown Gutedel (Chasselas) wine.

Alice, a glass in her hand (©BZ)
Winemaker Hermann Dörflinger said, “This vintage is challenging and difficult, highly complex and demanding in its uniqueness. It is no coincidence that Alice Schwarzer is on stage today,” and he added that the wine her predecessor, Baden-Württemberg's Green Governor Winfried Kretschmann, received last year was much simpler. The honoree took it with a laugh. Alice revealed that she will already drink the wine at a big party in June and little by little with colleagues from her magazine Emma.

Yes, on the one hand, Alice is a complex personality, on the other hand, she fits into old male clichés: She is bitter about not having got a man and she is a witch with cold, piercing eyes. So in a sort of ur-angst men meeting her fear for their manhood calling her Schwanz-ab-Schwarzer (dick-off-Schwarzer).

Alice maintains a universalist idea, „Women are oppressed worldwide, and the struggle for equality and emancipation must therefore not allow itself any wobbling. In this sense, the Muslim headscarf is undoubtedly a domesticating symbol historically decreed by men that we must fight against politically.”

There were rumors that Alice will soon head a newly created Federal Ministry of Virtue. As such, feminist Schwarzer wants to „give the #MeToo movement a German look“ by introducing a new bill finally banning pornography and prostitution. She also would like to create a „Quick Reaction Force“ that will monitor interactions between the sexes in all public spaces. Officers will intervene immediately if suspicion of a sexual assault should arise. „Better a hundred times too often than once too rarely“, reads a memorandum from the circle of Alice Schwarzer’s magazine Emma.

In the past there were harsher words; in 1998, for example, those of rapper Alina as published in Emma, „Kill all child abusers / in all our lands dominated by males / make them all dead as a doornail / take out the gun, pull the trigger, and dead“.

Probably Alice Schwarzer would no longer publish texts like this. The dignity of her new office will not allow her to speak in plain language anymore. Especially when even a greater consecration is in store in a few years‘ time. The job of the Federal Minister of Virtue could prove to be the ideal stepping stone to Schloss Bellevue, the residence of  Germany's Federal President.

Fake news?

P.S.: No fake news is that Alice has married:

My long-time companion, the photographer Bettina Flitner, and I got married on June 2, 2018 (©dpa)
The photo shows the couple. Alice is grinning broadly at the side of her laughing long-time companion, a beautiful snapshot in a relaxed atmosphere. Alice explained, "We have always had an open but not a public relationship. As you know, I attach great importance to the protection of my private life. However, a civil partnership is something other than a civil marriage. And so six months after the introduction of 'The Marriage for All' we have decided to take this step." The age difference between them is almost 20 years: Alice Schwarzer is 75, Bettina Flitner 56.

Bettina Flitner does not have to worry to be called "Alice Schwarzer's wife" in the future. She has long been a well-known photographer, has had many exhibitions, and has held several guest professorships.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Marx 2018

On the occasion of Karl Marx’s 200th birthday, the question whether his theories are still valid today is passionately discussed between economic experts. I read quite a lot but my opinion is not congruent with any of those economists. It rather is a mixture of economic ignorance and life experience.

In an article in last Sunday's paper, three economics professors took a position on three of Marx’s theses: the concentration of enterprises, social impoverishment, and coming crises.

There always is a tendency for a concentration of enterprises but it is no longer so much the production of goods although I just learned about the marriage between chemical giants Bayer and Monsanto. These days it is the concentration of firms offering services. I am thinking, e.g., of Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. Over the years these giants in software, social media, and communication have swallowed smaller software developers to strengthen their position in a still booming market.

Marx who castigated the alienation of the worker vis-à-vis the hardware he has produced would be shocked to see the digital dependence of today’s people on services they are presented with and cannot escape. The classic alienation is replaced by a fear of digital technology that is overstraining most users.

The people of Cologne are proud of their Basic Law. One article reads, “Hammer immer esu jemaat” (We have always done it the same way) but this is no longer true for “Nix bliev, wie et war” (Nothing remains as it was).

In spite of efforts like the recent European General Data Protection Regulation to protect the data of individuals, the man/woman in the street feels helpless and controlled. They develop an angst of being overrun by a self-driving car or losing their non-digital jobs.

Populist parties stoke the angst of the people while governments somehow limit themselves to repairing the status quo. The policy of just fixing defects follows another article of Cologne’s Basic Law, ”Et het noch immer jot jejange” (Things have always worked out).

Today, the digital world dominates politics since politicians have neither the knowledge nor the insight to stand up to gurus like Mark Zuckerberg as recent hearings in Congress and in the European Parliament have shown.

What follows is a hilarious sequence of photos taken during Mark Zuckerberg’s “grilling” at the European Parliament as commented by Oliver Welke, Germany’s Seth Meyers, in the Heute Show (Today Show).

Mark Zuckerberg sitting next to Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, ... (©ZDF)

... listening to Gabriele Zimmer’s question (©ZDF)
Gabriele cited three lines from Goethe’s The Sorcerer‘s Apprentice* in German, “Master, I have need of Thee! From the spirits that I called, I can‘t get rid of ...” and ended Marc’s education in German literature with the question, “Isn’t it time to pull the plug?”
*Der Zauberlehrling. Herr, die Not ist groß! Die ich rief, die Geister, Werd‘ ich nun nicht los.

Marc’s imagined reaction is plausible if the knowledgeable translator used the official translation, “Master, I have need of Thee! From the spirits that I called, Sir, deliver me! ...

Here you are welcome to read about my conspiracy theory with respect to Germany's digital situation.

It seems that Western societies do not have a classic Marxian proletariat. Nevertheless, poverty is a reality. Although the promise is kept that no one has to starve or freeze, the gap between poor and rich is widening so that economists now talk about a relative impoverishment. This is reflected in developing countries like India and Bangladesh but in Western countries too.

China is an exception, balancing between Marxism and capitalism. In addition and out of pure necessity the country is actively participating in the fight against climate change by investing considerable resources in solar and wind energy. Due to the continuing, massive use of coal and the increase in car traffic, the air in China's cities has become unbreathable.

In Western countries, relative poverty is politically explosive. Single mothers trying to combine childrearing with holding a job often end up unemployed and on social welfare. With the price of housing increasing in most regions young couples have to pay high rents without any hope of financing condominiums or houses.

Will people being deceived by the capitalistic system vote for the left or right? Presently populistic parties have the wind in their sails while left-wing parties are still suffering from the past when they ran their socialist regimes into a brick wall.

Capitalism is capable of managing economic crises albeit with the help of governments as the financial crisis of 2008 has shown. According to economic experts, a great depression like the one in 1929 with massive unemployment and numerous bankruptcies has become extremely unlikely.

Crises will surely come but they will be of a different kind. A mix of overpopulation, the competition for resources,* and climate change will lead to the massive migration of people. Just think of the inhabitants of Bangladesh, a country that will lose a large part of its land mass due to the rising tides of the Indian Ocean.
*in particular, clean water

In view of all the specters of post-Marxism, shall we give up and state the Cologne way, “Et kütt, wie et kütt.” (It cometh as it cometh)?

Hey, here is a better one, “Drinkste ene met?” (Why don't you have a drink with me?).