Sunday, July 22, 2018

StadtLesen 2018

Every second year in July Freiburg’s sister city committees are invited to read the literature of their respective partner cities or countries at an outdoor event called StadtLesen. The reading takes place downtown Freiburg at the Kartoffelmarkt (potato market).


Two years ago Red Baron read Mark Twain’s “Über die schreckliche deutsche Sprache” and wrote a blog about “The Awful German Language”.

The leisurely ambiance at the Kartoffelmarkt (©Stadtbibliothek)
Although a meticulous search revealed some modern Madison lyrics the Freiburg-Madison-Gesellschaft (FMG) decided to read Mark Twain again this year. Mind you, on Kartoffelmarkt listeners lounging in seat cushions are expecting to be entertained.

So we choose “The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine”, a fairy tale Mark Twain had told his daughters while he was in Paris in 1879 and of which he jotted down some notes. These notes were discovered in 2011 at the library of the University of California, Berkeley. “Co-author” Philip Stead used Twain’s notes to compose a full story.


In the run-up, Red Baron bought the English book and its German translation “Das Verschwinden des Prinzen Oleomargarine” to be read. The story is structured into the fairy tale proper and lengthy disputes between Mark Twain and Philip Stead about the direction the story should take. Therefore the text lends itself to be read by two people.

Suddenly I was stuck. My attempts to find a co-reader possibly an American reading out the fairy tale in German thus giving the presentation a certain touch failed. But the FMG can count on the help of friends. Margret Igel from the Carl-Schurz-Haus was so kind to read the main part of  “Das Verschwinden des Prinzen Oleomargarine” while I took on the conversation between Mark Twain and Philip Stead.

When we arrived at the Kartoffelmarkt thunderclouds threatened. We were told that the reading had been rescheduled at the lower floor of the municipal library. When we walked the three minutes to Münsterplatz it started to rain.

At the library, we were welcomed by Ms. Türke, the director, and two and a half listeners. Disaster! People who had intended to attend* a lazy summer reading lounging in seat cushions on a warm evening did not show up for an indoor reading on wooden chairs.
*I had a couple of positive feedbacks

We nevertheless did our duty. Following my introduction, fabulous Margret took over while I interrupted her from time to time with the Twain-Stead dialog.

I do not intend to tell you the story in detail. Johnny, a rural boy without luck living in an unnamed country has only one companion, a chicken named Pestilence and Famine. Later in the story with the magic of a fairy, he understands the animal language. The animals become his friends and they help him to find the purloined Prince Oleomargarine.

Philip Stead wrote the book in 2017. So allusions to the present political situation are not accidental.

Following our reading, Margret presents the English book richly illustrated by Philip Stead’s sister Erin.
Thank you again, Margret, for helping out the FMG and reading like a pro. In the end, I donated my copies of  “Das Verschwinden des Prinzen Oleomargarine” to the municipal library and “The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine” to the library of the Carl-Schurz-Haus.

Freiburgers, if you want the read the full story as well as the story behind the story visit the municipal library for the German translation and the Carl-Schurz-Haus for the original.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Verunstaltungsverbot

Interdiction of disfigurement (sort of a double negative) is a municipal act that for the first time in Freiburg’s history may be applied in the case of some blue-painted parking spaces in my part of town, the Wiehre.

©BZ/Michael Bamberger
A Freiburg real estate agent wanted to animate the parking grounds in front of his office and had the gray asphalt painted in a brilliant blue. Now he is singing the blues for some of the Wiehre residents became upset and contacted the municipal legal board of construction. The board stated that the chosen color represents “a disfigurement in the sensitive and high-quality surroundings of the Wiehre” and asked the “painter” to zurückbauen (deconstruct) the surface bringing it into its initial state; otherwise, legal action will follow.

A poll among Freiburgers showed that 73% are in favor of this touch of vivid color, but those do not live in the near neighborhood. The “painter” is astonished by the discussion. "I can't understand the whole theater," he says. “In my neighborhood, there are garden zones in front of houses that have been asphalted. Is that nicer?", he asks. “In addition, some houses in the Wiehre are painted in a similar shade of blue. I am aware that taste is open to dispute - but in this case, an innovative and creative idea is simply flattened". Now the causer is looking for a compromise and even willing to discuss the color of the surface with Freiburg’s legal board of construction.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Friederike at the Museum

On Monday evening the director of Freiburg’s Carl-Schurz-Haus Friederike Schulte gave a lecture at the premises of the Museumsgesellschaft titled ”German-American Relations Today”

The Museumsgesellschaft is Freiburg’s oldest Bürgergesellschaft. Civil society is not the correct translation for in this case Bürgergesellschaft rather signifies a special society of citizens with a common interest. In 1806 it was the common acquisition of at that time expensive books, journals, and newspapers to be shared by all members of the Lesegesellschaft (reading society), the initial name of the Museumsgesellschaft. Here you may like to read about its history and the change of name.

The Lesegesellschaft was founded at the time when Napoleon ruled over Europe and when following Austria’s total defeat in the battle of Austerlitz the French emperor ordered that the Catholic Breisgau, the Schwanzfeder (tail feather) of the Habsburg empire, was ”married by force” to the Protestant Grand Duchy of Baden.

Friederike competent and charming at the rostrum of the Museumsgesellschaft
Friederike refrained from directly diving into present day US politics but rather recalled the history of the Carl-Schurz-Haus and the past of German-American relations with sometimes nostalgic undertones. America Houses were initially founded mostly in university towns shortly after the war. Friedrike informed the audience about the ups and downs of Freiburg’s Amerikahaus starting in the 1960s when many of those American bridgeheads disappeared not so much because the US regarded the education of the German people in democratic values as finished but rather due to reduced funding from the States. In some towns, German authorities took over the financing of existing Houses. In the case of Freiburg, the city council guaranteed the existence of the American foothold in town while renaming the America House after Carl Schurz, the Baden revolutionary who fled Germany as a 48er and started a political career in the States.

Nowadays Freiburg’s Carl-Schurz-House is half financed by the state of Baden-Württemberg, the city of Freiburg, and the US embassy (5%), but is proud to raise the other half of its yearly budget of about one million dollars by member fees, paid language courses and cultural events.

Red Baron frequently attends those well-organized events and blogged about some of the highlights. Here my blogs are presented in chronological order: The NSA and No End, What's Brewing?, Armageddon, Is This a Beer Or Not a Beer ..., The Freiburg Writers' Group, Napoleon Is to Blame for Everything, An American in Berlin, A Noble Cause For Religion, My Digital Revolution, I'm Going to Bring the Jobs Back, Shielding Democracies?, and Journalism 2.0.

Thanks to its dynamic management the Carl-Schurz-Haus offers more events in a year than there are days.

Friederike skilfully and moderately incorporated the present political development in the States into her talk, a development that causes incomprehension, shaking of heads, and German angst, particularly with the older generation.

The generous US who helped to rebuild Europe after the war where their mission of democratization mostly succeeded suddenly retorts with aggressive tweets and acts. It is true that in NATO Europe relied in its defense too much on the United States. In Germany, the equipment of the Bundeswehr is in a deplorable state so more money is needed and is made available.

On the other hand, the US trade deficit is homemade. Here in Europe we too had to run down many industries due to cheap competition from Asian and African countries. POTUS in his erratic way mixes NATO and the American balance of payment:


There is a grain of truth in his tweet. European countries buying more advanced military equipment from the States will help to improve the American trade balance. On the other hand, unilateral tariffs followed by retaliatory measures will kill the global economy.


Friederike’s talk was on July 16, the evening of the Helsinki summit between President Trump and President Putin. Late in the night, I read the following blog.

But then is his usual way POTOS pedaled back as CNN reported on July 17:

President Trump moments ago said he misspoke during his Monday news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump was talking about interference in the 2016 election when he said, "I don't see any reason why it would be" the Russians.
Now, POTUS corrected, "In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn’t. 'The sentence should have been: 'I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia."



Thank you, Friederike, for keeping your head up. Keep on informing the Freiburgers about the American democracy based on checks and balances that still work in spite of an erratic president. Many a hope is placed into the upcoming midterm elections but how will POTUS react if the results are not to his liking? Will those results be a fake?

Friday, July 13, 2018

LM Martin Horn Meets H. E. Pietro Benassi

Yesterday afternoon, Oberbürgermeister Martin Horn met Seine Exzellenz Pietro Benassi, Italian ambassador to Germany, and Red Baron had an invitation. The reception took place at the historic Gerichtslaube (courthouse), Freiburg’s oldest townhall where in 1498 an imperial diet was held.

Flying the flags of Europe, Italy, Germany, and Freiburg
 in front of Freiburg's  Gerichtslaube
When I arrived in time I was shocked at finding only a few people. Two friends of mine, Ms. Gisela Strahlendorf, former president of Freiburg’s German-French Society, and  Professor Horst Buzello, president of the German-Italian Dante Alighieri Society, comforted me.

I had just started a conversation when the two protagonists arrived. The newly elected Lord Mayor greeted the Italian ambassador insisting on the significance of Freiburg’s Italien relations. In fact, Friburgo is so loved by Italiens that the city hosts an Italian consulate.

Horn addressing the ambassador and the "crowd"
Following his reply to Horn's speech, the Italien ambassador signed Freiburg’s Golden Book.

A smiling Martin Horn is watching Pietro Benassi writing a lengthy text

As the Italian ambassador, it is an honor to be in this beautiful city. Freiburg is a city of young people for young people. A city that respects its tradition, but at the same time is open to innovation and research!

Many thanks to Lord Mayor Horn for this invitation!

Pietro Benassi

Suddenly I felt very old.

When ambassador Benassi asked to see Pope Benedetto’s signature - the pontiff visited Freiburg in 2011 - Red Baron profited from the rare occasion shooting a photo of the page.


My offhand remark, “It's time for an Italien pope,” H. E. Benassi answered with a diplomatic smile.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Donald vs. Donald

There are two Donalds internationally known who have but one thing in common: They both tweet on Twitter.

The @realDonaldTrump presently is in Brussels for a NATO summit while @eucopresident, the other Donald, and President of the European Council Tusk, has no business in NATO. Well not quite.

Tusk, Stoltenberg, and Juncker in Brussels yesterday (©Reuters)
On Tuesday, July 10, the Polish Donald, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker signed a declaration between NATO and the European Union about mutual military assistance just prior to POTUS’s arrival. In fact, you never know whether the American Donald will not revoke the NATO treaty since by now he has lots of experience in this trade regarding NAFTA, the Paris climate agreement, the G7 summit in Canada, and the Iranian nuclear agreement.

On his way to Brussels POTUS twittered mixing the trade balance with the European Union and NATO:


While all other European leaders kept a low profile Donald Tusk directly addressed Donald Trump,

”We have just signed a joint EU-NATO declaration, which brings the cooperation between the European Union and NATO to the next level. The aim is clear. We want to protect European citizens with all possible means available, and there is no better partner than NATO. That is why we have agreed today to strengthen EU-NATO ties in crucially important areas. They include improving the military mobility of troops and equipment, common preparedness for cyber and hybrid attacks, fighting terrorism and stopping migrant smugglers in the Mediterranean. The fullest possible involvement in our activities of EU Member States that are not NATO members will be encouraged and facilitated in an all-inclusive, non-discriminatory manner, without any artificial obstacles.”

“Speaking on the eve of the NATO summit here in Brussels, I would like to address President Trump directly, who for a long time now has been criticising Europe almost daily for, in his view, insufficient contributions to the common defense capabilities, and for living off the US”. And so the @eucopresident tweeted:”


“I would, therefore, have two remarks here. First of all, dear America, appreciate your allies, after all, you don't have that many. And, dear Europe, spend more on your defense, because everyone respects an ally that is well-prepared and equipped.”

“Money is important, but genuine solidarity is even more important. Speaking about solidarity, I want to dispel the American President's argument, which says that the US alone protects Europe against our enemies and that the US is almost alone in this struggle. Europe was first to respond on a large scale when the US was attacked and called for solidarity after 9/11. European soldiers have been fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with American soldiers in Afghanistan. 870 brave European men and women sacrificed their lives, including 40 soldiers from my homeland Poland (Author’s note: 54 Germans). Dear Mr. President, please remember about this tomorrow, when we meet at the NATO summit, but above all when you meet president Putin in Helsinki. It is always worth knowing: who is your strategic friend? And who is your strategic problem?”

This last remark reminds me of Donald Tusk’s reaction after Mr. Trump withdrew the US from the Iran agreement and announced trade sanctions in May:


Due to their historical experience Polish people are traditionally afraid of the Russian bear and hence are ardent admirers of the United States, their great protector. It is therefore remarkable that the president of the European Council now rather relies on European support. Thank you @realEuropeanDonaldTusk. It is time that we in Europe stand united for our common values.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Where Is My Majority?

Today is Martin Horn’s inauguration as Freiburg’s lord mayor although at present he only is the Verweser (administrator) of his function. This is why he and his deputy and First Mayor Ulrich von Kirchbach hasted to show the document of appointment to the press proving that Martin has the title of Oberbürgermeister (lord mayor) and all the power vested in this position.

Martin and his tutor Ulli in front of Freiburg’s Renaissance town hall (©BZ)
The only restriction Martin faces is that he has not yet the right to cast his vote in the city council. The reason is that a lady has contested Horn’s election and has filed a court action. Already in the past, she had taken pleasure in contesting the results of local elections in all of Baden-Württemberg. Although in all other cases she has already suffered crushing defeats in court her objection is pending. Before the court has not decided on her unfounded complaint Martin Horn is limited as far as his right to vote is concerned.

This limitation has its importance in case there is a draw in the vote of the city council. In such a situation the lord mayor’s vote will break the tie. This leads in fact to the question, “Where is my majority?”

Martin not being a member of any party has the support of the Social Democrats and other small groups, i.e., only 15 of a total of 48 seats in the city council. Other deputies already signaled their support in the burning housing situation that Horn would like to attack with high priority. The past “majority” of Christian Democrats (CDU) and Greens is now the “opposition” and has 20 votes in the city council. But there is hope that the Greens will move in the “social direction” as their whip said, “We're certainly not gonna sit in a corner and pout.”

This proves that on the local level party politics are secondary to Freiburg’s well being.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Götterdämmerung

Soccer, politics, and economy. Once upon a time, there was a strong country
(©Der Spiegel upside down Nr. 27, 2018)
Germany is badly shaken in its self-confidence. Two of our Lichtgestalten (guiding lights) are experiencing their twilight of the gods: Chancellor Angela Merkel and National Soccer Coach Jogi (Joachim) Löw.

Two buddies. Angi and Jogi saw better days (©Getty Images)
It is the first time in German soccer history that the team dropped out of a World Championship tournament in the preliminary round. The fall is abysmally deep regarding the fact that Germany is the defending champion, a title it had gained four years ago.

Germany’s rankings in previous Soccer World Championships (©Der Spiegel)
Gary Linecker, a former English soccer star who once said, "Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win" updated his statement, "... the Germans no longer win. The previous version is confined to history."

Following the defeat against South Korea, a shattered coach Jogi Löw made his first statement, “It's a huge disappointment. We have to see to it that we accept this debacle. Congratulations to our opponents who defeated us, we did not deserve to move forward. We didn’t manage to score a goal, to take a lead throughout the whole tournament. The team lacked the lightness, the flow in its combinations, we were not self-assured. We didn't play with any dynamic on the field. The plan was definitely there. What happened here I can't say at this moment. I surely take the responsibility. The German soccer, we all lost. Not just a game, but much of what we have built up over the past few years. Of course, I'm the first person who has to question himself and has to think about what went wrong. Now I have to sleep at least one night, just after the game I am totally frustrated and disappointed. I am in charge. It's too early for me to answer the question, now we need a few hours to see clearly. I too am deeply disappointed. I wouldn't have imagined that."

Defeated and half-naked; midfielder Mats Hummels,
“It’s quite a bitter day for all German soccer fans.” (©dpa)
Those bitterly disappointed fans on Berlin’s “fan mile” (©dpa)
On the political front Christian Democrat Chancellor Angela Merkel - once being hailed as the leader of western democracy following the election of POTUS - is fighting for her political survival. Her generous attitude towards the wave of refugees coming into Germany in 2015 is catching up with her. Not the opposition but of all parties CDU’s Bavarian sister the Christian Socials (CSU) are demanding a tightening of Germany’s refugee policy. The CSU is afraid of not getting the absolute majority in Bavaria’s upcoming state election in October and is moving to the right.

Although the chancellor strives for a European solution to the refugee crisis the CSU sent Merkel an ultimatum. If the European deal in Brussels does not satisfy Horst Seehofer, Angela’s Minister of the Interior threatens to harden the Bavarian borders against immigrants, an act that will not only affect our Austrian neighbors in the south. If Horst follows through his plan Angela has no other choice than firing her CSU Minister. This will be her Waterloo and the end of the ruling grand coalition.

To a great extent, the present political crisis in Germany is Merkel’s own fault. Over the past 12 years, Angela has inched her conservative Christian Democrats more and more to the left starting with Germany’s nuclear phase-out and continuing with the decriminalization of gay people, same-sex marriages, and a time-phase solution for abortion. These moves to the left downsized the center-left Social Democrats while they in parallel strengthened the right-wing anti-immigration party AfD (Alternative for Germany) to the dislike of the conservative Bavarian CSU.

The cleanest solution to the present governmental crisis would be to hold new federal elections but the ruling parties avoid those like the plague. The present quarrels within the government camp will only weaken the Christian Democrats and in particular the Social Democrats but strengthen the populist Alternative for Germany tooting their Germany first.

After a marathon meeting the president of the European Council Donald (!) Tusk tweeted at 4:34 a.m. on Friday morning:


At the same time in Brussels red-eyed but visibly relieved and smiling Angela went before the press announcing her (?) European compromise: The control at EU’s external borders will be reinforced, i.e., people (mostly from Africa) on boats or rafts and seized on high see will be brought back and detained in refugee camps in North Africa.

Europe hates walls but erects fences.
A refugee at the border between Greece and Macedonia (©Getty Images)
Refugees apprehended at the border or inside the EU will be brought to screening centers within the European Community where their demands for political asylum will be examined. Only those granted asylum will be distributed among EU member states, the others will be transported back into their home countries. But Angela cautioned, “We still have a lot of work to do to bridge the different views,”

The salient question, however, is, “Will the Brussels compromise satisfy Host Seehofer and his CSU?”