Monday, December 31, 2018

And Goodbye

Yesterday Freiburg’s Sunday newspaper published an article titled, “Und tschüss” (And Goodbye) reminding the reader of persons and things Freiburg lost in 2018. On New Year’s Eve I take the opportunity to remind you of some blogs I devoted to some of those losses.

The renaming of streets in Freiburg continued and so we lost the following names: Rennerstraße, Lexerstraße, Gallwitzstraße, Eckerstraße, and Ludwig-Heilmeyer-Weg.


In 2018 we finally saw the scaffolding disappear that had disfigured the steeple of our minster church during twelve long years.  In 2019 we proudly present the most beautiful steeple in the world again.

At present two of the stands selling bratwurst at the market on minster square are missing. Therefore long lines form waiting to snatch a Lange Rote or a Currywurst. One of the vendors threw the towel due to old age, the other lost the license following his tax fraud. Because nobody likes to stand in line for his wurst the city has sent out a call for vendors hoping that more competition will be good for business, an assumption that does however not hold for people selling wurst.

Freiburger Bügel on Bertoldstraße
There now are less stands to park your bicycle at the university campus. In particular, 500 Bügel (brackets) to lock on bicycles were removed in front of the new university library. They had to make room for the new streetcar line that will pass in front of the building in March 2019. City and university officials are still scratching their heads while looking for alternatives.

Freiburg lost the speed limit of 50 km/h (31 mph) on the important inner-city thoroughfare between the Rhine valley and the Black Forest* replacing it by the lower 30 km/h (18.6 mph) generally applied in residential areas. The reasons given are air and noise pollution as well as excessive wear and tear of the street surface by heavy trucks.
*Bundesstraße 31 (Federal Highway 31)

The tenant of Freiburg’s historical restaurant Kleiner Meyerhof threw the towel too. The name of the place dates back to the times when farmers served food and drink like peasant Meyer did at his "little farm". Older Freiburgers and families with children liked to be served traditional Baden cuisine at the Kleiner Meyerhof, but the old people are dying out and parents rather follow their kids to burger places. Freiburg now sports a trendy place serving "freiburgers" to Freiburgers and tourists alike.

Last not least Freiburg lost its long-time mayor in 2018. Dr. Dieter Salomom standing for re-election was beaten by young Martin Horn. Red Baron reported extensively.

Watching the incoming election results with growing stupefaction (©BZ)
Let us hope that in 2019 there will be more gains than losses and fewer people throwing towels.
 Goodbye? My readers fear not! I am still not running out of topics for my blogs but as another task takes up much of my time I will have to cut back on my writing activities.

I wish all my readers a Happy New Year! and einen guten Rutsch as we say in German. This has nothing to do with a good slide into the new year but is rather spoofed Hebrew. “Rosh ha-Shana” means the beginning of the year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Austrian Translator

Red Baron had read about pre-Luther translations of the Bible into German before, but Der Spiegel recently devoted an article to an Austrian Translator as early as the early 14th century. His name and origin are not known, but he is assumed to be an Austrian because most of his handwritings were found in an Austrian monastery. The man describes himself as an unconsecrated layman, neither being ordained as a preacher nor educated at a university.

Indeed Luther was not the first who translated the Bible into German. The earliest translation so far is dated eleven years after Gutenberg had finished his printing of the Latin Bible. Johannes Mentelin had founded a printed house in Strasburg around 1460 and published a German translation of the Bible in 1466. Fearing of being accused of heresy Mentelin produced a word by word translation of the Latin Vulgate thus lacking Luther’s Sprachgewalt (powerful eloquence). Subsequently and contrary to the Luther Bible Mentelin’s translation did not become “popular” and was a flop.

Back to the “Austrian Translator” of the Bible. His translated texts are handwritten and in fluent, beautiful German. Some scientists suspect that his translation, which circulated in many manuscripts until the 15th century, was "decisive for pre-Lutheran German Bibles". And for Luther too?

Beautifully illustrated handwritten copy of the "Austrian translator’s" text.
Fitting to the season a nativity scene and the circumcision of Jesus (©Der Spiegel).
Here is an example of the “Austrian translation”. “Unser herre Ihesus Cristus sey seinr muter, der rainen magd Marien des ersten erschienen” (Our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to his mother, the Holy Virgin Mary, first) although in St. John 20, 11-18 it is Mary Magdalene who sees Jesus after his resurection first. Indeed, for the “Austrian Translator” frankly added, “Wie aber die heyligen evangelisten nicht schreybent” (What the holy evangelists do not write).

Adding text to make a Bible translation more popular? A deadly sin for Luther whose leitmotif was  „sola scriptura!“ That meant forgetting the Latin Vulgate and going back "ad fontes", i.e., to the sources as there are the original texts in Greek and Hebrew.

Monday, December 24, 2018

O Tannenbaum

Yesterday morning I read an article in Freiburg’s Sunday paper Der Sonntag titled "O Tannenbaum".

"O fir tree" is the title of a traditional German Christmas song, translated into English as "O Christmas tree." The tune is that of a Latin mediæval student song "Lauriger Horatius" and was used since then many times over, e.g., Maryland’s state song "Maryland, my Maryland."

The lyrics of "O Tannenbaum" were written around 1819, but singers soon replaced the second line "wie treu sind deine Blätter" (meaning needles do not fall off, i.e., they remain true to the fir tree) by "wie grün sind deine Blātter" (how green are your leaves).

As far as we know today the evergreen Christmas tree originated in German-speaking Alsace for the earliest written reference dates back to 1492, the year when Columbus discovered the West Indies. In the account book of the Strasburg minster church you can read the following entry, "Item koüfft 9 Tannen in die 9 Kirchspill, das gut Jor darjnn zu empfohen, unnd darumb gebenn 2 Gulden" (To receive the new year well we also bought 9 fir trees for the 9 parishes for 3 gilders). Note: In those times the new year started with the celebration of Christmas, i.e., on December 25.

Freiburg Rappenpfennig
It seems that evergreen trees were much appreciated during Christmas time. An entry of 1521 in the account book of the Humanist Library at Schlettstatt in Alsace bears witness thereof, "Item IIII schillinge dem foerster die meyen an sanct Thomas tag zu hieten" (Also 4 shillings to the gamekeeper, so he will guard the trees as of Saint Thomas day, i.e., December 21).

Already in the outgoing Middle Ages, the Black Forest served as an abundant source of Christmas trees although in the minutes of Freiburg’s city council of December 1554 we read that the Schlagen der Weihnachtsbäume würde „grosser schad" anrichten (the logging of Christmas trees would wreak havoc). Therefore the city council imposed a „straff " (penalty) of 10 Rappen*.
*The Rappen or Rappenpfennig was a form of the penny minted in Freiburg im Breisgau in the 13th century featuring an eagle, which later on was interpreted to depict a raven. Nowadays the Rappen is still used in Switzerland.

©Der Sonntag, Freiburg
While early Christmas trees were raised in churches and in public places they later found their way into private homes. Here again, the Alsaciens were pioneers. Following his studies in Strasburg young Goethe writes in his bestselling novel The Sorrows of Young Werther about a tree he had seen decorated with wax lights, sweetmeat, and apples.

It is estimated that this year 60 million candle-lit trees will illuminate the Christmas Eve in Germany where LEDs not only replace fine dust polluting wax candles but energy hungry incandescent lights too. Since reusable plastic trees surrogate the real stuff serious discussions broke out about the sustainability of fir compared to plastic trees.


I do not want to spoil your Christmas feelings further so I better stop, but not without showing a lithograph presenting a hanging fir tree. Those of you who have tried in vain to fiddle a tree straight into a Christmas tree stand will appreciate this solution.

Manger scene in front of a Christmas tree in the church of Staufen near Freiburg

With the above in mind, I wish all my readers a

Merry Christmas and a peaceful holiday season

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

House of Zähringen

Big events cast their shadows as we say in German and that is what we are experiencing in Freiburg right now. The big event is the jubilee of 2020 celebrating the foundation of Freiburg as a marketplace in 1120, the shadow is an exhibition: Die Zähringer, Mythos und Wirklichkeit*.
*myth and reality


The last Zähringer Bertold V died in 1218, 800 years ago, a welcome reason to commemorate the House of Zähringen. The exhibition opened last Friday in Freiburg’s Karl Meckel Halle and will tour other so-called Zähringerstädte (see below) in the coming months.

Laudatio: On stage from right to left the makers of the exhibition:
Dr. Heinz Krieg, Dr. Hans-Peter Widmann, Dr. Johanna Regnath.
They offer a special Zähringer LEGO edition to Thomas Walz (left), group leader events/PR
of Freiburg's Municipal Saving Bank being the main sponsor of the exhibition.
In the back two reproductions of stained glass windows by Fritz Geiges
showing the two founding fathers of Freiburg
 on the left Bertold III and on the right Konrad.
Freiburg's founding fathers were two brothers, Bertold and Konrad, Dukes of Zähringen. Well, they were both dukes but not at the same time. Bertold III (1111-1122) liked the art of warfare and while campaigning he told his brother Konrad (1122-1152) to look that everything stayed in order at home. You probably already guessed, Bertold was killed in action in 1122 while he was fighting in Alsace near the village of Molsheim west of Strasburg.

Already before in 1114, he was defeated when he went to war against Cologne, at that time the biggest (40,000 inhabitants) and richest city on German territory. He was captured but as a prisoner of war was kept in easy custody waiting for the ransom to be paid. While strolling around the vibrant city it is sai that he had the idea of transforming the village back home at the foot of the castle, his father had built, into a marketplace.

Model of the Zähringer castle on Freiburg's Schlossberg on display at the exhibition.
Today only an overgrown scree is left.
When liberated and back in his castle he told his brother to go ahead with the plans for a market while he went to war again. The condition Bertold imposed was that Konrad should model the market's charter according to Cologne’s municipal law. This original document dated 1120 is regarded as Freiburg's foundation charter.

Already ninety-eight years later the dynasty of the Dukes of Zähringen died out. Bertold V who had started Freiburg’s Munster church around the year 1200 was buried in the same building in 1218. Bertold V was the last Zähringer for he only had two surviving daughters, Agnes and Anna, whose husbands not only quarreled over the heritage between each other but with King Friederich II too. Eventually, Egino of Urach, Agnes’ husband, inherited the Breisgau and its city and subsequently called himself Count of Freiburg.

Back to the Dukes of Zäringen; they not only founded the city of Freiburg im Breisgau (1120) but another Freiburg im Üechtland (1157), i.e., in Burgundy nowadays a canton in Switzerland. In addition the dukes laid the cornerstones for the following cities or developed older agglomerations into cities as there are Villingen (1119), Rheinfelden (1130), Murten (1170), Burgdorf (1175), Neuenburg (1175), Thun (1180), Bern (1191), and Bräunlingen (1203).

Those of you who like to read German here is the link to an illustrated history of the House of Zähringen.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Das Beste

Waiting for my session of balance training at the geriatrics and gerontology center of Freiburg’s university I looked at the journals on display in the waiting room. The following booklet caught my eye: 70 years of Reader’s Digest, Das Beste für Sie of September 2018.


When I turned over the jubilee issue I couldn't believe my eyes. The editor had reprinted a few pages of the first German edition of September 1948: Das Beste aus (Best of) Reader’s Digest for the price of 1 Deutsche Mark (DM).  Only three months earlier, on June 20, 1948, Germany’s zones occupied by the western allies had the German currency reformed changing from Reichsmark to Deutsche Mark.


In 1948 one DM was a lot of money for which you could buy four loaves of bread of one pound each. At that time a good monthly salary was around 400 DM and we had to change 4.20 DM for a dollar.

Today an issue of the German edition of Reader’s Digest costs 4,20 euro, an increase in price by a factor of 8.5 while good monthly salaries are around 3000 euro, i.e., a factor of 15 higher than in 1948. For the present price of an issue of RD nowadays you only get two loaves of bread while a dollar is worth 0.88 euro being equivalent to 1.76 DM.

Yes, times have changed, but I was all electrified remembering that as a high school student shortly after the war Best of Reader’s Digest was a revelation for me. Three years after the war I read unknown facts about the world that opened my eyes and that I did not find in my boring German textbooks. Mind you textbooks for schools were subject of approval by the three western occupying forces. I still have my original Latin textbook and the English grammar book with the following imprimatur:

The permission by the three occupying forces in the order of their importance
 "the US, the UK, and France" or in alphabetical order "America, Britain, and France?"
With trembling hands, I opened the few pages of the reprint of 1948.


The great narrator Archibald Joseph Cronin unknown to me at that time was the author of the first article but the second contribution about Galileo Galilei I certainly had read as an adolescent. Was this the spark that decided on my later studies and profession?


The monthly issues of Reader’s Digest accompanied me through the years up to my graduation from high-school. I remember that I even kept a collection of those booklets. Nowadays I realize that Reader's Digest was one of the many efforts by the US to re-educate the German people, a seed that fell on fertile grounds in my case.

A somewhat timid advertising by the German Ford factory
located in Cologne and destroyed completely during the war,
but in 1948 already producing trucks for a special performance:
Strong - reliable and rapid in the service of reconstruction.
Note: No passenger cars were built at that time.