Monday, January 28, 2019

130

km/h or 80 mph is the speed limit that a working group of the Ministry of Transport has proposed for German autobahns. The mandate of the group was to consider ways and means of reducing the emission of carbon dioxide in transport activities. It was just one of the many recommendations the group has forwarded but the outcry among German drivers was loud as expected. Had they not been promised Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger (Free speed for free citizens) when previous proposals to limit the speed on the autobahn had been made?

The offending traffic sign (©RijschoolPro)
Even Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer - although he had set up the working group - said that the recommendation of a speed limit sei ge­gen je­den Men­schen­ver­stand (is against all common sense).

Andreas Scheuer looking at speed limits in other countries:
Irresponsible. Against all common sense (©Stuttmann).
Cem Özdemir, a leading German Green politician, stepped up the discussion contradicting the minister saying that on the contrary, a speed limit is a Gebot der Vernunft (matter of common sense). He added, "The discussion of a speed limit in Germany is a bit like discussing the right to bear arms with Americans." With only a slight majority in favor of a speed limit in a recent poll, our nation is deeply divided on the issue.

Red Baron’s car will accelerate to more than 120 mph but I rarely go faster than 80 mph on an autobahn*. I do not accept the argument of the adversaries of a speed limit: On about 40% of the autobahns, there already are speed limits while on the other 60% you may drive as fast as traffic permits ... until you get stuck in a Stau (traffic jam). The adversaries argue that while the motor is idling the CO2 emission is bigger than when driving more than 130 km/h on stretches with only minor traffic.
*Being an old man I only drive about 3000 miles in a year covering long distances rather by train at speeds up to 186 mph

Heavy traffic on the Inn-Autobahn. No chance of even driving 130 km/h (©dpa)
Red Baron has driving experience on motorways in France, Italy, Switzerland, and the US. I always enjoyed the stress-less driving when all vehicles move at a moderate but synchronized speed. In those countries, neither gas is wasted nor CO2 emitted by useless acceleration and braking as on German autobahns where a few people drive hard to gain a couple of minutes going from A to B.

Yesterday the Federal Government decided that free citizens will keep their free speed.

I rather think, "It is high time that Germany’s holy cow is slaughtered."

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Damian

Since 1970 and nearly every Sunday night since, a show called Tatort* (crime scene) has been running on German television during primetime and is still popular. Sometimes more than 10 million viewers nationwide follow the episodes, in which various teams investigate murder cases in various German cities as well as in cities in Austria and German-speaking Switzerland.
*When I lived in Geneva watching French-speaking Swiss television, a lady once announced the evening program of the German-speaking program in presenting the series as, "T'as (Tu as) tord", meaning "You are wrong."

Red Baron has given up wasting his time watching Tatort except for episodes featuring two teams that investigate in Mannheim or Münster, i.e., six evenings in a year. Here my interest is solely aimed at the actors. In Mannheim, an initially demure investigator has developed over 19 years into a skinny middle-aged lady. In Münster, a detective superintendent and a forensic doctor form a permanently quarreling couple à la Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

In the spring of 2018, German television shot the Tatort episode #1075 titled Damian in Freiburg, and some of the scenes were set in the fraternity house of Burschenschaft Franconia* just across the street from my apartment. For two weeks the film crew turned night into day. As fraternity students helping as extras told us: Some of the scenes were shot twenty times, so that in one case filming of a day scene only finished at 4 a.m. Daylight in the interior was guaranteed by brightly illuminating the front of the Franconia fraternity house.
*The other fraternity, Teutonia, lives in the house beside my apartment. Red Baron has reported about this Burschenschaft on two occasions.

Street in front of the Franconia house during the day
Same at night
Your broadcasting license fee for a good program.
In Germany, all households pay a compulsory monthly fee for
the reception of two public service television channels, ARD and ZDF.
Both programs are nearly free of commercials.
So Damian is watched without any interruption.
The light pollution affected the whole neighborhood, so it was to be expected that last week Franconia invited those concerned to an evening of television presenting Damian on a big screen.

On-screen: Damian dancing with his girlfriend.
In the other room Franconia's bar.
An eerie dinner scene. Damian, sitting at the head of the table,
 is serving wine to his girlfriend on his left.
We started with an aperitif followed by a guided tour of the premises where scenes were filmed and ended with beer and potato chips during the presentation of the Tatort. With great astonishment, we noted that the film crew had remodeled the interior of the house completely to match the new plaque at the entrance of the fictitious Landsmannschaft Brankia. All photos are screenshots that I took during the introduction of Damian at the Franconia house.

New Landsmannschaft Brancia ...
... and its colors.
Tatort Damian has all the odd ingredients of a modern crime movie: The schizophrenic law student and main character Damian, an overworked detective superintendent and her always-tired male assistant, a somewhat older tennis trainer and his teenage trainee being shot while in the act, a transvestite as prime suspect shooting selfies while wearing female underwear, Damian's father shattered because his son had refused to take over his inn located in the Black Forest, a devoted mother making the best cake far and wide, Damian's rich girlfriend hoping for more than just a couple of actions in bed, and a charred body in the remains of a Black Forest cabin.

It was an evening well spent in a hospitable company.

The film crew left a souvenir:
"The banner is Brankia"

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Fridays for Future

It all started in Sweden in August 2018, when Greta Thunberg cut classes, camped in front of the Swedish parliament, and protested against the inactivity of governments with respect to climate change.

School strike for the climate (©Der Tagesspiegel)
Her protest became viral, and so last Friday pupils all over Germany left their schools marching in protest through 60 inner cities. Their motto: "Fridays for Future". The largest protest rally took place in Freiburg, where 3500 pupils cut classes although school officials had warned them about consequences. Mind you, in Germany education in official schools up to the age of 16 is compulsory.

Yesterday Red Baron was in town but only saw the protest march from behind. So here are some photos all copyrighted Badische Zeitung.

St. Martin's Gate in the background.
Most of the banners were in English.
One banner was not very original, while the other,
"Why should we learn if we have no future", was pessimistic.
Some  banners were witty but only in German,
"Kale instead of lignite (Green cabbage vs. brown coal)"
"Hey! It‘s our future"
Even some teachers preferred a "system change to climate change."
Will there be future demonstrations?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Rosa

was not rose but rather deep red. On this day, 100 years ago right-wing Freischärler (irregular troops) murdered Rosa Luxemburg and her comrade-in-arms Karl Liebknecht in cold blood in Berlin.

Rosa Luxemburg on a German stamp of 1974
A little bit of German history. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 the strongest party at the Reichstag was in a dilemma. On August 4, Emperor Wilhelm II had declared, “Henceforth I know no parties I know only Germans”. This so-called Burgfrieden (a truth between the emperor and all German parties) made it difficult for the Social Democrats (SPD) - although in essence being pacifists - not to vote in favor of the requested war loans.


However, Karl Liebknecht (the son of SPD founder Wilhelm Liebknecht) and Rosa Luxemburg prominent members of the left-wing faction of the SPD voted against because they believed in an international revolution of the proletariat overthrowing capitalism, imperialism, and militarism even during the war. Later they called their movement the Spartacist League.


On March 7, 2014, the eve of Europe’s catastrophe Rosa visited Freiburg and gave a speech. Roger Chickering in his famous book, “The Great War and Urban Life in Germany” describes her visit as follows, “To the consternation of the non-Socialist press, she packed the Festival Hall (Festhalle), the largest hall in town. Here she delivered an impassioned attack on class inequality and German militarism.”

She started out confirming that in times of peace she had been condemned being a pacifist, “I was sentenced to one year in prison in Frankfurt for what the prosecutor and the court considered to be a criminal act. This action consisted in my shouting to the workers on both sides of the border: Thou shalt not kill!”

She continued denouncing the social climate in the late years of the German Empire, “Living in Germany in a time of the most terrible unemployment when tens of thousands of industrious, honest proletarian families do not know what they will feed their hungry children tomorrow an official government representative declares: Not the support, not the feeding of these hungry is the lifeblood of the state, but barracks, bayonets, and spiked helmets are its lifeblood.”

She ended, “We turn to all the working people, to whom we say: All of you, you are millions, you men and women of labor, you pay taxes to preserve the state and the wars and the military. It is you who will send your sons into the fire and you will have to shoulder all the troubles and pains when a war will stop the calm economic and cultural development not for years but for decades. It depends on you to veto this breakneck policy of the ruling class.”

Chickering continues, „Few in the audience took the provocation as seriously as did the public prosecutors, who initiated legal action against the visitor for sedition and subversion, but 280 people did join the local Social Democratic party in the wake of her speech ... Her exuberant reception in Freiburg illuminated other features of life in town: resentments over massive poverty and social inequality, the persistence of labor strife, and the lingering isolation of the Socialist labor movement itself.“

Rosa's continuous efforts to convince Germany's proletariat of an anti-war general strike resulted in her and Karl Liebknecht’s imprisonment in June 1916. Liberated by an amnesty at the end of the war both revived the Spartacist League,

The League organ, Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag).
On November 9, 1918, Liebknecht declared the formation of a Freie Sozialistische Republik (Free Socialist Republic) from a balcony of the Berliner Stadtschloss, two hours after Philipp Scheidemann's declaration of a German Republic from a balcony of the Reichstag.

Liebknecht’s Free Socialist Republic was nothing else than a German-Soviet republic (Räterepublik) along the Russian model although Rosa sharply criticized the Lenin administration with respect to the freedom of the press. Her pamphlet contains her famous dictum “that the rule of the broad masses is completely unthinkable without a free and unimpeded press, without an unhindered life of associations and assemblies ... Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for members of a party - as numerous as they may be - is no freedom. Freedom is always the freedom of those who think differently".

Rosa Luxemburg's speech at the Gründungsparteitag (founding congress) of the KPD
On January 1, 1919, the Spartacus League was renamed into KPD, the German Communist Party. Later in the month, still dreaming of a Räterepublik, Rosa and Karl participated in the so-called Spartacist Revolt against the existing government. With the help of right-wing militia, the Social Democrat and Chancellor Friedrich Ebert had squashed the uprising brutally.

Workers, citizens!
The fatherland is doomed. Come to its rescue!
 It is not threatened externally but internally by the Spartacus League.
Beat to death their leaders!
Kill Liebknecht!
Then you will have peace, work, and bread.
The front-line soldiers.
Wikipedia reports, “By 13 January, the uprising had been extinguished. Liebknecht and Luxemburg were captured by Freikorps troops on 15 January 1919 and brought to the Eden Hotel in Berlin, where they were tortured and interrogated for several hours. Following this, Luxemburg was beaten with rifle butts and afterwards shot, and her corpse thrown into the Landwehr Canal, while Liebknecht was forced to step out of the car in which he was being transported, and he was then shot in the back. Official declarations said he had been shot in an attempt to escape.

The division continues into modern Germany. On the one hand the SPD that in the course of time has achieved so many benefits for the working class and keeping well in mind not to kill the milk-producing cow (capitalism), on the other hand Die Linke that rightly points the finger to those social inequalities in a rich society as there are single mothers with too low an income, homeless people who cannot afford the high rents, and retired persons who do not know how to live on their mini-retirement pensions.

Aufstehen! founder Sahra Wagenknecht (©Aufstehen!)
Who likes aufstehen (to rise)? Does a yellow vest carried in front of the Federal Chancellery help?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Wall

Red Baron admits that we Germans have a special attitude to walls and by the way to wheels as well. The latter is natural in a country relying on its economy with Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes. German carmakers do not intend to reinvent the wheel, but they are still betting on stone age technology in particular on air-polluting diesel engines.

Back to walls. I still vividly remember Ronald Reagan contemplating the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987, imploring, ”Mr. Gorbatschow, tear down this wall!" Note pre-Merkel Chancellor Helmut Kohl as usual grinning, this time in the background.


In 2019 another wall has emerged as a protagonist of world history, as a symbol of the struggle for humanity and freedom with POTUS demanding, "This barrier is absolutely critical to border security."

This is how German cartoonist Klaus Stuttmann© "saw" POTUS on television
In his speech on television, POTUS claimed, “The wall will also be paid for, indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.”

Since Mexico will pay for it Democrats see no reason to yield to the president’s demand for 5.7 billion U$ to finance "his" wall. Subsequently, POTUS refused to raise the US debt ceiling thus forcing his government into a shutdown. Government institutions stopped working and their employees are no longer paid. As a tourist, I once lived through a shutdown in Wahington, DC, in 2013.

POTUS is desperately trying to fulfill his campaign pledge where he promised to build a 1,000-mile concrete southern border wall. Now he calls the wall whatever you like a steel barrier, sometimes even a fence (wooden?), although he has frequently rejected suggestions that it is just a fence.


In an interview Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer mentioned a wall of 20 feet high, but as historic examples show it is more important how deep a wall reaches into the ground in order to fight a technique called tunneling.

Since the ancient times, people have dug tunnels to “undercome” walls. Here as an example is what the French troops under the command of General Louis Hector de Villars achieved during the siege of Freiburg in October 1706. Mineurs* (sappers) approached the city in approches* (covered ditches) until they were in reach of the wall when they started to dig tunnels. After having filled the tunnel stub with gun powder and igniting the fuse they hoped for a breche* (breach) in the wall.
*note that all those military terms are French

French mineurs approaching Freiburg's walls from the west in 1706.
The fortifications were built by the famous French architect Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban
thirty years earlier.
A more recent example is that of escape tunnels being dug under the Berlin wall from 1961 to 1989.

Built escape tunnels are marked in red
Note that the border protection facilities built by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) comprised a pre-wall, a barbed-wired fence, a death strip with patrolling dogs, observation towers manned by border guards with submachine guns, and the wall proper right on the border and visible from West-Berlin.

These were long tunnels of about 50 meters (©Onetz.de)
While President Reagen had a clear message with respect to a political wall, POTUS rather has an unclear idea about his wall. In his televised address to the American people he said, "So sad, so terrible" where I would like to agree with and add, "so true".