Sunday, June 28, 2020

Democracy Is the Worst Form of Government Except …

In a recent article of the New York Times by Roger Cohen entitled "Germany's Lessons for China and America," the eulogy for Angela Merkel left me cold. However, a citation from Stephen Heintz, the president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, electrified me.

Heintz writes of a world crisis "that stems from the growing obsolescence of three core operating systems that have shaped civilization for the past 350 years: capitalism, fueled by carbon since the dawn of the Industrial Age and increasingly driven by global financialization, the nation-state system, formalized by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648; and representative democracy, a system of self-rule based on Enlightenment ideals of freedom, fairness, justice, and equality." These three achievements so successful in the past turn out to be the nails in the coffin of western civilization.


Starting with the economy, Heintz states, "Our practice of capitalism is both putting the planetary ecosystem at risk and generating vast economic inequality." It all started in 19-century England with its industrialization based on burning coal, its ship industry sending steamboats into the four corners of the world, bringing back the products of their colonies. This capitalistic practice created a thin layer of rich people and a vast proletariat on the isle. At that time, Britannia not only ruled the waves but set, e.g., the pace in modern tourism. While other European countries were still struggling for their "place at the sun," British tourists already climbed the mountains in then poor Switzerland.

While today the differences in wealth are mitigated in developed countries - our workers are our consumers too; so they must earn more than just their livings - this inequality is exported to the developing countries. Today both societies are faced with climate change, whereas Heintz states, "The nation-state is inadequate for managing such transnational challenges."

Global warming is a threat requiring a universal answer. Most countries are aware of this, but so far, most countermeasures promised were nothing more than declarations of intent. While the Corona pandemic shakes the world, we must understand that we all are in the same boat concerning the climate too.


Despite evoking European unity, we are amid a latent and surging nationalism brought to light by the Corona pandemic. Each nation fought the virus within its territory by closing its borders. My citizens first!

Heintz opened my eyes that nationalism is the product of the far back Westphalian Peace Treaty of 1648. The concept that Catholic Richelieu had begun for the Gloire de la France - fighting the Catholic Habsburgs by pacting with the Lutheran Swedes - shapes the world until today. The cardinal justified his non-Catholic practice of waging war and sacrificing the lives of innocent people with a baffling statement, "The interests of a state and religion are completely different. Although the state must pursue Christian goals, it is a political entity without an immortal soul and can, therefore, do things that are not allowed to an individual Christian. The salvation of man is finally realized in the hereafter, so it is not surprising that God wants the individual to leave vengeance to Him ... But the states have no continuity after this world, so their salvation is now or not at all."

Germany's future: One helmet fits all.
At the time of the Westphalian peace treaty, Germany did not exist. Instead, Germans lived in the heart of Europe in more than 1500 territories that Napoleon‘s rule reduced to 34 until in 1871 Bismarck forced the German tribes into a Second Reich.

Heinrich Heine living in political exile moribund in his Matratzengruft (mattress crypt) in Paris, observed the struggle for German unity in 1848 and had a vision, "The Germans are working on their nationality, but are too late with that. By the time they have completed it, the nationality system in the world will have ceased to exist, and they will have to give up their nationality right away, without having benefited from it like the French or the British."

Here he was not right, for a political European Union is still wishful thinking, remains a vision.


Finally, Heintz is exceptionally critical with democracy, "Representative democracy is neither truly representative nor very democratic as citizens feel that self-rule has given way to rule by corporations, special interests and the wealthy."

In a recent article by George F. Will, Red Baron found the following statement about the 2016 elections in the US, "Never had both major parties offered nominees with higher disapproval than approval numbers. Voters chose what they wagered would be the lesser blight."

The choice seems easier in Germany with a spectrum of parties ranging from Die Linke (left), over the Greens (center) to the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, right) where citizens, deceived by the ruling grand coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD), i.e., the two Volksparteien (major parties), frequently vote in protest for the candidates of the AfD.

I am not such a pessimist as Heintz, but it is true that democracy is and was never one hundred percent "democratic." Winston Churchill said in 1947, "No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time …"

In my opinion, the biggest problem with democracy is that most people lack the understanding of the sometimes complicated issues being at stake. This holds in particular for the most democratic practices as there are referenda or popular votes (Brexit?).

This is why in elections, many do not vote for a party platform but instead for a person. Strongly determining the number of votes for the party in Germany's federal elections, the person of Kanzlerkandidat (candidate for the chancellorship) is so important. An old slogan still frequently used is: Auf den Kanzler kommt es an (It all depends on the chancellor).

The problem of the now three Volksparteien is that the Social Democrats have no "valid" Kanzler personality in their ranks or der kann nicht Kanzler (he doesn't "know" chancellor).

The CDU strengthened due to Angela Merkel's vigorous Corona crisis management actually has four potential Kanzlerkandidaten, but no one is rocking. Although Merkel has excluded a fourth term as Germany's leader, calls for Mutti (a new matriarch) are becoming louder.

The Green party is led by a philosopher and an energetic lady. They may forward a candidate for chancellor, but to be successful, they should become the strongest party in the Bundestag (House of Representatives) in 2021. That is unlikely taking the present wave of approval for our GOP, i.e., the CDU just became 75.

It‘s the economy, stupid.
Yes, and there is the extra-parliamentary opposition. Protests articulated in demonstrations attended by sometimes thousands of persons in public squares - in principle impossible in times of Corona - have become more frequent in Germany. Red Baron shakes his head about people protesting that our democracy is in danger. The fact that they may exercise their right to demonstrate freely is proof that our democracy is working well.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Erfurt Splinters

My first blog about my recent trip to Erfurt was devoted to the city's history. My second blog will be on the lighter side, presenting the reader with some splinters.

Blechkuchen and Prasselkuchen
When I arrived at Erfurt after nearly five hours of a train ride, my first walk was into a Café. Corona oblige, the Deutsche Bahn did not serve Butterkuchen or coffee while you were seated, and the pastry in Thuringia is famous.

I checked into the Augustinum monastery for three nights, where I had asked to be booked in Martin Luther's cell.

The entry to my cell
The spartan interior of my cell. Note the sandals.
My look into the monastery garden
The following morning the gardener - isn't it always the gardener? - stirred me from my dreams: Bedded on straw Scholar Luther slept with his co-students in a big room.

I took my frugal Luther-like breakfast - except for the coffee, I can't live without - bread, cheese, yogurt, and scrambled eggs in the Renaissance Court.

The Renaissance Court in the morning sun.
The entry to the monetary garden is on the left below my cell.
On the right, there is the door to the refectorium (refectory),
now Luthersaal, where breakfast is usually served.

Here are two plans of the vast monastery complex.

The cloisters
The monastery's flowery western frontage
Luther's rose in the courtyard of his birthplace at Eisleben on the Eichsfeld.
You may know that the Luther symbol is the rose, so I must include some photos I took at the Augustinian monastery.

My First Walk

Heading for Krämerbrücke (Grocer Bridge), I passed Him on Am Anger, the former common green now being a large square in the middle of Erfurt. The church in the back is Kaufmannskirche St. Gregor (Merchant's Church St Gregory), a 14th-century Gothic parish church.

Note my mouth-nose-cover on the table.
I had a local (!) Blauer Zweigelt rose, wine from the Saale-Unstrut region on Krämerbrücke ...

...with old Bach watching me from a window vis-a-vis.

Walking in the direction of the cathedral square, I met Bernd das Brot. Erfurt is the home of KiKa (Kinderkanal, i.e., Children's Channel). With Sesame Street being such a success on German television, they created a German version staring Bernd the Bread instead of grumbling Bert.

Zum Güldenen Rade

On the recommendation of a good friend, I had dinner at the restaurant To the Golden Wheel, reminiscing the red Wheel of Mainz. Note the straw in the hole above the entrance being a good sign for it means the fresh beer is on draft.

I was thirsty, so I hade an alcohol-free wheat beer brewed by Benedictinians as an appetizer. Old man, get your water balance right!

Red Baron choose a local speciality for dinner called Thüringer Klöße gefüllt mit Rot- und Leberwurst auf Sauerkraut an Zwiebel und Meerrettichsauce  (Thuringian dumplings filled with red and liver sausage on sauerkraut with onion and horseradish sauce). The Köstritzer I drank to the health of Kenneth, a friend in Madison.

At the Market

The following morning I went to the market on Domplatz (cathedral square).  Here I had my real Thüringer Bratwurst remembering the good old times in Weimar.

It is always the same. You ask the one taking the picture to close in on the wurst, and then the person does not follow the advice.

I became thirsty and went to the nearby beer garden at the foot of the cathedral hill, watching the market people from a distance.  Regrettably, they served the beer in plastic cups.

Passing the market to my appointment for the guided tour, an offer caught my eye.

Air-dried Stracke from the Eichsfeld. This is what I call Luther's sausage. Although I gave up consuming sausages - I eat them on special occasions (see above) - I could not resist and bought a small Stracke.

Here is the thin object of desire. I read the following, "The Eichsfelder sausage gets its unmistakable character mainly from the warm meat processing. Predominantly used are meat cuts from pigs from the region with a longer fattening period. Traditional natural spices and the artisan art of the sausage makers of the Eichsfeld give this firm raw sausage an extraordinary taste. The Eichsfelder Stracke receives its perfection by gentle several months of climate ripening."

A Guided City Walk

The guided tour started at 11 a.m. and was the first one allowed at Erfurt in the presently waning Corona pandemic. Red Baron actually had booked two tours, one on foot in the morning and one by streetcar in the late afternoon.

Our guide reminded the reduced number of participants of the distance rule. Mouth-nose-covers were not required because our group refrained from indoor sightseeing.

The fish market is surrounded by richly decorated renaissance-style patrician houses.
Erfurt was not destroyed in the Second World War. A planned massive air raid by the Royal Air Force in the early spring of 1945 was called off at short notice because the GIs were already ante portas. The old building fabric, which then disintegrated under the GDR regime, was lovingly restored after the German reunification.

The impressive Rathaus (town hall) built in the neo-gothic style.
The Haus zum Roten Ochsen, transformed into Erfurt's art galery
The narrowest house in Erfurt
Beautiful: Zum Sonnenborn (Sun-Spring)
The old woad storage, now used as a theater
Erfurt became rich with the cultivation of woad during the Middle Ages. The decline came when blue indigo flooded the market. Today, horticulture and the production of flower seeds are an essential part of Erfurt's economy.

Semen donor? No, woad seeds.
You can become wealthy too. Just spend two euros and plant your proper woad.

It was hot in Erfurt on Saturday. I rested with a fresh Erdinger wheat beer and watched tourists entering Krämerbrücke through a tunnel under Aegidienkirche.

The producer of unusual ice cream on Krämerbrücke served a long line of customers. The gentleman in the center can't still make up his mind on the taste of ice cream he wants.

A Streetcar Sightseeing Tour

This was not a city tour, but we profited from Erfurt's extended streetcar net to drive by several sights in the suburbs and on the peripheric.

Mouth-nose-covers in place, distances kept.
Note the Wheel of Mainz
We made no stops that had disturbed the regular streetcar schedule. Only at turning loops far out of town, we left the vehicle and had a complete air exchange both in our lungs and in the streetcar.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Vive la France!

On March 15, 2020, the border between France and Germany was closed for all private traffic. The countries of the Schengen Treaty that had abolished all border checks in the European Union in 1985 put up barriers to fight the Corona pandemic on a national level.

An outcry went through Europe. Suddenly, everyone was next to himself again.

In retrospect, the closing of the borders turned out to be the right thing to do, for the Coronavirus is best controlled locally, i.e., at the level of the federal states, districts, and municipalities.

Given the decreasing number of Corona infections in the EU, most borders opened again in Europe last Monday.

But today was my day. Red Baron took his car he uses only rarely and drove into France to Colmar. Indeed, there was no border check, just a smooth drive, crossing the bridge at Breisach over the Rhine River.

June 18, is the special day in France

During World War II, Germany fought a Blitzkrieg in France. Paris was declared an open city on June 10, 1940, and was taken by German troops on June 14. The head of government of the Third Republic, Paul Reynaud announced his resignation in the face of defeat on June 16, 1940. Maréchal Philippe Pétain celebrated as a national hero since the Battle of Verdun in 1916, became the new head of state. One day later, he asked for an armistice with the German Reich.

"The year is 1940. On May 17, the French Army surrendered to the invading Germans. Maréchal Pétain formed a collaborating government in Vichy. The French have given up. Well, not entirely. One tall general the indomitable Charles de Gaulle still holds out in far-away London."*
*I demand pardon of the creators of Asterix and Obelix

A two-euro coin issued 10 years ago.
On June 18, 1940, de Gaulle read an appeal on BBC, condemning the armistice, "But has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No! … Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished." 

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary.

De Gaulle's famous quote: "La France a perdu une bataille! Mais la France n'a pas perdu la guerre" ("France has lost a battle, but France has not lost the war") often associated with the Appeal of June 18, actually stems from a motivational poster featuring De Gaulle, A Tous Les Français, which was distributed all over London on August 3, 1940 (Wikipedia).

Beautiful Colmar

Few people are around an idle sightseeing train. Note the linden tree.
When you step out of the parking, you see the Unterlindenmuseum housed in a former Dominican convent.

Approaching the market. Not many people around either.
The choir of Colmar cathedral
My favorite restaurant: Wine tavern at the store,
i.e., the historical place where goods were traded in the middle ages (Kaufhaus)
Sitting outdoors.
Entrecôte beurre Maître d'Hôtel, frites, salade verte et bière pression de Colmar.

At the Supermarket

A new distance at the supermarket. 1.5-meter distance is the rule that some places have enlarged to 2 meters. Here at the supermarket, people get cozy again at a reduced range of 1 meter.

Here is what I bought:

Cider. In France le cidre is of appelation controllée. You find Cidre de Normandie, Cidre de Bretagne, and Cidre de Pays d'Auge. I always buy le cidre brut.

In Germany canned vegetables are for the people, in France, they are pour les gourmets. The quality of this ratatouille is exceptional. The shelves are generally empty, so you always buy a small supply.

The same is true for the jam Bonne Maman. They brought out a new quality jam one year ago with less sugar but more taste. I only could find Cerise (black cherry), Mirabelle, and Figue (fig). The other fruits were sold out.

Finally, the king of the soft cheeses: Époisses. The one I bought had the ideal degree of maturity.