Monday, November 28, 2011

Benedict Bashing

Those who follow my blogs may remember the one I wrote about Pope Benedict's visit in Freiburg. The other day I made some comments about what is typically German with respect to seeking justice in court.

Now, here comes a surprising association: A guy from Dortmund had his lawyer in Unna file a suit against the Pope for not having put on a seat belt while touring Freiburg: Mr. Joseph Ratzinger born in Marktl/Landkreis Altötting on 16 April 1927 drove on 24 and 25 September 2011 for more than an hour without a seat belt in his papamobile. Witnesses are the Archbishop of Freiburg Robert Zollitsch and Baden-Württemberg's Ministerpräsident (governor) Winfried Kretschmann. Freiburg's district court confirmed the receipt of a fax to this respect.

Pope Benedict XVI in his papamobile without a seat belt on Kaiser-Joseph-Straße (Wikipedia)
The Dortmund guy said he does not seek publicity but justice must be done. There is a 30 euro fine for driving without a seat belt in Germany increasing up to 2500 in case of recurrence which the Pope surely was guilty of. Do you still feel that my earlier allusion to Shylock standing for his bond was far-fetched? I am convinced the man from Dortmund if not satisfied by the decision of the district court will drag the case up to our highest court in Karlsruhe.

What will possibly happen? Freiburg's district court will declare not competent in the case as the Pope being head of state enjoys diplomatic immunity. And indeed, taking the fact that diplomatic staff serving in Berlin gets away unpunished with drunken driving and car crashing the not wearing of seat belts is just a petty offence. The declared incompetence of Freiburg's district court however will open up the way for an appeal to the next higher instance and if all goes wrong the Pope's case will end up in Karlsruhe.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My First Referendum

Today I cast my vote in my first referendum in a typically German affair what the French call querelle Allemande.

Over more than ten years discussions and plans had been going on for replacing Stuttgart's 19th century terminus station by a modern underground through station. A win-win solution that will accelerate train traffic and at the same time liberate precious ground within the city for green spaces and urban development. The project named Stuttgart 21 was discussed in all aspects by experts, presented in public hearings, and easily passed in its final version the state parliament since the Federal Railway will bear the lion's share with respect to financing. Only the Green party always was against the project. All seemed clear and had been democratically approved but when the construction eventually began citizens opposing the project started public protests at the building site hindering the progress of the work. A mediator failed in his attempt to arbitrate.


For Baden-Württemberg's green-red state government the situation became delicate with the Social Democrats in favor, the Greens against Stuttgart 21. The only possibility to keep their coalition intact was to ask the people and have them decide in a referendum. Such a procedure is complicated to launch. Eventually we were asked whether we agree that the government starts bail out negotiations with the Federal Railway. Estimated costs for abandoning Stuttgart 21 the state of Baden-Württemberg would have to shoulder range from only 350 million believing the adversaries to 1.5 billion according to the supporters of the project.


From my previous blogs you know that I am a railway aficionado preferring a six hour train ride to a ninety minute flight like the other day from Freiburg to Berlin. I hate the stress of going to Basel airport by bus having to be there too early. I detest the checks after the check-in and don't like landing far out of the city taking a bus downtown Berlin. On the other hand I step on the train in Freiburg and step off in Berlin main station enjoying a good book and you guessed it the pot of coffee and the Butterkuchen now 5.70 euro compared to 5 euro last fall.

Coming back to our topic: A couple of weeks ago the state government had issued a booklet containing the pros and cons of Stuttgart 21. This didn't change my mind but not because I am biased. I was open for any good argument but those of the adversaries were just aggressive statements.

What made the story of the referendum really weird was that those who want Stuttgart 21 being built must vote no and those who are against have to vote yes because - as I said before - we only decide about a law authorizing the government to enter into negotiations with the Federal Railway to abandon the project.

Although it is quite certain that the nays will have it the protests against Stuttgart 21 will continue. Crazy!

28 November 2011
Note added in proof: As expected the referendum ended with 58.8% nays in Baden-Württemberg. Thus Stuttgart 21 will be built. The participation was only 48.3%. Even in mostly concerned Stuttgart 52.9% of the people voted with no. Freiburg however was the great exception and had with only 33.5% the lowest figure of naysayers in our Ländle. Should I now feel like a loser or winner?

In today's Badische Zeitung
Even before the final result of the referendum was known adversaries brandished panels in front of Stuttgart's main station: You won't get rid of us.

Monday, November 21, 2011

In memoriam Heinrich von Kleist

Two-hundred years ago today Heinrich von Kleist a giant of German literature committed suicide at the Kleiner Wannsee near Berlin at the age of 34. For me he is one of the grand masters of the German language together with Georg Büchner, Heinrich Heine and Berthold Brecht. Goethe and Schiller are great but they did not write with such a density. One critic said if you take just one word away or you try to add a word to one of Kleist's texts the masterpiece is spoiled.

I do not want to develop Kleist's biography. Many new books have been written on the occasion of the sad anniversary. I have read: Peter Michalzik, Kleist, Dichter, Krieger, Seelensucher, Propyläen Verlag Berlin 2011.


The book cover shows the only existing portrait of this disturbing personality. He was soldier, student, dropout, traveler, letter artist, farmer, soul seeker, playwright, civil servant on probation, hater of Napoleon, war correspondent, short novel writer, publisher of a literature magazine, newspaper editor, and rebel who during his whole short life was always attracted by suicide. His "problem" was that he did not want to go alone. All of his friends, although sometimes depressed like him, refused. Eventually he found a 31-year-old married woman, a friend, cancer stricken, Henriette Vogel, who was ready to accompany him on his last journey.

I would like to show some pictures I took from 12 to 15 November attending the Kleist Festival in and around Berlin including a theater marathon with three pieces on three evenings: Der Prinz von Homburg, Penthesilea and Der zerbrochene Krug (The Broken Jug) followed by nightly discussions with the director and actors.


The Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin Unter den Linden. 
On its frontface Kleist's Das Erdbeben in Chili (The Earthquake in Chile).


The Kleisthaus where Kleist lived during his last years in Berlin
 is not the original building.


The relief at the front shows a scene from Penthelisea and Kleist's profile.


The Kleistmuseum in Frankfurt on the Oder in an old manor house.
The house where Kleist was born was destroyed during the war.


A modern Kleist portrait I like most showing him as a rebel.

We experienced a sunny November morning at the Wannsee, like the one Heinrich and Henriette lived through before their deaths.


Kleist's memorial stone at the place where he shot Henriette first
and later killed himself.


Nun, o Unsterblichkeit bist du ganz mein! (Prinz von Homburg) 
O immortality, now you are all mine!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sascha’s German Neologisms

Living languages need and subsequently bear new words mostly for terms our ancestors didn’t know. Luther when translating the Bible into German created neologisms for Latin words like Morgenland (land where the morning sun rises) for orient, Schauplatz (site where something can be looked at) for scene, Ehrgeiz (craving honor) for ambition, and Vorhaut for prepuce. Question: Was the English word foreskin known before the German Vorhaut?

Later in the middle of the 17th century a guy called Philipp von Zesen fought the pernicious influence of French on the German language and created words like Abstand for distance, Anschrift for adresse, Mundart for dialect, Leidenschaft (creating suffering) for passion, Rechtschreibung for orthographie, and Emporkömmling for parvenu.

American English words that are nowadays adopted in German are mostly due to technical developments in spite of the fact that in many cases German native words exist but are rarely used. For to browse the old German verb stöbern could be revived, Klappliste could replace the drop down list. I personally find it difficult having learned computers in an English speaking environment to integrate the perfect German term Festplatte for a hard disk into my vocabulary.

Sascha Lobo in 2009
(©Mattias Bauer/Wikipedia)
Sascha Lobo
, a Spiegel columnist, recently published a book with 698 new German words for many new situations in life*. Most of those creations are based on hackneyed English like e.g. Talkoholismus for an illness many politicians in Germany suffer from attending too many talk shows. Other new words Sascha proposes are just translations from English like Einling for single. Here are more of his interesting creations:

Affärmann is the male part in an affair playing on the resemblance with Fährmann (ferryman).

Unterlastung the contrary of Überlastung (overload or overstrain).

The neologism verversprechen is playing on the German double meaning for versprechen meaning a promise or a slip of the tongue. The new word actually means that a promise of a politician before the election was just a slip of the tongue.

Dreifel is a superlative of Zweifel playing on the words zwei for two and drei for three.

Namnesie is the illness progressing with age not being able to remember names from Amnesie (amnesia).

Schnice a German brew of schön and nice.

With komplimieren we may have a German verb for to compliment rensembling the pronounciation of komprimieren (to compress).

Ultratasking is the superlative of multitasking.

The German word Eifer for zeal, favour, eagerness now has a new form iFer. It is the obsession to be the first acquiring the latest Apple gadget.

Many of Sascha's 698 neologisms are either just fun or nuts. On the other hand he has pointed out the need for creating new and fitting words for all situations. He calls for adding to the classical three educational Rs (Reading, writing, 'rithmatic):

Rechnen und Lesen,
Schreiben und Zesen,

thus honoring Philipp’s efforts in the 17th century.

*Sascha Lobo, NEON: Wortschatz: 698 neue Worte für alle Lebenslagen, rororo, November 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Typically German?

We always end up with a couple of clichés when trying to describe what is typical of a nation. This becomes really dangerous when we start talking about national traits.

When I started my job at CERN 43 years ago I had a Norwegian boss who spoke German better than English mostly because during World War II the Nazis had deported him to Heidelberg. At the university they taught him German Physics, a 'science' that among other things rejected Einstein's theory of relativity because Albert was a Jew. One day good old Johann, as we used to call him, told me: You are not a typical German, a multilayered remark. At that time I took it as a compliment for I had in mind all those films running on Swiss and French television at that time showing the dumb and ugly German. I also remembered a scene from a political cabaret where they played desperate Germans deprived of love from other nations ending in a bitter refrain: Nun liebt uns endlich, oder es knallt! (Love us at last or it will backfire).

A newspaper from Cologne, the Kölner Stadtanzeiger, asked a couple of young journalists what might be typically German. The US correspondent wrote that the question itself was typically German because Germans are always keen to know what other countries think about them whereas other nations could not care less how they are considered by their neighbours. On the other hand, the journalist of the Irish Times took a step forward and recommended to send this question into retirement because it will only lead to quarrels.

Whether the question leads to quarrels I do not know but the various answers given by those foreign correspondents were interesting. Let me make some comments. The American also wrote that Schadenfreunde is typical for Germans because they have this special word for it. He is possibly right. We even have a proverb about this: Wer den Schaden hat, braucht für den Spott nicht zu sorgen (Those having the damage needn't worry about any lack of mockery). 

The Dutch guy found the wearing of bike helmets and the eating of thick slices of Schwarzbrot (coarse rye bread) as being typically German. He is utterly mistaken with respect to helmets on bikes. The situation is so disastrous that our Minister (State Secretary) of Transportation is considering an obligation (a typically German regulation frenzy?) to wear helmets when using a bike.

As far as Schwarzbrot is concerned I have it for breakfast daily although in thin slices. This bread is healthy and tasty. Germans living in foreign countries usually take big supplies with them before crossing the border and later when they run out of it have it sent by air.

I love my Kraftklotz (Power log) for breakfast
 For the Italian correspondent Germans constantly think about money in particular about a coming inflation. Should we rather show the same relaxed attitude towards the rotten mammon like our southern neighbours? Inflation, we Germans have lived through twice in the last century whereas the Italians did not even notice theirs just adding another zero to their lira from time to time.

Do Germans as pedestrians really obey red traffic lights such that the Italian journalist having lived here for a while now feels obliged to do the same at home? I must say, the guy did not extend his research to cyclists for then he might have noticed that in Freiburg they never observe any traffic sign including red lights.

The Mexican found out that Germans start any conversation complaining about the weather. Could this be an atavistic heritage when more than 90% of Germany's population worked in agriculture or have you ever met a farmer not complaining about the weather?

The Frenchman seriously asked: Are the French better Germans? in comparing the way how universities are run in both countries. In cool Germania students lead an anarchistic life compared to the high-school like teaching at French universities. He did not mention that as a result of the academic freedom in Germany nowhere in Europe students do spend a longer time with their alma mater. Sitting in selection boards at CERN I have seen French academics 24 years old competing with Germans aged 29, the first speaking French the second broken English. Guess what the outcome was.

For the Polish guy Germans are a strange mixture between good citizens and grumblers. Their deep rooted obedience toward authorities and love for law and order is paired with a growing self-awareness of their rights. They are standing there for their bonds even taking minor quarrels up to the highest court.

Last not least the Austrian girl still had not overcome the Habsburg inferiority complex towards the Prussians. Yes, it was the Prussians and not the Germans that beat the Austrians on several occasions in the past. The cliché of the Prussian officer with his switched-off brain and shouting has left its mark for posterity in Karl Kraus's drama Die letzten Tage der Menschheit (The last days of mankind). The trauma of dominant Prussia is still rooted in the heads of many Austrians. But then having lived in Germany for a couple of years she admitted: It is typical that a typical German trait does no longer exist.

Does this mean that we will eventually get rid of the typical German wearing Lederhosen? If this is typical at all, it is Bavarian not German.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wine Tasting Marathon

Last weekend I lived through a wine tasting Marathon. Freiburg's Adult Education Center (Volkshochschule) had chosen the cultural asset wine the principal topic for their 2011/2012 courses. It happened so that the center of gravity of the events was located on three consecutive days.

On Thursday we had a presentation on the History of Wine in Freiburg at the beautiful Wentzingerhaus. In focus was the city's oldest documented winery the Heiliggeist Spital  (Holy Ghost Infirmary) of 1298. In the Middle Ages its residents had the right to six liters of wine per day. Note that the alcohol content of the then rather bad wine was much lower than today and above all it was dangerous to drink the generally polluted water. We tasted four white and two red wines of the Stiftungsweingut Freiburg starting with the classical local wine of the Markgräfler Land a 2010 Gutedel, the German name for the Chasselas grape. Next was a 2010 Riesling from the Freiburger Schlossberg.

Entrance to the Schlossberg vineyard of the Heiliggeist Spital
Because of its slopes facing south the wine growing there is of an exceptional appellation. The next two wines were a 2009 Grauburgunder (Pinot gris) and a 2009 Chardonnay. Due to its abundance in California some wine drinkers in the States coined the abbreviation ABC (Anything but Chardonnay). The two red wines following were both 2009 Spätburgunder (Pinot noir) with the latter coming from the Schlossberg.

The wines we tasted on Thursday evening.
The Friday evening  in the Baroque Hall of the Black Monastery was devoted to the Cultural Asset Wine.  Vinissima or Wine and Women presented their wines and offered the bread. This is an organization of female vintners showing to a male world that girls are better wine makers than boys. We listened to a couple of presentations and were subsequently complimented for our attentiveness with six wines, two served after each episode all coming from wine growing estates run by female vintners.

Before the tasting session proper started we were offered half a glass of sparkling wine brut from the Blankenhorn vinery south of Freiburg made from Nobling a relatively new cross-breeding of Sylvaner and Chasselas grapes. While we were still sipping the opener the attractive German wine princess of 2009 gave a talk about the history of wine. The origin of wine making is lost in the darkness of history but one is sure about the Romans giving wine to the world by spreading vineyards all over Europe. The princess' presentation was followed by two wines, a 2009 Kloster Heilig Kreuz Weißburgunder (Pinot blanc), dry, late vintage from Meißen, Saxony, and a 2010 Junge Wilde (Young and Wild) Grauburgunder (Pinot gris), dry, from Tuniberg near Freiburg.

After that we listened to a medical doctor praising the virtues of wine drinking. Wine savoured in moderation, i.e., one-quarter of a liter (Viertele) for men, one-eighths for women will lower the risk of stroke and cancer due to its polyphenol content of up to 1000 mg per liter. One Viertele per day corresponds to 20 grams of alcohol. Since she had studied psychology too she added that for drinking in an animated company more than a Viertele would not harm but rather be beneficial. On the other hand up to 4 million people in Germany are alcoholics turning the health effect of wine into the contrary.

The third wine presented was a 2009 Rüdesheimer Klosterberg Riesling Kabinett, half-dry, Rhinegau. Riesling is the most important grape in Germany covering 11% of a total of 160 square kilometers of vineyards. The Riesling was followed by a 2009 Bornheimer Hähnchen, Malvasier, last vintage from Rhine-Hessen. Malvasia is an old grape already known in the Middle Ages when Greece was still an exporting country with wine in quantities from the port city of Monemvasia. Already at that time the Malvasia wine must have been too sweet like the one we tasted.

The last talk was about flora and fauna in the vineyard and centered on the vine fretter or phylloxera. These sap-sucking insects were brought into Europe from the States in the middle of the 19th century. By 1870 phylloxera had developed into a plague that had destroyed most of France's vines. The remedy eventually consisted in grafting European vine cuttings onto phylloxera resistant American root-stocks, a practice still used today.

The end of the lecture brought us to the tasting of two red wines, a 2009 Reicholzheimer First Schwarzriesling (Pinot meunier), dry, from Franconia on the Tauber river and a 2010 Lemberger or Blue Frankish Edition, dry, from Fellbach Württemberg the first one somewhat sweet, the second much too young for consumption.


On Saturday we were informed about Wine Adulterators and Fortification Grapes. Following a taste of Gutedel, at the Alte Wache on Münsterplatz - Home of the Wines from Baden - we started for a tour of the above mentioned Freiburger Schlossberg, a vineyard that was built on the ruins of Vauban’s fortifications. Normally the place is closed to the general public but our guide had the key.. The weather was exceptional and we felt nearly sorry when we had to return to the Alte Wache for our last wine tasting in three days.

The sunny slopes at the Schlossberg
Again we were offered six different wines. First a 2009 Tiengener Rebtal, Rivaner (a cross-breed between Riesling and Sylvaner grapes like Müller-Thurgau), dry  from the Vintners Association Tiengen followed by two wines from the Stiftungsweingut Freiburg (see above), a 2009 Freiburger Weißburgunder (Pinot blanc), dry, and a 2008 Freiburger Schlossberg, Grauer Burgunder (Pinot gris), dry. The last white wine a 2009 Opfinger Sonnenberg Gewürztraminer with 25 grams of sugar per liter was described as lieblich which translates into English as sweet. My grandchildren would have called it Limonade. Of the following two wines the first one was a rosé 2010 Tiengener Rebtal Spätburgunder (Pinot noir), dry from the Vintners Association Tiengen. This is not to be confused with the traditional Weißherbst (Vin gris) made from red grapes where the reddish color results from pressing the grapes with their skins whereas for a red wine the skin is left in the grape juice during fermentation. It is common that if the color of the final product does not show the desired saturation juice of Färbertrauben (Teinturier) is added. The last wine was a 2009 Freiburger Kapellenweg Spätburgunder, dry, from the Vintners Association Munzingen.

The topic discussed between serves was wine making and adulteration. Here I learned why I do not experience headaches anymore when drinking German wine. Although not consuming wine in excess I remember that as a student and even later I was never immune to a hangover the following morning. Since the Middle Ages these hangovers have been attributed to the quantity of sulfur added stopping the full fermentation of the grape juice in order to keep some residual sugar. As the only tangible result of the Imperial Diet held at Freiburg a Statute and Order for Wine (satzung unnd ordnung über die weyne) was passed as early as 1498. This Order fixed limits for the quantity of sulfur allowed in wine making. Violations called for Draconian measures sometimes ending up in hanging. Minor infringements were punished knocking out the bottom of the barrel concerned (dem Fass den Boden ausschlagen).

With the advent of modern cooling techniques there is no reason that people drinking wine should get headaches. Nowadays, before fermentation starts a small quantity of the grape juice is set aside and kept cool. The fermentation of the bulk is no longer stopped by adding sulfur but goes on until most of the sugar has turned into alcohol and the fermentation stops by itself. The wine is then filtered and left to repose. Before selling the wine part or all of the grape juice that had been set aside is added to achieve the desired residual sugar concentration in the final product. And indeed, following Goethe’s dictum: Das Leben ist zu kurz, um schlechten Wein zu trinken (Life is too short to drink bad wine) or I don't suffer from headaches anymore.