Friday, December 28, 2012

And the Angel Said unto Them ...

No angel but the smoke plume of a combined heat and power station near Freiburg
(Photo BZ)
It is a tradition that Der Spiegel, the German copy of Time Magazine, chooses for its Christmas edition as cover story a religious topic: Warum glaubt der Mensch und warum zweifelt er? (Why do men (and women)* believe and why are they doubtful? This year the other important German weekly Die Zeit published an article about religion too: Warum wir glauben müssen (Why are we fixed on believe).
*In the following I use man in the meaning of the German Mensch that includes women

Looking back in history religion has evolved from polytheism to monotheism in the order of their becoming: Judaism, Christendom, and Islam. I know little about Mohamed but the development of Christendom out of Judaism transformed the punitive God who nearly had annihilated his own creation in the Flood into a God that we shall address Father, a God who still is strict but forgiving.

The abuse of any religion as an instrument of power runs like a thread through history and is particularly true for Christianity. When at the end of the Middle Ages persons like Wycliffe, Hus, and Luther tried to reduce the mission of the Church to its spiritual roots they were treated as heretics. Declared a heretic even after his death Wycliffe's body was exhumed and destroyed while Hus was burnt at the stake during the Constance Church Council. When Luther in his anti-roman fight eventually stood with his back to the wall he made the ill-fated pact with the local sovereigns. They only were too happy to transfer the treasures of the Catholic cathedrals into their coffers, annex the rich territories of the monasteries, and take the post of a Lutheran regional bishop. In all this the common man sometimes came out of the frying pen into the fire like in Calvin's oppressive Geneva Republic and frequently longed for a revival of Roman Catholic rule.

When during the Thirty Years War atrocities were committed in the name of God both by Catholics and Protestants common men and women started to doubt not only God's justice but his lovingness too. A villager of Gerstetten, Swabia, wrote in all his misery: Only a few houses of our hamlet still exist. We live like animals eating bark and grass. Nobody remembers that a situation alike had existed before. Many people say it is now certain that there is no God ... We however believe that God has not left us … It consoled the common people when priests and pastors kept telling them that they will be compensated in a future life for their sufferings and miserable earthly existence that often contrasted so much to the luxurious, libertine life of their rulers.

In the middle of the 18th century Enlightenment generated two classes of thinkers: deists (Rousseau and Voltaire) although opposed to the Church and atheists (Diderot and von Holbach) denying the existence of any God. The French Revolution opposed to the Church too did however not want to hurt the religious feelings of the people and erected temples to the Supreme Being we worship. Rulers like Frederick the Great and Napoleon simply looked upon religion as something to be used to their benefit.

In the 19th century philosophy took hold of religion. Feuerbach's atheism described religion as the self-reflexion of man, a projection of human unfulfilled wishes and positive attributes into an individual God-figure, i.e., a mirror of man. Marx impregnated by the misery of the Silesian weavers who were trying in vain to compete with spinning jenny saw in religion a pervert political instrument of human oppression in sedating the common man. In short, religion is opium for the people.

In the 20th century physiology and psychology took over from philosophy trying to come to grips with religion. In an earlier blog I already referred to Nobel Prize winner Jacques Monod who more than 40 years ago in his book: Le hazard et la nécessité not only denied a creator-God but attributed man's quest for God to a genetic defect we must overcome. How can this be accomplished? Should one cross-breed atheists?

Here comes the entry point to Manfred Dworschak's article in Der Spiegel: Cross-breeding atheists will not help for they are less reproductive than strong believers or fundamentalists: Wives of ultra-orthodox Jews on the average give birth to eight children and also the Amish people are productive well above average. On the other hand, atheists do not grow by birth but by the afflux of apostates.


In the 21st century the genetic cause for believe is again rearing its head: Geneticist Dean Hamer's God gene hypothesis postulates that a specific gene (VMAT2) predisposes man towards spiritual or mystic experiences according to Hamer's book: Faith is Hardwired into our Genes but where is our "soul" located? Neuro-theologist James Ashbrook spotted the ability to treat mystic experiences in the lobus parietalis superior of our brain. That would mean that even the atheist will believe in something, a position linguist Uberto Eco and Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini support in their dialog: In cosa crede chi non crede? In what believes somebody who does not believe? Unfortunately in the English translation the book title is poorly simplified to Belief or Nonbelief?

Accordingly Christian Schüle writes in Die Zeit: Man's belief is something natural. Ratio, the axe of reason, does not give answers to the question: Is there a plan behind everything and is my life guided?

Man is born as a pro-social being. Modern psychology sees an evolutionary advantage in religion for living in a community demands a certain reduction of personal egoism. Such an ego-deflation then allows people to better cope with the dangers and hardship of life. The evolution psychologist Lee Kirkpatrick takes up Feuerbach's ideas but in a positive way: Man strives after a positive self-perception but is aware of the abyss between wish and reality. This tension man tries to solve by religion, i.e., a synonym for the search of a father figure.

God's eye is watching

In Der Spiegel Dworschak also considers religion as something inherently human. He too points out the (evolutionary) advantage of belief but more in the direction of Big brother is watching you. Families and small communities may trustfully live together but for the communal life of larger communities not only rules but also somebody assuring their abidance are necessary. Consequently in the Old Testament God issues the Ten Commandments. He watches and He punishes any breaching of the law. God dominates Judaism, Christendom, and Islam in demanding good social conduct. He will reward with redemption and heaven, otherwise He has the means to punish the spoilers with damnation and hell.

Scientists observe that people of the same faith trust each other to a high degree and therefore Schüle calls trust the currency of religion. As an example Dworschak mentions the Indian religion Jainism. The Jains have taken over the international diamond trade in Antwerp from the Jews and trading diamonds requires a high level of trust. And is there not a high level of mistrust between Christians and Muslims?

What did I learn from all that? In spite of all the new scientific attempts to "explain" religion the Church is still in the upper position calling the Christian believe a great mystery. The priest celebrating Mass concludes the Eucharistic Prayer proclaiming: The mystery of faith and the community answers: We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.

And at the end I again have to come back to Saint Paul who writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, 13-12: Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

With this in mind Paul develops his vision of a (Christian) society without laws when he writes with respect to the Ten Commandments in his letter to the Romans 13, 8-10: 8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Love is all you need (The Beatles).

Thursday, December 27, 2012

On the Streets Where We Live ...

... there may not be lilac trees but streets in Europe carry names that are sometimes laden with history. Red Baron lives on Maria-Theresia-Straße, corner Fürstenbergstraße while a block from here a street is named Türkenlouisstraße. Some persons did not like living on Turkish Pimp Street and complained about it to Freiburg's city council. These ignoramuses had to learn that Türkenlouis was the nickname given to Ludwig-Wilhelm of Baden-Baden who in successfully pushing back the Turks on the Balkan in the late 17th century saved the Habsburgs.


Many Germans are obsessed with their broken history be it right or left. In renaming streets and squares they try to stun their feeling of guilt. Presently we watch a new wave of re-baptizing rolling in.

The other day I read a note in the Berliner Zeitung that the citizens living on Treitschkestraße had plebiscited against the renaming of their street. Heinrich von Treitschke a renowned Prussian historian in the 19th century wrote right wing history books with sentences like the following about the annexed Alsace: These lands are ours due to the right of the sword and we shall rule them because of the right of the German nation. We shall not allow those lost sons to grow apart from the Reich. We Germans know better what avails to the Alsatiens ... we shall restitute their self against their own will. Even worse Treitschke coined the later abused sentence: The Jews are our harm (Die Juden sind unser Unglück).

Going back in history: In 1945 with the fall of the Third Reich all Nazi street names were eradicated. Freiburg's main axis Adolf-Hitler-Straße however did not recover its previous name Kaiserstraße. In order to avoid any allusion to the Second Reich's Kaiser Wilhelm II the street was renamed in Kaiser-Joseph-Straße reminiscent of the Habsburg rule of Joseph II, Maria-Theresa's son.

Similarly when the Communist regime tumbled in the east in 1989 names like Walter-Ulbricht-Platz or Wilhelm-Pieck-Straße disappeared. Opposition arose when in an over-zeal city councils threw the baby out with the bathwater re-baptizing streets named after Ernst Thälmann, the charismatic leader of Germany's Communist party in the Weimar Republic, murdered by the Nazis.

The recent wave of changing names started in March 2012 when the city council of Münster, Westphalia, renamed their Hindenburgplatz into Schlossplatz. This decision did not please everybody and a popular initiative against the decision evoked as a decisive argument the culture of remembrance (Erinnerungskultur): A square that had been named 85 years ago after the First World War General Paul von Hindenburg should keep its name. Mind you, since Hindenburg made Hitler Reichskanzler he became a highly contested person. In September 2012 a citizens' vote eventually confirmed the city council's decision by 56,700 to 38,800 votes.


The street renaming mania reached Freiburg two months ago when the city's Commission of Cultural Affairs decided to scrutinize all 1300 street names. Yes, there is a Hindenburgstraße in Freiburg too but with respect to renaming streets Freiburgers rather think of the so called heros' quarter (Heldenviertel) where you find names of bloody First World War battles like Langemarck und Skagerrak (Battle of Jutland) together with the Imperial admiral Graf Spee and the fighter pilots Oswald Boelcke (Dicta Boelcke), Max Immelmann (Eagle of Lille), and Manfred von Richthofen (Red Baron). In addition nationalist poets like Hermann Löns (Der Werwolf) and Gorch Fock (Seefahrt ist Not, i.e., Going to sea is a necessity) have their street names.

Which street names will the commission propose to change and where will they stop? Will they consider people like archbishop Conrad Gröber who initially had sympathized with the Nazi regime before he became an adversary. Is Alban-Stolz-Straße to be renamed because this catholic poet was an anti-Semite? And what about the namesake of an important Freiburg ring-street Karl von Rotteck, a great liberal personality but nevertheless accused of anti-Semitic quotations? I shall keep you informed.

©Andreas Höfert
Lucky United States not calling their streets names although there are exceptions to the rule. In 2004 I took a photo in New York of a street sign commemorating a giant of jazz. Well, consider the German tourist reaching for his mobile phone and in quest for a toilet on W C Handy's Plaza.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Dear friends,

Wishing you a

Merry Christmas and a Happy* New Year


I would like to show you a picture that surely touches the heart of many German Christians:


Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger alias Benedict XVI from Bavaria, Germany's south, pontifex maximus of the Catholic church, head of Vatican State and Joachim Gauck from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany's north, Lutheran pastor, Federal President, both Männer des Geistes (men of the humanities), smilingly sit opposite to each other without reserve. In the back watching is Vatican's George Clooney, the popes secretary and recently appointed Titular Archbishop of Urbs SalviaGeorg Gänswein who by the way still keeps his apartment in Freiburg's Herrenstraße.
*In Germany we rather use the adjective Healthy instead of Happy in particular when we are of an advanced age

The photo (dpa) was recently taken during Gauck's official state visit to the Vatican. The picture is one of hope for my country, for centuries nearly torn apart by religious quarrels. Although I must admit that nowadays the majority of Germans couldn't care less about their Christian past. As in other countries less and less people exercise their religion. In Germany's east whole regions even are pagan following 45 years of atheistic rule. This is a country to be evangelized like at the time of Saint Boniface more than a thousand years ago.

Those of you who visited the Freiburger Münster have possibly seen the original stained glass windows and looked at the following scene with a smile.


New born Jesus is wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger with the ox eating the child's diaper. Father Joseph is not amused and with his cane he hits the ox on the snout. Humor around 1300.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Radical Reactors Revisited

Although my main interest was in accelerators one sideline topic accompanying my professional life was nuclear reactors. Already in my early days experts kept telling that governments and industry had backed the wrong horse. They said that the light water reactor producing enormous amounts of highly radioactive waste had been as bad a choice as (remember) the VHS video tape system over Sony's Betamax. In those early days the Canadian CANDU reactor line using heavy water was considered as the better technical solution. One consequence of the "bad choice" is that we are now faced with a problem of safe storage of highly radioactive waste. To "incinerate" this waste my former director general and Nobel prize winner Carlo Rubbia even had proposed a new type of reactor, the accelerator driven Rubbiatron.

In view of the dramatic climatic changes due to the burning of fossil fuel the quest for cheap and safe energy is unbroken. In an article with the eye catching alliterated title Radical Reactors published in Nature Mitchell Waldrop sells old ideas for new. He mentions among others Kirk Sorensen promoting the Thorium molten-salt reactor while an American-Japanese collaboration is working on a fast reactor. Charles Forsberg of MIT said: Given the erratic output of both wind and solar generators, if you're going to get off fossil fuel, you have to have a serious nuclear programme. For such a revival of nuclear energy global security analyst Edwin Lyman states: Nuclear is hard, it's expensive, it's slow. Indeed, engineers and scientist must develop better radiation resistant materials, more efficient heat exchangers and improved safety systems.

Here you see Kirk Sorensen (First row, second from the right) with a banner advertising Thorium as reactor fuel

This is a sketch of the molten-salt reactor with its famous frozen plug.
In case cooling of the reactor is lost the plug melts and opens. The molten salt will flow out of
the reactor vessel and be caught safely in a container located below.
Let me predict that all these efforts for a comeback of nuclear energy are doomed to failure for all projects must work with higher pressures, temperatures, and radiation levels to increase their energy efficiency. Material science still does wonders in developing new materials for specific needs but with the metal and ceramic compounds tailored for the present nuclear industry we already approach limits. Any increase in pressure, temperature and radiation level will increase the failure rate of the materials used more than linearly, i.e., the planned new installations are accident bound. In addition all those efforts come to late. As a German proverb states: The train has left the station.

I prefer soft green to hard nuclear energy although develoments in the field of new energies are slow. In spite of an enormous funding of electric mobility the efficient electric car is still wishful thinking. The storage of energy essential due to the erratic output of both wind and solar generators is not solved. My favored storage medium is hydrogen produced in electrolysis during times when the industrial and household surge on solar and wind generators is low. Hydrogen is quite a "noble" energy although it may blow up your home when badly handled. Well, there are things you want and there are those you can do (Das eine was man will und das andere was man kann).

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Doha and no End?


This year winter is incumen in Freiburg early. The climate experts are back from the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2012 in Doha, Katar disappointed and warning, but who shivering with cold will believe in their global warning of a global warming?

Mean temperatures in oC at Ebringen near Freiburg from 1983 to 2011 and trendline
Yet we experience the cumulative occurrence of local heavy rainfall followed by inundations and of extended periods of extreme droughts around the globe. Perpetual ice layers are no longer permanent and their melting is raising the water level of the oceans at an alarming rate. In Freiburg too trends are visible where an increase in yearly precipitation is due to heavy rainfalls. They are caused by more water being evaporated due to the higher temperatures in the atmosphere forming "heavier" clouds.

Yearly precipitation in liters per m2 at Ebringen from 1986 to 2011 and trendline
Experts keep telling us that CO2 emissions are the culprit of the greenhouse effect. The following graphic gives names and numbers in 2010.

Graphic presentation Badische Zeitung
Absolute figures in millions of tons of carbon dioxide emitted are on the left hand side whereas the figures of merit, i.e., the discharges per capita are on the right. I think I am beginning to understand why the UN convened the Climate Change Conference in Doha's capital Katar. The winner with 38 tons simply took it all. This puts into perspective the position of the US with 17 tons per capita somewhat. Germany with 9.9 tons of COper capita does not figure on the graphic but what the heck is so special about tiny Luxemburg? Why did the EU not rap on their knuckles?

Trinidad and Tombago even are worse examples. With daily temperatures around 30 oC they possibly use much air conditioning. Unlike most of the other Caribbean islands, both Trinidad and Tobago have frequently escaped the wrath of major devastating hurricanes, including Hurricane Ivan, the most powerful storm to pass close to the islands in recent history, in September 2004 (Wikipedia). So how will the people react when one day they will experience a full discharge of the usually laden atmosphere in the Caribbic?

Some delegates at the Doha conference implored what is known as The Common Vision of a maximum carbon dioxide emission being reached in 2015. In the following years emissions should and must decrease for otherwise the target figure limiting the global temperature rise to 2 oC in this century will be missed.

Katar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrein, and United Arab Emirates said they will announce measures protecting the climate soon but added that this is in contradiction to national goals in view of their dependence on oil and gas production. Eventually only the Dominican Republic, Libanon and Monaco presented target figures for limiting their CO2 emissions while other countries did not move. However, at the end the fed-up chairman Abdullah bin Hamad All-Attiya swung down his gavel closing the final session of the conference thus forcing the participants into a prolongation of the Kyoto Protocol.

Germany's environmental minister Peter Altmaier (the well-built guy)
in discussion with chairman Abdullah bin Hamad All-Attiya (dpa)
It seems that all countries are waiting for the 5th Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change due in 2013 or 2014 hoping scientists will have found out that the nightmare of a global warming has somehow disappeared.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Telekom and Telecom

Whereas the mobile phone company Telecom in the States is a somewhat marginal enterprise its mother DeutscheTelekom is the strongest player on the phone market in Germany. This has historical reasons for all telecommunication was once run by our national mail service. The Deutsche Reichs- later Bundespost was a giant running bank, mail, and telephone services - the latter two without competition - that accordingly were sometimes lousy. However, Die Post was not always to blame. Since in the 1950s  the cable infrastructure could not keep up with the increasing demand for telephone lines people sometimes had to wait "in line" for months before being lined up. With time this bottleneck disappeared and our government decided to open up the telecommunication market to competitors. Still, people generally are lazy and remained true to their old provider.

Returning to Germany following my thirty-two years in Switzerland I had a free choice. For me the reasoning to re-join the Deutsche Telekom was as follows: In 2000 it was the only company offering both telephone and internet services. In addition even nowadays Telekom still operates all hardware infrastructure that the new companies are exploiting.

My relation with Telekom was not without marital conflicts. The correspondence with my provider fills a thick ring binder. In particular the speed of my internet connection is a permanent subject of dispute. My latest grievance was about a limitation in the number of e-mails I was allowed to sent. When I tried to send messages to a number of groups I sometimes got the following message: 550 5.7.1 Send quota exceeded, try again in 25436 seconds which meant that the following morning I was OK again. Still, this was annoying so I had my contract with Telekom changed. For a modest monthly fee of 1.5 euros they increased the size of my mailbox (what I do not need) and raised my limit for sending e-mails to a number that I shall never even come close to.

Taken as a screen shot. You may not be able to read this.
So it came somewhat as a surprise that when the other day I wanted to announce two new blogs to you I got the following message: 550 5.7.1 Send quota exceeded, try again in 4294967295 seconds. Since I did not want you to wait for more than a million hours I called up Telekom's hot line.


And suddenly I felt myself beamed back into the 1990s when on RTL-television the comedians The Three with Their Caps (Die drei mit der [Telekom] Mütze) teased Telekom's lousy service and blunders. I spent nearly one hour on the line where they first told me that their colleagues had sold me the wrong product. That I denied for I had read all the small print with the promise of a nearly unlimited number of e-mails to be sent. Talking to a second guy he claimed that they had simply forgotten to change my e-mail account to the new rate. A third person said that they had not done anything at all up to now.

The following morning I stepped into one of Freiburg's four Telekom's local service points. It took the lady behind the counter half an hour to sort out the mess with the promise that in three days everything will be in order. And it was.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Blogging in German?

Kein Endlager Gorleben (Photo BZ)
German friends sometimes ask me: Why don't you blog in German? Well, I gave some reasons for my choice of English in my very first blog. Let me repeat it here: My blogs are meant to inform my American friends about what is happening in Freiburg and surrounding Germany, for many of them the land of their ancestors. Blogging in English also helps me keeping my knowledge of Shakespeare's idiom alive. Blogging in German I do too although not as frequently as in English in the form of letters to the editor of my favourite local journal, the Badische Zeitung (BZ).

Here comes a letter I lately sent dealing with one of my favourite topics: Endlagerung (the final disposal of highly active nuclear waste). I only mention it because for the first time the Badische Zeitung added a somewhat gruesome picture to my contribution. All those who read German click on the link above. They may stop here for in the following I shall just explain in English about what I wrote to the BZ.

Germany's minister for environment in Doha (dpa)
Our Federal Minister of Environment Peter Altmaier an unmarried workaholic - compensating his stress at hearth and home with some visible consequences but no myocardial infarction yet - proposed a moratorium on the search for a final depositary of nuclear waste from Germany's power reactors. This provisional stop shall last until next fall waiting for the outcome of our federal election. The proposal was hailed by all parties since nobody wants to load the political atmosphere with such an unpopular topic before the outcome of the election is known. Anyway, the explosiveness of this issue is only beaten by the discussions of how much it will cost the German tax payer to keep Greece in the euro zone. As an alternative, we are told, throwing the Greek out will lead to an euro collapse, i. e., doomsday.

Coming back to the moratorium. This is one of the tactics of politicians dulling the electorate's minds (das Stimmvolk verdummen). Nobody will gain in postponing the decision but everybody will lose in particular our Ministerpräsident (governor). It seems that neither abandoned salt mines like so far proposed in Germany nor granite formations favoured in the States are suited best for a "final disposal" of highly active nuclear waste. The choice tends towards Opalinus clay of which mighty deposits are found in Germany's south at the High Rhine along the border with Switzerland. Although building a depository in Baden-Württemberg will be a blow to our green Ländle it may open an opportunity to work with our neighbours. The Swiss too are considering to bury their nuclear waste along the same border. Will there again be an outcry not in my backyard or is there a chance of a common effort?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Local Saints and a Local Hero

Blessed Bernhard
Last August I blogged about Edith Stein Freiburg claims as a local saint. Well, I know that in the Catholic Church saints are considered universal, i.e., belonging to and venerated by the whole community. However, places where those selected people once dwelt are always special.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch and Bernhard in the background
Today I read in my favorite newspaper that Freiburg's archbishop Robert had started the final step for the sanctification of another "local person": Bernhard von Baden.

In February 2011 I already devoted a blog to Blessed Bernhard who is considered as the patron of the Freiburg archdiocese. Now all supporting documents for his canonization including the one about a miraculous healing of a nun from Baden in 1956 were placed in a sealed box and sent to the Vatican for further action and final decision by the pope.

The name of Bernhard not always had a good reputation in Freiburg. Bernhard von Weimar, yes Weimar again, pushed Freiburg in 1638 into misery when during the Thirty Years War he besieged the city at Easter and took it after eleven days. Bernhard born in 1604 was the eleventh son of Johann, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, and had no chance to become heir to the throne. In these days later-born children either became clergymen or warlords. Bernard chose to support King Gustav Adolf, the invader from Sweden, and became one of his most valuable generals. Following the King's death in the battle of Lützen Bernhard continued serving the Swedes. Being successful he was granted the former bishoprics of Würzburg and Bamberg and the title Duke of Franconia. We read in Wikipedia: A stern Protestant, he exacted heavy contributions from the Catholic cities which he took, and his repeated victories caused him to be regarded by German Protestants [with Gustav Adolf dead] as the savior of their religion. But in 1634 Bernard suffered a great defeat at Nördlingen, losing the best of the Swedish army and his duchy.

The other Bernhard approaching the city of Breisach 1638
One year later still longing to become a German prince Bernhard made a pact with Cardinal Richelieu, the man Protestant Germans considered as a twofold devil being both Catholic and French. The Cardinal gave money and troops to his German speaking general to fight the Habsburgs on German territory. Soon Richellieu felt cheated as Bernhard rather used the French mercenaries to pursue his personal ambitions.

In 1638 in a blitz campaign he first captured the Habsburg cities on the High Rhine and then Freiburg. The following siege of Breisach, the imperial fortress, took him seven months. Conquered eventually Bernard made the city the site of his Princely Saxon Government unblushingly requesting Richelieu to make him Duke of the Alsace, the Breisgau, and the bishopric of Basel. Bernhard died a sudden death in 1639 and rumors had it that he was poisoned. Already in these days conspiracy theories circulated freely. Whatever the true story is, following Bernhard's death the French took it all, i.e., his troops, money, and territories.

Surely Bernhard is not Freiburg's local hero but he suddenly became Weimar's hero in 1935 where in an exhibition devoted to him he was talked up as the Führer's predecessor. A Weimar newspaper wrote: Duke Bernhard who came out of the people, lived with the people and belonged to the people deserves the honor the national-socialistic movement bestows on him. This is all so wrong. As most of his contemporaries nobleman Bernhard did not give a hoot in hell for his people. He at best considered them as cannon fodder when following his ambitious aspirations. In this respect he was a true predecessor of the Führer.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weimar Literature


The first book dedicated to Weimar I read was Literarische Zustände und Zeitgenossen (Literary circumstances and contemporaries) written by Karl August Böttiger, a classicist. Böttiger collected gossip about tout Weimar during the time of the glorious four, Goethe, Herder, Schiller (not the Apple one), and Wieland that his son Karl Wilhelm Böttiger edited and published in 1838.


Book cover on the left: Böttiger looks with curiosity down at the glorious four with Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt standing in the back.

Most interesting is Böttiger's description of Madame de Staël's visit to Weimar. This courageous and intelligent lady had defied Napoleon, been banned from France and was traveling the few parts of Europe still unoccupied by the French at that time. Being an attractive woman tout Weimar was at her feet. Fascinated by the patchwork of small independent territories making up Germany's rich cultural variety she wrote her famous book De l'Allemagne. To a certain extent its content is still shaping the French view of Germany nowadays.

 In his book Böttiger even dares to unmask Goethe who is rocking his illigitimate son on his lap while getting bald and fat, the latter thanks to Christiane's, his concubine's, good cooking.

Genius Goethe's unmasking continues in Sigrid Damm's book Christiane and Goethe. Damm tells the fascinating story of the scandalous relation. Goethe, the Duke's State Minister, who had just returned to Weimar from his Italien journey (where a Roman girl, Faustina, had taken his virginity) made young Christiane Vulpius his mistress calling her his Bettschatz (bed darling). Goethe did not care that the Weimar society shunned him because of his concubinage as long as his friend Duke August became his son's August godfather. Goethe married Christiane only after she had courageously saved his life during an attack by some drunken French soldiers. They broke into the house following Weimar's take by the Napoleon army. The author tells us how Christiane suffered from the genius's ego during her life long relationship.


Das klassische Weimar (Classical Weimar) is a collection of texts written by contemporary witnesses. They describe Weimar personalities, the town's social life, life at the ducal court, the theater where Goethe had been director at times, Goethe's house at the Frauenplan and its inhabitants, the years of the French occupation, and people on a "pilgrimage" in Weimar.













Similarly the book Treffpunkt Weimar-Literatur und Leben zur Zeit Goethes (Meeting point Weimar - literature and life during the time of Goethe) describes Weimar's Golden Age but it is written in the style of a novel and therefore easy reading. The authors combine their text with citations from this classical period mostly taken from letters. This is a technique I use on my historical website for Freiburg too because contemporary witnesses write spontaneously and make the whole story more lively. In general only few explanations are required to clarify the embedded original texts.







Star journalist Peter Merseburger's book Mythos Weimar zwischen Geist und Macht (The Weimar myth between mind and power) looks behind what is called the Weimar myth. Merseburger analyses the Golden Age of Goethe, Herder, Schiller, and Wieland followed by Weimar's Silver Age with Franz Liszt. He continues with the Duke's abdication after the First World War, the adoption of the Weimar Constitution thwarted by the early rise of the Nazis in Thuringia, the rise and fall of the Bauhaus, the concentration camp Buchenwald, and the lost Second World War resulting in the communist takeover in the Eastern part of Germany including the continued use of Buchenwald.

The book Wege nach Weimar. Auf der Suche nach der Einheit von Kunst und Politik accompanied a exhibition of Weimar's history that took place in 1999 in the Gauforum. This building was started in 1938 with Hitler himself posing the foundation stone. Due to the fact that Nazis participated in the Thurigian government well before their Machtergreifung in Berlin in January 1933 made Weimar together with Bayreuth, Linz, and Nuremberg one of Hitler's favorite towns. On the other hand he detested Vienna because of its many Jews and Berlin because he was a native Austrian.

Consequently exhibition and catalog dealt with Weimar's history between 1919 and 1945 but they did not stop there. Both continue documenting the seamless transition from the brown to a red dictatorship. The people did not have the ghost of a chance. While the Americans taught us democracy in the West, the Soviets imposed their communist regime in the East forcing the Social Democrats into a union with the Communists Party becoming the SED (United German Socialist Party), and degraded the Christian Democrats and the Liberals to satellite parties. The catalog is a gold mine of pictures documenting Weimar's historical development during the last century.

Finally a two volume catalog of the Goethe National Museum Wiederholte Spiegelungen: Weimarer Klassik 1759-1832 (Repeated reflections: Classical Weimar) was published on the occasion of the opening of the National Museum adjacent to the Goethehaus in 1999. The catalog is a collection of pictures and texts describing the exhibition pieces. The two volumes of 500 pages each were heavy to carry home but every gram was worth the effort.

After the old exhibition was closed in 2008 a completely remodeled display opened on August 23, 2012. It is called Lebensfluten, Tatensturm (Floods of life, storms of action). There now are fewer pieces exhibited in a more modern environment concentrating on Goethe's life. Consequently the companion book is much thinner with only 288 pages.


The books:

Karl August Böttiger: Literarische Zustände und Zeitgenossen. Begegnungen und Gespräche im klassischen Weimar. Hg. von Klaus Gerlach und René Sternke. Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-351-02829-6

Sigrid Damm: Christiane und Goethe. Insel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1998, ISBN 3-458-16912-1

Heinrich Pleticha: Das klassische Weimar, Komet Verlag GmbH, Köln 1983, ISBN 3-89836-517-4

Norbert Oellers und Robert Steegers: Treffpunkt Weimar - Literatur und Leben zur Zeit Goethes, Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 4-15-010449-1

Peter Merseburger: Mythos Weimar. Zwischen Geist und Macht, DVA, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 978-3423307871

Michael Dorrmann und Hans Wilderotter (Hrsg.): Wege nach Weimar. Auf der Suche nach der Einheit von Kunst und Politik, Jovis Verlag, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-931321-18-5

Caroline Gille, Gerhard Schuster und Stiftung Weimarer Klassik (Hrsg.): Wiederholte Spiegelungen: Weimarer Klassik 1759-1832. Ständige Ausstellung des Goethe-Nationalmuseums, Carl Hanser Verlag, München 1999, ISBN 3-446-19499-1

Friday, November 9, 2012

Weimar in October 2012

Remember? I started the first blog of my Weimar quadrology telling you about Elisabeth's and my recent visit to this cultural highlight but then I was carried away digging into my past Weimar experience. That happened in my second blog about Weimar too. Now in a third attempt I shall no longer go back in history but will move forward to the presence.

We took an early train at Freiburg but then suffered a delay of one hour. With our train being behind schedule we missed our connection to Erfurt in Fulda. A one hour delay on the Deutsche Bahn is typical for during daytime major train connections in Germany are served every hour.  So you just wait for the next train although seat reservations are lost. We filled the wait at Fulda's train station with a forced coffee and arrived in Weimar around 3 p.m.

Henry van der Velde advertising Weimar's onion market
Instead of star architect Walter Gropius and femme fatale Alma Mahler-Gropius-Werfel this time the founder of the Grand-Ducal School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar, the predecessor of the Bauhaus, Henry van der Velde greeted us from the balcony of the Elephant Hotel.

View on Weimar's market place from our room. In the background the Herderkirche

HE showed us the way to a souvenir shop
During an afternoon walk through the streets of Weimar we passed the National Theater ...

The well know Goethe-Schiller monument in front of the Weimar National Theater
modified: Thomas Mann Goethe's life-long venerator stands in for Friedrich Schiller. We visited the Schiller- and not the Thomas-Mann-Haus:

Entrance to Schiller's house
Photos were not allowed but I took one of the Loi du 25 Août 1792, l'an quatrième de la Liberté, signed by the great Danton himself making le sieur Gilles, publiciste Allemand, citizen of revolutionary France.

Schiller made citizen of revolutionary France
Le membre proposing the publiciste Allemand may have read Schiller's Die Räuber (The Robbers) but got his name completely wrong. Note that "called-up-late" Schiller is in company of well-known temporaries like Thomas Payne (Thomas Paine, Anglo-American political activist), Joachim-Henry Campe (Joachim Heinrich Campe, German linguist), N. Pestalozzi (Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, Swiss pedagogue), Georges Washington (George Washington, First President of the United States), Jean Hamilton (John Hamilton, Congressman from Pennsylvania), N. Maddisson (James Madison, Fourth President of the United States) and H. Klopstock (Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, German poet).

Elisabeth and I closed the day having dinner at the Elephantenkeller. The round table of 1990 was still in place but this time empty. From the menu I choose a delicious Kohlroulade (stuffed cabbage leaf) and a Pilsner beer from nearby Apolda.

Delicious stuffed cabbage leaf
The following morning a guide showed us around Weimar. We saw Goethe's summer house (Gartenhaus) from a distance.

Goethe's summer house from a distance
For the afternoon we had reserved a visitor's slot for the Goethehaus and the adjacent Goethe National Museum where an exposition of artifacts documents the genius's curriculum vitae.

The evening we had dinner at Weimar's Ratskeller where I had a Rindsroulade (beef olive) that I drowned in and downed with the usual Köstritzer Schwarzbier.

Rindsroulade mit Thüringer Klößen (Thuringian dumplings)
On Saturday morning the Herder church was open to visitors.

The Herder church in October 2012, a building site

Herder in front of "his" church originally called Stadtkirche

November 1989: Prayers for peace not only in Leipzig: We are the people!
In- and outside the church were building sites; the Lutheran Church preparing their historic places for the demi-millennium of the Reformation in 1517.

Famous altarpiece apotheosizing the Reformation. Lucas Cranach the Elder started the painting in 1552, one year before his death. It was finished in 1555 by his son Lucas Cranach the Younger.
The original painting was covered in view of the building activities inside the church.
 I took this photo of a photo print on canvas displayed for the benefit of the visitors.
On the right you recognize Martin Luther, left to him the painter Lucas Cranach.
On the other side sits John the Steadfast who introduced the Reformation in Thuringia and his wife.
Passing Weimars castle ...

The castle's medieval tower crowned by a Baroque helmet
we took a stroll through the park at the Ilm river in the direction of Goethe's Gartenhaus. He had lived there from 1776 until 1782 when he moved into his town house at the Frauenplan.

Goethe's garden where he grow his vegetables
Picking up a Thüringer Bratwurst on our way we climbed up to the Nietzsche Archive in the early afternoon.

The archive was empty so except for the art nouveau building it had not been worth the entrance fee. Nevertheless we enjoyed the walk that also took us to Weimar's old cementary with Goethe's and Schiller's crypt. Recently a DNA analysis revealed that Schiller's skull is not his.

Many people still consider Ernst von Wildenbruch's citation engraved into the monument:
 Ich kämpfte nicht um anzugreifen, sondern um zu verteidigen
(I did not fight to attack but to defend)
 as a proof that it was Germany that was attacked by the surrounding countries in 1914.
The problem is that von Wildenbruch had already died in 1909.

Later on our way back to the center Big Goethe was watching us from a banner:
Lebensfluten, Tatensturm (Floods of life, storms of action)

We had a beer at a small place just opposite of the Goethehaus watching carriages drive by. For a moment forget those iron poles and the cars and live your dreams.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Weimar, the Second Time Around (Spring 1990)

Following the fall of the Berlin wall on November 9, 1989, and the opening of the border between West- and East Germany my friend and colleague working at the Nuclear Research Center near Karlsruhe invited the Professor for Radiation Protection Physics at Dresden's Technical University.
She arrived for the usual semi-annual meeting of our West German working group on the measurement of ionizing radiation at the beginning of December. We had long and good conversations feeling strange for in previous years when we met East German colleagues at international conferences they were not allowed to talk to us. We all were overwhelmed by the new German-German togetherness. So, in a follow-up Professor D. invited three of our working group to her annual International Symposium on Radiation Physics at Gaussig, a cosy castle east of Dresden used by the Technical University (TU) for meetings and on other occasions.

During the winter I prepared my paper: Personal Neutron Monitoring in an Accelerator Environment and was eagerly looking forward to my visit to Germany's heartland. At the end of March I called my host in Dresden and asked her whether she needed something I could take along: Well, the participants of the seminar organize at least one party and any contribution would be welcome.

A Bocksbeutel, half full
(©Wikipedia/Mussklprozz)
An empty Bocksbeutel
 (©Wikipedia/Prince Grobhelm)
So I decided the best would be to furnish some wine they possibly had not tasted behind the iron curtain. The day before I crossed the now open border into the still existing German Democratic Republic (GDR) I stopped at Iphofen's winery and loaded the trunk of my car with six boxes of Frankonian wine bottled in Bocksbeuteln.

Then I took a night's rest at Bad Hersfeld and heading east reached the border in the gray of dawn. I approached a wooden shed lost in the middle of nowhere bordering a tared strip as an ersatz for the non-existing road. Two sleepy border guards looking out of a window rounded up the surrealistic scene when they, completely bored, nodded at me to pass. Border guards under the Ulbricht regime would have taken my car to pieces. Apparently shocked by the lift of the iron curtain they even refused to ask for my passport.

I am on my way to my first stop: Eisenach, place of a German myth, the Wartburg. The oncoming traffic was heavy with one two-stroke engine Trabi after the other heading west filling the air with the typical smell of burned oil. People suddenly are free and eager to travel to the capitalistic enemy territory buying goods that they do not find in the GDR. Entering the town of Eisenach the smell changed to the typical taste of sulfur dioxide caused by the burning of lignite, the only energy source the GDR had plenty of. I parked my car near one of the ascents to the Wartburg and in beautiful sunshine climbed up the hill. It still was early in the morning but already streams of people flowed in both directions.

German History on Wartburg Stamps

Weimar Republic

1923: Inflation, a stamp of 5000 marks
1932: Great depression,
a semi postal of 4+2 pfennigs

Nazi Germany

1933: Wagner's Tannhäuser or the Wartburg song contest
(Der Sängerkrieg auf der Wartburg), a semi postal of 3+2 pfennigs

Divided Germany


1966: Agnostic GDR commemorating
the 900th anniversary of the Wartburg
1967: Religious FRG commemorating the
450th anniversary of the Reformation.
Luther concealed at the Wartburg
translated the Bible into German

I wanted to buy some picture postcards. The vendors only accepted Western currency. How did they know that I am not a Bürger der DDR (citizen of the GDR)? I rushed through the historic site: Luther's study, the Kemenate (Cabinet room) of Elizabeth of Hungary, the with mosaic overdecorated hall (19th century) of the Wartburg song contest.

I tried to be in Weimar at lunch time but potholes slowed down my progress while Trabis ignoring them overtook me flying by. Eventually at noon I parked my car near Weimar's central market place on an abandoned bomb site and walked over to the Elephant Hotel to have lunch at its famous Elephantenkeller, the basement restaurant. Entering the place a doorman stopped me: We are jam-packed. I asked for the second service: There is none. I handed him over a 10 DM bill. Becoming friendly he told me to come back in twenty minutes.

Warmed by the April sun outside I suddenly felt hungry for the smell of Thuringian bratwurst filled the market place. I could not describe my feeling taking my first bite. Still overwhelmed by my first all-German food I approached the entrance of the Elephant in time. The doorman guided me to a single seat on an otherwise fully packed table. When I sat down all conversation stopped for the men around the table smelled the Westerner. I greeted them friendly starting to talk about this year's early spring. Slowly they became confident and suddenly I listened to an argument: who of them following the Wende (political turnaround) had taken off his United Socialistic Party (SED) party badge first. They took me into their political discussion so that I do not remember what I had for lunch.

In the evening I reached Dresden and the following morning Professor D. showed her three West German invitees around her TU institute. Two facts immediately were obvious: too many people were working on research projects of which half would never have been funded in the West. What followed over the following years was a dramatic reduction of staff doing useless or socialistic research. Now we know that one of the reasons for the fall of the Berlin wall was that the GDR was bankrupt.  No wonder, for no capitalist government would have payed the relatively high salaries to so many "researchers".

The symposium in Gaussig developed into an extraordinary experience wet with tears and wine. I will spare you the scientific details but will mention two nostalgic moments:

1. For the first time after more than twenty years of abstinence I tasted salt potatoes (Salzkartoffeln) whereas Elisabeth always boils potatoes in the skin (Pellkartoffeln) to conserve their natural taste and nutrient.

Salzkartoffeln (Photo Wikipedia)
Pellkartoffeln (Photo Wikipedia)














The change in food culture was obvious. While in the East potatoes were still considered as Sättigungsbeilage (staple food in GDR-German) potatoes in the West had made the transition to a vegetable bought at the grocery in selected varieties and small quantities on a daily basis.

My teacher, classmates and me peeling staple food potatoes
during a fortnightly stay at a youth hostel in 1948.
Red Baron is just in the middle (the fifth from both left and right).
I still remember those men carrying potatoes in sacks of 50 kilograms (one Zentner, i.e., hundred German pounds) into our basement in fall filling up aired wooden boxes. Although these potatoes were stored in a cool dark environment their quality in the following year had deteriorated such that they had to be peeled taking off nearly half their mass in cutting deep.


2. In 1943 I spent the summer in a small place near the Elbsandsteingebirge (Elbe Sandstone Mountains) called Lichtenhain famous for its artificial waterfall.

Lichtenhain's waterfall (Photo Wikipedia)

Bastei panorama in the Elbesandsteingebirge

Driving my host and colleagues to the Bastei on the free afternoon of the International Symposium we made a detour to the place of my youth. We found the house where I once stayed easily:

During the summer of 1943 my friend Dieter and me lived in the house located on the photo
 in the lower right corner

On the photo from left to right Dieter and me. You recognize our house in the distance.
Dieter was stricken with myatrophy and therefore? a precocious child.
I drove my parents crazy always talking back, putting their words into question:
But Dieter said ...  Dieter's father, a lawyer and highly decorated First World War veteran
looked with his white mustache  - my father being just 37 - like an old man to me.
He took the above photo and some more with a Leica, developed the films,
and made the prints himself. During the war I lost track of Dieter and his family
Entering the house where I had spent a couple of weeks of my early youth everything including the room where I once slept seemed so small, but nothing had really changed. Even the water faucet half way up the narrow staircase where I had my morning wash was still in place. I knocked at a door and from the inside somebody said: Herein! I opened the door. There the whole family was sitting around a table manufacturing Easter decorations. I knew that in the West people were already working on decorations for Christmas. I bought some Easter bunnies paid them with Western currency, and handed them to my colleagues as souvenirs.

It's all history.