Chainsaws, Loincloths, Eurovision

This band is Finland’s entry to the 2006 Eurovision song contest:

They’re called Lordi. They sing songs like "Chainsaw Buffet." According to the New York Times, after they were nominated to represent Finland, "critics called for President Tarja Halonen to use her constitutional powers to veto the band and nominate a traditional Finnish folk singer instead."

Lead singer Tomi Putaansuu said ""In Finland, we have no Eiffel Tower, few real famous artists, it is freezing cold and we suffer from low self-esteem. Finns nearly choked on their cereal when they realized we were the face Finland would be showing to the world."

I have mixed feelings about Lordi, despite my general approval of blood-spurting chainsaws and leather loincloths. On the one hand, mocking the Eurovision song contest is a national industry in the English-speaking world, providing needed subject matter to thousands of music journalists. From this perspective, the Eurovision song contest needs more, not fewer traditional Finnish folk singers.

But maybe it would actually be good for humanity if the ESC somehow became hip. Assuming, of course, that a higher global level of hipness is desirable. In any case, Lordi’s still playing catchup, considering that GWAR (featuring Oderus Urungus) was spurting blood on its audiences way back in the mid-1980s…

George Mikes on the “Collective Guilt” Hypothesis

A few weeks ago, I posted a short excerpt from a book called Über Alles by George Mikes.  A refresher: Mikes was born in Hungary, emigrated to England, and became a reasonably famous English comic.  They sent him all over the world to write humorous travel books, which became huge bestsellers. 

Because he spoke fluent German, his publishers sent him to travel through Germany in 1953, to see how the Jerries were getting on.  The result is hardly brilliant.  Mikes himself reminds the reader routinely that he’s just a comedian, and that nothing he says should be taken seriously.  The book does, however, provide an intermittently interesting time-capsule of a foreigner’s take on immediate post-war Germany.

In a chapter called "Shall We Love Them?" Mikes addresses the "collective guilt" hypothesis.  He also, of course, takes a few more swipes at humans who are foolish enough not to be British:

I met altogether two persons in Germany who thought in a balanced, logical and unemotional way about the German problem. Both were Germans. I heard many intelligent, brilliant and illuminating things from others, but everybody else I talked to was carried away by emotion as soon as this so-called German problem was mentioned.  The English in England have no bitter feelings against the Germans, in fact, they like them better than they like the French and much better than the Americans. There is something paternal in their attitude. And they seem to believe that there’s something irresistibly funny in being German.

In Germany, however, with very few exceptions, this attitude changes to dislike. This antipathy has nothing to do with former Nazi crimes or anything of the kind. The British dislike the Germans because they have their hair cropped in a funny way; because they eat sandwiches with a knife and fork; because they are formal, stiff and click their heels; and because they work too hard and take themselves deadly seriously. The Americans, on the other hand, always have the past crimes in mind. The Germans killed 6 million Jews, consequently every tenth German must be a murderer; no, it is even worse: every German must be one tenth of a murderer. That is a matter of clear calculation for the Americans. Americans feel very strongly against the persecution of races, provided (a) it is white races that are being persecuted and (b) it is outside the U.S.  And outright killing goes too far, in any case.

Millions of decent and sincere Americans are outraged by the enormity of Nazi crimes (as millions of Germans are, too) but the same decent and sincere Americans are aware that the Germans are good and reliable anti-Communists. Being anti-Communist is the supreme virtue today. All Nazis must be forgiven if they are genuinely anti-Communists just as, some years ago, all Communists were forgiven if they were genuinely anti-Nazis. In ten years time it may be again the other way round, and so on and so on, until one bright boy notices one day that there is not much to choose between a Nazi and a Communist concentration camp. But the  Americans believe that they are faced with a dilemma. They detest murder but love anti-Communists. The solution: they make the Germans their trusted allies but go on distrusting them. The French, in turn, feel deep resentment on nationalistic grounds. Their country was occupied, devastated and looted by the Germans (rather than the Nazis-the French have longer memories than the Americans).

Now the defeated Germans are better off than the victortous French, and they are becoming stronger and more dangerous every day. And the French are compelled to help them to increase their strength and thus to increase their own peril. The Germans do not like to be regarded as murderers. They are touchy people.  Most of them are not aware of the general  resentment felt against them, and most of them had nothing to do with Nazi crimes, in any case they were victims of the Nazis themselves — they say. Those who speak of the duties of the individual under a dictatorship should try to carry out these duties themselves under such circumstances before they give lessons to others. The Czechs have a splendid record of democratic government, and what can they do? 

If we are murderers-say the Germans, who have heard something about the fact that the world takes a poor view of mass murder — then we should not be forced to rearm. One does not rearm criminals. But if we are to create a new army, then free our generals and clear the name of our soldiers who all fought bravely and obeyed orders in time of war. All these views (except, of course, the British view, the most logical of all) are expressed in violent terms and accompanied by vehement emotions. Solutions? — they ask. Oh, the world is in such a mess, we just cannot find a way out of this quagmire. –"

Nowadays, in the period of courtship and mating, when we all are vying for German favours but still whisper "assassins" behind their backs, I feel we should pose the question: are the Germans responsible for Nazism?  It is a question that is never asked today, as it is considered tactless to speak about it. People stare into space whenever certain tricky subjects crop up and pretend that the six million Jews, and I do not know how many hostages, are still alive. Well — are the Germans responsible for Nazi crimes or not? My answer is: they are not.

I have arrived at this conclusion with hesitation but now I utter it with the firmness of a person who has some doubts about his doctrines. I am, of course, one single voice. Not even a politician, only a writer. Not even a writer, only a humorist. So do not take me seriously. I hold no brief for the Germans, I am far from enamoured of them. There was nothing new in dictatorship even in the pre-Nazi era. Internal oppression and external agression were not invented by Hitler. There used to be dictatorships in France, England, Italy and in almost all the countries of the world, and there is dictatorship in many countries today.  So it is quite groundless to say that there must be something uniquely wicked in the German character because they established a form of government which — after all — is or was known to almost all other peoples. There are several answers to that. First, people point out that the Germans voted for Hitler and consequently are responsible for him. I am not going into the details of arithmetical jugglery to find out whether Hitler received a real majority or not. He came to power by legal means and about half the nation voted for him. But the other half voted against him.

And what did the pro-Nazis vote for?  Some for a strong hand; others for an extreme nationalistic policy; others against the Communists; others against Versailles; others against unemployment; others against weak and detested regime; others for militarism, uniform, and the goose-step; others for a strong anti-semitic policy. In other words many of them voted for ugly and repulsive ideas and the may be blamed to a great extent. Yet, hardly anyone voted for aggressive war, the killing of hostages, the execution of escaped prisoners of war, and the murder of six million Jews. All this was not in Hitler’s programme. The Nazi voters bear a large amount of responsibility; but the voters of 1933 cannot be made responsible for crimes committed six or ten years later.

Visiting a German Tierheim

The always-welcome Ed Philp returns from the dense thicket of German tax law to the cuddlier, fuzzier realm of cute, furry animals.

Ed Philp here, with another entry (thanks Andrew!). This week my girlfriend and I visited the Düsseldorf Tierheim (animal shelter). In theory, we were looking for a second cat. Since we are out of the house often, we thought our present cat could use some companionship. Also, we brought our cat from North America to Germany, and even after being here for two years, her German skills are still miserable.

Having visited animal shelters in the US and Canada, I was expecting rows of small cages with unhappy animals condemned to death in the space of a few short weeks if not adopted. Most municipal shelters in North America have a time limit for keeping animals – thousands of healthy dogs and cats (most of them abandoned, sick or aged) are put to sleep every year for want of an owner. Not so in Düsseldorf.

The Tierheim is located on a gigantic piece of vaguely rural property just outside of the city in a pleasant forest and residential neighborhood. Cats have their own building with seven separate spacious rooms filled with boxes, toys, expansive windows and an abundance of fresh air. Even this house, home to approximately 20 cats and staffed by a friendly woman who could rattle off the cats’ names and special needs, was quiet and smelled only of clean air and fresh coffee. As a student, I lived in worse conditions than these cats. The cats themselves were all healthy, mostly friendly, varied in age from a few months to 12 years (in North America, older animals are put to sleep first, since it is much harder to find homes for them), and all appeared to be very well taken care of. Some had been there for six months or more. When we asked if it would be acceptable to name a cat we were contemplating “Heinz” (her original name was Molly), we were cheerfully told that was a decision that would be up to the cat.

The dog area of the Tierheim took up the largest amount of space. Each dog has its own pen with an indoor and outdoor enclosure. The Tierheim has numerous small fenced gardens in which each dog was played with or trained each day by the committed and abundant staff. The Tierheim offered a vast array of benefits along with the adoption of its dogs, including coupons for free food, training sessions, a waiver of adoption fees and a medical inspection. Virtually all of the dogs were large aggressive breeds such as Staffordshire Terriers. Many appeared sullen or unfriendly and often barked or snarled when they saw people. Obviously it is tough to find proper homes for these ones; many of them had been abandoned.

The Tierheim is also home to a small house for rabbits, a pigeon nesting tower, a family of chickens, several free-roaming cats, the occasional hedgehog, two grunting fat pigs in a pen (one of which is blind) and – improbably – several sheep. We didn’t ask whether the sheep could be adopted. Our apartment isn’t big enough. The Tierheim has numerous full-time staff and regularly employs interns. Everyone we met was very friendly, knowledgeable and obviously put the animals’ welfare first. In a slight nod to Maoism, employees wear color-coded shirts to designate their responsibilities (the interns have to wear an ugly orange). The homepage of the Tierheim actually features videos of the animals available for adoption, although these are often out of date.

The cat we wanted ended up being already taken, so we were out of luck. However, we will certainly return in the late spring to see the new arrivals. In the meantime, we are now worried that any cat we adopt will have trouble adjusting to the less luxurious conditions of our Düsseldorf apartment.

Thanks Ed, for the lovely report.  The videos of the cats are here, they’re pretty fun, even if you don’t understand what the shelter employee is saying.  Here’s one for Spike the dog, from which you can learn that he’s a "fantastic guy" who has "only positive qualities!"

Now a question: is the Tierheim a true "no-kill" shelter?  That’s the trend in the U.S.  Is Germany — or at least Düsseldorf — already there?  Yet another reason for wistful U.S. liberals to emigrate to Europe!

I’m a little disappointed that you didn’t address the social angle: the tragic differences between West German and East German animal shelters.  As Matthias Plambeck showed in his magisterial Pets under the Compass and Sickle, East German dogs suffered 98% unemployment — the only positions available to them were as guide dogs or dangerous work patrolling the border.  They had no right to freedom of expression and were routinely locked into small cages as punishment.  Government "food" rations consisting largely of pellets of dried grain.  In the ultimate humiliation, they were also forced to defecate naked, outdoors, in full view of hundreds of strangers.  If you travel to the East to investigate the contemporary conditions of East German dogs, the German Joys "Solidarity Fund" will be happy to compensate your expenses…

Germany in 1953 Seen Through English Eyes

While in Paris, I dropped by an English-language bookstore named Tea and Tattered Pages.  The owner is a very friendly woman of a Certain Age.  As you might guess, there are cats about.  In T & TP, you’ll find everything from well-thumbed paperback thrillers to diet books to back-issues of Granta

I found something a book called Über Alles, by an Hungarian-born English writer named George Mikes.  Mikes became slightly famous in England after writing a 1946 book called How to be an Alien, in which he took a bit of piss out of Britain.  The one-sentence chapter on English sex read: "Continental people have sex lives; the English have hot-water bottles."  The book sold well, and his English publishers sent Mikes all over the world to report on the doings and dealings of various foreigners, from a mostly-English perspective.

They sent him to Germany in 1953.  Germany was still occupied, all the wounds were still fresh.  He traveled all around, apparently speaking to people in Germany (which he probably would have learned, having grown up in Hungary).  He then wrote Über Alles.  In the next few days, I’ll post a few excerpts from the book, to give you an idea of how a Hungarian-Englishman saw Germany while it was still under occupation.  Here’s a chunk from the chapter entitled "First Impressions":

I discovered in Germany that our own officials at home are polite and charming. I realised for the first time that they have certain engaging characteristics which I had never noticed before. An ordinary English official is not devoted to his work, and slightly detests the people with whom he has to deal. This is an attractive human trait in his character. German officials on the other hand love their work, they are zealous priests of a modern. almighty God – the State – and are fully aware that they are representing Deity. The State exists for its own sake, and the people’s only duty is to supply raw material for administration.

Even a German visa-the first German document I saw – is worded with bureaucratic gusto and an eye for meticulous detail. Among other things, it tells you whether you are allowed to cross the frontier once or several times within a stated period and whether you may enter at a certain point only or anywhere you like (provided you choose an authorised crossing pint). An English visa merely states that you may enter the United Kingdom, and

My next observation is of great historical importance. I learnt that there had been no Nazism in Germany. In Hungary, after the war, everybody told me about the horrors of Nazism and informed me that they had worked with the resistance. The resistance movement-which in fact hardly existed-seemed to have contained eight million ardent and active members. There was Nazism in Hungary but there were no Nazis. In Germany there was apparently not even Nazism. If you try to talk to the Germans about Nazism they dismiss the subiect with a smile or brush it aside with an impatient gesture. Not that they are ashamed, or have anything to conceal. They are simply bored. The whole thing is over, forgotten, not worth mentioning. They had heard something about it, yes, but it all happened in prehistoric times.

Take as an example two young ladies I met in Germany. One told me in the first half hour of our acquaintanceship that she had an illegifimate child by an estate agent who was now living in Dresden; the other informed me casually that she was a Lesbian. But both refused to talk about the Nazi period – although, as I later heard, one had suffered a great deal from the Nazis and behaved with admirable courage. But now they were only interested in themselves and not in past political squabbles.  (This refers to the whole of West Germany, except the Bonn enclave. Outside Bonn, people are interested in everything except politics; in Bonn only and exclusively in politics.)


It is not only that most Germans have abolished Nazism from their memories and from the focus of their interest (and this is the last of my initial observances), but they are also ready to forgive us. They are generous souls and bear no resentment against us for their crimes. We ruined their lovely country; brought the Russians into their land; we are foreigners still occupying their soil; we have committed innumerable crimes and injustices under the guise of ‘war criminal’ (always in inverted commas) trials and denazification procedure, but they are wise enough to know that we must live together in peace and it is no good raking up the past.

More slightly-jaundiced observations coming up in the next few days!