Brussels vs. the Tophats

So I’m waiting for a doctor’s appointment this morning paging through Spiegel and see this article (G) about chimney sweeps in Germany. Germany still has Schornsteinfeger, those quaint figures in black tophats (good-luck symbols!) who make sure your coal-burning stoves and tile-ovens are in order and clean your chimneys of all the dust, dead pigeons, urchin residue, and unexploded bombs.

But wait, nobody has basement boilers or coal-burning stoves anymore; and the number of apartments with actual working chimneys is pretty tiny. So the chimney sweep must be a thing of the past, right? Wrong! There are most definitely still chimney sweeps in Germany. They not only offer their services to you, they force their services upon you. When they come by to inspect your building, you must let them in (they can even call the police and force entry), and you must pay them a fee determined by the local board.

Http___wwwschornsteinfeger1The article profiles Joachim Datko, a 55-year-old engineer from Regensburg who tried to reject the chimney-sweeper’s services, pointing out that he had installed an ultra-modern gas heating system that didn’t produce a single particle of dust or smoke. He lost, and the chimney sweeper was permitted to barge his way into Datko’s house to conduct pointless measurements.

Who gave them these secure, life-long jobs? The Nazis, of course. In a job-creation boondoogle that’s more reminiscent of 1435 than 1935, they they divided all of Germany up into small "sweep districts," and created a tiny chimney-sweep monopoly in each one. Chimney-sweeps in training have to wait 12 years to be assigned a district. When they get one, they have to live there and volunteer for the fire department. In return, though, they have a monopoly on inspecting and cleaning chimneys and heating devices in that district. In their defense, they point out that they’re much more than chimney sweeps and are, like, totally modern now, and know how to check your home for all sorts of harmful vapors and gases. But however useful their services may be, they still have a monopoly.

Who will save us? The EU, of course. Monopolies violate EU guidelines, so Brussels is soon going to force the chimney sweepers to compete for their services. Yes, that’s right — Brussels will be intervening to reduce bureaucracy. The battle-lines are drawn. On the one side, chimney-sweeps, with their official website glorifying themselves as "experts on security, energy, and the environment" The website’s mascot is the charming young thing picture above, who can sweep my chimney anytime. [was that really necessary? — ed.]. In the other corner, Joachim Datko — yes, that Datko — who’s got his own anti-chinmey-sweep website (G)!

I don’t know where I stand on this issue. On the one hand, it does seem awfully old-fashioned to preserve a monopoly, especially a Nazi monopoly (Nazopoly?). On the other hand, they wear tophats!


Silke & Normen Kowalewski have created Rheinschuh, an on-line "database of Rotblumewashed-up shoes."

All the shoes were found on the banks of the Rhine. Everything’s organized by category: boots, slippers, sneakers, dismembered shoe parts, even gloves (handschuhe = "hand shoes" in German). Data concerning the shoes is carefully documented, and each shoe even has a name (Redbloom is to the left).

Why RheinShoe? you may be asking yourself. The website’s owners have provided an answer, translated by yours truly:

Rhineshoe is..

A river in snapshots.
Completely nuts.
Documenting flotsam and jetsam.
A bit of nonsense.
A look at the smaller things of life.
An instruction-book for inventing stories.
Delighted with input.
The scope of a no-longer-completely-new medium.
A mudfight gloriously lost.
The meeting of the eternal and the banal
Something to cheer up your afternoon.
An answer to gaudy and dumb.
An invitation to discovery.
The materialization of the physical in the virtual.
A forum for views and insights.
Better than television.
Lived interaction.
An off-kilter experiment.
Always surprising.

New Objectivity in New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is hosting a major show of Neue Sachlichkeit ("New Objectivity") portraits, and the New York Times calls it "amazing":

Organized by Sabine Rewald, curator of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art at the Met, this exhibition creates an indelible, psychologically charged picture of Weimar Germany as it teetered between World Wars I and II. In a larger sense it is a humane hall of mirrors whose representation of individuals and types, of the quick and the deluded, the knowing and the devouring, has a sharpness that still cuts.

Presented in seven galleries devoid of fanfare or froufrou, “Glitter and Doom” contains just more than 100 paintings and drawings by 10 artists, prominent among them George Grosz, Christian Schad, Rudolf Schlichter and Karl Hubbuch, and most conspicuously the unrelentingly savage Otto Dix and his magnificent other, Max Beckmann. With Dix represented by 53 works and Beckmann holding his own at 17, the two preside over this exhibition like Picasso and Braque, except that they are equals.

A slideshow is found here which highlights the glistening, icily perverted work of Christian Schad (G), who’s not as well-known as his more traditionally "Expressionist-looking" colleagues:

The meticulous Schad, represented by works done in Berlin during the late 1920s, seems to have been more evenhanded. He imbued all his subjects, including himself, with an enervated yet dignified remoteness. The exception may be the portrait of a pair of sideshow performers, “Agosta the ‘Winged One’ and Rasha the ‘Black Dove.’ ” Here a slim man with an inverted rib cage and a watchful black woman summon a challenging energy and direct it right at us.

For those of you who, like me, can’t pop off to New York to see the show, I recommend the glorious Taschen book on this period, The New Objectivity (German version here). Dozens of large, full-color illustrations and sympathetic essays bring these odd, intense, cynical, vulnerable creators to life.

The End of a Legal Battle over Traffic Lights

If there was one thing everyone could agree on about East German socialism, it was that world peace could only be assured after the inevitable victory of international socialism, when all peoples would unite as brothers under the banner of understanding among peoples.

AmpelmaennchenThat and the traffic lights. They were fuckin’ adorable, especially the green "walk" signal. OK, his outstretched arm is much too long for his body and seems to be deformed into a hideous, fingerless club. But he’s striding so zestily into the glorious Socialist future that you just can’t help adoring him, and the hat and the shoes are sharp, in all senses of the word. (The red "stop" signal looks a little bit too cruciform/mummy-like for my tastes, but is still very popular, especially as a keychain).

Two German business titans each claimed to have the rights to use the image of the Ampelmaennchen ("little traffic-light men"). In this corner, Markus Heckhausen, a Berlin designer with roots in West Germany. He trademarked the figures in 2003, and plans to use them on a wide range of consumer knickknacks. In the other corner, Joachim Roßberg, an East German engineer who used to be in charge of producing East Germany’s traffic lights, and who claimed to have already registered the figures in 1997.

A complex, wearisome legal battle (there are no other kinds) ensued, and, of course, the West German interloper won (G). The poor East German engineer had 13 of his 15 registered trademarks cancelled, and is now only allowed to use the Ampelmaennchen to sell alcohol, of all things.

Don’t feel too sorry for the Ossie person from the new federal states, though. As he saw that the ship of his legal case was about to smash against the rocks of German jurisprudence, he tried a desperate ‘Hail Mary.’ (according to the Spiegel article linked above): He claimed he wasn’t even a party to the lawsuit, since it was actually his son, also named Joachim Roßberg, who actually owned the rights to the images. Problem was, if that were the case, the son obtained the rights when he was nine, and was director of a company when he was twelve. The judges have referred Roßberg Senior to the local District Attorney.

Re-socializing Rummy

As you’re no doubt aware, German lawyers, working in concert with the Center for Constitutional Rights, have filed a lawsuit asking Germany’s top prosecutor to investigate Donald Rumsfeld for war crimes and Geneva Convention violations. If the Attorney General chooses to pursue the motion, she would use a 2002 German law (G-pdf) which gives Germany "universal jurisdiction" over war crimes and violations of international law, even if they have nothing to do with Germany.

There have already been 53 petitions to invoke the law and none has been acted on, according to this week’s Die Zeit, so there’s pretty much zero chance of Rumsfeld going to prison in Germany. This is unfortunate, since German prisons offer prisoners a wide range of therapeutic programs to achieve the legally-prescribed goal of "re-socializing" offenders. I think Rummy could benefit from some of these. Here’s a little play I wrote on the subject, which will be coming to a dinner theatre near you soon.

Re-socializing Rummy

Donald Rumsfeld is sitting at a desk in an interview room in the the Justizvollzugsanstalt Tegel Berlin. He looks angry and impatient. A middle-aged man enters the room dressed in a black turtleneck sweater, holding a file folder and a clipboard.

Rumsfeld: Good grief, young fella, where’s all your hair?

Interviewer: My hair? I have no hair.

Rumsfeld: But you couldn’t be a minute over 35! Listen, young man, just because it’s getting a little thin up top doesn’t mean you’ve gotta go whole hog and shave your head. You want to go through life looking like Telly Savalas?

Interviewer: I do not know who that is. Anyway, Mr. Rumsfeld, I am here to interview you, not to discuss hairstyles.

Rumsfeld (pointing at watch): Alright, but keep it short. I have a meeting with my team of lawyers in half an hour.

Interviewer: Let me introduce myself. My name is Detlef Klingenschäler, and I am a social pedagogue.

Rumsfeld: Deflett what? Social what?

Klingenschäler: Detlef. Detlef Klin-gen-schä-ler. I am a social pedagogue. We are persons who study psychiatric and social adjustment issues relating to persons from backgrounds of social weakness. I have been given the assignment of conducting a study of your social adjustment and social background, in accordance with Section 2 of the German Law on the Execution of Sentences, so that you will be re-socialized and be able to lead a life free of criminal acts in future.

Rumsfeld: So, if I understood that properly, you’re here to turn me into a socialist.

Klingenschäler: Nein, nein, of course not, Mr. Rumsfeld, your political —

Rumsfeld: I heard what I heard, Dr. von Turtleneck. All I can say is that you’ve got a tough row to hoe there, comrade (chuckles). Anyway, you’re about 17 years too late –perhaps you didn’t get the memo about the Wall falling. But I guess your type probably thought Communism was just fine and dandy anyway.

Klingenschäler: My name is Klingenschäler, Mr. Rumsfeld. The issue of the Berlin Wall is obviously a very complex issue which I do not here want to discuss with you.

Rumsfeld: See, that’s just the problem. Look here: (moves hands to left of table) Communism bad. (moves hands to right) Freedom good.

What’s so complex about that? Good gravy, whatever happened to Germans like good old Helmut Kohl? There was a man who knew which side Germany’s bread was buttered on, if you’ll pardon the expression. We got along like gangbusters. Heck, I even ate some of that horrible pig-stomach dish he kept forcing on us.

Klingenschäler: Oh, you mean Saumagen.

Rumsfeld: Yeah, that was it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a real pig stomach, sitting there on the plate, jiggling like Aunt Nancy’s Jello Bundt cake. I thought I was going to up-chuck. But I ate it, we signed the deal, and those missiles kept Germany safe, and the Commies on the defensive. I guess you people have completely forgotten about that.

Klingenschäler: Please, Mr. Rumsfeld, let us discuss your therapy. According to the file, you have been found guilty of violations of the Geneva Conventions and war crimes by the Berlin District Court. You apparently did not cooperate with the police investigation in any way.

Rumsfeld: No, I most certainly did not. And let’s back up a few sentences there. You’re throwing a lot of reckless accusations around, relating to a situation which you do not have the metrics for.

Let’s get a few things straight. Did I authorize aggressive investigation techniques? The answer to that question would be yes. Did some of our boys perhaps get a bit too enthusiastic now and then? Well, perhaps. Stuff happens. Did things get a little hot in there for the terrorists and murderers? Why, by golly, I just bet they did! Perhaps we ruined some mass-murderer’s day. Boo hoo hoo. But the key question is this: Did we get information that prevented terrorist attacks against our troops and citizens? You bet your bottom dollar. And if that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Klingenschäler: (writing) "do not want to be right." So I now can understand that you do not believe you have done things that are wrong and that hurt other people. This is important. I will be working with you to help you develop insights into your harmful actions and to help you understand why you should not be repeating those harmful actions.

Rumsfeld: Oh. My. Goodness. Are you for real? Am I on hidden camera?

Klingenschäler: Actually, you are. This is a prison, Mr. Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld: Don’t remind me, Defelt. Although I must say, the exercise room’s pretty nice here.

Klingenschäler: It is Detlef!

Mozart’s Complete C Minor Mass In Düsseldorf

Anybody who’s going to be in Düsseldorf on the 26th of November should visit the St. Antonius Church to hear the Junger KonzertChor Düsseldorf e.V. sing the Mozart’s Mass in C Minor.

It’s a a completed version of the partial manuscript Mozart left behind at his death — the completion was done by the American pianist and musicologist Robert Levin of Harvard University. Read an interview with him about his completion here (G-pdf). I’ve seen the Young Concert Choir in action, and they’re a talented and fresh-faced bunch.

Come by and hear the Mozart that never was!

The TeleCommunist Manifesto

A Ukrainian-born Canadian "Telecommunist", Dmitry Kleiner, has joined with some comrades to start a telecommun(ist)ications company in Berlin. No investors, no bosses, no business plan, according to this article in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. However, unbeatably low prices for a small firm: 109 Euros for a full setup, including 2-cent-a-minute long distance and a suite of telecommunications services.

Kleiner is practicing what he calls "Venture Communism," in which small cells of entrepreneurs colonize and "buy back" little sections of capitalism, one piece at a time. Kleiner is no Marxist, however — he’s following the teachings of the Russian libertarian Socialist Mikhail Bakunin who, "like many top executives today, considered any form of state a kind of slavery."

It’s all run out of a tiny room in the former Berlin Central Telegraph Bureau, a "weathered and rusted-out" building in the Oranienburgerstrasse. Kleiner and his Canadian friend William Waites claim to be experts and to be dead serious about this venture. Any money they make over and above what’s needed to pay their salaries goes to Hurricane Katrina victims and to help fund other projects, such as Internet courses for immigrants.

I find only one thing scandalous about this entire story: there’s no entertaining website for me to point you to. and are still free. Doubtless some capitalist will soon buy them.