The Constitutional Court Expands Protection for Journalists & Sources

The Federal Constitutional Court today issued a ruling in the Cicero magazine case, which I have been following for a while. In April of 2005, Cicero, a German political magazine, published an article about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Iran. The article was based in part on confidential documents generated by the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA, or Federal Office of Criminal Investigation).

After the BKA was unable to determine the source of the leaked documents, Interior Minister Otto Schily authorized a search of the magazine’s officers and the residence of its publisher, Bruno Schirra, on the basis of being an accessory to the betrayal of state secrets. According to this article (G) in the FAZ, the Court ruled the searches unconstitutional. Any betrayal of state secrets was committed by whomever originally took the document from the BKA, not by the journalists who eventually obtained access to it. By the time they got the document, the crime had already been committed and they could no longer be accessories to it. (In fact, the local court later declined to authorize a trial against the journalists involved for betrayal of state secrets, holding that there was insufficient proof of the charge.)

The court held that the mere suspicion that a journalist may have been an accomplice to betrayal of state secrets could not serve as the basis for a comprehensive search of his offices. Further, conducting intrusive searches merely to try to pin down an informant’s identity is disproportionate and impermissible. Publishers’ groups are hailing the judgment, but also calling for new legislative guidelines to reflect the court’s balancing of interests and improve protection for sources.

I don’t have much comment on this just now except to say "me like freedom of press very much," but I thought I’d pass it along. 

German Words of the Week: Dissen & Cruisen

I’m listening to the radio this morning, and a woman’s talking about the new edition of the Pons publishing house Woerterbuch der Jugendsprache (Dictionary of Youth Language). Some nice examples can be found here (G): Solarium = chick-toaster; coin-operated Mallorca. Fat guy = Sidewalk-tank, Puddingsteamer, Double-Whopper. Weakling: Teletubbyzurueckwinkler – "guy-who-waves-back-at-the-teletubbies."

Two of my favorites were dissen and cruisen (G), which means just about exactly what they mean in English. Now, as we all know, when you want to express a wish or an "irreal" proposition in German, you have to do weird stuff to the verb, like add a -te at the end, change the vowel, or sprinkle a few umlauts over the vowels. As always, the irregular verbs get the weirdest conjugations.

A friend and I derive strange joy from trying to imagine how this mysterious Konjunktiv II Präteritum transformation would look for new German words. Any guesses? I’d guess dissen would be conjugated regularly, so it would just get a -te. But cruisen has a ‘u’ in it, so maybe, in my little fantasy-world, it could get its own very special umlaut: "Ich crüiste mit euch gern, muss aber hausafgaben machen."

What do you think? Am I onto something? And if I am, can’t we trademark the Konjunktiv II Präteritum of new German words, so that we get a couple of Euro-cents everytime someone uses them?

The Non-Existent Virtuoso Caught by CD Lookup

Gramophone magazine reports that an English pianist named Joyce Hatto became an underground sensation in the classical music world. Her recordings, all of which were produced by her husband, William Barrington-Coupe, on his tiny, private Concert Artist record label, seemed to span an almost-impossible repertoire. But when someone popped in one of her CDs into his computer, the automatic CD-lookup function identified it as a previously-released CD by someone completely different. It gets even stranger from there…

German Word of the Week: Pimpf

An acquaintance recommended to me Walter Kempowski’s Tadelloeser & Wolff, an autobiographical novel about a young man’s coming of age in Rostock just before and during World War II.

It’s told from the young man’s point of view, the way a child might tell it: as a series of short vignettes consisting mostly of direct sense-impressions. Sentences often incomplete. It sounds a bit strange, but I find it fresh and strangely innocent, and it’s productively unsettling to see war-mongering propaganda, pervasive anti-Semitism, political persecution, and hideous battle injuries reflected through the uncritical, curious eyes of a child. It’s also a vocabulary exercise — a stumper on every page. Kempowski’s father, for instance, constantly refers to things as total verbumfeit, and camping trips bring us words like Eichelhaeher.

At one point, the young male narrator starts referring to himself as a Pimpf, which means "little squirt" in German. Many English-speakers find German words with seemingly extraneous ‘f’s at the end particularly lovable (yes, you do pronounce them). But, I think to myself, why is he calling himself a little squirt? It gets even odder when he begins talking about all the Pimpfe getting together, putting on shiny new uniforms, marching, chanting, and doing collective chores like sweeping the streets.

You guessed it — they’re little Nazis. Before you joined the Hitlerjugend, there was a preliminary stage for boys of 10-14 called the Jungvolk. A former Pimpf named Wolfgang Herchner remembers (G), on the homepage of the German Historical Museum:

1938: Finally, we were ten years old and could (had to) join the Hitler Youth, or more precisely the Jungvolk. We were "Pimpfe", as people said back then, often a little dismissively. In our fantastic uniforms, however, we felt really manly. On weekends and Wednesdays we were ordered to perform service.

We were drilled in everthing that would makes us as hard as steel, as agile as greyhounds, and as tough as leather. Sport training, skill in cross-country marching with camouflage and orientation exercises. Survival training, shooting, throwing hand grenades, and first-aid, as well as test of courage — everthing encouraged the youthful ambition to grow into battle-ready young men.  In holiday camps, we got a taste of soldierly communal life, and the boys were taught to wean themselves from their parental home. We were given the feeling that we were to serve the Fatherland and, most of all, the Fuehrer, which was of course the highest and most worthy goal for a member of the Hitler Youth. At that time, we had never learned or experienced anything else.

If you follow the link at the beginning of this post, you’ll see that the Bild tabloid newspaper has brought out a special bargain edition of the book, which weighs precisely 522 grams. The book was apparently also made into a television series in 1975, of which many people seem to have fond memories indeed.

German Mining Museum Part 2 of 2

[Now for the thrilling conclusion!]

My friend, who accompanied me, commented on the studies that had been done with coal miners that showed that if you add efficiency concepts into coal mines, as was apparently tried in the 80s, and which resulted in workers being traded in and out of teams almost at random to promote employee deployment efficiency structures, you end up with a massive increase in work-related injuries. The workers there depend on knowing each others’ capabilities, trusting one another and interpreting quick signals. She also mentioned that she would find it hard to be the wife of someone who worked in one of these incredibly dangerous and isolated workspaces. I understand 100%.

My main question was how in hell a coal tunnel justifies the energy expenditure (in heavy steel equipment, water flow, electricity, workers wages and food, dynamite, complex hydraulic bracing, large, uniquely-designed machinery and administration) required to yield it. I’m still puzzling over that.

The remainder of the museum is good, even over-expansive, for what it is, but you have to have a serious interest in mining, rocks, metals and mechanics to appreciate it. The ‘gallery of minerals and metals’, showing what comes from where, is not especially informative, since it dates from 1976, has not yet been updated (apparently the UdSSR still produces one third of the world’s potash) and conspicuously fails to mention uranium, which must have been a state secret back then.

The museum takes odd turns at times, with a selection of religious icons to the patron saint of miners, Barbara, or a display of the role of women in the mining industry, or fossilized trees. There are entire rooms filled with different drilling contraptions, signaling devices and lamps, or wagons for transporting coal. There is also a somewhat silly display of all of the things that mining products can be used for – yes, everyone knows that silver can be turned into candlesticks, and copper goes into coins, and coal gets burned for fuel. I found none of these exhibits particularly enlightening.

As an admittedly non-technical person, the three parts that interested me most were the safety mechanisms, the role of strikes and organized labor in the coal mines, and the posters used to motivate workers in mines throughout the ages. In respect of the first, I had no idea that a torpedo-sized metal canister was used to extricate workers from collapsed tunnels. The worker would curl himself into the 40 centimeter-wide canister, strap himself in, and be dragged out through a drilling hole. I’ve wished for something like that during tedious conferences, but seeing it in real life is stark evidence of the danger of the mining field. The “Strike” posters and the corresponding proclamations that “Waffengewalt” (armed force) will be used to maintain industrial productivity from 1919 are telling examples of the social conflict and hardline positions immediately following the First World War.

Two posters stood out – one of which I will call the “Showering Turk”. The poster – dating from the 60s – admonishes workers to shower before their shift and afterwards. The illustrated gentleman happily scrubbing black dust away does not look as though he will be able to scrub off his distinctly non-European skin tone. And why should he shower before his shift?

The other poster is – if I recall properly – a proclamation by the Reichsmilchsausschuss (Reichs Milk Committee) – featuring three stark strong woodcut hands grasping for glasses of milk. The caption: “Mahnruf nach Mehr Milch!” The style is distinctly early Forties; the poster instructs workers to drink milk on the job to preserve their health and productivity.

I recall hearing anecdotes about the habit of some German industrial laborers to buy a case of beer at the beginning of their shift and to return the empty bottles at the end of the shift to the company-subsidized canteen. The anecdote continues by describing how a push for industrial safety and better working conditions in factories and resource industries led companies to install free milk machines on the factory floor. The milk went sour – the workers stayed with their beer. I can distinctly recall witnessing this professional alcoholism still occurring in the mid-Nineties at an industrial company I interned with and being shocked by it. I really wanted a copy of the poster for my kitchen. I also let milk go sour far too often.

I’d recommend the museum to anyone with a serious technological bent or a connection to the mining industry. Afterwards, partake of a local “Moritz Fliege” Pils in the Bochumer Bermuda Triangle – a pub neighborhood to rival Düsseldorf. And then get on the train back to whatever place you work and live in, where you’ll never need a torpedo casing to see daylight again.

PS – the Museum Shop is distinctly disappointing, consisting mainly of various mineral products (polished bits of amethyst and fossils), but does feature slightly disturbing black leather belts with the miners’ symbol of crossed hammer and pick, as well as an apparently local version of Schnapps called “Muckefuck”. No milk posters here, unfortunately.

A Visit to the German Mining Museum in Bochum (Deutsches Bergbau Museum) Part 1 of 2

[Hi there! Ed Philp now favors us with a thrilling 2-part account of his visit to Bochum. Take it away, Ed!]

Ed Philp here with a post on the cultural and technical highlight of Bochum, a city in the heart of Germany’s industrial Ruhrgebiet. I visited a friend last week who lives there.

I know three things about Bochum: It boasts Germany’s (proudly self-announced) “Sixth Largest University“: a concrete monstrosity built on shifting coal slag heaps and mine fill (meaning that the buildings are cleverly ‘hung’ on architectural tenterhooks, preventing them from crumbling when the foundation shifts). It was the first of the major campus universities to be constructed in the 60s in Nordrhein-Westfalen: here, architects cut their teeth on the types of buildings and disdain for humans also seen in the Düsseldorf and Bielefeld university campuses. These buildings exude institutionalism and they are unspeakably bleak. Many of the open spaces resemble Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, right down to the inhuman proportions, barrenness and massive concrete blocks for pavement. However, Bochum is apparently Germany’s most wheelchair-accessible university, which is a major plus point in a country where many buildings and even whole towns can be extremely wheelchair-daunting due to Denkmalschutz (historical building protection) reasons. It also boasts a young, dynamic faculty and an innovative research department. My friend also mentioned that the people there are vastly more friendly and helpful than at many other universities. But there is absolutely nothing charming about it.

Unfortunately all of the construction money seems to have gone into the resolution of this tectonic design quandary, since virtually none of the buildings are labeled as to their contents and there are no self-evident maps. I only found the law faculty – of course in Building GC 431, why ever didn’t I think of that? – by looking for the inevitable horde of Barbour-jacket wearing young people standing outside with large red statute texts. The library was closed. The faculty needs to update its homepage.

In any event, I also know of Bochum as the setting of numerous works of fiction dealing with the coal mining and worker lifestyle of immediate post-war Germany, among them Fremdes Land. The regional names of Wanne Eickel and Wattenscheid struck an immediate chord on my way in. It was strange to see these township names go by on my regional train and not to see crowded tenements with exhausted hardbitten coalminers returning from their shifts ‘unter Tage’ (below the day, an expression for mines or mine work). Bochum is right in Germany’s coal and industrial heartland, and coal mining is probably still the defining feature of this small city.

Third, Bochum appropriately boasts the German Mining Museum. After the library was closed, a visit seemed to be the next best chance to make use of my day in Bochum. So, my friend and I spent the next four hours there.

In general, I left with a positive impression. I am not technically-gifted or even mechanically-capable in the least, but there was enough in the museum to generally hold my interest. However, if you are like me, you don’t need to make a special visit to Bochum for the Deutsches Bergbau Museum, unless you have guests who are extremely engineering-inclined or want to know the difference between a crushing drill bit and a rasping one. I didn’t, but I do now… I also know what a 1960s electrical control station looks like, and that coal smells bad.

The museum boasts a reconstructed mine shaft and corridors, themselves 17 meters below ground, which is worth seeing if you like 2 km of absolutely claustrophobic mine shafts (from about 1900 to today) with large inactive machinery, drill bits and clanky spiky noisy metal things everywhere. I don’t, but I suspect that it is almost entirely realistic. One has the sense that a real mine would also be horribly noisy, hot and truly filthy, which isn’t quite captured (thank you museum). I banged my head on pipes or rock protrusions twice, which hurt, but I suppose that is why miners wear hard hats. I saw a lot of giant metal contraptions used for scraping or drilling into rock faces that would lend themselves well to James Bond movies, where Bond is trapped between a rock face and a 17 meter long dentist’s drill, or a series of rotating rock saws. I tripped over cables, conveyor belts and the other members of the tour group (it is dimly lit) at regular intervals. I saw ‘Tobias’, a model of the last horse used in a coal mine, complete with neighing sounds. I also realized how interconnected and co-dependent German industrial companies from that era were with the mining industry: dozens of control stations and devices and other things are prominently stamped Bosch, AEG, Thyssen Krupp or BASF.

The visit made me realize how much I thank the Lord Jesus happy I am to have savored the simple privilege of being able to walk out of whatever places of employment I have occupied, and that I don’t work in places where I am dependent on my employer to get me out of my workplace each day, or on colleagues to prevent me from being shredded by an industrial rock sifter. And how utterly useless I would be in a place like that with so many moving heavy metal things and no intuitive idea of how things work, and how much I would miss daily aesthetics beyond little hand-drawn signs and primitive graffiti. Even non-offensive ‘motivational’ North American office art is preferable to stone walls with a rope to pull you up in a tin can at the end of the day.

Michael Hofman on Translating German Poetry

I recently bought Ashes for Breakfast, English translations of selected poems by prominent German poet Durs Gruenbein. The English poet Michael Hofmann took up the challenge of translating Gruenbein’s dense, idiosyncratic poems, which many people might have thought was impossible. In his introduction, Hofmann declares his aim to provide something "harmonious and possible," not "exotic, wooden, pointless and dead."

The result is is smashing. Hofmann takes plenty of liberties with Gruenbein’s originals, thereby adding his own tart, colloqiual touch. Apparently it was all done more or less with Gruenbein’s approval. It’s like getting two poets for the low, low price of one. Here’s Hofmann’s explanation of his approach to translating a poem:

In fact, the question of "finish" in poetry translation is what macht mir zu schaffen — does my head in, I would say in English. In fiction it’s easy. I put the original away, and fiddle with the English to the point where I start to undo my corrections and put back things I had before. Then it’s done. But what to do with a poem? If I "take it away," and work at it the same way, until every line has just enough material and just enough music and just enough interest, then surely it would become one of my own poems. And it might be a long way from the original. Is the secret, then, merely to reduce its exposure to me, "undercooking" it, as it were? Possibly — but that’s precisely my objection to a lot of poetry translations, that they are undercooked. They might be glimmerings and beginnings of poems, but full of clumsiness and dulness, no English poet would dream of offering something so half-baked, so halbgar, so intermittent. But it has to be in some more verifiable relation to the original. It doesn’t merely face the reader; Janus-faced, it has to be looking back over its shoulder at the German, too. It’s a real problem, and I don’t know what the answer is.

Michael Hoffman, Introduction to Ashes for Breakfast, pp. xxiii-xiv.

Abnormal Sex Muscle Flotation Agents

Checking out the sitemeter page for this blog, I found that someone was somehow linked to this blog by the Molecules with Silly or Unusual Names pages which deliver exactly that: hundreds of molecules with silly or unusual names.

Molecules to watch for 2007 include moronic acid, fukalite, adamantane, diabolic acid, fukugetin, betweenanene and screwene, DEAD, sodamide, furfuryl furfurate ("quite smelly"), dogcollarane (has not yet "been synthesized"), magic acid ("one of the strongest of the inorganic ‘superacids’"), SEX (sodium ethyl xanthate, "a flotation agent used in the mining industry"), Sex Muscle Abnormal Protein 5, MAP-kinase-kinase-kinase, yessotoxin, wrenchnolol, and warfarin (may have been used to kill Stalin).

The commentary also has a certain je ne sais quoi:


Although it sounds like it, this isn’t the active ingredient in a pina colada cocktail. Rather it is a versatile reagent for the preparation of boronic esters from halides, the diboration of olefins, and solid-phase Suzuki coupling. [emphasis added -ed.] 


I know you can get most things nowadays in a tin, but this is getting silly… Actually it gets its name from the plant Selinum Vaginatum. The related molecule is Vaginol, which also goes by the name Archangelicin.

Catalog of Missing Objects

Go visit The Missing Objects Project. It’s a website dedicated to important objects that are known to exist, but which are now missing. They include everything from "Gen. John Cadwalader’s Parlor Sofas" to the Ark of the Covenant. Anyone can suggest a new missing object to be added to the collection. Here’s an email I sent to the Project:

Hello there. I have a proposed Missing Object for your catalog. During the summer of 2006, I visited the Princes Czartoryski Museum in Cracow, Poland. The basis of the museum’s collection is a group of artworks and antiquities collected over centuries by this Polish noble family. The highlight is Leonardo’s The Lady with an Ermine. However, on the opposite wall of this room is a frame containing a picture of a now-missing painting by Raphael. The English-language museum guide describes the painting thus:

The empty frame on the opposite wall stands as a reminder of the missing Portrait of a Youth (ca. 1509-11), by Raphael Santi (1483-1520. This was originally thought to be a self-portrait of Raphael, and later variously described as the portrait of Francesco Maria della Rovere, duke of Urbino, and of Federico Gonzaga, duke of Mantua. The painting was bought about 1800 in Venice from the Giustiniani family by Adam Jerzy Czartoryski and Konstanty Czartoryksi. It was looted by the Germans in 1939 and has not been seen since 1945.

Best of luck with your interesting project!

Japanese Toilet Sound Effect Questionnaire

I stopped visiting women’s bathrooms at least a decade ago, after there were some misunderstandings and an incident. Let us draw a veil across these matters.

Now I only go into the women’s bathroom so when some cafe owner decides to replace the good old traditional German letters (D for Damen; H for Herren) with something pretentious and confusing. This is, unfortunately, not rare. One bar in my town features a picture of a sun one one door, and a picture of a moon on the other. WTF? Unless you know German, you’re not going to catch on that in German, "sun" is a feminine noun, and "moon" masculine. (No, there was no "neutral" bathroom, even though German has a "neutral" gender).

But now, there’s a chance to go into the womens’ bathroom without fear of misunderstandings or injunctions. A friend recently sent me a questionnaire distributed by a graduate student at the Kyushu School of Design. She wants to know — well, I’ll just quote the thing.

Questionnaire Survey on Attitudes
toward a Sound Masking Device for Toilet

In Japan, there is a unique sound effect device in many women’s restrooms: a sound masking device for toilet. This device functions to produce the sound of flushing water without the need for actual flushing. To mask the sound of bodily functions, women tend to flush public toilets continuously while using them. As a result, they waste large amounts of water in the process. If a sound masking device is used instead of flushing the toilet several times, then a large amount of water can be saved. Therefore, this sound device was introduced to public toilets to preserve water.

A questionnaire survey was conducted in Japan to investigate the attitudes of people toward such devices. …The survey also aimed to clarify differences in such attitudes according to gender, age, and nationality (ethnic). We would appreciate your understanding to the aims of our research, and your cooperation to this questionnaire.

Female prudery — Environmental Public Enemy #1. (Can’t you just picture the propaganda poster?). Seriously, if you’d like to help save the oceans by confirming the market for "sound effect devices" in women’s toilets across the world, you can download the questionnaire here and the response sheet here.

I’ve already filled out the questionnaire. Of course, I expressed my strong support for a masking sound effect device. However, I suggested more festive sound effects, such as a cannon, or an excerpt from Beethoven’s Ninth. Or this, or this, or this, or this, or this…[ok, that’s enough — ed.]

[Hat-tip: Nanna]