Amos Oz on Cosmopolitanism

Die Welt publishes an interview (g) with Amos Oz (title: "Israel is a Collection of Fiery Arguments"), in which the grand old man of Israeli letters talks about Israel’s image in the European media and doles out advice to Young Cosmopolitans (my translation):

To those who want to acquire a sense of cosmopolitanism, I recommend: read fiction – novels and short stories. When I look at the German media or other European media and see the picture of Israel they deliver, Israel seems to be made up of eighty percent religious fanatics, ten percent settlers in the West Bank, nine percent brutal soldiers, and just one percent intellectuals, who criticize the administration and are wonderful writers. Of course, that’s a distortion of reality.

Israel is basically a secular country, a moderate and pragmatic country. Eighty percent of its population doesn’t live in the West Bank or in the Gaza strip, or even in Jerusalem. They live in the coastal regions. Israelis are Mediterranean people, very warm-hearted, who come from the middle class. They’re also materialistic people, who can be loud, and who love to argue. They belong to a Mediterranean society, like Greece, Italy, or the south of France. The country Theodor Herzl dreamed of – a Vienna in the Middle East – never became reality. And now I come to your question: The only way to learn about the real Israel is through its books. This was how I found a way to Germany, through its books. When I was a young man, I wanted nothing to do with Germany. I thought that for the rest of my life I would never have any contact with Germany. The reasons were clear: The Holocaust, other atrocities, the stories I had heard, all the survivors I met in Jerusalem. But then I broke this self-imposed taboo and changed my views — because I read Germany’s post-war writers: The writers of Group 47.

As I began to read Günter Grass, Heinrich Böll, and Siegfried Lenz, and all the others (in translation, of course), it became impossible for me to continue hating everything German. I could simply no longer generalize. As I read these novels, I found myself forced to share these peoples’ feelings. So I say it’s always the case, not just for Germany and Israel, that the best bridge between nations and cultures is literature.

If you want to learn about another people, turn your back to the newspapers and read the literature, because only through literature can you acquire a deep appreciation of other peoples and their cultures. When you buy a ticket and fly to another country, you see only the museums, the historical sites, and the attractions, perhaps also a bit of the countryside, and then you fly back. But when you read a novel, then you’re invited into these peoples’ living rooms, in their children’s bedrooms – even into their bedrooms. The best way to forge an intimate bond with another culture is to read its literature.

For a fine profile of Oz in English, click here.

For Calculus-Haters

So, like all red-blooded cat owners, I’m checking for an update, and see this:


It’s an OK Lolcat, but I’ve seen better (here and here, for instance).  Haven’t we all known cats who love to — wait a minute, what’s that on the sink?  Laufen?  That’s German.  Teh odd Inturnets subkulcher of Lolcats have reeched Jurmminy?!!1! 

Hmm.  The English Wikipedia entry has yet to be translated into German (Hungarian and Spanish are covered, though).  To verify that this was in fact a German Lolcat picture, I looked up the brand "tofix" on the bottle in the background.  It’s an Austrian firm that specializes in toilet cleaners.  Their German-language website is here

Whenever I see a website like Tofix’s — nice, but not too sophisticated, pretty 2002-looking — I always look for a little Union Jack picture, for the English-language version.  A big company will hire professional translators for their fancy, Java-encrusted websites, leading to disappointingly competent translations.  But a smaller firm like Tofix will usually hire Ute, the quality control supervisor’s wife, who spent 3 years studying education in New Zealand.  And indeed, that’s what we have at the English-language website of Tofix/Rorax enterprises.  Here’s their mission statement:

Tofix has been the specialist for cleaning and hygiene in bathrooms and toilets. It offers powerful products appropriate for all cleaning requirements. It combats limescale and urinary calculus and is safe to use. The Tofix product range represents powerful cleaning and perfect cleanliness within no time.

In fact, they have a product called WC Urinary Calculus Remover that does nothing but remove urinary calculus.*

And, I say, not a moment too soon!

* I have some sympathy for the translator.  The word Ute was trying to translate, Urinstein, doesn’t even exist in English.  There’s no official entry for it on, you are instead sent to a discussion forum containing the suggestions "urine scale" and "urinal cake" (which is clearly wrong).   Now "urine scale" is pretty close, but really, how often do you hear that?  I doubt a company in squeamish Anglo-Saxonia would put the word "urine" on the front of a toilet-cleaning product.  Not so in Germany.  We see here the renowned Central European earthiness at work.  In fact, you can buy a special stain remover (g) that promises to remove "blood," "sperm"and "pus" from your clothes.  Something for the serial killer on your gift list!

Quote of the Day: Emerson on Genius

"In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance.

Some things you don’t learn until you leave your country. Emerson – who reads him these days?  But here in Germany, I was surprised to find a large contingent of German scholars who spend years poring through the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, apparently to their great satisfaciton. A few weeks ago, I saw a lecture by one German professor of American studies in which he claimed to show that almost every important idea Nietzsche had ever had, Emerson had had first.  Time to go back and read Emerson…

‘One Big Arty Party’

Another piece about swinging Berlin, this time in the New York Times.  The author, Adam Fisher, gets carried away! by the fabulousness a little, but we forgive him, because he profiles lots of interesting people.  Excerpts follow:

Berlin, the biggest city in continental Europe by far, has actually been losing its German population for years, but for the last five years… that loss has been more than made up for by an influx of expats. What’s more, they’re settling down: buying funky apartments, starting creative businesses, having precocious children. ”We’re a little overrun,” [Exberliner publisher Nadja] Vancauwenberghe concludes, looking out her window. For a long time, the neighborhood outside, Prenzlauer Berg, boasted a thriving international squat scene. Today the main strip is choked with baby strollers and stylish boutiques.

The expats who are gentrifying Prenzlauer Berg are creative types, the kind of people who don’t necessarily want a standard career. This is perhaps a good thing, since the unemployment rate in Berlin is currently around 20 percent. There may not be many opportunities for regular employment, but there are plenty of good gigs. For musicians, Berlin is an ideal staging ground; its central location makes touring Europe easy and more profitable. For visual artists, it’s all about the city’s cultural wealth. Berlin’s divided legacy means that there are twice the number of museums and art-supporting institutions than usual. Plus there is a long tradition of social tolerance here.


Berlin is undoubtedly fun. The loose liquor laws don’t require bars to close until the last patron has quaffed his last drink, and some club parties can go for the entire weekend. If there is any problem with Berlin, it may be that it’s too free, too wild. ”Rent is cheap, studio space is cheap, but for every artist, there’s also a spot on a guest list,” says Alex Konuk, the half-American, half-German owner of 8MM, a dive bar with an intellectual air. ”So the test here is being able to live up to the creative standards you’ve set for yourself.”


Things are invariably provisional, experimental, cerebral. But what could be a Teutonic bore is leavened with a comic exuberance that is irony-free. There is no better place to enjoy this than at Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke Bar in the still-raw neighborhood of Friedrichshain. Monster himself — a k a Ron Rineck, a 32-year-old American expat decked out in a Mohawk, suit and tie — greets you at the door and ushers your party to one of the many soundproof karaoke booths. Rineck has been in Berlin almost since the beginning. His story is one of the weirdest, but it’s also emblematic of how much Berlin has changed, and how much it has stayed the same.

The pleasingly odd websites of some of these creative types featured in the article, such as Toby Dammit and Jessie Evans, are worth a visit.  [H/t: bro]

Ravel’s Secret…

…was, apparently, frontotemporal dementia:

Ravel and Dr. Adams were in the early stages of a rare disease called FTD, or frontotemporal dementia, when they were working, Ravel on “Bolero” and Dr. Adams on her painting of “Bolero,” Dr. Miller said. The disease apparently altered circuits in their brains, changing the connections between the front and back parts and resulting in a torrent of creativity.

“We used to think dementias hit the brain diffusely,” Dr. Miller said. “Nothing was anatomically specific. That is wrong. We now realize that when specific, dominant circuits are injured or disintegrate, they may release or disinhibit activity in other areas. In other words, if one part of the brain is compromised, another part can remodel and become stronger.”

Thus some patients with FTD develop artistic abilities when frontal brain areas decline and posterior regions take over, Dr. Miller said.

How Duesseldorf Gave Birth to ‘Stand-Up Tragedy’

Famous Duesseldorfers include Kraftwerk, Heinrich Heine, and Josef Beuys (sort of).  Plus, never forget that Robert Schumann went insane in this city!  Unfortunately, few of these names rings a bell outside of Germany (although they should, they should!).  Therefore, I’ve been on the lookout for other famous Duesseldorfers. 

And I found one. The one, the only, the inimitable Brother Theodore:

Brother Theodore (11 November 19065 April 2001) was a German monologuist and comedian known for rambling, stream of consciousness dialogues [sic] which he called "stand up tragedy." He was born Theodore Gottlieb into a wealthy family in Düsseldorf, Germany, where his father was a magazine publisher. Theodore attended the University of Cologne. Under Nazi rule, he was imprisoned at the Dachau concentration camp until he signed over his family’s fortune for one Reichsmark. After being deported for chess hustling from Switzerland he went to Austria where Albert Einstein, a family friend, helped him escape to the United States. He worked as a janitor at Stanford University, a dockworker in San Francisco and played a bit part in Orson WellesThe Stranger before moving to New York City.

His ‘act’, if you can call it that, explored what would happen if you re-animated Schopenhauer, glued mutilated chunks of a silver wig on him, stuck a gun in his back, and ordered him to ‘be entertaining.’  Here is BT from one of his sixteen legendary appearances on the David Letterman show.

Now, I’ll admit, a little of Brother Theodore goes a long way.  In fact, 2 minutes or so is enough to last most people their entire lives.  But I couldn’t get enough of the man. As I watched the flickering, glowing television screen in my suburban home, I thought to myself: "One day, I must go to live in the city that brought forth this diseased man-child!"

Some of Brother Theodore’s other aphorisms:

"The best thing is not to be born. But who is as lucky as that? To whom does it happen? Not to one among millions and millions of people."

"All the great spiritual leaders are dead …. Moses is dead …. Muhammed is dead …. Buddha is dead …. and I’m not feeling so hot myself!"

"Her hair was of a dank yellow, and fell over her temples like sauerkraut, her face was sweaty like a chunk of rancid pork…"

"What this country needs, and I’m not joking, is a dictator. I feel the time is right, and the place congenial, and I am ready. I will be strict but just. Heads will roll, and corpses will swing from every lamppost."