An Attack of the (Acetone) Vapors

Spiegel Online explains why there are so many unexploded bombs in Germany:

An estimated 20,000 delay-action bombs were dropped on Oranienburg during the war because it had a suspected atomic bomb research site, the Heinkel aircraft factory and a pharmaceutical plant. They were designed to explode between two and 146 hours after hitting the ground, to disrupt clearing up work and cause chaos.

But many failed to go off because Oranienburg has soft soil with a hard layer of gravel underneath. That meant bombs would penetrate the earth, bounce off the gravel and come to rest underground with their tips pointing back upwards. In that position gravity stops the chemical detonators from working. They contain a vial of acetone which bursts on impact and is meant to trickle down and dissolve a celluloid disk that keeps back the cocked firing pin.

But when the bomb is pointed upwards, the acetone seeps away from the celluloid, leaving only the vapors to wear the disk down.

So lots of these bombs could apparently explode…anytime.

A Tale of Two Horkheimers

I give you two great men. One German, one American. One notoriously grim, the other irrepressibly cheerful. One analyzes the social forces that shaped the terrifying, hideous twentieth century, the other analyzes the gravitational forces that shape the terrifying, hideous vacuum of outer space. One critiques advanced capitalism, the other critiques…well, nothing really.

But they share one thing: the name Horkheimer (Middle High German: "gall-bladdermonger"):

What, you say, you're waiting for the obscure cultural trivia contest? Here it is. Horkheimer number one, as will be familiar to the more philosophically-inclined readers, was a leading figure in 'critical theory' in the mid-20th century. Critical theory is a left-wing school of thought with a complex and ambiguous stance towards socialism and revolution (we'll save that for another post).

But the second video also features a link to Communism. No, it's nothing Jack says or does. But in the video somwhere, there is something that associates the video with a Communist ruler, however tenuously and (presumably) unintentionally. Anyone who can correctly identify this ridiculously obscure association will have this blog named after them for an entire week, if they so choose.

“Ich muss die Pick-up erst mal greasen”*

Mr. Hamburger Sign

Spiegel [h/t LMGP] goes (g) to the gorgeous Hill Country of Central Texas, where about 10,000 old Teutonotexans still speak a kind of curious, antiquated German planted by Central European immigrants who settled there in the mid-19th century. They've also preserved other jewels in the crown of Germany's cultural heritage, such as the beer, the sausage, the "shooting festivals," and the Volksmusik! (German Joys berichtete).

* Why on earth is it "die Pick-up"?

[Photo: Hamburger shop sign, Caldwell, Texas, September 2004]

The Literature Pope and the Vast Wasteland

In case you were wondering, the 88-year-old 'Literature Pope' of Germany, longtime critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, thinks German television is crap. At Saturday's German Television Prize proceedings, he decided to tell everyone responsible for German TV what he thought, on live TV, as they tried to give him a lifetime achievement prize. Very exciting! I'll comment later as time permits, but for now, here's the video of his "rejection speech."

Art Bunkers in the Country

If there's one thing German architects, engineers and designers love to do, it's take abandoned industrial sites and convert them to "civilian" use without destroying their original utilitarian design. In the fields southwest of the German town of Neuss there once stood the Hombroich Missile Base, a NATO base where Pershing and other missiles were stored. The base was decommissioned in 1993/94, and a local collector named Karl-Heinrich Müller decided to buy the land it was located on, as well as some adjoining territory, and begin building a refuge for artists, writers, and scientists in which low-lying minimalist buildings would complement the rolling pastureland. The first result of this ambitious project was the Hombroich Museum Island, a sort of outdoor museum in which the art is displayed in unobtrusive red-brick buildings set in a gently-landscaped wetland.

Another result is the Missile Base (Raketenstation in German), a collection of odd-looking buildings which sort of emerges unexpectedly from the rolling pastureland (since all the barbed-wire fences surrounding the original missile base were removed). Some of the structures, such as the watchtower, and hangars, have been left in their original locations. Others have been modifed into residences for visiting artists and scientists. Large earthen dams break lines of sight and create tiny out-of-the-way alcoves, like the "one-man house" guesthouse for visiting artists.

Entirely new buildings and sculptures are being planned and built, so the place changes each time you visit it. In 2004, the Langen Foundation building, designed by Japanese minimalist Tadao Ando, was opened. This angular masterpiece refers wittily back to the missile base's original use: the walls are undecorated concrete, and you enter the museum by opening a heavy gray "blast-door" and descending two flights of steps to an underground "bunker." The main part of the museum is sunk about 15 feet into the earth, and consist of two large rectangular galleries set at right-angles to each other.

However, the museum itself is anything but gloomy; light streams in through through large expanses of clear glass. The entrance conducts visitors through an entrance arch, and along an enormous reflecting pool that surrounds half of the main building, which looks like a shimmering clear-glass box. Compared to the building, the artwork on display is pretty modest. The heart of the museum's collection is the bequest of the Langen family, and consists of 20th-century painting (Kenneth Noland, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Andy Warhol, Max Ernst), and Chinese and Japanese scroll painting. The current exhibition, Divine Images in East Asia, features about 30 small-scale representations of Jain Tirthankaras, Hindu deities, Buddha, and some Bodhisattvas. 

The slideshow has are a few pictures of the museum building, the missile base, and the surrounding landscape, which is dominated by the rather attractive Erft Canal (g). Enjoy!

Quote of the Day: Epochs and Empires Crumble

However well founded an order may be, it always rests in part on a voluntary faith in it, a faith that, in fact, always marks the spot where new growth begins, as in a plant; once this unaccountable and uninsurable faith is used up, epochs and empires crumble no differently from business concerns when they lose their credit.

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, (Wilkins/Pike trans.), p. 575.

Annette Stoeckler ‘Gun Fun’

Duesseldorf not only boasts several fine museums, but hundreds of tiny galleries and art spaces pocking the city like welcome holes of airy jouissance in the thick, tasty semi-gelatinous mass of urban life.  One of these spaces is Atelier am Eck (Studio at the Corner), located in a reconditioned former paper factory called the Salzmannbau (g). The studio is now showing works by two German artists who recently completed an artist-exchange program at the Ein Hod Artists' Colony in Israel. One of the artists, Annette Stoeckler, was hanging out in the studio, chatting with visitors. She's displaying full-length charcoal portraits made in Israel, and an installation called Gun Fun.

When you visit Israel, you can't help noticing all the people wandering around doing completely ordinary things while carrying large automatic weapons. Stoeckler decided to make this the theme of an installation of clay figures, which are attached "by the gun" to the gallery wall. Here are some photos:

Gun Fun Side View 1


Gun Fun Detail 1


Gun Fun Detail 2

A Slovenian Folk Saying You Won’t Soon Forget

Giant Green Penis Man

A Slovenian friend recently used a Slovenian folk saying about how easy it is to propose that problems be solved by other peoples' sacrifices: "It's always easier to beat the poison ivy with someone else's dick."

This raises a few questions. First, what are Slovenians doing that brings their penises into contact with poison ivy? And is it really "easy" to bring someone to a patch of poison ivy and manipulate their member? (Perhaps yes, if it's done Lorena Bobbitt style).

These issues aside, it certainly makes the point.