Admiral Christmas

So I'm browsing through Alibris for books on "prisoner rehabilitation," and what do I come across but yet more christmas cheer:

Single sheet of stout card measuring approx. 4.5 x 7.5 inches (12.0 x 19.0 cms), obverse with gilt edges printed with the insignia of 'Admiral Inspector of the Fleet' in gilt and black and seasonal text in black; reverse blank. The seasonal text, SIGNED BY DONITZ IN BLUE INK, reads 'Grossadmiral Donitz dankt fur die guten Wunsche zum Weihachtsfest und zum neuen jahr und erwidert sie herzlich'. Grossadmiral Karl Donitz (1871-1980), German naval leader and Hitler's successor, commanded the Kriegsmarine during the latter half of WWII and is remembered particularly for his promotion of the U-boat offensive.

I suppose you could call Doenitz a rehabilitated (de-nazified) prisoner (of war). The card is yours for only $929.61!

Factories, Cemeteries, Dike Associations

Germany's a biker's paradise, because there are trails everywhere, and odd little things to see even in the country's dullest backwater. As proof, here are a few photos I took last weekend, when the sky was uncharacteristically illuminated for a few hours by a gigantic, glowing orb last seen about 3 months ago. First, a piece of graffiti under the Fleher Bruecke – featuring Street Denglish!

Graffito I dont looke alike under Fleher Bruecke

You know, I'd say that with that caramel-colored angora bodysuit, free-floating teeth, and multiple pupils, he actually does look "alike" a "psyco murda."

And now for something more dignified: a roadside altar from 1706.

Streetside Altar near Wahlscheid Overall View

I think the inscriptions's in Dutch. Anyone want to help translate?

Inscription on Roadside Altar near Wahlscheid

An interesting abandoned factories seen from the front (note the odd stepped platforms)…

Abandoned Factory Near Dormagen View 1

And from the rear:

Abandoned Factory Near Dormagen View 2 

If you were wondering where the jurisdiction of the Dormagen/Zons Dike Association ends and that of the Uedesheim Dike Association begins, here's your answer:

Border of Two Dike-Supporting Societies

You'll notice that nobody has removed the brown object on top of the post, whatever it is (I didn't try to find out). Probably because it's in the legal dead zone between the two associations' territories. I wouldn't be surprised if there have been screaming matches at meetings of the Uedesheim-Dormagen/Zons Jurisdictional Issues Joint Sub-Committee about who should remove the "unidentified brownish matter" on top of the border post.

After that, it was a short ride through the Hannepuetzheide, a small nature reserve which proudly advertises the fact that it's one of Germany's only stretches of inland dunes. Here is the Altar to St. Roch that you find in the middle of the forest:

St. Roch Altar Hannepuetzheide. Rochus Enclosure

And here is the relief found within:

Relief of St. Roch Inside Altar Hannepuetzheide

St. Roch, a plague survivor, is the patron saint of plague victims. He is usually pictured pointing to a plague sore on his leg, as here. For some reason, this charming naif relief made me thing of J.G. Ballard's Crash. I need help.

Perhaps the high point of the trip is the Jewish Cemetery (g) near Zons, a well-preserved medieval town along the Rhine. Germany has many Jewish cemeteries, most of them abandoned and partially overgrown. The Zons Jewish cemetery's official address is "Am Judenberg" – roughly, "on Jew Hill." It's entirely enclosed by a thick cement wall. Here's the entrance:

Entrance to Jewish Cemetery Hannepuetzheide

A view inside of some of the 24 graves located there:

View of Jewish Cemetery in Hannepuetzheide

From graffiti to abandoned factories to Catholic saints to Jewish history — all in the space of one short bike ride. Interesting place, Germany.

I will shortly be flying back to the States for holiday-related festivities, so blogging will be sparse. I hope everyone has a splendid time, and will be back to more-frequent blogging as of early January.

German Word of the Week: Nothaft

The cruel reality of nothaft.

So I'm reading through the latest gout of news about The Continuing Crisis, when I come across this:

Interest rates for 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates fell for the seventh consecutive week, moving these rates to the lowest since the survey began in April 1971," said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac chief economist.

I wonder how Frank Nothaft would react if you told him his name was not a German word (g). I guess he probably wouldn't care. But how would he react on being told that if 'nothaft' were a German word, it would mean "emergency custody"? That might prompt some rumination.

And if you told him that the Nazis (would have) used it to terrorize dissidents and minorities? I bet that'd be good for at least 10 minutes of anguished reflection…

Hitler’s Erudition, Beethoven’s Arrogance

Two fine English-language articles about famous Germans have crossed my path recently. First up, Anthony Grafton has an excellent review essay in the New Republic about a controversial Austrian statesman's reading habits:

Hitler's own words make clear–clearer, in fact, than the surviving volumes [of his library]–just how much some writers meant to him. His lifelong favorites–leatherbound copies of which he kept in the study of his alpine villa–ranged from the Western adventure novels of Karl May to the plays of Shakespeare. May's novels, from The Ride Across the Desert on, "overwhelmed" Hitler as a boy, claiming his attention so powerfully that his grades suffered "a noticeable decline." During the war, Hitler told his generals to study May's books, and even had a special edition issued for soldiers at the front. He considered Winnetou, the Indian chief of May's tales, a master of "tactical finesse and circumspection," and a model for his own love of cunning tactics and surprises. Reading at night, he told Albert Speer, "when faced by seemingly hopeless situations, he would still reach for these stories," because "they gave him courage like works of philosophy for others or the Bible for elderly people."

Shakespeare seemed to him much greater than the classic German writers of the eighteenth century. After all, Shakespeare had brought the imperishable character of Shylock to the stage, whereas Lessing had created Nathan the Wise, the Jew who taught Christians, Muslims, and Jews a lesson of tolerance. Hitler quoted Shakespeare as more highly educated Germans quoted Goethe, threatening opponents: "We will meet again at Philippi."

 The Fuehrer read by night…

Late at night on the Obersalzberg, Hitler read for hours a time, sometimes until dawn. He worked in his study, outside of which hung a sign that demanded ABSOLUTE SILENCE, reading with intense concentration–so intense that he became furious one night when Eva Braun interrupted him, and sent her packing, red-faced, with a "tirade. " At breakfast, as Traudl Junge, his last surviving secretary, recalled to Ryback, he "would reprise his previous night's reading in extensive, often tedious detail." Even at the end, as a photograph of the Berlin bunker shows, unidentified thick books took up some of the scarce space in his tiny bedroom.

…but not like an 'intellectual':

In a famous passage in Mein Kampf, Hitler made clear that he rejected the scholar's deferential approach to texts. Intellectuals read supinely, allowing books to lead them: "Naturally, I understand by 'reading' something other than that which the average member of the so-called 'intelligentsia' understands," he wrote. "I know people who 'read' an endless amount, who go from book to book, from letter to letter, yet I would not want to call them 'well-read.' They possess an abundance of 'knowledge,' only their brain does not understand how to process and organize the material it has taken on board." Such readers "lack the art of being able to divide the valuable from the valueless in a book." In the end, Hitler explained, "reading is not something we carry out for its own sake, but an instrument used for a purpose," a "tool and a building material that one needs for one's calling in life."

And in Slate, music writer Jan Swafford has a short piece on the influence of the Illuminati on the young Beethoven:

By the time [Illuminatus] Christian Neefe arrived in Bonn and started teaching Beethoven organ and composition, the 10-year-old was as good a keyboard player as anybody in town. Soon Neefe got into print some variations Ludwig had written, one of his first pieces—slight and conventional, still not Mozart but impressive for his age. In a newspaper article, Neefe cited the variations and said the magic words: With proper nurturing, this boy will "surely become a second Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart."

By his midteens, Beethoven was a court musician in various capacities and making huge strides as a composer. His father had pulled him out of school after a few years so he could concentrate on music. (Beethoven learned to add and subtract but never learned to multiply. If he had to multiply 65 by 59, he wrote 65 in a column 59 times and added it up.) Meanwhile his father was promoting him relentlessly, mounting concerts in the house and taking him on tours around the Rhineland. By that point, there was little question in Ludwig's or anybody else's mind that he was headed for big things. One day when his landlord's daughter accosted him with, "How dirty you're looking again! You ought to keep yourself properly clean," he told her, "What's the difference? When I become a gentleman, nobody will care."

Elliott Carter Turns 100

Cheerful, uncompromising modernist Elliott Carter just turned 100. A piece on the festival concert from the NY Times here. His string quartets are not for the squeamish, but they have a sort of rough-hewn vitality that's always appealed to me. I've heard good things about the new Naxos recordings of them. Europe likes its avant-gardists unapologetic, so Carter's got a big following in Europe. An outstanding 100th-birthday portrait from Die Zeit here (g). The New York Times interviews him here, and Frank J. Oteri of New Music Box interviews him here:

Annals of Heinology: Mating Habits

Handsome, confident, smiling Heino standing next to some guy.

I count myself a fan of German Schlager star Heino, and have visited his current "city of residence," the picturesque medieval village of Bad Muenstereifel (g), several times.* I even bought a Heino doll, which my friends in the U.S. always thought was supposed to be Andy Warhol. Heino trained originally as a baker, and you can sample his own special hazelnut torte at 'Heino's Rathaus Cafe' (g), where he hangs out when he's not on tour. No, I've never met him (yet). Everyone says he's friendly and down-to-earth, despite the fact that he is never seen in public without his trademark dark glasses.

The most recent piece of news to sputter through German Joys' dedicted Heino teletype [h/t LMGP] deals with Heino's erotic side. Heino, you see, has been happily married to his wife Hannelore for decades now. They just gave the Bild tabloid an interview about their sex lives (g). Now, I'm no more eager than you to imagine the 'tranquilised albino Ken-doll' (Lonely Planet) in the physical act of love, but let us soldier forward in the name of Science: We learn that Hannelore can't go to sleep without Heino curled up next to her, that they make the beast with two backs at least three times a week – sometimes 4! – and that Heino is a tender, affectionate lover. And finally, the question we've all been asking privately for years, and Heino's immortal response (my translation): "What nobody knows: Heino takes his black sunglasses off during the act of love: 'In bed, I'm a completely private person. I don't have to be recognizable, so that someone can come up to me and slap me on the shoulder.'"

* No, I didn't go to BMe just to try to catch a glimpse of Heino. A couple times there were academic reasons, and once I went to hike through the surrounding countryside, which is extremely pleasant.

Buzzards and Hawks and Kestrels

While visiting friends in Bingen, a German friend pointed to a bird and said: "Look! It's a buzzard!" I looked, and I saw a hawk. The only buzzard where I grew up was the disgusting American Turkey Buzzard. It shared a nasty reputation with vultures: rangy, dusty-feathered, bare-headed corpse-munchers that like to gather around rotting carcasses, poking and prodding. If you came upon a bunch of them, they'd glare at your with their evil little eyes above beaks smeared with rotting blood. I thought to myself: what the hell are buzzards doing in a nice place like Europe? Hawks, on the other hand, were stately, elegant creatures who caught live prey and always looked sharp, with nary a feather out of place. What I was looking at was, to me, a hawk.

However, as it turns out, the German was right: we were indeed looking at a European buzzard. Americans call some buzzards hawks, but apparently nobody else does. A buzzard is a buzzard, and the European buzzard is Buteo buteo. During a recent bike ride through the country, I came upon one performing an odd mid-air dance. Usually, buzzards loiter about in trees, swooping down to catch the odd vole or rabbit. But this one was hunting in the middle of a freshly-plowed beet field. There was no tree to roost on, so it positioned itself against the headwind, and then flapped its wings rapidly to hover in place. While it hovered, it scanned the field below for any signs of movement. It would hover for 3-4 minutes, then move a couple dozen meters downfield and resume the stationary hunting. Here's a picture:

Hovering Hawk near the Viehstrasse

It was a mesmerizing performance. Made me want to take up falconry! 

UPDATE: Jan in comments thinks it may have been a kestrel. Which allows me to use two of my favorite words, 'kestrel' and 'vole', in the same sentence. They sound like the names of warring princes in some ancient Nordic saga.

Max Planck Institute for Machine-Gun Fellatio Research

The Chinese poem printed on the cover of the most recent newsletter from the Max Planck Institute (MaxPlanckForschung),


means, according to Victor Mair of Language Log:

With high salaries, we have cordially invited for an extended series of matinées

KK and Jiamei as directors, who will personally lead jade-like girls in the spring of youth,

Beauties from the north who have a distinguished air of elegance and allure,

Young housewives having figures that will turn you on;

Their enchanting and coquettish performance will begin within the next few days.

Mair comments drily:

Clearly this is an advertisement for some kind of burlesque business. I did find quite a few references on the Web to a "KK Juggy" from a group called "Machine Gun Fellatio," and apparently the KK in her name stands for "Knickers" and "Knockers." Perhaps KK in the sense of "Knickers and Knockers" is an Australian expression, since KK Juggy (Christa Hughes) is from Sydney.

In the interests of fairness, I should note that the MPI immediately issued a heartfelt apology and replaced the cover. [h/t JR]

The Ungarian Key to Geschmack

Spotted recently in Rome, a package of Crik Crok potato chips, which are manufactured in Germany but sold in Italy:

Crik Crok Ungarische Taste

Behold the mysteries of cross-border snack-food marketing:Ungarisch is the German word for 'Hungarian'. Taste is the English word for 'taste', but the German word for 'key'. At the bottom, barely visible in this crappy cellphone picture, is "Gourmet Potato Chips." I think we cannot assume that the Germans intended an obscure reference to keys, since if the German word 'key' is feminine, so the preceding adjective would have to read 'ungarische'.

Therefore, the rule seems to be: "Everything after 'Ungarisch' is English." But why use the German word for Hungarian? I can understand why they might shy away from the English 'Hungarian', since it's got an "H" in front of it and therefore might confuse less cosmopolitan customers (who are nevertheless expected to be able to read English).

But why not just use the Italian word 'ungarico/ungarici'? These chips are, after all, marketed in Italy. I can think of only two explanations:

  1. The German marketing agency was just too damned lazy to look up the Italian word for Hungarian.
  2. German is joining English and French as a language 'sexy' enough to be used in empty catchphrases on T-shirts and consumer products.

I can't bring myself to believe #1, so it must be #2.

Does this mean German is now voll im Trend, so to speak? Will we start seeing the German equivalent of "100% Number-One Happye Free Pacific Coaste Motorcycleing Wondery Boy" on T-shirts and jackets from Sydney to Cairo to Kalamazoo?

We won't see that phrase in German, since the phrase and the language it's written in need to match somehow. When you use English nonsense slogans to attract customers in grayish countries full of meek, frustrated cubicle drones*, you want to evoke a sandy-haired golden boy cruising along the 'Pacific Coast Highway' (which often appears verbatim, albeit in various spellings) with his best girl's arms clasped across his wide, manly chest.

References to U.S. national monuments ('Tip=top Day of Joy and Freedom in Great Cenyon PArk of National Monuments') and fictional sports teams ('Kansas City Sport Team Warriors! Fierce, Yeah!') are good, too. French phrases often invoke 'petit' or 'gourmet,' to give that je ne sais quoi to whatever formless goo is contained in the shrink-wrapped package. The late, lamented Spy magazine once did an entire photo essay on the use of "le" and "la" to up-cachet barber shops, porno movie theatres (remember those?) and restaurants across the U.S.A.

So what does Germany have in the way of instantly-recognizable cultural cachet? I know what you're thinking. Stop it. But Germany does have long words. And philosophers! And composers! And umlauts, and that sexy, curvaceous ß character. I see no reason why T-shirt makers in Taiwan shouldn't start right in with the German phrases. After all, Volkswagen led the way years ago with Fahrvergnügen (yes, click on that link!). Here are some suggestions to start those third-world entrepreneurs in the right direction:

T-Shirt von Hegelianissche Vergangenheitsbewältigung — Prima Arbeit Macht Spaß

Beethoven Güteklasse 1A Made in Germany an die Freude National-Meisterwerk!

Mein Tagesbuch für meiner Teifnietsczcheanischen Gedenken

SchwarzwaldKuchen Christkindlmarkt vom Feinstern

Feel free to add more in comments.

* A science-loving friend of mine recently pointed out that phrases like 'office drone' and 'cubicle drone' are misnomers. Worker bees are actually the bees that toil away in cubicles. Drones, by contrast, have a pretty nice life of it: their primary purpose is to inseminate the queen. In mid-air, no less! Hardly emblematic of repetitive, mind-numbing office chores. There is a pretty significant downside to being a drone, however: "Should a drone succeed in mating it will soon die because the penis and associated abdominal tissues are ripped from the drone's body at sexual intercourse."