The Musical Journey of Pete Seeger’s ‘Kisses Sweeter than Wine’

In the beginning was a rhythmless Irish ballad. Leadbelly liked the melody but added some punchy rhythm and chords. Pete Seeger adds words and records the first version with the Weavers: 

 Along comes Nana Mouskouri, who records a German version of the song in 1967. 

No, I don't know why there's an (apparently eyeless) dog in that video. Just be glad GEMA hasn't blocked it.

And then in 2005 or so, the criminally underrated Nottingham techno duo Bent use the queer warbling of Moskouri as the basis for K.i.s.s.e.s.

So there you have it. An Irish melody, reworked by a black American blues singer, lyrics added by a leftist white folk-singer, translated loosely into German by a Greek, and then processed into an ethereal techno track by Englishmen.

German Word of the Week: Trinkhalle

Tinrkhalle Behrensstrasse Exterior

This is an archetypal German Trinkhalle, found on the Behrenstraße in Duesseldorf. Note the red-white color scheme. These are the colors of Fortuna 95 Duesseldorf, the local soccer club. The Behrenstraße is a vortex of Fortuna fandom, with red-and-white banners hanging from many balconies. The former owner of this Trinkhalle seems to have accepted advertising only from sponsors whose logos share the Fortuna color scheme. Now that's dedication.

The word Trinkhalle comes from the root of the verb trinken (drink), plus Halle. I've never really understood this pairing, because a Halle generally refers either to a large, ceremonial hall, as in Festhalle (banqueting-hall), or to a cavernous storage space, such as a Lagerhalle (warehouse building).

A Trinkhalle, though, is anything but cavernous. They range from the ludicrously tiny to stately specimens like such as the one above. What distinguishes a Trinkhalle from a Stehcafe (standing-cafe) is generally the plexiglas service-window of the traditional Trinkhalle. And they're just plexiglas. Germany has essentially no random hand gun crime, so there's no need to make store windows bulletproof, even in the diciest areas.

You walk up, get the attention of the guy inside, and order your beer, cola, cigarettes, magazines, or candy. If you're well-off, you order pre-rolled cigarettes and quality German or Czech beers. If you're not, you buy off-brand Oettinger beer and a cardboard cylinder of barely-smokable shag and roll your own. If you're lonely, you stand there chatting with the owner as you consume them and watch street life roll by. Trinkhallen are often run by immigrants from non-Christian (or at least non-Western-Christian) countries, so they'll be open on Sunday and other religious days. Very useful!

Trinkhallen, at their best, are genuine neighborhood institutions and generate the all-important eyes on the street that keep German cities vital and safe. They're also probably kind of inefficient. Which means some group of soulless plutocrats capital investors, somewhere, is plotting to replace them with anonymous chain outlets or trendy boutiques. Will we let them win?

Conan O’Brien Inspects a Kotzbecken and Confronts Harald Schmidt’s Producer

I stumbled on this 1997 Conan O'Brien segment recently. Far from his best work, but of sociological value for showing Americans a genuine German Kotzbecken (puking-sink) and, even more entertainingly, exposing Harald Schmidt's relentless plagiarism of American late-night television:


Arrgh, what I would have given to read those. Perhaps we can re-create some COUNTRY BASHING right here, folks — what do you say?

Socialism in One Library, Part I

Socialism's Librarian

Readers of this blog will know of my furtive affection for abandoned totalitarian ideologies. And truly, there's hardly a better place on earth than Germany for people like me. Today's fiery plunge down the memory hole takes us to the book A Pathfinder of Socialist Library Science: For Erich Schroeter's 70th Birthday, published in 1964 as a special issue of the Central Journal for Library Science of the former German Democratic Republic. Above, we see Herr Schroeter.

A few moments in a book-stall in Berlin or Leipzig confronts you with an eerie truth: socialism was no mere "political" theory — yea, verily it seeped into the very capillaries of East German social life. My library boasts a history of blacks in America, a sex manual, and a biography of Beethoven  — all written proudly and unmistakably from the perspective of class struggle (Beethoven's chamber works are praised for their "dialectic" character). If I had had room in my luggage, I would also have brought home socialist exercise videos, economics textbooks, campfire-song collections, and design manuals.

Which brings us to libraries. Can they help build socialism? The answer, according to this handsome Festschrift, is a resounding "Jawohl, Genosse!" Contributors who stress the central ideological role of libraries include Margarete Silberberg ("On New Men and New Book Collections"), Bodo Reblin ("The Antifascist-Democratic Concept of a Library in the Periodical 'The People's Librarian'"); Christina Steinert ("Use of Space in the Central Library of the VEB Industrial Works in Karl Marx City") and Katharina Bamberger's ("The Library in the Lovely Socialist Village"). More mundane contributions include Lisgreth Schwarz's "On the Importance of the Central Publication of Annotated Preprinted Forms for General Public Libraries" or Johannes Lohmann's remorselessly informative "Ten Years of Library Statistics."

As befits a Festschrift, the opening chapters detail Erich Schroeter's early life. Born in Breslau in 1894, his father soon moved the family to Berlin. They were working-class: his father threw packages in a freight company, and his mother took in sewing to make ends meet. While he went to school, Schroeter worked as a typist for a notary, and as an errand-boy in a typewriter factory. He completed an apprenticeship as an engineer. When he was twenty, his career was interrupted by the "first imperialist world war," during which he was severely injured. When he returned to his job, he began to interest himself more and more for labor issues, and to fill the gaps in his education by visiting the library in Neukoelln — then, as now, a social burning point. The library director, Dr. Helene Nathan, took an interest in him. Nathan eventually arranged a position for Leipzig as a formal apprentice in library science. 

Schroeter returned to Berlin in 1929, after passing the "Examination for Employment in Popular Libraries,"  and took up an official position at the Neukoelln library, just as the Great Depression reached Germany. "Thousands of unemployed people thronged the streets," he recalls, and many of them resorted to the library to kill all those useless hours. Schroeter describes his efforts to reach out politically to the unemployed:

In the Neukoelln city library, the checkout counter…was split into two areas: one for the proletariat, and one for the bourgeoisie. I myself was always at the checkout counter to advise the  the proletarian group. As soon as I detected in young people or adults an special interest in political literature or other special subjects, I spoke to them, and let them know of the information evenings I was holding in the nearby branch library…. This direct work with individual readers provided me with enormous satisfaction, and — since we quite consciously emphasized very progressive literature, and also political literature — this also provided valuable experience in political work with the masses. (p. 13)

To be continued…


‘I Want Young American Urban Spaces No. 87’


A man walks through Düsseldorf and asks random strangers if they know what's on their T-shirts. None does. I should note that about half of them are foreigners, to judge by their accents.

Herewith a taxonomy of T-shirt inscriptions, some from the video above, some not:

  1. Invented athletic team / college logo: 'Holister College Varsity Lacrose No. 1'
  2. Random strung-together phrases evoking freedom, the open road, crazy parties, and the like: 'California Roadster Valley Team'
  3. Gnomic phraselets: 'Urban Spaces', 'I Want Young American'
  4. Spurious brand names / series numbers: 'Brothers Denim Mfg. Since 1887 No. 7754'

The place being evoked is always America, you never see something like 'Hull Danger Warriors' or 'Yorkshire Youth Movement No. 445'. I always ask Germans wearing these things why they bought this T-shirt or jacket and what the random phrase on it means to them, but — like the people in the video — they're never able to explain.

The Story of Germanic Ashkenazi Names

I occasionally encounter Germans who seem a bit shocked when I, or some other American, confidently assume that an American named 'Goldstein' or 'Feldman' or 'Rosenthal' is Jewish. (Generally, these are Germans who haven't spent much time in the USA). To them, these just seem like unusual German names, meaning the people who carry them could just as easily be Protestant or Catholic. I then explain that  – all stereotyping aside, not that it matters, etc. etc. — the chance that an American with one of these names isn't Jewish is vanishingly small.

That's because these are names were imposed on Ashkenazi Jewish communities by German-speaking bureaucrats in the 18th and 19th centuries. Over at Slate, Bennett Muraskin has an article on the eubject:

Some German-speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so. The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.

In attempting to build modern nation-states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted, and educated (in that order of importance).

These Jews then emigrated to the United States, carrying their names with them. For obvious reasons, very few Jews with these names are left in Germany. Muraskin provides a fairly exhaustive list of the names, many of which are instantly recognizable to any German-speaker. One of them many life-changing benefits of learning German is the ability to impress your Jewish — and even Gentile! — friends by telling them what their names mean. Muraskin provides a list, allowing you non-speakers to play yourself:

Ackerman — plowman; Baker/Boker — baker; Blecher — tinsmith; Fleisher/Fleishman/Katzoff/Metger — butcher; Cooperman — coppersmith; Drucker — printer; Einstein — mason; Farber — painter/dyer; Feinstein — jeweler; Fisher — fisherman; Forman — driver/teamster; Garber/Gerber — tanner; Glazer/Glass/Sklar — glazier; Goldstein — goldsmith; Graber — engraver; Kastner — cabinetmaker; Kunstler — artist; Kramer — storekeeper; Miller — miller; Nagler — nailmaker; Plotnick — carpenter; Sandler/Shuster — shoemaker; Schmidt/Kovalsky — blacksmith; Shnitzer — carver; Silverstein — jeweler; Spielman — player (musician?); Stein/Steiner/Stone — jeweler; Wasserman — water carrier.


Garfinkel/Garfunkel — diamond dealer; Holzman/Holtz/Waldman — timber dealer; Kaufman — merchant; Rokeach — spice merchant; Salzman — salt merchant; Seid/Seidman—silk merchant; Tabachnik — snuff seller; Tuchman — cloth merchant; Wachsman — wax dealer; Wechsler/Halphan — money changer; Wollman — wool merchant; Zucker/Zuckerman — sugar merchant.

Related to tailoring

Kravitz/Portnoy/Schneider/Snyder — tailor; Nadelman/Nudelman — also tailor, but from "needle"; Sher/Sherman — also tailor, but from "scissors" or "shears"; Presser/Pressman — clothing presser; Futterman/Kirshner/Kushner/Peltz — furrier; Weber — weaver.

Alter/Alterman — old; Dreyfus—three legged, perhaps referring to someone who walked with a cane; Erlich — honest; Frum — devout ; Gottleib — God lover, perhaps referring to someone very devout; Geller/Gelber — yellow, perhaps referring to someone with blond hair; Gross/Grossman — big; Gruber — coarse or vulgar; Feifer/Pfeifer — whistler; Fried/Friedman—happy; Hoch/Hochman/Langer/Langerman — tall; Klein/Kleinman — small; Koenig — king, perhaps someone who was chosen as a “Purim King,” in reality a poor wretch; Krauss — curly, as in curly hair; Kurtz/Kurtzman — short; Reich/Reichman — rich; Reisser — giant; Roth/Rothman — red head; Roth/Rothbard — red beard; Shein/Schoen/Schoenman — pretty, handsome; Schwartz/Shwartzman/Charney — black hair or dark complexion; Scharf/Scharfman — sharp, i.e  intelligent; Stark — strong, from the Yiddish shtark ; Springer — lively person, from the Yiddish springen for jump.

When Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Empire were required to assume last names, some chose the nicest ones they could think of and may have been charged a registration fee by the authorities. According to the YIVO Encyclopedia, "The resulting names often are associated with nature and beauty. It is very plausible that the choices were influenced by the general romantic tendencies of German culture at that time." These names include: Applebaum — apple tree; Birnbaum — pear tree; Buchsbaum — box tree; Kestenbaum — chestnut tree; Kirschenbaum — cherry tree; Mandelbaum — almond tree; Nussbaum — nut tree; Tannenbaum — fir tree; Teitelbaum — palm tree.

Other names, chosen or purchased, were combinations with these roots:Blumen (flower), Fein (fine), Gold, Green, Lowen (lion), Rosen (rose), Schoen/Schein (pretty) — combined with berg (hill or mountain), thal (valley), bloom (flower), zweig (wreath), blatt (leaf), vald or wald (woods), feld (field).

Miscellaneous other names included Diamond; Glick/Gluck — luck; Hoffman — hopeful; Fried/Friedman — happiness; Lieber/Lieberman — lover.

German Word of the Week: Zwingburg

Zwingburg (g) is a German word made out of the root of the verb zwingen (to force or coerce) and Burg (fortress).

It is a fortress or castle or citadel erected in a prominent place in areas in which (to quote the German Wikipedia article), the local residents were considered 'insufficiently loyal' to whatever feudal lord owned the country. The design is purposely menacing, the building says 'I am your Lord. This ugly-ass fortress is full of lust-crazed Swabian mercenaries who will stream through your defenseless villages and daughters unless you show me unswerving obedience, reechy-necked lickspittles.'

It's a very Tscherman thing.

I thought of this word when I took a short bicycle ride through the Hafen (harbor) area in Düsseldorf last weekend. Back in the 90s, the city fathers decided to raze most of the existing port infrastructure on the Rhine as it fell into disuse and create a sexy, stylish area full of trendy boutiques, fashion houses, lux hotels, hip bars, and other hangouts for lawyers, lobbyists, advertising executives and other wan, dead-eyed parasites pillars of the local economy. They called it the Medienhafen (Media Harbor).

On a huge promontory in the middle of the Medienhafen stands the Düsseldorf Hyatt Regency Hotel (g), glowering menacingly at the rest of the city:

Hyatt in the Clouds

Hyatt. We're watching you