German Prisons 'Astonish' American Visitors

A delegation of Americans just visited several German prisons this year and came back impressed:

Earlier this summer, we led a delegation of people concerned about the United States criminal justice system to visit some prisons in Germany and observe their conditions. What we saw was astonishing.

The men serving time wore their own clothes, not prison uniforms. When entering their cells, they slipped out of their sneakers and into slippers. They lived one person per cell. Each cell was bright with natural light, decorated with personalized items such as wall hangings, plants, family photos and colorful linens brought from home. Each cell also had its own bathroom separate from the sleeping area and a phone to call home with. The men had access to communal kitchens, with the utensils a regular kitchen would have, where they could cook fresh food purchased with wages earned in vocational programs.

...

But for all the signs of progress, truly transformative change in the United States will require us to fundamentally rethink values. How do we move from a system whose core value is retribution to one that prioritizes accountability and rehabilitation? In Germany we saw a potential model: a system that is premised on the protection of human dignity and the idea that the aim of incarceration is to prepare prisoners to lead socially responsible lives, free of crime, upon release.

...

The process of training and hiring corrections officers is more demanding in Germany. Whereas the American corrections leaders in our delegation described labor shortages and training regimes of just a few months, in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, less than 10 percent of those who applied to be corrections officers from 2011 to 2015 were accepted to the two-year training program. This seems to produce results: In one prison we visited, there were no recorded assaults between inmates or on staff members from 2013 to 2014.

...

In Germany, we found that respect for human dignity provides palpable guidance to those who run its prisons. Through court-imposed rules, staff training and a shared mission, dignity is more than legal abstraction.

The question to ask is whether we can learn something from a country that has learned from its own terrible legacy — the Holocaust — with an impressive commitment to promoting human dignity, especially for those in prison. This principle resonates, though still too dimly at the moment, with bedrock American values.

At conferences the question often comes up whether the dedication to 'inviolable' human dignity that starts the German constitution has real meaning. The prison example shows it does, in my opinion. Nevertheless, many English and American lawyers claim that human dignity is not a meaningful legal value. Justice Thomas, a black conservative justice who voted against gay marriage, explained:

Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built.

The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.

One American law professor even cautioned readers concerning the 'danger' of human dignity:

The word dignity eludes narrow definition, or for that matter, any generally agreed upon definition. The Court itself has not provided a clear definition of dignity. One scholar, William A. Parent, declares, “[D]ignity is to possess the right not to be arbitrarily and therefore unjustly disparaged as a person.” In another article on “the Jurisprudence of Dignity,” Leslie Meltzer Henry writes that there is no single definition, but that dignity includes various conceptions including institutional status, equality, liberty, individual integrity, and collective virtue. She concludes, “dignity’s conceptions and functions are dynamic and context-driven.”

If dignity is defined so elastically, then conservatives judges might invoke it to strike down not only gun-control laws, but also other progressive legislation. Libertarian groups invoked the “sweet-mystery-of-life” my [sic] language in Casey to argue that the Obamacare healthcare mandate unconstitutionally violated the dignity and autonomy of Americans by forcing them to buy health insurance. In the future, cigarette smokers might argue that anti-smoking bans violate their ability to create an individual identity. And conservative Christian wedding photographers could claim that anti-discrimination laws compelling them to photograph gay weddings violate their dignity and ability to define themselves as conservative Christians. What courts would do when confronted with the clashing dignitary rights of the religious wedding photographer and the gay couple, or the hunter and the victim of gun violence, is anyone’s guess, because dignity is such an abstract concept that its boundaries are difficult to discern.

I find the different attitude toward 'dignity' pretty interesting and have written about it in a few contexts, but I'll spare you the boring details. It's the kind of issue that, to do it justice, requires you to lay down a bunch of ground rules, collect historical examples, and carefully delimit your claims with a bunch of caveats. In other words, to write like a boring academic. If that doesn't deter you, head on over to my academia.edu page. But don't say I didn't warn you. 


Germany Has Not Caused the World's Problems (Recently, that is)

Another argument that open-borders types sometimes invoke is that Germany has in some way caused the problems from which migrants are fleeing and therefore has an ethical obligation to grant all of them permanent residency in Germany.

My experience is when this feel-good argument is exposed to the slightest pressure, it crumbles like gossamer. If proponents try to back it up, they fall into two errors: (1) vastly exaggerating Germany's actual influence in the world; and (2) conveniently erasing huge tracts of recent world history which point to factors other than German policy to be the genuine causes of the problems they cite.

Let's take a look at the countries which make up the top 10 in current asylum applications. It fluctuates from month to month, but is generally: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and 5 or 6 West Balkan countries.

Now, the first thing to note is that all of these countries receive development assistance from Germany to the extent safety conditions permit. Germany gives away .37% of its GDP in development assistancein 2013. That amounts to €14.06 billion, making Germany the world's third-largest state donor of development aid. Germany has a sprawling foreign-aid bureaucracy employing thousands of people. I know dozens of them personally: engineers, architects, lawyers. Working for German government aid organizations is a prestigious, well-paid job. There is much competition for these spots, and those who get the jobs tend to be very intelligent and hard-working. 

Here the casual cynic will observe: 'Yeah, but don't most of the products they provide come from Germany?' The short answer is yes. The longer answer is: Leave the womb-like comfort of the graduate seminar room, André-Maximilian. Remove your nose ring. Put down the Adorno. Put on your big-boy pants and emerge into the real world. Every aid donor country mandates a preference for its own products. Standard practice. And as long as they're fit for purpose, so what? If Germany is going to give Zenobia a € 1 million hydroelectric turbine generator, it might as well be a €1 million Siemens hydroelectric turbine generator. German machines are renowned all over the world, so nobody's getting ripped off. And I guarantee you the Zenobians care more about the extra 5 hours of electricity they get every day than who made the generator.

Now there's plenty of legitimate debate about the effectiveness of foreign aid and its recipients, etc. But at a very basic level, it's significant that a country decides to basically give away € 14 billion a year to strangers across the globe. German aid programs are generally highly regarded in the international community and often used as best-practices benchmarks. Is one of the reasons for giving the aid to burnish Germany's reputation? Yes, André-Maximilian, it is. Welcome again to the real world, where individuals and nations always have multiple motives for their actions, some of which are self-interested. In any case, if Germany's trying to build its reputation, it's working, since Germany is the most-admired nation in the world right now.

But even if Germany gave no development aid, the argument that Germany's actions are causing the current migration waves does not hold water. Let's look at it country-by-country:

Iraq. Iraq's current problems are the result of the 2003 invasion. Germany loudly opposed this invasion and did not send troops. Although Germany provided tiny amounts of logistical cooperation owing to previous commitments, the invasion of Iraq was a US and UK show, full stop. 

Syria. Syria descended into civil war in 2011. Wars in that part of the region can last a while, the Lebanese civil war lasted 15 years. Germany did not encourage or condone, and could not prevent, this occurrence.

Afghanistan. Germany participated in the occupation of Afghanistan for a few years. That participation was minimal. It's an open secret that German troops are not combat-ready, so they were sent to the largely-peaceful north to do routine patrols. In any event, Afghans who are leaving their country are, I guarantee you, not fleeing oppression by Western troops. They are leaving active conflict zones or Taliban rule.

Eritrea. Eritrea is currently a repressive dictatorship. Germany did not encourage or condone, and could not prevent, this turn of affairs. 

The West Balkans. There are generally 2 arguments here. First, that Germany devastated the former Yugoslavia during its occupation in World War II. Actually, what was once Yugoslavia was occupied by all the Axis powers, not just Germany and often ruled by native Fascist movements.

In any case, as nasty as that military policy was, it ended 70 years ago. 70 years is a long time. The current status of the states of the former Yugoslavia has almost nothing to do with World War II. Take Slovenia, for example. Most historians would agree that Slovenia got the worst of it:

The Province of Ljubljana (ItalianProvincia di LubianaSloveneLjubljanska pokrajinaGermanProvinz Laibach) was the central-southern area of Slovenia, the only present-day European nation and the only part of Yugoslavia that was trisected and completely annexed into neighboring Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Hungary during World War II.

97,000 Slovenes were killed during these brutal occupations. The capital of Slovenia, Laibach in German, was surrounded by barbed wire, turned into a massive camp and cut off from the world. Tens of thousands died of starvation and disease. And now? Slovenia, renowned as the 'Switzerland of Yugoslavia', is by far the richest and most stable state of the former Yugoslavia, not only an EU member but also a Eurozone member. The recovery from the depredations of World War II has much more to do with the history, culture, and talents of the people in the occupied country than with events 70 years ago. Modern Slovenes are interested in doing business with and studying in Germany, not rehashing events from last century. It also helped that Yugoslavia was government by one of the 20th century's most ingenious statesmen, Tito.

The current relatively backward condition of many states in the former Yugoslavia is due overwhelmingly to the 10-year civil war during the 1990s. A baffling kaleidoscope of different armies, militias, and paramilitaries swept back and forth, destroying billions in infrastructure and causing massive human suffering. Germany did not encourage or condone, and could not prevent this occurrence. In fact, by its rapid and decisive recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, it is quite likely that German policy helped prevent war and destruction in these countries. That is certainly how most modern Slovenes and Croatians see it, and many historians agree.

Now, what about the bombing campaign in Kosovo in 1999? Germany certainly participated in that. That campaign involved 78 days of bombing targets in Serbia and Kosovo, and killed somewhere around 500 people. A legitimate debate still flourishes over the legitimacy of that action. However, proper perspective requires acknowledging several incontrovertible facts. First of all, the amount of damage caused by the bombing campaign is a drop in the bucket compared to the damage caused by the decade-long civil war that preceded it. Second, German participation in the bombing campaign was barely above the symbolic level. Blaming Germany for the after-effects of wholesale chaos in the Balkans in the 1990s is like blaming a seagull crapping on a wave for the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

Third, the bombing campaign successfully ended hostilities in Kosovo. In 1999, Serbian forces and the KLA were preparing for a bloody, epic battle to the last over Kosovo. Both sides were well-armed, battle-tested, and hated each other's fucking guts with a glowing, incandescent, white-hot rage. Both sides were prepared to engage in terrorism, atrocities and ethnic cleansing. A full-scale war over Kosovo would certainly have done infinitely more damage than the NATO bombing campaign.

So, the argument that Germany has played any significant role in creating the conditions in countries from which current migrants are arriving is simply unfounded. This doesn't mean that Germany should or should not accept migrants from these countries -- that is a separate question. It simply means that the argument that Germany (1) has a moral obligation to do so because (2) Germany caused the problems from which the refugees are fleeing is unconvincing.


The Unknown Fate of the Düsseldorf Artists' Bunker

Now for the less-appealing side of Wersten. While innocently bicycling down the Kölner Landstrasse, I was confronted with perhaps the ugliest goddamn building I have ever seen. Not intentionally ugly, as in Brutalism, but unintentionally ugly, as in whoever designed it despised humans and wanted to actively make them suffer.

Which is true, since the building was originally a bunker (g) built by the National Socialists.

What we're dealing with is a two-story L-shaped building, probably about 3 stories tall, with a sheer stone facade with almost no windows. There is a copper roof with dormer windows set in irregular intervals, and strange barred windows, surrounded by bays of dark stone, placed seemingly at random. The entrance is, for some reason, painted a lively orange and white:

Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse

I suspected at first this might be a bunker. Like most German cities, Düsseldorf has many bunkers left over from World War II. They're 3 stories tall and made out of solid concrete. In many cases, it's extremely expensive or impossible to get rid of them, because the explosive force needed to blow through meters of solid concrete would irreparably damage other buildings nearby. Some can be dismantled, but it's painstaking work and usually creates major disruptions in the neighborhood and many complaints by nearby homeowners. The city or state sometimes tries to get rid of the bunkers but local neighborhood opposition gets in the way. So the bunker in my neighborhood, Bilk, still stands, with its annoying mural. One Düsseldorf bunker has even been turned into a church.

This bunker, like so many others, has a fascinating history. According to this article (g), a pair of German artists moved into the bunker in the mid-1980s, which is pretty common. Bunkers make good studios. The city of Düsseldorf granted the artists a lease. This is what Germans call Kulturpolitik: official state support for independent creative artists. The two artists created their studio inside the bunker, and presumably had cultural events there as well. Robbe has invested 70,000 Euro in renovations.Apparently, the bunker at some time officially became the property of the Bima, the Federal Ministry for Real Estate. 

This video from August 2012 gives you an idea of what the place looked like. Six artists had studios there at that time:

 

Then, nearly 30 years later, the Bima announced it had enough. It ordered the city of Düsseldorf to cancel the lease to the two artists by 30 September 2012. The Bima wants to build 'high-quality condos' on the spot. (Wersten is a working-class neighborhood where 50% of the children are on welfare). The artists fought the eviction notice in court. While that was ongoing, a construction firm began ripping the roof off the place, allowing rain and bird-droppings to flood the studio (g). The spokesman for the Bima is annoyed. The artists were supposed to have moved out by September 2012, they didn't, now somebody wants to buy the property. The artists obtained an injunction to stop this work. Apparently the parties were trying to work out a settlement as of early 2013.

I can't find any more recent news about this contretempts since that time. But from the look of the photographs, nothing much is happening in the former artists' bunker...


“During nice weather I’m either making whiskey or selling Nazi panties”

How some of Eva Braun's underwear allegedly reached Ohio:

He had traveled with the 506th Infantry from Africa to Europe. He got to Berchtesgaden in time for the liberation of the Nazi headquarters. Underneath Hitler’s home, he and a friend found a series of tunnels leading to a nearby hotel called Platterhof. There, they discovered boxes of Hitler and Braun’s belongings that had been stored for safekeeping. The pair loaded  seven steamer trunks with the treasures and shipped them back to America.

Snyder, accustomed to seeing one or two pieces at a time, was impressed. Over the next three years, he said, he paid $3 million in installments for the entire contents of these trunks, which had been held in “a warehouse-like place” outside Charlotte. Included in this trove were 100 pieces of Braun’s lingerie, including perhaps 20 to 30 pairs of underwear.


'Er ist Wieder Da' by Timur Vermes appears in English

Jamie Bulloch's translation of Er ist Wieder Da into English under the title Look Who's Back gets an uneasy review in the New York Times:

The novel’s conceit is easily summarized, less easily parsed. In 2011, Hitler awakes (apparently not from uneasy dreams, as Gregor Samsa does) in a field in Berlin. “I remember waking up,” he says. “I was lying on an area of undeveloped land, surrounded by terraces of houses.” He has no memory of his suicide. He has no idea how he’s gotten here. Soon enough he is taken with watching “modern-day television,” but when he finds only cooking shows, he is angered that “Providence had presented the German Volk with this wonderful, magnificent ­opportunity for propaganda, and it was being squandered on the production of leek rings.”

For the next 250 pages, Vermes walks us through months during which Hitler, resurrected by unexplained means, ­overcomes every presented obstacle. A newspaper vendor discovers him in ­uniform and assumes he must be an impersonator playing for dark comedy — the word Galgenhumor belongs, after all, to the Germans — and gives him a bed. Producers from an “Ali G”-style comedy show (hosted by the unimaginatively named “Ali Gagmez”) offer him a spot on the program. His first appearance quickly accrues hundreds of thousands of YouTube views. Soon Hitler gets his own show, website, production studio, even a back-alley beating by right-wingers who assume he’s making fun of himself. Eventually he also has a deal to write about his life. “I’m calling to ask whether you’d like to write a book?” the editor says. “I already have,” Hitler replies. “Two, in fact.”

Let me just admit it: the main reason I posted this is so I could include the illustration by Doug Chayka:

10-Torday-blog427


Why Does the Reunification Treaty Foreclose Greek Reparations?

The issue of war reparations to Greece is becoming more mainstream in Germany, as Reuters reports some leading SPD and Green figures cautiously suggesting that Germany should re-open the question of reparations.

One of the standard responses of German conservatives (and many Germans who would never consider themselves conservatives) is that the treaty of German re-unification, the so-called 2 + 4 treaty of 1990, forecloses the issue of Greek reparations. But I have yet to see an actual argument showing this -- generally there's just a bunch of hand-waving about how it was all settled in 1990, Greece 'accepted' this outcome back then, which now means it's irresponsible for Greece to try to reopen this can of worms. Frankly, the only convincing argument I've read is Helmut Kohl's statement that Germany caused so much suffering during World War II that any reparations sum that might be at all proportionate would bankrupt Germany for all eternity.

I've looked, but have yet to find any argument about why the 1990 treaty should affect Greece's reparations claims, except for the suggestion that since Germany only officially 'surrendered' to the four Allied powers in 1990, only these countries could legally claim reparations. But I don't really understand that reasoning, either.

Can anyone point me to something convincing? 


Aurochs With and Without Questionable Ideology

A translator opines on the difficulty of rendering Aurochs into English:

Walser was prophetic about 100% Germanness. A good decade after his 1917 story, German scientists—Heinz Heck in Munich and his brother, Lutz Heck, in Berlin—started a program to breed back the massive primordial beasts, extinct since 1627. The result was Heck cattle, misleadingly announced to the world by the publicity-savvy brothers as “back-bred aurochs.”

Although the research started in the 1920s, and the first bull said to resemble an aurochs was born in 1932, the whole effort has been remembered, not entirely unjustly, as a project of “Nazi science,” madly breeding a genetically pure super-race. Lutz joined the Party early. Time magazine says “the Nazi government funded an attempt to breed them back as part of its propaganda effort.” But one English journalist, Simon de Bruxelles, seems to have cornered the market on magnificent aurochs headlines, from “A shaggy cow story: how a Nazi experiment brought extinct aurochs to Devon”—

Through the misty early morning sunlight dappling a Devon field a vision from the primeval past lumbers into view. The beast with its shaggy, russet-tinged coat, powerful shoulders and lyre-shaped horns could have stepped straight from a prehistoric cave painting. The vision is … Bos primigenius, the aurochs, fearsome wild ancestor of all today’s domestic cattle, immortalised tens of thousands of years ago in ochre and charcoal in the Great Hall of the Bulls at Lascaux in southwest France…

—to, just last month, the nearly incomparable “Peace in our time after slaughter of Nazi super-cows:”

Britain’s only herd of “Nazi” cattle has been turned into sausages because they were so dangerous that no one could go near them…. The cattle, which have long horns as sharp as stilettos, were an attempt by Nazi scientists to re-create the prehistoric aurochs, a breed of giant wild cattle regarded with awe by Julius Caesar….

Atavistic Northern European grandiosity about aurochs lives on. There’s a new effort to resurrect the ancient breed, the Tauros Project, led by Dutchman Henri Kerkdijk, and an even newer offshoot from 2013: the Uruz Project, complete with a TED event. They want to help “rewild” Holland by “de-extincting” the animals that inhabited earlier ecosystems. It all sounds pretty plausible: as this useful summary explains, scientists sequence aurochs DNA from old bones found in Britain, then go looking for breeds of cattle alive today with segments of aurochs DNA still intact. (“Tauros,” initially called “TaurOs” ≈ Taurus + Os, “Bull + Bone.”) With the sequencing of the complete aurochs genome, celebrated on the Breeding-Back Blog last year, the double-helix dictionary of the aurochs is complete. A few more generations of selective breeding and there we’ll have it.

The aurochs are not being “recreated,” as an online commenter puts it: “They are just being ‘rejoined.’ The genes are still there, spread through the population of cows.” They are being spelled.

Here's a picture I took of an modern quasi-Aurochs recently in the Neandertal Ice-Age Animal Reserve (g), where they are no longer being bred for their chthonic-Aryan qualities. Presumably.

Aurochs with Medium Length Horns


Richard J. Evans on the Use and Abuse of the Third Reich

Richard J. Evans has an interesting essay in the Guardian on changing perspectives on Germany history among historians and the public at large:

Nazism, the society it created, the world of the Third Reich and the people who lived through it all appear as a kind of moral drama where the issues are laid out starkly before us with a clarity we are no longer able to achieve in the morally complex, confusing and compromised world we live in today. It has become commonplace to classify the inhabitants of Nazi Germany and the countries it conquered and occupied as “perpetrators”, “victims” or “bystanders”, as if the Third Reich was one single, gigantic act of criminality to be retrospectively judged as if history were a court of law. Occasionally we might nod in the direction of the few who resisted, but their numbers shrink into insignificance in comparison with those considered guilty or innocent, the actively criminal and their passive victims.

Yet we have not always approached the history of nazism in this way. Indeed, the predominantly moral perspective from which Hitler and the Germany he created are currently viewed is a relatively recent one. For a long time after the end of the war he launched in September 1939 and lost five and a half years later, Hitler was a comparatively neglected topic for historians, as were the Nazi movement and the Nazi state. Evidence was piled up for the Nuremberg trials, but the focus was very much on “war crimes”, the years before 1939 were more or less out of the visual range of the prosecutors, and the death camps at Treblinka, Auschwitz and elsewhere were not the central point of the investigation.

...Sweeping generalisations about “the Germans” are out of place both in serious historical scholarship and in an informed public memory. Wartime propaganda damned all Germans past and present for the rise of nazism and the murderous triumph of antisemitism, but nazism, it should not be forgotten, was a tiny fringe movement until the very end of the 1920s. The regime had to work hard to get popular support once it came to power in 1933, and violence played as important a role as propaganda. Prominent Jews in the Weimar Republic, notably the foreign minister Walther Rathenau, were not despised, marginal figures but enjoyed huge popular support and admiration, expressed in the national outpouring of grief on his death.

It has become increasingly difficult to sustain the view, rooted in wartime allied propaganda and given more sophisticated expression in the work of the dominant school of left-liberal West Germans of the 1970s to 1990s, that the roots of nazism lay deep in the German past. Often seen against the long-term background of modern German history since the era of Bismarck’s unification of the country in the 19th century, the Third Reich is now increasingly also viewed in a broader international, even global context, as part of the age of imperialism, its drive for domination building on a broader tradition of the German quest for empire.