Notes from the Intellectual Sanitation Department

The Guardian profiles Hans Magnus Enzensberger:

Born in 1929 in small-town Swabia, the eldest of four boys, Enzensberger is part of the last generation of intellectuals whose writing was shaped by first-hand experience of the Third Reich. Contemporaries include Günter Grass (born in 1927), Martin Walser (1927) and Jürgen Habermas (1929). The Enzensbergers moved to Nuremberg, the ceremonial birthplace of National Socialism, in 1931. Julius Streicher, the founder and publisher of Der Stürmer, was their next-door neighbour. Hans Magnus joined the Hitler Youth in his teens, but was chucked out soon afterwards. "I have always been incapable of being a good comrade. I can't stay in line. It's not in my character. It may be a defect, but I can't help it."

...At the start of his career, Enzensberger was frequently compared to Britain's "angry young men", Osborne and Pinter – misleadingly so, because playwriting was never a particular strong point. He was always more convincing when he channelled his anger into poetry. His first two collections, verteidigung der wölfe gegen die lämmer (Defence of the Wolves Against the Lambs) and landessprache (Native Language), railed against Germans' instinctive submission to authorities ("you'd love / to be torn limb from limb. you / won't change the world"), and wrestled violently with the language he had inherited.

Looking back on his early poems now, Enzensberger admits they sound "shrill". "But when you are 18 or 19, you can't stomach silence. Immediately after the war, there was one priority for us: we had to get rid of the bastards. And that was a great nuisance, because you can't change an entire population. Fifty per cent were followers of Hitler, 35% were opportunists and a few others didn't agree. You had all these professors, judges and chiefs of police who were old Nazis, and you had to get rid of them, and a certain violence was necessary to clear up the mess. For a few years we worked in an intellectual sanitation department."

And speaking of Defence of the Wolves, here is Jerome Rothenberg's translation:

The wolves defended against the lambs


should the vultures eat forget-me-nots?

what do you want the jackal to do,

cut loose from his skin, or the wolf? should

he pull his own teeth out of his head?

what upsets you so much

about commissars and popes?

why do you gape at the fraudulent TV screen

as if someone just slipped you the shaft?


and tell me who sews the ribbons

over the general's chest? who

carves the capon up for the usurer?

who proudly dangles an iron cross

over his rumbling navel? who

rakes in the tip, the thirty pieces

of silver, the hush money? listen: there

are plenty of victims, very few thieves: who's

the first to applaud them, who

pins on the merit badge, who's

crazy for lies?


look in the mirror : squirming,

scared blind by the burden of truthfulness,

skipping the trouble of learning, abandoning

thought to the wolves,

a nose ring your favorite trinket,

no deception too stupid, no comfort

too cheap, every new blackmail

still seems too mild for you.

you lambs, why crows would be

nuns stacked up against you:

all of you hoodwink each other.

fraternity's the rule

among wolves :

they travel in packs.


blessed are the thieves: you

ask them up for a rape, then

throw yourself down on the mouldy bed

of submission. moaning

you stick to your lies. you'd love

to be torn limb from limb. you

won't change the world.


(jerome rothenberg)

Non-Bear Shaped Gummi Bears

Sex toys have been a topic on this blog before, albeit in the context of taxation. Now they're back: a trip to the store turns into a journey of erotic self-discovery when Harald Martenstein discovers (G) that his local department store now sells sex toys.

Special Offer

Harald Martenstein discovers an “erotic goods” section in the department store

I’m not really a lady. That’s why I rarely visit the ladies’ underwear department in the Karstadt department store. However, it came to pass one day that I got lost. I wanted to go to the CD section. Do not buy the so-called new Beatles CD Love, by the way, it’s horrible. I didn’t find the CD-section. Instead, I was suddenly standing before a gigantic, knobby dildo. The term dildo denotes a stylized recreation of the male reproductive organ. It is designed for leisure pursuits. There are ones with and without motors, just like with boats and two-wheelers. I explain the word because once, when I was a young man, I had to admit at a party that I didn’t know the word, and that was embarrassing. I actually thought “dildo” was that large, extinct Australian bird. It also wouldn’t be such a bad name, when you come to think of it. Dildo DiCaprio. Dildo Jetengine. Suddenly it came to be that if Ildikó von Kürthy tried to pep up a Franz Kafka novel with sex scenes, you would have something that would be about as patchy as the Love CD.

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German Joys Uncut: Michael Buback on RAF Terrorism

The debate about the possible early release of RAF terrorists Brigitte Mohnhaupt and Christan Klar intensifies. One recent contribution is an essay in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung written by Michael Buback. He is the son of Siegfried Buback, former Attorney General of Germany, who was murdered by RAF terrorists in 1977. The piece is called (in my translation) Debate about Strange, Distant Murderers (G). My translation, presented complete and unedited, appears below.

Debate About Strange, Distant Murderers

Why it is almost unimportant for a survivor whether an RAF terrorist remains in custody or is freed. An essay by Michael Buback, the son of Attorney General Siegfried Buback, murdered in 1977.

It is entirely proper that relatives of the victims do not participate in decisions on clemency for murderers. My essay could actually be limited to this one sentence. If, however, I write further, I do so because I have been repeatedly implored to give a detailed statement of my position and because I belong to the ever-diminishing group of people who still have strong memories of the events of 30 years ago.

To be sure, one hardly needs an especially good memory here. The event is chiseled into my memory, as it surely is with most people who have lost relatives to crime.

One particularity of the killing of my father is that those who murdered him and two members of his retinue, Georg Wurster and Wolfgang Göbel, did not know their victims personally.  They defined the Attorney General as evil by virtue of his function in a state that they rejected and hated. In thier blind fanaticism, fathomless arrogance, and extreme cruelty, they chose him for death according to their perverted standards, along with members of his security detail just as innocent as he.

The Assassination was Aimed at the State

The assassination was primarily aimed at the Federal Republic of Germany, whose leading criminal-justice officials were marked to be “blown away” by the terrorists. Perhaps the terrorists’ hate for this Attorney General was increased by the fact that he recognized the enormous dangers of terrorism early (which one would, of course, expect from an official with so much experience in the investigation of crimes against the state) and gave clear warning of the possible dangers.

Later events show how correct his warnings were. We now see the ubiquitous threat of terrorism almost daily in news programs. We are confronted with the consequences of terrorist violence every time we board a plane. Leading politicians in free, democratic countries are forced to live subject to intensive security measures.

They must often work in areas screened-off from the public, behind security fences and protective walls. Sometimes, in fact, the buildings from outside are so fortress-like that they resemble buildings intended for prisoners. The fact that there are ever more terrorists whose fanaticism drives them to take their own lives in addition to those of strangers makes the planning and execution of measures against terrorist brutality especially difficult.

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German Joys Uncut: Class Struggle

I'm introducing a new feature on German Joys, which I'll call 'German Joys Uncut.' One news story from a German newspaper, translated into English by yours truly, without cuts or changes. I’ll provide a short introduction to clarify things that might be unfamiliar to non-Germans, but no commentary.

The first German Joys Uncut comes from last week’s Die Zeit, Germany’s leading broadsheet newspaper. The article (G) address social tension among high-school students in a town in Saxony-Anhalt, a part of the former East Germany.

To understand the piece, it’s important to understand that fairly early in their school careers, students are separated into different skill groups, and then sent to different sorts of high schools. The top 1/3 of students are allowed to go to a Gymnasium high school (nothing to do with exercise), which provide the best chance of getting into universities. Less-prestigious high schools, which I've translated as “secondary schools,” lead to trade careers. This is oversimplified, but it's all you need to know to understand the piece. If you're interested, you can learn more here.

The article appeared in the “Life” section of Die Zeit, accompanied by a picture of the Karl Marx school and of two female Karl Marx students, who wore t-shirts, apparently printed in celebration of their graduation, which read “Even if we’ve missed out on a lot and done some things wrong, we still have chances.”

Class Struggle

In Gardelegen, in Saxony-Anhalt, secondary schoolers attacked a Gymnasium after their graduation celebration – among other things, out of anger over their disadvantages.

by André Paul

The celebrated their graduation on June 8, 2006, although most of them really didn’t have much reason to celebrate. 153 boys and girls ended their stay at the Karl Marx Secondary School in Gardelegen, Saxony-Anhalt. Most of them had an ordinary secondary school certificate in their pocket, some of them a qualified certificate. They could start their careers. But for 100 of the young people, the key word was: “could”. They had no apprenticeship slot. The employers in the local region Salzwedel can take whom they want, and they preferred others. They wanted better-qualified people, even when education ministers, teachers, employers, and parents all shy away from this word. The apprenticeship slots and the jobs, the money and the careers, don’t go to Karl Marx School students, they go to others. And the young people wanted to pay a visit to these “others” on that very morning. At the end of the day, the results were: severe property damage and aggravated assault. Their little town made it into the headlines: Secondary School Students Attack Gymnasium.

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