German Word of the Week: Lebenswallen

Reading Hans Joachim Moser's 1958 book Musikgeschichte in 100 Lebensbildern (Music history in 100 Biographical Sketches). Moser (g) was a famous German musicologist and prolific author of books about Western music for a high-middlebrow audience. Moser's biographical sketches are lively, readable, but also sophisticated -- he gently dismantles myths such as Palestrina 'saving' Catholic religious music, and isn't afraid to point out works and composers he thinks are under- or over-rated. Moser was also a Nazi, joining the party in 1936 and becoming a senior musical functionary. Among other dubious deeds, he oversaw the 'Aryanization' of Händel's oratorios in the early 1940s.

The book isn't ideologically inflected, though. Granted, lesser-known German composers (Schein, Schütz, Scheidt, Biber even Oswald von Wolkenstein) get more attention than they might in a book by a Frenchman, but this is to be expected. Moser is by no means parochial, and if you ask me, many of these German masters are a bit underappreciated outside of Germany.

At once point, Moser refers to the Lebenswallen of the well-traveled Orlandus de Lassus, which caused me to sit up and say: 'What the fuck ist ein Lebenswallen'? Leben is life, and forms the root of many German compounds: Lebenslust, Lebensauffassung (idea of what life is for), lebenslang (lifelong), even the useful Lebensmüde (tired of life, used of someone who's either suicidal or about to do something extremely stupid and dangerous, as in 'You're really going to drink that piss-colored Sochi tapwater? What are you, Lebensmüde?).

Wallen is a verb meaning, variously, to seethe, bubble or flow. So apparently a Lebenswallen is a seething, bubbling, foaming flow of life. I could find only very few uses of the word in German. One of these is typical, from an 1821 book entitled 'Investigation of Life-Magnetism (Lebensmagnetismus) and Clairvoyancy' by one Johann Karl Passavant:

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The middle paragraph reads: 'From the unsearchable depths of Being, universal Father of things, emerges the God-revealing life-source of all existence, the eternal word of creation (the Logos), and the worlds are created and disappear through the flow of life (Lebenswallen), the breath (spirit) of God, who, all-inspiring, fills the universe.'

Lebenswallen, like Afterkind seems to have fallen into disuse. Together, we can and will usher this fine word back into everyday use.


Co-Opting Nietzsche for National Socialism

David B. Dennis has a long, fine essay on how National Socialist propagandists spun Nietzsche in the Völkischer Beobachter:

In addressing the “Germanness” of Nietzsche, however, the cultural politicians of the party faced some difficulties. The newspaper did not try to verify Nietzsche’s racial origins—as it did for many other Western creators, including and especially Wagner and Beethoven—despite the fact that he occasionally claimed to be of Polish heritage. But it did have to confront indications that the philosopher rejected nineteenth-century trends of nationalistic identification.

As one contributor to the Völkischer Beobachter wrote, there is “one important point in Nietzsche’s mental attitude on which even his friends have remained silent, from which they tried to distance themselves as much as possible: this is the matter of Nietzsche’s attitude toward Germanness and the state.” The philosopher, according to the paper, had seen with “sharp eyes” that while the Second Reich had been formed, it still “remained a shell without content” under Otto von Bismarck’s Realpolitik. To him, nationalism was the “illness of the century” because it “attempted to hide its emptiness.” In his words, “Nationalism as it is understood today is a dogma that requires limitation.”

But the point to keep in mind, according to the Völkischer Beobachter, was the qualifying phrase: “as it is understood today.” Nietzsche’s opinions about the German state could be understood only with reference to this phrase—that is, as critiques of his own specific time, not as categorical rejections of German nationalism.

This opened the way for the newspaper to present Nietzsche as a fervent patriot and strong representative of “Germanness.” In fact, the paper reminded, Nietzsche actually said of himself that “I am perhaps more German than the Germans of today.” And he valued the “earnest, manly, stern, and daring German spirit.” He knew that “there was still bravery, particularly German bravery,” that is, “inwardly something different than the élan of our deplorable neighbors.” Compared with the French essence, in particular, he was “consistently, strongly, and happily conscious of the virtues” of the German character. Above all, Nietzsche held that “it is German unity in the highest sense which we are striving for more passionately than for political reunification—the unity of the German spirit and life.”

Very few others “saw things so clearly” in those days, said the Völkischer Beobachter. As if on a mission to confirm the philosopher’s Germanness, another contributor traveled to Sils-Maria, wandered the region, and ruminated on passages Nietzsche had written there. The landscape, Ernst Nickell reflected, is “consecrated by German fate and German tragedy.” Nietzsche “needed this landscape; he had to stand near the highest things and the firmament”—because he was “German despite everything.”


Gerhart Hauptmann Haus, the Other Ostalgie, and the Origins of Becherovka

I recently gave a seminar in the Gerhart Hauptmann House in Düsseldorf (on a subject totally unrelated to him). The whole place seemed to be a kind of shrine to the former German populations in Eastern Europe, who were unceremoniously yet understandably kicked out of Poland, the Czech Republic, and other nations in the wake of World War II. This was the fate the befell Hauptmann (g), a German writer who won the Nobel Prize in 1912, himself. In fact the Hauptmann Haus in Düsseldorf is also the headquarters of the Bund der Vertriebenen for Northern Rhine - Westphalia (g). For those of you who don't know, this 'League of the Expelled' represents the interests of those millions of ethnic Germans who were expelled from historical areas of German settlement (as well as areas conquered and brutally occupied by the Nazis) east of the Oder/Neisse river, which was roughly the Eastern border of East Germany.

Somewhere between 12 and 16 million Germans were expelled from the East immediately after the war:

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The expulsion was often brutal, accompanied by abuse and massacres, and most of the expellees were forced to leave their land and possessions behind. The human suffering was enormous, but, to put it bluntly, nobody cared much about German suffering in the immediate aftermath of World War II. After the collapse of Communism, the idea of compensation for the expropriated property was bruited in some German circles, but was met with incredulousness verging on hostility by Eastern European governments.

The survivors of the expellees are still well-organized today, and are a moderately powerful lobby in Germany. They're considered pretty right-wing, and their actions are often a thorn in the side of the German government. To say the issue of compensation for expelled ethnic Germans is a sensitive issue in Eastern capitals is quite the understatement.

Here are a few photographs from the dusty displays in the Haus, featuring typical toys, pastries, and even bitters from the German Sudetenland:

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I had no idea that Becherovka was originally created by Germans. 

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Finally, a charming nativity scene. Well, except for the giant, flaccid penises pointing directly at the Christ Child. Oh wait, those are candles. Yet another embarrassing situation that could have been prevented by air-conditioning.

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Syncopation: Alien to the German Spirit

One thing foreigners notice about ordinary German pop music is its march-like (oom-pa) character and lack of syncopation. Invariably, the thought springs to the foreigner's mind that the music practically invites you to goose-step.

But that's not the response among Germans, at least not the ones you're likely to be hanging out with. Their pop sings are designed to allow simple, salt-of-the-earth people to sing along, lock arms, and rhythmically sway to the music -- a process called schunkeln. Schunkeln is fun after 7 or so beers, but like most German amusements it can last a very long time and involves strict social control and coordination. If you added syncopation to the mix, nobody would know exactly when to sway, and before long there will be howls of 'Scheiße Negermusik!' and perhaps some good-natured bloodshed.

And it seems that Germans have always distrusted syncopated pop music (classical is another story, of course). From Open Culture, a list of rules imposed on a Czech saxophonist under Nazi occupation:

An aspiring tenor saxophone player living in Third Reich-occupied Czechoslovakia, Skvorecky had ample opportunity to experience the Nazis’ “control-freak hatred of jazz.” In the intro to his short novel The Bass Saxophone, he recounts from memory a set of ten bizarre regulations issued by a Gauleiter, a regional Nazi official, that bound local dance orchestras during the Czech occupation.

  1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;
  2. In this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;
  3. As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;
  4. So-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);
  5. Strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);
  6. Also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);
  7. The double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;
  8. Plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;
  9. Musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);
  10. All light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

Moderation of Comments and the Röhm Purge: How's that for a Non-Sequitur?

Hi there!

First of all, kudos to Theresa for correctly guessing the origin of the picture I posted yesterday. It was the cover illustration for Max Gallo's book The Night of Long Knives, an account of the Röhm purge:

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The illustration comes from one of my favorite blogs, Pop Sensations, in which an English professor presents the juiciest items from his collection of 1950s-1960s pulp fiction paperbacks. Drink-sodden gun molls, lesbian seductresses, hard-boiled private dicks, 'shockingly frank' depictions of suburban orgies -- you name it, it's there. If you've never visited before, say goodbye to your afternoon. The 'gay' section is particularly revealing -- although somehow Pop Sensations didn't tag the Röhm book as gay. A rare Bildungslücke.

Trackback-spam

And now to housekeeping. I'm switching to moderated comments from now on. There was too much spam, and the counter-measures kept snagging genuine comments (you know, serious discussions about penis enlargement or carpet cleaning in Flagstaff, Arizona). I'm sorry for the inconvenience, and hope everyone will still keep up the great stuff in comments, which for a long while has outshined the idle noodlings I post.


Cultural Trivia Quiz: Where Did this Hideous Image Come From?

Browsing the Interwebs, I found this image -- this unhallowed, accursèd, brain-scorching, crotch-freezing Unding of an image -- embedded in its original context, which I cropped it out of. And before you guess it came from the late, lamented Gay Nazi Sex Ads website, it did not. Kudos to anyone who can identify its original context.

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The Controversial Austrian Statesman at 81

In 1970, the German government received information that the controversial Austrian statesman may have survived the fall of Berlin and resettled in southeast Romania. The federal prosecutor secretly commissioned an anthropologist, gerontologist, and German photorealist painter to produce an age-progressed painting of the Führer for use on wanted posters.

The result:

Dieses Antlitz!
Later investigation revealed that the supposed dictator was actually a Transnistrian yakherd, and the painting was quietly shelved, until now.


What Jakob Augstein Actually Said about Israel

The U.S.-based Simon Wiesenthal Center just named left-wing German journalist Jakob Augstein one of the 10 worst anti-Semites of 2012, which is raising eyebrows (g) in Germany. This puts him in the company of European neo-Nazi parties who explicitly advocate forced resettlement/annihilation, fanatical Muslims calling for Allah to destroy the Jews, and Louis Farrakhan. I decided to go read the report (pdf) and see which statements they cited as proof. Here they are:

“With backing from the US, where the president must secure the support of Jewish lobby groups, and in Germany, where coping with history, in the meantime, has a military component, the Netanyahu government keeps the world on a leash with an ever-swelling war chant.”

“Israel’s nuclear power is a danger to the already fragile peace of the world. This statement has triggered an outcry. Because it’s true. And because it was made by a German, Guenter Grass, author and Nobel Prize winner. That is the key point. One must, therefore, thank him for taking it upon himself to speak for us all.”

“Israel is threatened by Islamic fundalmentalists in its neighborhood. But the Jews also have their fundamentalists, the ultra-orthodox Hareidim. They are not a small splinter group. They make up 10% of the Israeli population. They are cut from the same cloth as their Islamic fundamentalist opponents. They follow the law of revenge.”

“The fire burns in Libya, Sudan, Yemen, in countries which are among the poorest on earth. But those who set the fires live elsewhere. Furious young people burn the American, and recently, the German flag. They, too, are victims, just like the dead at Benghazi and Sanaa. Whom does this all this violence benefit? Always the insane and unscrupulous. And this time it’s the U.S. Republicans and Israeli government.”

“Gaza is a place out of the end of times….1.7 million people live there on 360 sq. kilometers. Israel incubates its own opponents there.”

To quote Joschka Fischer, I'm not convinced. First of all, you'll notice that Augstein never refers to 'the Jews', like most of the others on the list, many of whom are despicable and/or nuts. He refers to Israel or the current Israeli government or the 'Netanyahu government'. Further, his statements are based on fact (Haredi Jews are in fact about 11% of the Israeli population, and growing fast), or are legitimate, if provocative, statements of opinion. To take one example, the assessment that Israel's possession of around 200 nuclear missiles is 'a' (not the only, but a) danger to peace:

  1. Israel has created a nuclear program and has 200 launch-ready missiles (some of them carried on German submarines provided free to Israel).
  2. This has, unsurprisingly, has helped motivate other states in the region to pursue their own nuclear programs.
  3. The Israel has bombed these states (Iraq and Syria) and is now threatening to go to war with Iran to prevent it acquiring nuclear weapons, and has attempted to convince its ally, a world superpower, to join it.

You may disagree with this reasoning, but it's not irrational or stereotype-driven. Bombing other countries, whether justified or not, is a threat to peace. As for the notion that merely identifying the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. is somehow anti-Semitic, that dog hasn't hunted since at least 2006. One of Washington's most powerful lobbying groups, AIPAC, calls itself 'America's Pro-Israel Lobby', and all American Presidential candidates must make a pilgrimage to its annual meeting to declare their undying fealty to both it and Israel. Really, there is no other word for it. If you doubt me, read Obama's 2012 AIPAC speech here. I won't even mention Romney's speech, which is a self-parody of subservient pandering.

On a related note, why is it anti-Semitic to simply point out that 1.7 million people do, in fact live in Gaza? As for the notion that conditions there are creating future opponents, this is so obvious it hardly bears mentioning. I presume we're supposed to be outraged by the journalistic hyperbole 'end times'. Yawn. This is ar for the course in German advocacy journalism, and you'll find similar colorful exaggerations in article on tax reform.

Of course, the standard response is that Augstein is selectively criticizing Israel, without paying similar attention to the misdeeds of its enemies. This dog doesn't hunt either. Any polemic that's worth reading is going to be 'one-sided'. Further, none of the English-speaking readers of this report will have any idea whether it's actually true that Augstein only criticizes Israel, since they have no access to the other 99.999% of what Augstein has said on the Mid-East. Overall, Augstein's argument is that the extremists on both sides of the conflict, who are unfortunately in power at this point, have no interest in peace, and feed off each other.

The report cites Henryk Broder as proof of Augstein's anti-Semitism:

Respected Die Welt columnist Henryk M. Broder, who has testified as an expert in the Bundestag about German anti-Semitism, labeled Augstein a “little Streicher” adding: “Jakob Augstein is not a salon anti-Semite, he’s a pure anti-Semite…an offender by conviction who only missed the opportunity to make his career with the Gestapo because he was born after the war. He certainly would have had what it takes.”

Now that's what I call reasoned debate! I imagine Augstein will sue Broder for this comment under German law, and he'd have a pretty good case. What we have here is an unfortunate incident of cross-cultural blind spots. Broder is not to be taken seriously, he's a crank who reflexively smears mainstream German politicians as anti-Semites when he disagrees with them on Mideast policy. In 2011, for example, he declared that the leader of the Green party, a woman named Claudia Roth, would have been happy to visit the concentration camp Theresienstadt and compliment its commandant. He was sued (eventually unsuccessfully) for libel when he criticized Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, a German Jewish activist who criticizes Israeli policy, in the following terms (clumsy translation courtesy of Wikipedia): "Any carnival drunkard with two promille of booze in his blood is able even to recognize on women's carnival that Hecht Galinsky is just a hysterical, selfsupporting housewife with nothing more in mind than to promote herself. Her specialty is intellectually vapid anti-Semitic anti-Zionist phrases -- such as are currently in fashion."

Nuff said.


Comrade, Study the Geist of your Volk!

As part of the Gleichschaltung of the German nation behind National Socialism, universities were gradually purged of political unreliables, and all university fraternities were progressively banned or co-opted into the National Socialist German Students' Union (g). The leading program of this organization can be found in the '10 Laws of German Student Life' (Zehn Gesetze des deutschen Studentums), promulgated in 1938. Here is my translation of them:

I. German student, it is not necessary that you live, but rather that you fulfill your duty to your People (Volk)! Whatever you become, do so as a German!

II. The highest law and greatest dignity of a German man is honor. Injured honor can be expiated (gesühnt) only with blood. Your honor is your loyalty to your People and to yourself.

III. Being German means having character.  You are among those called upon to struggle for the freedom of the German spirit (Geist)! Seek the truths that lie concealed in your People!

IV. Lack of restraint and attachment are not freedom. There is more freedom in service than in obeying your own command. Germany’s future depends on your faith, your enthusiasm, and your fighting spirit.

V. He who cannot imagine new things will never achieve anything. You cannot ignite that which is not already burning within you. Have the courage to feel and show admiration and respect!

VI. A man is born a National Socialist, but is also trained to be one, and, most of all, trains himself to be one.

VII. If anything is more powerful than fate, it is your courage to bear it stoically. What does not kill you makes you stronger. Praised be the things that make men hard.

VIII. Learn to live within a system! Obedience and discipline are the essential foundations of any community and the beginning of all education.

IX. As leader, be unyielding in the performance of your duties, decisive in standing up for what is necessary, helpful and good, never petty in judgment of human weakness, large-minded in recognizing the needs of others and humble in respect to your own!

X. Be a comrade! Be knightly and humble! Be a role model in your personal life! Your moral maturity will be judged by your interactions with others. Be one in thought and deed! Follow the Fuehrer’s example!

(Source: Justiz im Dritten Reich, Ilse Staff, ed., Fischer Verlag 1978, pp. 117-18).

There can be little doubt that these rules were posted above the writing-desk of many a student of law (especially law), history, accountancy, and medicine during the 1930s. Since most outsiders have learned only about the unfortunate consequences of National Socialism, they have a hard time understanding how so many apparently intelligent people believed in it. Some were opportunists and hacks, of course, but many National Socialists were sincere in believing that the core ideology was instrumental in achieving the glorious renewal of their Volk.

You can just get a glimpse of this in these rules. Some of them sound bizarre to modern ears, but others tie in to values that Germans have always at least claimed to hold dear: order, discipline, honesty, humility, sound character, self-control, and sincerity. Of course, brilliant misfits would mock these soppy-stern admonishments, but the National Socialists weren't interested in brilliant misfits, except to exile or kill them. They were interested in the much larger mass of people who were intelligent enough to get into university, but stolid in thinking and conformist in character.

To really understand why the great mass of conformists students might find these rules appealing to live by, it's important to understand how untranslatable lots of the words are. Words like Geist, Volk, Ehre, Kamerad, and Ordnung are, to Germans, like spectacular conch shells, layered with hundreds of years of elaborate, filigreed connotation. Translating them into English is like ripping the sea-snail out of its magnificent shell and exposing it as a moist, palpitating little gastropod. Some of these words (especially Volk or Kamerad) were, in fact, so central to Nazi propaganda that they remain under a brownish suspicion to this day.