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:


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:


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


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.


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:


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.


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.


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. 

Book Review: 'A World at Arms' by Gerhard Weinberg

As part of my ongoing search for televised pap to watch in the gym, I decided to check out Band of Brothers, the 2001 HBO miniseries about American paratroopers fighting it out across Western Europe from the beaches of Normandy to Berchtesgaden. The series is based on recollections and memoirs of members of Easy Company, and each episode is prefaced by short interviews with these survivors. Given the names of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks on the packaging, I was expecting a fairly standard mixture of gung-ho ethnic-comrades war movie and high-tech battle scenes, but it turned out to be more interesting than I'd expected. The characterizations are fairly superficial, but the battle scenes are grisly and harrowing, full of agonizingly random death and disfigurement meted out according to no plan at all. After the battles, the soldiers look drained and slack-jawed, leaving little time for banter about Betty Grable pin-ups. Further, you see American soldiers occasionally doing things that were rarely seen in earlier World War II movies, such as deserting, cowering in terror, going insane from fear, shooting POWs, looting homes, and drunkenly killing their comrades. This is not to say that American troops are portrayed as sadistic marauders -- the opposite is true -- but that the inhuman stress and anarchy of combat grind down all but the strongest characters.

Impressed with the first series, I watched the follow-up series The Pacific, which focuses on a narrower set of characters. This makes it easier to develop an attachment to each of the three main characters. But as before, it's the battle scenes that pack the most punch. The marines fight on Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa in an inferno of charred rock, stunted trees, decomposing corpses, disease, mud, slime, and flying metal. Mire-encrusted Japanese soldiers pop out seemingly at random, rushing marines in horrifyingly, comically futile banzai charges, only to die in hails of machine-gun fire or gouts of napalm. One of the fine things about these series is the avoidance of patronizing voice-overs. You see the war from a grunt's-eye perspective, and you're told nothing more about their missions than they are.

This means I found myself confronting embarrassing gaps in my knowledge of WWII, so I decided to remedy that by reading a nice solid one-volume history of the war. I settled on Gerhard Weinberg's A World at Arms. I wasn't disappointed. First, to get a few things out of the way: this is not a 'social' or oral history. This is straight-ahead generals'-eye view strategic military history. Further, you will not be stunned at the beauty of Weinberg's prose. Once in a while, Weinberg (a German Jew who emigrated to the US in the late 30s and took part as a US soldier in the occupation of Japan) perpetrates what can only be described as barely-comprehensible German Schachtelsätze (box-within-box sentences full of confusing clauses). But aside from these very occasional lapses, though, the prose is serviceable and clear.

What Weinberg excels at -- and really, what the book as a whole is for -- is showing the truly global scope of the war. A bombing raid in Europe destroys telephone cables, forcing the Germans to use radio communications, which in turn provides a critical piece of the puzzle to decode German diplomats' dispatches from Japan, shifting the strategic balance halfway across the world. The re-capture of some resource-rich area by the Soviets disrupts supplies of raw material, causing a production crisis that affects the German front as well as a diplomatic push to secure the material from some neutral country, which then reports this information to the Allies, shifting their priorities. American naval power cuts off supplies of gasoline to the southern Japanese fleet, forcing them to rely on unprocessed oil from Borneo that degrades the performance of Japanese warships and causes them to emit gouts of thick smoke visible for miles. It's global war as three-dimensional chess.

This wide perspective buttresses Weinberg's often-blunt assessments of various military and political leaders. Weinberg has a rather dim view of showboats such as Montgomery, Patton, and MacArthur, whose (occasional) battlefield victories were overshadowed by the unnecessary conflicts cause by their arrogance. Alanbrooke, Marshall, Arnold, Nimitz and Eisenhower get better marks, not only for their strategic insight but also for their understanding that in a war that requires careful management of broad coalitions, a certain amount of humility and respect goes a long way. Churchill, while an inspiring leader, occasionally let his desperate desire to cling to the British empire cloud his judgment. (He wanted to keep Allied forces in the Eastern Mediterranean -- near many British colonies -- long after the strategic focus should have shifted to the Normandy invasion). Roosevelt comes off as perhaps the most far-sighted political leader, encouraging his subordinates to vigorous debate and making surprisingly sound decisions despite limited information. Stalin, although cunning and remorseless, inspired and forced his countrymen to sacrifices which were vital to the war effort. Weinberg singles out Soviet generals for ingeniuously covering-up the weakness of their infantry by skilled and bold use of artillery (especially the 'Stalin organ') and excellent tanks.

Weinberg draws heavily on the memoirs and other papers of British general Alan Brooke, later Viscount Alanbrooke, whom Weinberg argues is perhaps the most-underrated military figure of World War II. Since I'd never heard of him before, I was confused by the mixed references to Alan Brooke and then someone named Alanbrooke, but that's what Google is for. Weinberg doesn't have much time for moral debates. He writes from the perspective of the practical and hard-headed men fighting and planning the war. As soon as the Nazis had started indiscriminate bombing in Poland, Rotterdam, and London, the Allies felt, they had given up any real right to complain. Weinberg also argues for the effectiveness of widespread bombing. It didn't break civilian morale, but it wasn't primarily intended to do that. Once the Allies figured out that they had to repeatedly bomb the same targets to keep them off-line, the bombing severely degraded Germany's war-fighting capacity. Further, the massive bombing of Germany was one of the only ways England and the U.S. could help the Soviet Union during its 1941-44 death match with Hitler in the East. Weinberg also has praise for the Allied strategy in the Pacific -- instead of trying to free every island in the Japanese empire, the allies simply skipped the less important emplacements and established themselves nearer to Japan. This caught the Japanese by surprise and left thousands of soldiers stranded beyond supply lines with no way to effectively attack the Allied rear. Weinberg is particularly good on submarine combat. The Germans' superior tactics and technology enabled them to inflict heavy losses on Allied shipping until advanced countermeasures such as 'Huff-Duff' and Leigh lights began turning the tide.

America's full entry into the war  in 1941, Weinberg shows, started a countdown clock for the Axis powers. America's huge industrial capacity, well beyond the reach of attack, meant that the longer the war lasted, the more lopsided the Allied material advantage would become. Even significant American strategic mistakes, such as the policy of sending green replacements to the Western European front before they were ready, couldn't change this dynamic. This ticking clock forced the Axis powers into strategic gambles designed to achieve some sort of separate peace on one front before American military might could be fully brought to bear. To respond, the Allies early agreed to unanimously demand nothing but unconditional surrender from all foes, a demand that was further justified by the emerging evidence of Axis (especially German) atrocities. Hitler also tried to offset the Allies' growing material advantage by diverting enormous resources into cutting-edge weapons such as advanced submarines which didn't need to surface, unmanned rockets (such as the infamous V-1 and V-2s, which were to be succeeded by ever-more-accurate versions), and supermassive artillery weapons which could only move on railway tracks. Weinberg argues that these programs consumed huge amounts resources while having little practical impact.

As for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Weinberg presents the case not from hindsight, but from the perspective of planners desperate to avoid more hideous battles like Okinawa. FDR (who opposed gas or chemical weapons) essentially saw nuclear weapons as nothing more than ultra-powerful explosives, and would certainly have used them had he survived. Once Stalin was told that the Americans had working bombs, he urged them to drop them on Japan as soon as possible. The Americans had broken most Japanese diplomatic codes and knew the Japanese were putting out peace feelers, but these were not coming from people who had a chance of changing government policy, and in any event stopped well short of accepting unconditional surrender. Even after the bombs had been dropped on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviets had entered the war, it still took Hirohito's personal intervention to force recalcitrant top brass to accept surrender. Even then, they staged a last-minute coup to continue the war which nearly succeeded. The atomic bombings were horrifying and brutal, but no more so than the March 1945 fire-bombing of Tokyo, which killed upwards of 100,000 people. And the atom bombs did render the invasion of the Japanese home islands -- which would have led to millions more deaths -- unnecessary. One can spin out counterfactuals about other approaches that could have forestalled an invasion of the home islands, but the overwhelming desire of all Allies was to end the war in the Pacific as soon as possible, and the nuclear weapons seemed the likeliest way to accomplish this. The Germans, for their part, never came close to developing an atom bomb, but had been the first to develop military nerve gas in the 1930s. Hitler was mistakenly informed that the Allies probably also had nerve gas, likely much more of it than Germany did, so he never used it. When the Soviets came across the German nerve gas factory in Poland, they quietly dismantled the entire thing and moved it to Russia. No fools, those Soviets.

Weinberg wraps up with a chapter on the aftermath of the war, which included the biggest short-term mass-migration in history, in which 10-12 million Germans were unceremoniously kicked out of the occupied East and forced to return to their ravaged nation. Stalin set up puppet governments in the countries in his sphere of influence, something that the Allies watched with unease but couldn't do much about. It was the titanic sacrifices of the Soviets, after all, that had enabled the Allies to win. East Germany was put under the control of Communist exiles who had fled to Russia. As Weinberg points out, surviving as an exile amid the show trials and purges in Stalin's Russia required extreme timidity and subservience, so the exiles who returned to take over East Germany on Stalin's behalf were, in Weinberg's words, 'certified blockheads'. The British were originally willing to simply issue warrants for high-ranking Nazis ordering them to be shot on sight, but other Allies thought at least some sort of trial was necessary. Greece, although freed from forced membership in the Eastern Bloc, plunged into civil war. In the most optimistic development, Western Europe began knitting itself together in a so-far successful attempt to prevent a further Continent-wide bloodbath.

A World at Arms does have its flaws. Weinberg's treatment of the South Asian and Chinese theaters never quite comes together into a coherent narrative, and I wanted more direct quotations from historical sources, not Weinberg's paraphrases. Further, his historical judgments (on Neville Chamberlain or Soviet foreign policy, for instance) are starkly expressed. You get the sense that he is settling scores with other historians, but you're not provided with enough detail and context to understand the dispute he's taking a side in, or why you should agree with him. However, remedying these defects would have made the book even longer, and Weinberg's bibliographical essay and notes provide plenty of guidance for those who want to go further. All in all, a splendid read.

A Lost Weekend in Heidelberg

On Friday, I debated American law professor and death-penalty proponent Robert Blecker in the 'New Auditorium' of Heidelberg University, which was freshly renovated in 2011 to celebrate the 625th birthday of that institution. The room was pretty crowded, and the audience -- almost exclusively students -- asked interesting questions. The Heidelberg Symposium (g) is organized exclusively by a small group of idealistic, hard-working students, and they did a fine job, presenting dozens of interesting speakers (I went to several other presentations myself and was never disappointed) and making guests feel more than welcome. If you want to support this entirely voluntary, student-run, interdisciplinary conference, go here (g). They also welcome Sachspenden (in-kind contributions).

Given all the charming people I was meeting, I did rather a bit more drinking and socializing than I normally do -- in fact, on Friday night, I stayed up until 6 AM, and walked home to the Hotel Tannhäuser.* Many thanks to my readers for the suggestions. Unfortunately, the weather was cool and rainy, so all the Biergärten were closed and no space was left inside, so there was no white asparagus with braised pork knuckles (or whatever they eat in Heidelberg) for me. My drinking companions and I always seemed to end up in the Weinloch ('Winehole'!) in the Untere Straße, which stays open until 3 AM and lives up to its name.

I finally got a chance to see the Prinzhorn Collection of art by patients in a clinic for the mentally ill, collected in the early 20th century by an idealistic psychologist and art historian named Hans Prinzhorn. The classic book he published in 1922, Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (g) (Artistry of the Mentally Ill), influenced a generation of modern artists. And I didn't just buy if for the pictures; Prinzhorn's innovation was to treat artworks by mentally ill patients not as curiosities or signs of disease, but rather as serious expressions of the primal human need to understand the world, bring order to sense impressions, decorate one's surroundings, and express states of the soul.

Josef Forster -- Man Without Gravity.bmp
The project was perverted a generation later, when the chairman of the Heidelberg psychiatric clinic, Carl Schneider, permitted works from the collection to be used by the Nazis to 'prove' that modern art was no different from the 'scribblings of mental degenerates'. Prinzhorn himself was prevented from further developing his own fascination with racial ideology (g) by his early death in 1933. Many of the artists whose works appear in the book were later murdered in Grafeneck (g) as part of the T4 program. Prinzhorn's masterpiece has been translated into English and has consistently remained in print in Germany, with the last edition appearing in 2011. The Prinzhorn collection is now housed in a thoroughly-renovated old lecture hall, and is the perfect size.

I have a few other observations about Heidelberg:

  • In the early morning, the streets of Heidelberg are full not only of drunken students, but also lots of drunken random citizens speaking a neurologically-impaired version of whatever their native language is. Or their 'school English'. You'll also see a lot of swarthy men showing each other rather intense levels of public affection. There are almost-nightly fights, which the police actually don't do much to prevent: they watch over things and make sure nobody gets seriously hurt. It's all loads of fun until somebody loses an eye, but it's not exactly the academic idyll it is often portrayed as.
  • The university's world-famous Egyptian collection is closed, apparently indefinitely, while it's being moved to a new location. Naturally, you won't find this clearly stated anywhere on the University's website or at any signs at the former location of the exhibition.
  • The traditional German style of holding a 'Vorlesung' lives on among many of the crusty old professors at Heidelberg (but not only there, of course). The professor stands behind the lectern, reading a prepared text (or simply reading a slightly revised version of their most recent book or commentary) in a monotone. The text is read word-for-word, page for page. Deviation from the text is a cardinal sin, as is the idea of integrating contemporary examples or empirical verification. After having droned on for the required amount of time, the professor gathers his or her papers and leaves the room. Interruptions and questions are not permitted, and the professor simply doesn't care if half the students leave mid-lecture out of sheer boredom. The fact that this 'lecture' style could also be performed by an Amazon Kindle doesn't seem to have inspired thesed professors to change their ways. Fortunately, this style of lecturing is slowly dying out even in German universities, but it's always gob-smacking to see one of these 'old-school' profs displaying such open contempt for the audience.
  • Heidelberg 'Student kisses' are the most delicious candies in the world.

UPDATE: The indefatigable Christian Boulanger asks how the debate was. You'll be able to judge soon enough, since it will be posted on YouTube. Until then, my impressions. My job was to defend the 'European model' of criminal punishment, which could be summed up as (1) avoid prison confinement wherever possible; (2) integrate retributivism (as the basis for the length of the sentence) without going overboard; (3) make sure prison does as good a job as possible resocializing inmates; and (4) keep criminal justice out of the hands of the people and in the hands of politically insulated civil servants. Blecker, for his part, is an 'emotive retributivist' who favors capital punishment for the 'worst of the worst' and supports making prison life gradually more restrictive depending on the level of moral culpability of the offender, meaning those who displayed serious depravity of mind would be subject to punitive segregation. His views are more nuanced than some of the video clips circulating on the Internet may make it seem: he believes the death penalty is used too frequently in the United States, agrees that America has a serious over-incarceration problem, and that too little is done to try to rehabilitate prisoners. His focus is on severe punishments for the 'worst of the worst', but on correspondingly less severe punishments for those whose crimes don't demonstrate utter viciousness.

I was preaching to the choir, since I was defending a system that most of the middle-class to upper-class university students tend to see as natural and normal and humane. (This complacency is aggravated by the 'respectable' German media's disinterest in highlighting the many problems plaguing German criminal justice, with the intermittent exception of Der Spiegel (g)). I don't normally like preaching to the choir, so I tried to leaven my endorsement of European mildness with some criticisms. Nevertheless, the students listened to Blecker's point of view respectfully, and Becker earned applause for his frankly, honestly retributive opinions -- such as that he has little use for the abstract notion of 'human dignity', and that he considers the 'human dignity' of people like Magnus Gäfgen as much less worthy of protection than that of the young boy he callously murdered.

Anyway, that's my two cents. The debate was captured on video by a pretty professional camera team, and I've been promised it will be posted on YouTube in the next few weeks. As soon as it shows up, I'll post it here, and you can draw your own conclusions...

And now for a few random pictures from my photostream:

Clockwork Providenzkirche

street art on building of gerontological institute

statue of fame in alte aula (old auditorium)

books in antiquariat hatry

creuzer book

sign on heuscheuer

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