Pentecost (Pfingsten in German) celebrates the time when 'suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.' Appropriately, on Pentecost Monday, usually known as Whit Monday, a freak windstorm pummeled the westernmost state in Germany, Northern Rhine-Westphalia, leaving scenes of destruction like this. Six people died, traffic was disrupted for days, and something like 20,000 trees were uprooted, many others damaged. And we didn't even get a visitation by the Holy Spirit out of it.
Everywhere you go in Düsseldorf, there are still uprooted trees slowly dying, and tree branches scattered on the side of the road, where they were hastily cleared away to permit traffic to pass. And yet the city administration quickly issued a warning to all residents: the trees and branches blown over by the storm are the property of the city, and anyone appropriating them commits theft (g). This is in contrast to most of the neighboring towns, which encouraged citizens to clear away the wood.
This caused a controversy, which I plan to ignore. Instead, I want to focus on the word for the downed trees: Sturmholz. It couldn't be easier: Sturm (storm) + Holz (wood) = Stormwood. I've quizzed a few friends, and they report they'd never heard of the word before the storm, but instantly grasped what it referred to. The Lego Language provides yet another compact word for something that other, sloppier, lazier, smellier, louder, less efficient, more Southern European (g) languages would need an entire phrase to convey.
Johnny Stormwood, that is, lank-haired skateboard rebel and the embittered rival who brought down Slash Treadfree:
In his lifetime, he saw elements of fascism, Peronism, and even anti-Semitism emerge in the Argentinean political sphere, so his intense suspicion of popular political movements and mass culture—the apogee of which, in Argentina, is soccer—makes a lot of sense. (“There is an idea of supremacy, of power, [in soccer] that seems horrible to me,” he once wrote.) Borges opposed dogmatism in any shape or form, so he was naturally suspicious of his countrymen’s unqualified devotion to any doctrine or religion—even to their dear albiceleste.
Soccer is inextricably tied to nationalism, another one of Borges’ objections to the sport. “Nationalism only allows for affirmations, and every doctrine that discards doubt, negation, is a form of fanaticism and stupidity,” he said. National teams generate nationalistic fervor, creating the possibility for an unscrupulous government to use a star player as a mouthpiece to legitimize itself.
This is a pretty good summary of what many bourgeois Germans think about soccer. To them, too, flag-draped cities and mass 'public viewings' uncomfortably recall the Nuremburg rallies, of individuals sinking rapturously into the blissful Wir-Gefühl (We-feeling) of ideological consensus. Add to that the bloodless siege of marketing that surrounds every World Cup, and you have a perfect storm of mass culture and consumerism, enough to curl the toenails of any self-respecting turtleneck-wearing aesthete.
But let's not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Stuffy Germans turn up their noses at lots of stuff that's really fun, like cheap liquor, guns, porno, naked sledding, dope, tabloid newspapers, and sex with 60 kilos of ground beef. If you studiously refused to enjoy everything they studiously refuse to enjoy, you'd end up as dull as they are.
So Europeans who proudly despise soccer do so because it's favored by beer-swilling chavs. Intriguingly, soccer has the opposite reputation in the USA. It's a complex, oustside-the-mainstream, English, low-scoring game which people from Europe and developing countries are hella good at. This makes it fair play for hipsters and Europhiles. Further, it requires no expensive equipment and isn't dominated by freakishly tall or muscular people.
No, Americans who dislike soccer because they find it boring and / or pointless. The Simpsons, as usual, has this covered (unembeddable video here). What do I think about soccer? Speak for me, bullet-points:
Yes, the masses' obsession with soccer is tiresome and alarming, and the cliche that soccer is a religion in country X is beyond tiresome. Whenever I hear that country X is soccer-obsessed, that the nation stops functioning and planes drop from the air when a game is on, that mothers are having the names of the latest stars tattooed on their babies' eyeballs, I think: "Good God, what a bunch of lazy sods. Why don't they think up their own games?"
However, the mere fact that many people who love soccer are mindless clods doesn't mean I must hate it.
And in fact, I rather like it. If you learn the rules and pay a bit of attention, a good soccer game can be totally engrossing. This World Cup, in particular, has offered up some thrilling games so far -- think of the epic second half of Germany v. Ghana. What's most mesmerizing to me is the continuous flow of the game. And soccer also seems to be a bit more competitive than many other sports. Sure, there are occasional 6-0 blowouts, but team that are clearly less talented than their opponent can still stage tremendous upsets.
So I will be there tomorrow in Boui Boui Bilk watching America v. Germany, drinking copiously, and cheering on the American team.
But my face won't be painted in red-white-and-blue -- that's strictly for morons.
I've got a bleg. A few years ago I was in a Japanese restaurant here in Düsseldorf, and on the wall was a quotation (in German) that went something like: 'Every speech in praise of the heroism of a fallen soldier in the last war guarantees the death of three more in the next war.' My recall of the wording is really vague, which is why I can't find this on my own. I think it was from Tucholsky, seems like something he would say, but Im not 100% sure.
I would really appreciate any help finding the exact source.
In the latest installment of Sartor Resartus, we take an anxious, hyperventilating look at the German death-machine industry:
DÜSSELDORF -- The hulking white block of the Rheinmetall headquarters dominates the Derendorf neighborhood of Düsseldorf, Germany. Although the building is shrouded in secrecy and access is restricted, there can be little doubt that champagne corks are popping inside. The reason? Rheinmetall has just signed a 3 billion Euro contract (g) to sell almost a thousand ultra-lethal 'Fox' tanks to the authoritarian regime currently in power in oil-rich Algeria. The news sent Rheinmetall's stock soaring, further enriching the thousands of Germans who profit from weapons exports to repressive regimes in the developing world.
Rheinmetall, notorious for murderously exploiting slave labor to build weapons for the Nazis, had to apply to the German government for permission to export the tanks to the crisis-racked regime in Algeria, which only a few years ago was mired in a bloody civil war. But the German government, which constantly lectures other nations on the need to solve problems peacefully, casually rubber-stamped the deal. Spokesmen for the German government invoked the always-convenient specter of terrorism, claiming that the Algerian government was a key ally in the struggle against Al-Qaeda. But many observers are convinced the government was really eyeing the spectacular profits that would further fatten the coffers of one of Germany's richest and most politically influential companies.
Time was I could barely post a cultural trivia contest before it was answered in comments.
Either I've been picking much too difficult questions or my blog audience has become a lot more ignant. You people, frankly, have disappointed me. You hardly deserve to have your curiosity satisfied, assuming you have any to begin with.
Yet I am a merciful quizmaster, so I will provide the answers.
A few weeks ago I asked you to identify the painter of a Virgin which was later covered by another master:
This Virgin was painted in the studio of the Giuseppe Cesari, Cavaliere D'Arpino. It was later appropriate by his student, Caravaggio, who flipped it on its side and painted one of his two versions of the Fortune Teller over it:
I also recently asked you to name me one movie featuring a person who was lated executed for murder. The answer I had in mind (there may be others) is:
Lady Godiva Rides Again, released in the United States as Bikini Baby, is a 1951British comedyfilm starring Pauline Stroud, about a small-town English girl who wins a beauty contest and heads for greater fame after appearing as Lady Godiva in a pageant.
The film is most notable for the presence of actresses who were later to become famous. Diana Dors, who appears as a beauty queen, was later marketed as the film's star. It also features Joan Collins in her movie debut as an uncredited beauty contestant. Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in England, also appears as an uncredited beauty queen. Ruth, who was four months pregnant at the time, had dyed her hair black and had styled it into a bob.
Here's one scene featuring her briefly:
Ellis was executed in 1955 for the murder of her lover:
This is the official logo of the convention center in Essen a city of 567,000 people in Germany:
If you're a native English speaker, or even a mildly competent ESL speaker, you may have noticed that 'place of events' is something no proper English speaker has ever or would ever think, say, or write. It has every hallmark of Denglish obtuseness -- the awkward adjectival phrase, the faintly ludicrous non-specificity (is there any location in space-time that is not a 'place of events'?), the cack-handed attempt to convey a sense of excitement by stitching together a few random words in the lingua franca of hipness. It looks like something you would read on a Thai T-shirt, or what you'd get if you asked a group of retired East German coal miners twenty seconds to think of a really cool English slogan for their local senior center.
And yet this is the official slogan of a multimillion dollar convention center in Germany's most populous state. This humiliating testament to the dreary stuffiness of German corporate culture has appeared on millions of signs, billboards, stickers, notebooks, cocktail napkins, sanitary pads, shell casings, flags, and streetcar-side advertisements.
What caused this train wreck? One part of me says the answer is obvious. The convention center's marketing director, Alexander Remigius Maximilian Cornelius Ignaz Baron von Shicklgruber started the slogan meeting by saying: 'It came to me over the weekend: Place of Events!' and his fawning underlings immediately congratulated him on the staggering awesomeness of his idea.
But maybe the inspiration was Crazy Vaclav, the swarthy, heavily-accented auto dealer from an unspecified Eastern European country featured in the 1992 Simpsons episode Mr. Plow. (unembeddable video link here). He tries to sell Homer a car from a country that 'no longer exists'. As the Simpsons Wiki puts it, the car is deficient in legroom, 'even for the driver'.
First, Carl Douglas' evergreen 1974 hit 'Kung Fu Fighting':
And now, the near-simultaneous and deeply regrettable German ripoff 'Kung Fu Leute', from the hapless 'Kandy', who looks like he was dragged in off the street to read lyrics from a card:
Given Germany's role as self-appointed Sole Remaining Keeper of the Flame of Intellectual Property™, I can only hope Carl Douglas was handsomely compensated for the traumatic defunkification of his song. (Right?).
But wait! Deutschland redeems itself 30 years later when the German outfit the Mardi Gras Brass Band returns to the original English lyrics and turns KFF into a tuba-driven slow jam:
And now comes Erdmöbel with their own song about someone who remembers his lover by her 'kung fu fighting' ringtone. The video features two people with pure Nordic blood pretty faces kissing:
But lest we forsake or fake the funk, let us conclude this musical journey with Cee Lo Green insanely buttshaking but way too short cover: