The Krahestraße in Düsseldorf is in a working-class area near the main train station. For years it's been known for something vicious and ugly: An apartment house owner, Heinz Nieder, wanted to flush out some inconvenient tenants who opposed a renovation, so he hired a workman to open a gas pipeline in the basement of his own apartment building at night.
Six people died in the resulting blast (g), two others were severely injured. The series of resulting trials of the home owner, Heinz Nieder, must count as one of the most humiliating debacles in post-war German justice: he was forced to languish in 'investigative custody' for so long (eventually eight years in total) that the Federal Constitutional Court set him free. Then two trials against him were overturned on appeal (g) by the German High Court. During much of this judicial odyssey, he was often seen (g) in Düsseldorf's trendy Oberkassel neighborhood, taking walks or sipping espresso.
He was finally sentenced and the verdict upheld on appeal only in 2009. The sentence was life imprisonment (actually a 15-year minimum sentence). The prosecutor's office -- believe it or not -- sent him a letter asking him to show up for his life prison sentence, please. The letter was sent to his last registered address. Shockingly, it turns out that Mr. Nieder hadn't lived there for at least 3 months (g). He had gone underground and remained on the run for much of mid-2009, working as a renovator. He was picked up only with the help of 'Detective Serendipity' (Kommisar Zufall), as the Germans say -- he was found outside a hotel in Marburg Germany full of pills and confused, apparently the result of a suicide attempt. He said he was Ralf Möller from Cologne, but police at the hospital recognized his face (g) from the wanted poster. As of 2011, he was serving his sentence as a cook in a prison hospital (g).
So much for the story of the despicably greedy landlord. Now to the story of the enlightened, art-loving landlord, which also takes place in the Krahestrasse, next to where Heinz Nieder murdered six people. I was biking by there recently and came upon the freshly-completed series of apartment houses forming the 'Mosaic Facade':
The project was the brainchild of landlord Hans-Rainer Jonas, who has a 'social vein' and prides himself on charging reasonable rents and providing communal space for his tenants. He originally thought of Hundertwasser to decorate the facades of his houses, but then chose the Düsseldorf artist Josipa Horvat. She involved a team of other artists and also residents (g). Sometimes children would come by with fragments of mirror or crockery which would be mosaiced right in next to everything else.
I have my doubts about some urban public art projects, but I love this one. Cheerful without being saccharine, whimsical, and beguilingly curvy. Makes me want to move...
Yesterday I was forced on a pilgrimage halfway across Düsseldorf to rescue a package from the USA from the clutches of German customs. So I decided to take the scenic route, through a small but elegant castle and grounds called Schloss Eller, then the working-class suburb of Reisholz. A few of the photos:
I spent the weekend in Freiburg courtesy of the German-American Lawyers' Association (thanks!) and got to enjoy that delightful city again. The people are friendly and laid-back (Freiburg gets more sun than any other place in Germany), the food is outstanding (Freiburg is right on the border with France), and the small old city is filled with artificial rectilinear 'brooks' (Baechle), about a half-meter wide and deep, through which cool, clear water courses rapidly. Kids float boats down them, people cool their feet on hot summer days, and the sound fills the narrow streets. These little brooks aren't covered, so one of the most amusing pastimes is listening for the agonized shrieks of tourists who, gawking at old buildings, have wrenched their ankle into one of these Baechle. You can't sue, because it's tradition. Besides, the locals say if you trip into one of the Baechle, you'll marry someone from Freiburg. I so far have managed to step over every one of these Baechle.
A hilly chunk of the Black Forest thrusts directly into Freiburg from the East like a giant arrow. This means that you can walk 10 minutes from the city center and literally be inside the Black Forest --especially if you take the mountainside railcar, which lifts you about 300 meters to the main hillside trail. In most other places in the world, this hillside would be covered with the mansions of the rich, but not in Freiburg. I hiked about 4 km into the Black Forest to the forest shrine of St. Odile of Alsace, a small baroque church housing a spring whose water is supposed to heal eye problems. According to this church website, the water has tons of radon in it, but that didn't stop a few pilgrims from washing their eyes with it (!) while I was there. Odile was born blind in the 7th century but her vision was restored through prayer, so one of her typical iconographies is a book with human eyeballs projecting from it, as in this Baroque sculpture from the church. There was also a group of young Germans who recited the Ave Maria in German in a monotone over and over, interspersed with some prayers sung in Latin. I wonder what this devotional exercise is called.
Here is St. Odila with her chalice-book-eyes! The some pictures of Freiburg, greenery and forest views, a panorama of the valley in which Freiburg is locaged, a foxglove plant (which is called Fingerhut -- finger-hat! -- in German), the interior of the St. Ottilien church. Oh, and a hideous, gigantic Brutalist building (housing a Breuninger department store) excreted like a steaming pile of shit right into the middle of Freiburg's Old City.
Here is a slideshow of pictures I took in Egypt: Cairo, Alexandria, Ancient stuff, and people. The music is Amal Hayati by Umm Kulthum (translated lyrics here). More info on the pictures can be found in my Picasa album. Enjoy!