I found this notecard on the sidewalk a few weeks ago and have been puzzling over it ever since. I recognize a few words in the body and the sentence at the end ("Alles nur eine Frage der Form?") but no more. Little help?
Over the weekend I set out for the Neander Valley, where the first Neanderthal skeleton was found. It's also an ultra-pleasant hiking destination, complete with babbling brooks, succulent green meadows, winding forest pathways, mildly dramatic shale rock formations, and quaint villages where people set out bookcases full of old horse magazines by the side of the road. The leaves were, to use Oscar Wilde's phrase, 'ruined gold'.
During the hike I made a wrong turn or two and ended up in Mettman, famed as one of the epicenters of German Spießbürgerlichkeit (g) (petit-bourgeois stodginess). Everything there was quiet, respectable, recently-cleaned, and terrifyingly rectilinear.
Perhaps you readers can help me clear up a few mysteries in the pictures below. First, those metal studs pounded into the (mold-yellowed) wooden electricity pole? Who puts them there and what do they mean? Second, the old stone markers by the side of the road in Bracken, Germany. What was their original purpose. Any clues would be appreciated.
The Corneliusstraße train overpass, one of Düsseldorf' many hideous underpasses, was recently stripped of its advertising hoardings, exposing squares of long-hidden posters and graffiti, including this advertisement, which appears to be for a long-ago performance of Swan Lake (Schwanensee) by the 'Ballet Classique de Paris' (extra points for anyone who can date this poster):
Just above that I spotted the words 'raus aus Vietnam' (get out of Vietnam), barely legible in light-green ink:
The first word was hard to read, but it's got to be the USA, right? The Vietnam War was, to put it mildly, not very popular in Germany (g) at least among the sort of people who paint underpasses with graffiti.
But on closer inspection, the first word turned out to be China (!):
That narrows things down. I'm sure I don't need to remind you that the last time China invaded Vietnam was in the 1788 Battle of Ngọc Hồi-Đống Đa, so this graffito is 226 years old!
Now the question is who wrote this? Perhaps a Vietnamese. But I like to think it was a member of a tiny Marxist splinter group, perhaps the Autonome Autarke Syndakilistische-Solidaristische Volksfront.
Circuses disappeared from America sometime around 1975, to be replaced by God knows what.
But Europe, God bless it, still plays host to circuses. Actual traveling circuses, with genuine circus-folk and clowns with eerie, pupil-less eyes:
Come one, come all, to see 'Snake-woman Mercedes' (who looks about 12), 'Clown Banana' (not further specified), 'Fire-fakir Santokan and Belly Dancer Destiny', 'Schecki -- Europe's smallest Pony', 'Clown Peppo', and 'Arelina and Cartier', her trained horse.
I know we're supposed to find these things slightly louche and express concern over proper animal storage and all, but I for one welcome the prospect of humans leaving behind their flickering screens, foregathering in meatspace, and watching other humans do amusing things with each other and certain animals. Who says the new ways are always better?
A friend in Houston, Texas sends me these two pictures. First, a scholarship fundraising drive with max killpower:
Second, a message from some Houston-boosters. Some background: Houston has a nationwide -- nay, global -- reputation for being a crappy place to live, although it's got its share of charms for the visitor. Hours-long commutes in the spaghetti bowl of freeways; endless soul-crushing hellscapes of fast-food chains, seedy strip malls...
...pawn shops, titty bars, and junkyards; a sweltering humid, broiling subtropical climate; megachurches on every streetcorner; giant flying cockroaches, swarms of mosquitoes, poisonous snakes, not only fire ants but also crazy ants, the two of which are currently battling for supremacy.
To which Houston boosters have a simple four-word response:
Get this inspiring message on T-shirts, caps, and other gear here.
Zwingburg (g) is a German word made out of the root of the verb zwingen (to force or coerce) and Burg (fortress).
It is a fortress or castle or citadel erected in a prominent place in areas in which (to quote the German Wikipedia article), the local residents were considered 'insufficiently loyal' to whatever feudal lord owned the country. The design is purposely menacing, the building says 'I am your Lord. This ugly-ass fortress is full of lust-crazed Swabian mercenaries who will stream through your defenseless villages and daughters unless you show me unswerving obedience, reechy-necked lickspittles.'
It's a very Tscherman thing.
I thought of this word when I took a short bicycle ride through the Hafen (harbor) area in Düsseldorf last weekend. Back in the 90s, the city fathers decided to raze most of the existing port infrastructure on the Rhine as it fell into disuse and create a sexy, stylish area full of trendy boutiques, fashion houses, lux hotels, hip bars, and other hangouts for lawyers, lobbyists, advertising executives and other wan, dead-eyed parasites pillars of the local economy. They called it the Medienhafen (Media Harbor).
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...