‘Exiting Central Park’ by Marcela Sulak

And now, a poem from a fine young American poet, Marcela Sulak. It's the first in her new collection Of all the Things that Don't Exist, I Love You Best, which can be bought on Amazon at that link, or directly from the publisher here (it's a funky small press, so you'll have to scroll down 4/5 of the way):


Exiting Central Park

The important thing is to be burdened with your emptiness

– not as a pregnant woman balancing across the street,

for your emptiness belongs only to you and no one

placed it there. Nor are you like a barrel of rainwater


collecting ripples and images. Nor are you a shadow

or a sun. The necessary thing when you are

standing still is to have a place to go. To have something

that should be done or could be done


or at least begun. Consider when your hands

are gathering up strange letters—and they are prone

to slide—they are not grains or seed or keys to a mystery,

though they are not yours, or to a house or a heart.


Bells are not syllables, slaps are not chrysanthemums.

Dictionaries will give you nothing. There is no language

in your blood, no hurt under your boot heels.

What is gliding on the lake is gliding away,


it is looking for fish and frogs. It cannot speak

to you, nor can the oak that drops its button acorns

and moves its arms in the wind. And the children

walking hand in hand before you in the reeds


are only going home to supper. The sun

is setting. It is only the end of the day.

To remember: it's better not to look for things

or pick them up. Stay out of libraries and away


from electrical outlets, hospital rooms and theatres,

from secretaries, businessmen and all who traffic

in similes, stock, grain, meat, desire, daisies

snails and shipping. Stay out of suitcases,


closets, diaries, milk pails, washing machines,

Beware of stockroom boys, of grandmothers

with their heavy tablets of bread, bakers and their ilk.

And yet, it isn't good to be alone. Not too much alone.

The Passive House People

Germany's "passive houses" are attracting interest across the Atlantic, as Kevin Drum notes:

The concept of the passive house, pioneered in this city of 140,000 outside Frankfurt, approaches the challenge from a different angle. Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants’ bodies.

….Decades ago, attempts at creating sealed solar-heated homes failed, because of stagnant air and mold. But new passive houses use an ingenious central ventilation system. The warm air going out passes side by side with clean, cold air coming in, exchanging heat with 90 percent efficiency.

….In Germany the added construction costs of passive houses are modest and, because of their growing popularity and an ever larger array of attractive off-the-shelf components, are shrinking.

But be warned: no McMansion for you!

Most passive houses allow about 500 square feet per person, a comfortable though not expansive living space. Mr. Hasper said people who wanted thousands of square feet per person should look for another design.

“Anyone who feels they need that much space to live,” he said, “well, that’s a different discussion.”

I've seen a few documentaries on passive houses, and they're really engineering marvels. I still really don't understand how a heat exchanger works, but apparently it does.

The only problem is that some of the passive house's acceptance can be chalked up to the way Northern Europeans (here, Germans) think:

  1. Most Germans grew up in apartments or modest houses and are used to living in small spaces. Most have probably never had much more than 500 square feet of living space to themselves. Eng und wohl (snug and comfy) is the watchword here.
  2. You often encounter Germans who have an amusing paranoia about drafts and a surprisingly high tolerance for (what I would call) stale, recycled air. To these people, hermetically sealed house = paradise.
  3. The kind of Germans who could afford passive houses are the kind of Germans who care — and want to be seen to care – about the environment. For these people, a passive house is a status symbol.
  4. I'd be willing to bet passive houses probably don't get quite as warm as houses with traditional heating. But Germans love nature, and don't like to mess too much with what it dishes out (witness the aversion to genetically-modified food). This helps explain the scarcity of air-conditioning in Germany, even in places which could easily afford it and where it might be pretty handy for 2 months of the year.

When summer comes around, Germans just sweat! In fact, they seem to kind of like sweating. They vacation in really hot parts of the earth, and frequently visit saunas, places in which you actually pay to sweat. This attitude is inexplicable to people who come from hot, moist parts of the world in which you have no choice but to sweat like a French whore, day-in and day-out, for 9 months of the year.

Admiral Christmas

So I'm browsing through Alibris for books on "prisoner rehabilitation," and what do I come across but yet more christmas cheer:

Single sheet of stout card measuring approx. 4.5 x 7.5 inches (12.0 x 19.0 cms), obverse with gilt edges printed with the insignia of 'Admiral Inspector of the Fleet' in gilt and black and seasonal text in black; reverse blank. The seasonal text, SIGNED BY DONITZ IN BLUE INK, reads 'Grossadmiral Donitz dankt fur die guten Wunsche zum Weihachtsfest und zum neuen jahr und erwidert sie herzlich'. Grossadmiral Karl Donitz (1871-1980), German naval leader and Hitler's successor, commanded the Kriegsmarine during the latter half of WWII and is remembered particularly for his promotion of the U-boat offensive.

I suppose you could call Doenitz a rehabilitated (de-nazified) prisoner (of war). The card is yours for only $929.61!

Everything that Happens Will Happen Today

I'm a little slow on the uptake here, but I'd like to report that David Byrne and Brian Eno are at it again, almost 30 years after My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. The new record was released a few months ago, and is called Everything that Happens Will Happen Today. It's available only online. I've bought it, and am glad I did. It's as poppy as anything Eno's done since Wrong Way Up, and David Byrne's occastional tendency to feyness is held well in check. Here's an embed featuring one of the songs on the album: 

The website is here, in case the embed doesn't work.

Santa Claus, Liquefied

[I first posted this just before Christmas, 2005, and, for want of time to post anything original, I thought I'd shamelessly recycle it. Enjoy!]

In January 1990, the American magazine Spy convened a panel of scientific experts to answer the question whether Santa Claus exists. 

Their conclusions, although somewhat dry and technical, have become a heart-warming Christmas classic.  I reprint it here to add a little dose of analytical objectivity to warm Christmas feelings:

1)    No known species of reindeer can fly. But there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not completely rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.

2)    There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. Since Santa doesn't (appear to) handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total – 378 million according to Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes there's at least one good child in each.

3)    Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75-1/2 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding and etc.

This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man- made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second – a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.

4)    The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that "flying reindeer" (see point #1) could pull ten times the normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload – not even counting the weight of the sleigh – to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison – this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.

5)    353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance – this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh and liquefied by 4,315,015 pounds of force.

In conclusion – If Santa ever did deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's dead now.

Where are the English-Language Lebkuchen?

German Christmas curmudgeons can scoff all they want, joined by their English comrades. But that'll never change the fact that the whole world, and especially American whole world looooves German Christmas markets:

Around us, the white tents are mood-lit to perfection, strung with fresh garlands of greenery and dotted with red bows. Formal-looking signs (old-fashioned gold-and-red surrounded by gold scrollwork) announce the goods for sale.

In one tent, big, heart-shaped cookies with corny sentiments written in German in curlicue frosting read "Grandma, you're super," and "With you, I'd go to the end of the world." Another tent, festooned with animal skins and antlers, is doing brisk business in bread bowls filled with wild boar goulash and wild mushrooms sauteed with berries. A group of friends tries on funky handmade wool hats at a stall nearby….

One hut is devoted to all things marzipan, with loaves of the almond paste and little soft pillows of the confection that look like bars of soap. Nearby, roasted almonds coated with ginger and chocolate are proffered in colorful paper cones. Another stand is devoted to printen: gingerbread fingers that come in different varieties, including almond and chocolate. There are mushrooms sauteing in giant pans. I gobble them up with a little wooden fork that threatens to get lost in a generous dollop of creamy garlic sauce. Bratwursts sizzle over open coals, and I can convince myself I'm still hungry. We even pass a Scandinavian section, with reindeer sausages from Norway.

And really, if we have to have things like Christmas markets – and it appears we do — the German variety is hard to beat. Up against the sparkling, aromatic wonders of any halfway-decent German Christmas market, the desperate, reeking 'Mall Santas' America fields are a humiliating debacle.

Factories, Cemeteries, Dike Associations

Germany's a biker's paradise, because there are trails everywhere, and odd little things to see even in the country's dullest backwater. As proof, here are a few photos I took last weekend, when the sky was uncharacteristically illuminated for a few hours by a gigantic, glowing orb last seen about 3 months ago. First, a piece of graffiti under the Fleher Bruecke – featuring Street Denglish!

Graffito I dont looke alike under Fleher Bruecke

You know, I'd say that with that caramel-colored angora bodysuit, free-floating teeth, and multiple pupils, he actually does look "alike" a "psyco murda."

And now for something more dignified: a roadside altar from 1706.

Streetside Altar near Wahlscheid Overall View

I think the inscriptions's in Dutch. Anyone want to help translate?

Inscription on Roadside Altar near Wahlscheid

An interesting abandoned factories seen from the front (note the odd stepped platforms)…

Abandoned Factory Near Dormagen View 1

And from the rear:

Abandoned Factory Near Dormagen View 2 

If you were wondering where the jurisdiction of the Dormagen/Zons Dike Association ends and that of the Uedesheim Dike Association begins, here's your answer:

Border of Two Dike-Supporting Societies

You'll notice that nobody has removed the brown object on top of the post, whatever it is (I didn't try to find out). Probably because it's in the legal dead zone between the two associations' territories. I wouldn't be surprised if there have been screaming matches at meetings of the Uedesheim-Dormagen/Zons Jurisdictional Issues Joint Sub-Committee about who should remove the "unidentified brownish matter" on top of the border post.

After that, it was a short ride through the Hannepuetzheide, a small nature reserve which proudly advertises the fact that it's one of Germany's only stretches of inland dunes. Here is the Altar to St. Roch that you find in the middle of the forest:

St. Roch Altar Hannepuetzheide. Rochus Enclosure

And here is the relief found within:

Relief of St. Roch Inside Altar Hannepuetzheide

St. Roch, a plague survivor, is the patron saint of plague victims. He is usually pictured pointing to a plague sore on his leg, as here. For some reason, this charming naif relief made me thing of J.G. Ballard's Crash. I need help.

Perhaps the high point of the trip is the Jewish Cemetery (g) near Zons, a well-preserved medieval town along the Rhine. Germany has many Jewish cemeteries, most of them abandoned and partially overgrown. The Zons Jewish cemetery's official address is "Am Judenberg" – roughly, "on Jew Hill." It's entirely enclosed by a thick cement wall. Here's the entrance:

Entrance to Jewish Cemetery Hannepuetzheide

A view inside of some of the 24 graves located there:

View of Jewish Cemetery in Hannepuetzheide

From graffiti to abandoned factories to Catholic saints to Jewish history — all in the space of one short bike ride. Interesting place, Germany.

I will shortly be flying back to the States for holiday-related festivities, so blogging will be sparse. I hope everyone has a splendid time, and will be back to more-frequent blogging as of early January.

German Word of the Week: Nothaft

The cruel reality of nothaft.

So I'm reading through the latest gout of news about The Continuing Crisis, when I come across this:

Interest rates for 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates fell for the seventh consecutive week, moving these rates to the lowest since the survey began in April 1971," said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac chief economist.

I wonder how Frank Nothaft would react if you told him his name was not a German word (g). I guess he probably wouldn't care. But how would he react on being told that if 'nothaft' were a German word, it would mean "emergency custody"? That might prompt some rumination.

And if you told him that the Nazis (would have) used it to terrorize dissidents and minorities? I bet that'd be good for at least 10 minutes of anguished reflection…

A Chinese Banker’s Advice for Americans

The Atlantic reprints a fascinating interview by James Fallows with Gao Xiqing, the man who oversees $200 billion of China’s $2 trillion in U.S. dollar holdings (Gao went to Duke Law School and speaks fluent English):

This generation of Americans is so used to your supremacy. Your being treated nicely by everyone. It hurts to think, Okay, now we have to be on equal footing to other people. “On equal footing” would necessarily mean that sometimes you have to stoop to appear to be humble to other people.

And you can’t think as a soldier. You put yourself at the enemy end of everyone. I grew up during the Cultural Revolution, when people really treated other people like enemies. I grew up in an environment where our friends, our relatives, people I called Uncle or Auntie, could turn around and put a nasty face to me as a small child….

But over the years, I believe I learned to be humble. To treat other people nicely. I learned that, from a social point of view, no matter how lowly statured a person you are talking to, as a person, they are the same human being  as a person, they are the same human being as you are. You have to respect them. You have to apologize if you inadvertently hurt them. And often you have to go out of your way to be nice to them, because they will not like you simply because of the difference in social structure.

Americans are not sensitive in that regard. I mean, as a whole. The simple truth today is that your economy is built on the global economy. And it’s built on the support, the gratuitous support, of a lot of countries. So why don’t you come over and … I won’t say kowtow [with a laugh], but at least, be nice to the countries that lend you money.

Talk to the Chinese! Talk to the Middle Easterners! And pull your troops back! Take the troops back, demobilize many of the troops, so that you can save some money rather than spending $2 billion every day on them. And then tell your people that you need to save, and come out with a long-term, sustainable financial policy….

I have great admiration of American people. Creative, hard-working, trusting, and freedom-loving. But you have to have someone to tell you the truth. And then, start realizing it. And if you do it, just like what you did in the Second World War, then you’ll be great again!

The interview was held shortly before the 2008 election. In another part of interview, Gao sort of indirectly endorses Obama…

The Max Goldt Treasury, Reloaded

As time permits, I've translated the odd column by Max Goldt. In honor of his recent receipt of the Kleist Prize, I decided to increase the pace of translations as part of "Max Goldt Weeks". As part of MGW, I'm pleased to announce the latest translation, The Masses and the Maidens.

I've also decided to set up an independent section of this website just for Max Goldt translations, so they don't get lost amid all the nonsense and bloviation. If you look to the right, the sidebar now features an widget entitled The Max Goldt Treasury, with an introduction and table of contents, as well as links to all of my translations of Goldt's essays. From now on, the latest translations will always appear there.


The Masses and the Maidens

The Masses and the Maidens


by Max Goldt


(translated by Andrew Hammel)


For years, I’ve been plagued by a thought that I’d hardly like to spend the day with, much less the night. A ghastly, thoroughly uncooperative thought in the category: ‘What if…’ The thought is: ‘What if the great catastrophes of humanity had never occurred? If all those plagues, wars, famines, expulsions, and genocides had just never taken place? If all those poor sods who died before they could start families had actually had children, whose descendants would now be driving around in cars, craving beef, and wasting water? The earth would be gray and desolate. Shouldn’t we really be thanking these people, instead of categorically mourning them?’ Good God, you sit there on your chaise longue entertaining such stupendously ugly thoughts, and nobody offers you an arm to lean on. Perhaps it’s similar with masturbation. When children begin pleasuring themselves, they think for years that they are the only people on earth who do such things – and who knows, perhaps I’m only one of a few who let themselves be irritated by such idle thoughts. Since you can’t profit from them, you must drive them away. Turn on the television – and discover that there are currently two television series in which dogs solve crimes. And why not? After all, there are six competing candy-egg catalogs, and, what’s even wilder, 4 and ½ million people who have to answer the call of nature at night. Or you can dash out into the street, chasing distraction, and check out how far the labeling of the population has progressed. The answer is: Quite far! Five years ago, only the young carried labels. Now, you can find something on every sleeve. Recently, I saw a woman, about 70 years old and with hip problems, wearing a jacket whose bottom border sported four repetitions of the slogan THE SPIRIT OF FASHION. On the back of the jacket – which was never modern, and will never be fashionable – there was a superfluous triangular leather patch which read ACTIVE LINE MORE AND MORE. I once met a man whose jeans-jacket read: Move it up in the world alternative Nature Boyswear Environmental Message. English-speakers who travel abroad react to this nonsense with amusement, surprise, or, as the case may be, disgust. I recall once hearing that, in the USA’s early days, there was a vote on whether English or German should be that country’s official language. The choice was English, by a close vote. If German had won, then German would have become the world’s lingua franca, and we could travel the world and register annoyance or disgust at people whose clothing proclaimed: Wurst turnt treu durch Heide eins zwei Marmorhaus drei Knabenkraft Umgehungsstraße.*


Why do the people let this be done to them? Is it supposed to be cool? I once explored the local terrain with an expert in questions of style and coolness. We saw a man with a sweatshirt that said HARD ROCK CAFÉ BERLIN. My companion intoned expertly: “Really, there’s nothing uncooler than that.” I possess only one written-on article of clothing – a T-shirt given to me as a joke, which reads: BEER FORMED THIS BEAUTIFUL BODY. Back then, it was new to the joke-shirt market, and still somewhat funny. Still, I never put it on. I recently thought about giving the shirt to an extremely pregnant friend of mine – not, however, before I’d crossed out the word BEER and replaced it with the substance relevant to her situation. However, I’d already annoyed this friend with a most inelegant motherhood-related joke before, and I didn’t want to be banished entirely from her sphere of favor. We were sitting in a café, and there was still one seat left at our table. Through the door came a sleazebag whom I, regrettably enough, slightly knew. There are some people who are so unpleasant that they seem to represent the entire overpopulation of the world, standing there before you, compressed into one body. Out of disgust, I said to my friend: “You’re a woman. You can give birth. Bear a hedgehog, please, and put it on the free chair, so the bugger doesn’t sit here.” The friend didn’t like that at all. “Don’t ever say anything like that again,” she said, nervously stroking her belly. Thus, I forbade myself the inelegant T-shirt joke.


What is elegance, actually? In the Wahrig dictionary, we see “fashionable (but economical in means), style-conscious, surprisingly sophisticated.” Surely there are even better definitions from the mouths of Coco Chanel, Wolfgang Joop, and other experts. How about: “Elegance is a form of complexity which doesn’t feel itself superior to simplicity.” Classy definition! Surely I found it on a sugar-cube wrapper, credited to Peter Ustinov, Oscar Wilde, or someone similar? Au contraire! It is a home-made definition, cooked up with much care in my own private mind. Contrived, you say? Perhaps, but even the most contrived homemade definition is always better than homemade pig’s-head aspic. Many a housewife has sought to sprinkle some stars in the dimly-shining sky of her marriage by surprising her returning husband with aspic every evening. But for years, he has always responded: “Pig’s-head aspic’s vile taste / Keeps the codpiece tightly laced!” Spider-webs form between the couples’ pillows, which experts consider a sure sign that the pretzel stick we call desire is no longer capable of moving the billiard ball of sex along the pool table we call marriage. For a change, “she” should try surprising “him” with a homemade definition once in a while. She’ll be stunned at the result: The key crunches into the keyhole. The man puts his briefcase in the briefcase-holder compartment. The wife prances gaily out of the kitchen and warbles: “Do you know what love is? Love is not surprising a man who doesn’t like pig’s-head aspic with pig’s-head aspic, but with homemade definitions and seasonal salad variations!” The man is delighted – and gladly takes up his conjugal duties once again.


I should bring out a gift book with aphorisms like “Cleaning up is what you do before visitors arrive” or “Overpopulation consists of all the people who don’t love you” or “Wine is what you drink when the beer’s all gone.” Or better yet, I’ll fob off these astounding slogans on joke T-shirt impresarios. The T-shirt with the wine slogan will be a hit with punked-out winemakers’ sons who don’t want to take over their father’s business. It would also be a good accessory for the more loutish sort of tourist. They could wear said T-shirt while strolling through the vineyards during harvest time, whistling an innocent tune. That would be something! But the T-shirt has to cost at least 40 Euro. People pay no attention to cheap stuff, and free stuff is always useless. Free flyers are everywhere, lying on steps, buffets, and consoles. Because they’re free, people grab a few of them, then throw them away, unread, as soon as they get home. Millions of tons of paper, printed for no reason! The masses print themselves so much to read, you’d think they wanted to provide distraction for everyone who’s ever been done in by nature or by their fellow man.


Free cultural events are also anything but fantastic. They lure the culture spongers. Those who think quiet passages in the music exist to let the public exchange opinions about the loud parts. Those who crackle papers, who bring dogs, who constantly go in and out, who spout off comments, shake their heads back and forth, and generally stand between the paying public and joyful sentiments. A big thumbs-down to them! Talking about shaking your head back and forth: When I took advantage of a pause between two bombings to swan about a little in Paris back in early August, someone explained to me how to recognize German tourists. They crowd around street musicians at the Pompidou Center, shaking their heads and dancing ecstatically, with their sweaters tied around their waists. Representatives of other nations just tap their feet a little. Germans, however, must always show how uninhibited they are by putting on their very own I’m-Desiree-from-Tübingen-and-have-as-much-un-self-conscious-joi-de-vivre-as-all-of-Senegal show. Actually, I find that more cute than shameful. Just as cute is how German girls spend their time in Paris: going from one portrait artist to the next. The sketch artists have it down to a science: with one careful look, they ascertain all physiognomic features and transfer them to paper. The girls, however, think it’s important to remain terribly still and avoid even the slightest superfluous blink. They sit there utterly stiff, with powerfully wide, terrifyingly expressive eyes, and always with the mouth slightly open. Once or twice they unobtrusively moisten their lips, since it also counts as expressive – even erotic – to have a moist, slightly open mouth. Really, though, the girls could pick their noses and chew Hubba-Bubba the whole time, and the sketch artists would still paint expressive eyes and erotic mouths. They don’t live under stones, after all. After their modeling sessions, the girls go to the souvenir shop and giggle at length over the postcards with the nude men. “Look, Vanessa – he’s so cute!” – “Stephanie, you have really good taste in clothes, but when it comes to boys, you’re hopeless!” – “I think he’s got an incredibly aesthetic and expressive body.” – “Wanna bet he’s gay?” – “Oh, Vanessa, you’re like so totally mean. Why would he be gay?” – “‘Cause they’re all gay, Stephanie. Those are the gay postcards.” – etc. The cards they actually end up buying feature soft-focus drawings of wild horses in the Camargue, or an intellectual-looking black-and-white photo of a man sitting in a bistro and reading a newspaper. Girls: they want to gaze upon ‘challenging’ pictures with their expressive eyes, and why should anybody stop them?


Some people feel themselves imprisoned in the wrong body and wish they were girls. When I look in the mirror, though, I think to myself: Tragic place that the world is, this is exactly the right body for me. But just as I’d be interested in being black or Yemenite for some period of time, I’d also be interested in being a girl between 12 and 16 for a year. Having all this wild female biology thunder upon you with full force must be as exciting as any crime thriller. But the best thing about being a girl must surely be the squealing. There are various theories why women die later than men. To me, the answer is clear: Uninhibited squealing relaxes and soothes the body with such lasting positive effects that women are better able to defy life’s later adversities. Whenever TV reports on the squeal-girls, the implication is always that they’re crazy or terribly sensitive. A boy group split-up may cause a girl here and there to destroy her parent’s living-room – but that shouldn’t distract us from the fact that millions of other girls simply lay about, whining happily and peaceably. They do this because it’s fun, because their confused father says: “What happened to my little girl?”, and because they can still get away with it at that age. Later, it won’t be tolerated. Ten years ago, I squealed during a roller-coaster ride. Afterward, my companion told me she’d never ride a roller-coaster with me again.


Recently, a group of girls who’d apparently just written a biology paper got into the subway. From out of the general chatter one of the girls, about 15, crowed a sentence that almost made me explode with pleasure: “Silly old fruitcake that I am, I forgot to write ‘rectum’ in parentheses after ‘colon’”!


Of course, even the finest girls don’t say such delightful things all the time. But it’s always nice to hear them say the typical sentences that intelligent young people say, such as: “I think it’s okay to be photographed nude, as long as it’s aesthetic,” or: “Chaos is the beginning of every new order.” Adults should avoid such phrases, of course, but the young have a license to babble. Another very good one: “Sexuality has quite a bit to do with death.” Sexuality has, of course, nothing at all to do with death, but when a 15-year-old says that, it’s just adorable. I say: “Girls are the beginning of every new order, and have quite a bit to do with death.” Isn’t that also adorable?


* “Sausage exercises loyally through the heath one two marble house three boy-power bypass.”




Source: “Die Leutchen und die Mädchen”, from Ä (Rowohlt Verlag, 2004), pp. 86-94. Column originally written in October 1995, with some later changes by Max Goldt.

On Film Music

On Film Music: Or more Precisely, on Television Music


by Max Goldt


(translated by Andrew Hammel)


It is the year of our Lord 900, or, as it was called in East Germany, “according to our calendar.” On an island off the Welsh coast live two wise, holy women who are bound to each other by two things, namely: a) a life-long enmity; and b) blazing physical desire. On an autumn night which is stormy even by Irish Sea standards, the two women, completely independently, search out an ancient Celtic grave-site, to solve a folk-mystery whose origins were lost in the mists of time even back then. A fearful battle ensues under an oak whose trunk splits at 30 feet. During the battle, deep, probing kisses alternate with millimeter-precise fist-blows. After both achieve a simultaneous sexual climax, one tries to wall the other into a dungeon, so that she will wither away gruesomely. The other, however, happens to have exactly the same idea. Something happens which had no precedent in the entire early middle ages: Two women wall each other into the exact same tower. They die slowly of thirst, hideously cursing their fate from within their respective chambers. Moss and owls, but also spiders, as well as greedy Time, Space’s sometimes-unfriendly colleague, do their worst.


1104 years later, the Hamburg journalist, moderator, cat-raiser, bar-owner, foot-jewelry designer and, of course, author Heidi Würsel spreads the just-described dramatic material over 800 pages, to “float a few toads.” “Floating toads” – in her private jargon, this is how she refers to the profits from the activity that, in interviews, she calls “writing really exciting and, most importantly, historically credible entertainment”, but which, among friends, she calls her “bread job.” That is, that’s what she calls it when she’s in command of her senses, which, thank God, she usually is. However, when she’s among her very innermost circle of friends and the partying’s been serious, and lasts not just “a little longer” but into the wee hours, it can happen that she calls the bread job “throwing together a bunch of literary garbage for fat women,” but that doesn’t happen so often, so the other members of her posse say nothing more than that she can be “deliciously politically incorrect,” which of course is really the most ‘super-refreshing’ thing about Heidi. She sticks the dough from the “nicely lesbianized Middle-Ages plot” into the restyling of the Bali-Lounge of her restaurant “Schinkenkeller” on the island of Sylt, whose regulars include her half sister, the not-yet-very renowned sports car restorer, but already internationally renowned rock-garden expert – and, of course author – Eileen Würsel-Ahmadenijad, and the film- and television-music composer – but recently almost completely television-music composer – Henner Larsfeld.


Everyone knows each other in this small circle, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Larsfeld got the commission to deliver the music for the multi-million dollar TV film of the Würsel material.


Henner Larsfeld sits with his laptop in the kitchen. “I usually compose in the kitchen,” he would say in interviews, if he ever gave any, but he doesn’t, because he just absolutely hates to “bare his soul” in front of a bunch of gawkers.  Once in a while, though, he imagines that he’s sitting in a talk show, and says, very calmly, in a casual masculine tone, that he usually composes his music only in his kitchen. He says this first because it’s true, and second because he can imagine that the talk-show host would reply, excitedly: “What?! This fantastic, dramatic music? Composed in the kitchen, next to the onions and the greasy Teflon pans? That’s totally incredible!” And then all the housewives in the live audience: “This man’s fantastic! He composes this music with church choirs and giant symphonies just like it was nothing, right there in his own kitchen!”


So, Henner Larsfeld sits in his kitchen, which theoretically could be described as fascinating. He’d really like to go to the sea with Eileen, Heidi’s sister, and get hammered. But first, she’s got to “de-rust” as she calls it, an “incredibly exciting 1965 Lamborghini”, and second, Larsfeld has only 24 hours’ time to supply a 90-minute television mystery-thriller with an appropriate soundtrack. How he hates the word “de-rust”! But he’s not afraid of the soundtrack-writing. He’s always been able to fulfill any job within 24 hours with ¾ of a tablet of Lexotanil and regulated wine intake. Nothing serious – no cocaine or anything – just Lexotanil, which any doctor will prescribe. But he’s not looking forward to it. He looks over at the good old sound-sample CDs that his old friend Björn burned for him nine years ago, when they both staged an event which was – not at all ironically – called an “evening for friends of elegant electronic entertainment” in the Podewil Club in Berlin. The audience was students with time-consumingly selected glasses and city-hoppers with retro wool caps.


That was 1997, and Larsfeld still uses the Björn-created sound files. On one CD “Monk Choirs” is written, on the other “Humming Sounds – Extreme Reverb.”


“I’ve done 134 TV jobs with this sound software already,” Larsfeld ruminates, “three ‘Crime Scene’ detective shows, 21 nature or geography films, and 60 history documentaries. Of these, three were about Egypt, seven about the Vikings, three about the 17th of June, four about the 20th of July, ten about the 13th of August, 11 about the 9th of November, and two, as long as we’re counting, about the 11th of September. I always used the same sounds, with one single exception: For a 30-second spot about Adam Riese, I though ‘hey, why not give yourself a challenge. Try some new software, mix in some crumhorn and dice-noises.’ But then the woman from TV mailed me and said that wasn’t what they had in mind. So back to the old monk-choirs and humming sounds. The reaction: ‘Totally exciting! Unbelievably atmospheric! Why didn’t you send us this the first time?’ It’s all so sad and ridiculous – the 17th of June and monks’ choirs! Naturally, for contemporary history I add a pair of distorting sound-filters, so the choirs sound a little rougher, less choir-y, a little bit like scratchy strings. You know, so they sound more ‘political.’ But it’s actually the exact same original material. The fact nobody notices, the fact that no viewer has ever complained – man, that’s really depressing.” 


The telephone rings. It’s Eileen. “Hey, let’s drive to the ocean tomorrow and get smashed! Should we take the Ferrari or the yellow Lotus? Too bad the Lamborghini hasn’t been de-rusted yet!” Larsmann replies: “Eh, I dunno. I’m feeling kind of droopy right now, burn-out wise, you know. I’ve got the feeling I should do something that has more to do with what I started with ten or fifteen years ago.”


“Oh, come on!” Eileen replies. “Get the job done, then come have a blast with us! Do you really want to end up like Björn, teaching music theory and ear training twenty hours a week at the music school in Kreuzberg?”


“Well, not that, I guess, but there’s got to be some happy median between making serious money and doing what you really wanted to do.”


“Happy medians are for fairy tales! What, you think I could find some kind of happy median between rock-garden expert and sports-car restorer? Don’t you think it doesn’t annoy me to have to prattle on about these stupid rock-gardens during the ‘noon buffet’ TV show? Rock gardens have bored me to tears for about a hundred fucking thousand years now! These stupid old hags would puke the studio full, and I mean literally puke the studio full, if I told them anything about professional de-rusting. So what? That’s life! Shit happens!* So I’ll just take my rock-garden money and restore my Lamborghinis in my secret hideaway.”


Larsmann is convinced. He works the whole night through, delivers the product on time, as always, and drives with Eileen to drink himself silly by the side of the ocean. A smashing time was had by all. There are plenty of fantastic people there. Some are talented hacks, some are just ordinary people who don’t take everything so bloody seriously, and think plenty of things have changed for the better in Germany over the past few years. The Germans have become so relaxed! There’s no country in the world where people put as many chairs on the sidewalk as in Germany!


The film adaptation of the Welsh drama is a huge hit with the audience. The TV station commissions a sequel that plays in the year 1520. The two walled-in holy women have returned to life and begin a years-long trek through central Europe. Throughout the whole journey, they must suppress their alternating hatred and sexual appetite for one another. Often, they’ve got to combat both at the exact same time, while simultaneously jumping over slippery rocks in the middle of a treacherous stream. In a mystery-cave decked out with lots of convincing special-effect moss, they meet a disowned sister of the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli and do something or other with her. In the capsule description, there will be two thumbs up under the words “Exciting” and “Sexy.” So, without giving away any spoilers, I’ll just say there’s something for every taste.


But you can pretty much imagine how the music will sound.


* Translator’s note: These three phrases are in English in the original.




Source: Über Filmmusik, genauer gesagt: Über Fernsehmusik, Titanic Magazine, July 2006.