German Word of the Week — Plus!: Moralin and Gulaschkanone

This week's German Words of the Week is not only a twofer but also — an example the kind of fabulous positive-plus synergy which makes this blog world-famous — coupled with What I Learned from Tatort. Wow! I can hardly wait to type the post!

Last week, I dutifully switched on my television to watch Tatort. Every Tatort plays in a different German city, and this one was in Kiel, a port city way up north on the Baltic sea. Unfortunately, the detective who features in the Kiel Tatorts is Borowski, who has all the charisma of a sea cucumber. Yes, I know, his waxen flesh and papery monotone are supposed to convey the legendary taciturnity of Germans from the north, renowned as the dullest, stuffiest, and most reserved of all Germans. Which, believe me, is saying a lot. My pragmatic Anglo-Saxon mind entertains the heretical notion of whether these Ent-like humanoids should be the subject of televisions shows that purport to be "entertainment." The most brutal blow was the casting of gorgeous Turkish vixen Sibel Kekilli in a supporting role. She stole every scene she was in, and made the viewer desperately yearn for her to suddenly break into the other scenes, which mainly featured North Germans bitching and seething.

But I digress. I should have known I'd be in for something special this time, because the entire week, the main German public-television station had been highlighting proper nutrition with various specials and cooking shows. And that meant that this week's Tatort had to Teach us about Proper Nutrition. As Christina Sieben observed in her review, the "die Gulaschkanone" of high-minded educational public TV was set on "constant bombardment." Now, a Gulaschkanone is basically what it sounds like: a goulash cannon. The term originally referred to military field kitchens, for obvious reasons. But here, in context, the cannon is spouting edifying lessons like a Stalin's organ. In Sieben's summary:

Artificial colors have to be, because nobody will buy white energy drinks. Cows are always chained up in the dairy. "Research Institutes" are in the pocket of industry. Good food costs money, but people are too cheap to pay for it. The old organic farmer in the show knows all his cows by name. Everyone wants to earn money. And, at the end of the day, it's all our fault. Bon appetit! 

Sieben goes on to predict that with Public Television Nutrition Edification Week over, the next Tatort will contain slightly less Moralin. You know, Moraline (not to be confused with Betweenanene (Screwene)). Like Adenosine, Guanine, Cytosine, Adrenaline, or Methamphetamine. Moraline bonds with plot elements in public-television dramas, causing the narrative to coalesce in ways that offer edifying lessons to the benighted, easily corruptible audience.

Thanks to Moraline, we learned all those valuable things about food and nature from last week's Tatort (although strangely enough, the topic of lavish cow subsidies (g) was barely mentioned). Moraline additive also helps us understand, for example, that unemployed people want to work, alcoholics and drug addicts roll like they do because of childhood trauma, women can do everything men can, family-run firms are the only halfway-acceptable form of free enterprise, and that Scientology, nationalism, plastic toys, wars, lobbysists, and nuclear power are evil.

If you watch too much German public television, your moraline levels may reach toxicity: You may begin to use phrases like "our fellow-citizens of the Islamic faith" or "food-chain-renewability enhancing measures" in everyday speech. At this point, you'll need to spend a few hours in a secure, moraline-free environment. The most reliable place is Titanic Magazine (g), which, is 100% moraline-free and whose motto is "Ein klares Ja zum Nein!" (A clear Yes to No!).

What I Learned from Tatort Part I

Lehrtheoretische_Didaktik_Struktur_01
It's time for the first in an occasional series I'll call 'What I learned from Tatort'. Tatort ('crime scene'), a weekly 90-minute crime drama aired by German public television, is one of the longest-running series in history and is perhaps the fundamental building-block of German popular culture. It is also an window into what The Germans are thinking about various social issues. Or, more accurately, what a certain group of upper-middle-class, university-educated public-television cultural bureaucrats want Germans to think about social issues.

There are certain fundamental didactic premises underlying all Tatort episodes. For instance: Anyone who drives an expensive car is morally dubious, unless that person is a member of the German civil service (otherwise known as Mankind's Noblest CallingTM), in which the expensive car is a harmless diversion from the excruciating ordeal of working for the German state. All civil servants, for that matter, are hopelessly überfordert (overburdened), which explains any mistakes they may make from time to time.

However, in addition to the general didactic premises, the moral 'background radiation' of Tatort's universe, there are more specific lessons in each episode. A few weeks ago, for instance, we learned that art is sacred, that the artist must be permitted to bend or break the rules, and that his vision must never be interfered with. And just before that, in an episode clearly modeled on a Scientology-like organization, we learned that Scientology-like organizations are sinister, profit-driven cults that prey on the weak of mind.

Last Sunday's Tatort revolved around the murder of a little girl at an amusement park. Several suspects appeared, including a Croatian lawyer, a possibly-reformed pedophile, and the girl's own mother. Among the lessons:

  1. People from the Balkans are a rather hot-tempered lot, with a tendency to get jealous, which makes them screamy and stabby. Nevertheless, just because fiery Balkan blood rages in their veins doesn't mean they're always good for the murder.
  2. Just because someone behaves unusually after one of their relatives dies doesn't mean she's guilty of murder.
  3. Child molesters who've served their time in prison and are cooperating with their therapists deserve a second chance, (but only/especially/even) if they are white and German.

I think that about covers it. Worthy sentiments, all! Let me know in comments if I missed anything.

Föckinghausen: Föcking Marvelous

Last week, I joined a group for a hiking weekend in the Sauerland. We stayed at the Waldhaus (g) hotel in Föckinghausen, which is perched on the top of a hill and surrounded by verdant pastures filled with satisfied-looking cows. The rooms were well-appointed and freshly renovated, and the hotel serves good old-fashioned Sauerland fare, along with some more worldly dishes. The hotel is run by the Knippschild family, a fact which elicits murmurs of satisfaction from most Germans, who love family-run businesses. The only drawback was the omnipresence of deceased animals nailed to the wall. Above the fireplace in one of the dining rooms were the skulls of four juvenile deer, sliced horizontally straight through the eye orbit, mounted in a chevron formation. They all appeared to have been killed at the same time, perhaps with a machine gun, or poison gas. Most unsettling. On the plus side were the trash cans in all the rooms, which featured hunting scenes of courtly gallantry (see below).

The hiking is pleasant and low-impact. There are mild hills all about, but the hiking paths are smooth and well-marked. That part of the Sauerland is dominated by pine forests which don't offer all the variety of a typical German Mischwald. Many of these forests were ripped apart by Orkan (European windstorm) Kyrill in 2007, and the effort to haul away the dead wood is still visible everywhere. Nevertheless, the hike still offered some soothing panoramas, especially from the top of the Lörmecke Tower (g), a beautiful, brand-new observation tower built at one of the highest peaks in the Arnsberger Wald nature park.

Also on the agenda was a trip to the Warsteiner beer brewery. If you're imagining donning a hard hat and wandering amid clouds of malt-steam, you'll be disappointed. The tour begins in the brand-new, clinically clean, EPCOT-like "Welcome Center", and starts off with a corporate propaganda film broadcast in the so-called Rotarium, a rotating film theatre (!). The Story of Beer is framed by an exasperatingly lame story involving a chipper brewerette named Vera who takes two loutish male friends on a real tour of the actual brewery and floors them with her comphrenensive knowledge of how modern beer is brewed. Gurrrlz understand beer 2! Wha-aa?!? Whodathunkit?!?

To be fair, the movie does give you a teutonically thorough overview of the beer brewing process. One of the interesting facts is that the much-ballyhooed German Beer Purity Law of 1516, which specified that all beer sold in German may be made only from water, hops, and malted barley, is being constantly violated by German beer makers. Why? Because yeast is essential to the creation of beer, a fact which wasn't known until the late 19th century. Of course, that's rather a pettifogging distinction. The Reinheitsgebot (the informal name for the purity law) is still in force, and means that German beer is (1) all natural; and (2) made under clean-room conditions, since no artificial preservatives or chemical additives are permitted.

After the film, everyone's herded into a PeopleMover style enclosed bus, which slowly traverses the entire (gigantic) Warsteiner brewery. We made the trip on a Saturday. I found it unsettling that there wasn't a single human being in the entire brewery. Not even a security guard. Not one person. I couldn't help wondering occasionally whether it was a real brewery we were seeing beyond the windows of the visitors' tram, or whether it was some elaborate model, built to conceal the fact that Warsteiner is actually being shipped in from China via an underground tunnel.

Be that as it may, the beer served at the end of the tour was crisp and fresh, and the hiking was more than acceptable. In a few hours, I'll set off to Bingen, to experience yet another mystical connection to the German Urwald.

To tide you over, here are a few pictures from the Sauerland:

Biedermeier Muelleimer
Feld hinter Waldhaus 2
Warsteiner Kisten
Moosbruch 1
Waldbrande Schild
Christian Stiefermann Holzskulptur
Panorama von Loermecke Turm
Wegweiser
Parkbank
Pilzkette
Baueme Sonnenuntergang
Feld hinter Waldhaus

Paris: Leprechauns, Mannequins, Giant Machines, Disappearing Museums

I was in Paris last week, part bidness, part personal. I stayed at the B & B le 7 near the Place de Clichy, which I recommend. The room is reasonably-sized (by Paris standards), spotless and furnished with whimsy and good taste. The bookshelves have plenty of art books in many languages, plus Lonely Planets and Guide du Routard guides, which are like French-language Lonely Planets, but cooler. Private shower and bathroom, and very friendly and patient owners. It's in the 9th arrondissement, which is one of my favorites. It's a real neighborhood, with sandwich shops, hardware stores, and ordinary-people clothes outlets. This means no tourist-trap prices: you can buy a coffee, or a liter bottle of water to carry along with you, or normal stuff like toothpaste, without feeling raped. Yet you're still in the city, and only a short metro or bus ride from anywhere. Plus, the ninth is still French enough to feature excellent cheese and wine places and boulangeries, including the outstanding Maison Landemaine (f), which is worth a detour.

I didn't do much sightseeing, except for the giant Monet exhibition in the Grand Palais. Stunning, if only because it featured an enormous collection of Monets in one place. The winter paintings were the big revelation to me; I didn't know he'd done so many and such fine ones. The exhibition space itself is miserable: blocked off from natural light, cramped, and crowded. The great water lily cycles weren't shipped in, and there's no space that would have done them justice anyway. Still, there are many other large late canvases, and it's more Monets than you'll ever see in one place again. Buy your ticket in advance and go during the afternoon. I also attempted to visit the  Musee des Lunettes and Lorgnettes Pierre Marly (f), only to find that it's gone, having been replaced by an Audemars Piguet shop.

But mostly I strolled around. Here are a few pictures; the hover text has more info for the curious:


Square Moncey Army of One
Store Mannequin Rue de Clichy
Emerging from Metro Place de Clichy
Psycho Knife Rack

Scaffolding Rue de Clichy
Storefront Fumisterie Cavallari, Faubourg St. Denis
Man Smoking Cigar and Typing on Laptop Rue St. Honore
"Oh No -- You Again!"
Leprechaun Man Entering Olympia Theatre
Two Men on Subway
Boo Night Evening Dress Store

Escalator Repair Gare du Nord

View down Street Grate Place de Clichy