Church Politics and Buildings

My business affairs took me to the prosperous Düsseldorf suburb of Pempelfort the other day, so I decided to drop by the Kreuzkirche (g) one of the landmarks of this area.

At first glance, the Dorf appears to be full of ancient churches, but it ain’t so. Most of the churches which appear antique were actually built at the end of the 19th or early 20th centuries in various historical revival styles, mainly neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque. Back then, confessional differences between Catholics and Protestants were still important, and affected architectural styles. The Catholics tended to go for the neo-Gothic style when they built new churches, the Protestants chose neo-Romanesque, since Romanesque was the earlier style (ca. 700-1200), and thus reflected the Protestants’ claims to be returning to an earlier, “truer” form of Christianity stripped of Papist fripperies.

Let’s be frank about this: this is all a horrible missed opportunity. The late 19th century was a time of innovation all over Germany, but Düsseldorf’s bourgeois classes were too conservative to finance Sezession or Art Nouveau  or Jugendstil-style churches, which would have been more interesting than a bunch of copies of 500 or 1,000-year-old models. Kaiser Wilhelm the II hated Jugendstil, and loved neo-Romanesque buildings, so prosperous Düsseldorf Protestants built largely in the neo-Romanesque style. The fact that KW II was a thoroughly mediocre reactionary who certainly didn’t give two shits what kind of churches Düsseldorf burghers built doesn’t seem to have dimmed their enthusiasm. What an odd institution monarchies were.

Anyhow, the Kreuzkirche is a fine example of a neo-Romanesque church. It was designed by Carl Wilhelm Schleicher, a local architect, and built between 1907 and 1910. Here’s the view from outside:

Bildergebnis für kreuzkirche düsseldorf

The church was built as a Protestant parish church, with financial support from the prosperous merchants living in what was then a leafy northern suburb of Düsseldorf. They spared no expense, outfitting the towers with expensive green copper cladding, and filling the interior with marble accessories and lavish church implements. They hired local artists to decorate the interior domes with Byzantine-inspired reliefs. The church itself is in the shape of a Greek cross, with equal-length arms. Because of the unusual dimensions of the piece of donated real estate (the church is at a crossroads where 5 roads meet), it is not pointed toward the east — which, in German, is called being “easted” (geostet).

Much of the interior decoration fell victim to World War II bomb damage and various restorations. In 1974, the massive marble altar was removed from the chancel, and replaced by a simple lectern. standing in front of the chancel. The pews were removed from the ground floor and replaced with ordinary chairs. The naves both feature raised galleries to accommodate more visitors. The windows were designed in the late 1950s by Ernst Otto Köpke.

I took the old wide-angle lens for a spin, here are a few of my photos:

Kreuzkirche view of SW window
Kreuzkirche view of organ loft and SW facing window from NE gallery

I wouldn’t exactly call it beautiful, but it’s handsome. The unadorned sandstone is historically accurate, and in keeping with Protestant aversion to decoration (although the crucifix is a copy of Donatello). The regularity and repetition of the forms makes a harmonious overall impression. The church has been a designated historical landmark for decades now, which seems like a proper decision.

You can visit the church every weekday from 5:00 to 7:00 pm, just to pray, meditate, or look around. A friendly church lady will greet you, and you can basically have the run of the place. Nobody else visited while I was there, which seemed a bit unfortunate. But then again, Germany’s official Protestant church has been hemorrhaging members at an alarming rate, so there’s no surprise there.

The Diffuse Fascist Association Problem

The Atlantic interviews Harvard geneticist David Reich, one of the anthropologists whose DNA-influenced work is revolutionizing human history. He relates this interesting anecdote:

Reich: Archaeology has always been political, especially in Europe. Archaeologists are very aware of the misuse of archaeology in the past, in the 20th century. There’s a very famous German archaeologist named Gustaf Kossinna, who was the first or one of the first to come up with the idea of “material culture.” Say, you see similar pots, and therefore you’re in a region where there was shared community and aspects of culture.

He went so far as to argue that when you see the spread of these pots, you’re actually seeing a spread of people and there’s a one-to-one mapping for those things. His ideas were used by the Nazis later, in propaganda, to argue that a particular group in Europe, the Aryans, expanded in all directions across Europe. He believed that the region where these people’s material culture was located is the natural homeland of the Aryan community, and the Germans were the natural inheritors of that. This was used to justify their expansionism in the propaganda that the Germans used in the run-up to the Second World War.

So after the Second World War, there was a very strong reaction in the European archaeological community—not just the Germans, but the broad continental European archaeological community—to the fact that their discipline had been used for these terrible political ends. And there was a retreat from the ideas of Kossinna.

Zhang: You actually had German collaborators drop out of a study because of these exact concerns, right? One of them wrote, “We must(!) avoid … being compared with the so-called ‘siedlungsarchäologie Method’ from Gustaf Kossinna!”

Reich: Yeah, that’s right. I think one of the things the ancient DNA is showing is actually the Corded Ware culture does correspond coherently to a group of people. [Editor’s note: The Corded Ware made pottery with cord-like ornamentation and according to ancient DNA studies, they descended from steppe ancestry.] I think that was a very sensitive issue to some of our coauthors, and one of the coauthors resigned because he felt we were returning to that idea of migration in archaeology that pots are the same as people. There have been a fair number of other coauthors from different parts of continental Europe who shared this anxiety.

So, instead of allowing modern, reliable scientific techniques to improve our understanding of human origins and modern population patterns, German scientists back out — because the results might tangentially lend support to a theory which was propounded by a man who died before Hitler even took power, but whose theories were cited by prominent Nazis.

The issue of whether Kossinna was right on the science doesn’t come up.

This is a good example of what I call, for lack of a better term, the Diffuse Fascist Association Problem (DFAP). Of course, it’s found in its most intense form in Germany, which had the most intense form of Fascism.

The mechanism of DFAP is simple: At one point, National Socialists became interested in some aspect of scientific inquiry, public policy, and/or culture. This represents the Original Sin, the taint, the ideological infection. Over the decades since World War II, this area of science, policy, or culture changes drastically: the laws have changed, the original generation of scientists or composers or officials is long-dead, German society has been revolutionized in ways which would have been inconceivable in 1935.

Yet the taint still exists — but it is now diffuse and unfocused, like a tattoo on someone who’s gained 100 pounds. It still pops up in the most unexpected areas, sometimes inhibiting sensible policies. A few examples:

  • Because the Nazis deported millions of innocent people, many German citizens, from the territory of Germany, deportation, as a whole, has a DFAP problem. In fact, you cannot even used the word “deportation” in German. So Germany has the most lax deportation laws of any country, even though now, no German citizen can possibly be deported under German law, and there are large numbers of illegal immigrants to Germany whose asylum claims have been denied. Any other country would and does deport these people as a matter of course, but Germany still has a DFAP problem with the very concept of deportation, so it permits hundreds of thousands of these people to remain in Germany for no reason.
  • Because German policies during World War II created large numbers of people who needed political asylum because they were in imminent danger of being imprisoned or murdered for no legitimate reason by the National Socialist regime, Germany adopted Art. 16 of its post-war constitution, which promised every human on earth a personal right of political asylum in Germany. Merely mentioning the word “asylum” automatically grants an illegal immigrant to Germany the right to start a long and expensive court proceeding to determine their eligibility for political asylum. The policy proved to be so lenient, and subject to abuse, that Germany completely overhauled its constitution in the early 1990s to restrict the process and improve its integration with European law. Yet it is still unwieldy and bureaucratic.
  • Germany euthanized the mentally ill against their will, without their families’ consent, during the notorious T4 program. Therefore, euthanasia has a DFAP problem, even though it is now inconceivable that anyone would be euthanized in Germany under these conditions. It’s possible to disapprove euthanasia for logical policy reasons, and some Germans do, but debate on this issue in Germany is routinely shut down with a simple hand-waving reference to history.
  • Because the Nazis were interested in intelligence measurement, the general consensus in Germany is that IQ testing is, in and of itself, immoral. Opponents also claim it is inaccurate and misleading, just to try to warn off anyone who might be interested in it. The entire field is radioactive, and few German scholars and researchers are prominent within it. This means that the debate about human intelligence in Germany is decades behind where it is in the Anglo-Saxon world. The majority of educated Germans still thinks that IQ tests are inherently biased and tell us nothing valuable, simply because that’s the consensus which developed in the 1970s, and most Germans are uninterested in updating it, or are afraid to do so.
  • Both the National Socialist and East German regimes created vast, intrusive internal surveillance and spying bureaucracies with nary a thought to personal autonomy or privacy. As a result, there is still a vocal minority of Germans who are militantly opposed to installing video surveillance cameras in high-crime areas, even though this is a proven, safe, effective, and cheap crime-fighting tool used routinely in other countries. Although the attitudes of ordinary Germans have changed — 79% now favor more video surveillance (g) — the dedicated opposition of the people who oppose it has often prevailed. The situation is like gun control in the USA: Most Americans favor it in the abstract, but it’s not a high priority for them. The minority of people who oppose it oppose it fiercely — and in a democracy, a policy favored by a fanatical minority will usually win if the majority’s opposition is unfocussed and half-hearted. The same goes for using rapidly-advancing DNA technology to create profiles of suspects in serious violent crimes: this is illegal under German law, believe it or not.

The example of deportation and video surveillance also involve another aspect of DFAP: bureaucratic inertia. Even when a policy is now legal and permitted, if there is still a controversial DFAP “taint” to it, it is likely to be implemented only slowly and partially, if at all.

In order to deport someone, for example, many officials, from judges to bureaucrats to government purchasing agents (who need to buy the plane tickets or charter the flight) to social-welfare workers to police, all have to work together to make it happen. The process requires active support and coordination, and is only as strong as its weakest link. Since there is an inherent tendency to be skeptical of deportation among some of these people (especially government officials and social workers), it’s not regarded as a catastrophe if a deportation doesn’t come about. Nobody is held accountable for failed or stalled deportation proceedings, and the risk of deporting someone wrongfully is considered much more important than the risk of trying but failing to deport someone who has no right to be in the country.

The same thing is true of video surveillance: Even when police and local leaders decide that cameras should be installed in high-traffic public areas, they quickly become outmoded, delivering videos too blurry to be useful (g), and are subject to dozens of restrictions on how they can be used. When it comes time to update them to the latest technology, that will mean yet another fight with the dedicated, unpersuadable opponents of video surveillance (g), so the process will again take months, if not years. Who wants all the hassle and aggravation? As with deportations, no one specific person will be held accountable if the policy fails: if a camera was pointed at the location of a murder but had been broken for months because nobody bothered to fix it, nobody will get in trouble, since Germans have been conditioned to (1) not expect video surveillance to help solve crimes, and (2) not demand personal accountability from civil servants.

To be fair, there are many positive effects of the DFAP. Germany has enshrined human rights and human dignity in its constitution, is extremely wary of deploying troops, has robust free-speech protections, and has eliminated the death penalty. I find these policies admirable. But all of these can be maintained while we trim away the most problematic excrescences of DFAP.

Will the Bilk Horse’s Head Survive?

It’s local history time! Which is easy, when you live in Bilk, a neighborhood in Düsseldorf which is actually older than Düsseldorf itself: Bilk was first mentioned as ‘Villa Bilici in a document from February 14, 799.

But now to more recent history. If you walk down the street where I live, you will notice something fairly odd: a horse’s head:

Horsehead General view

As you can see, the building has a sign for “paper processing” and a few names and very old telephone numbers. But the most striking feature is the horse’s head. I attached my camera to a long pole to get some close-ups of it:

Horsehead Brunnenstr. 27 rightHorsehead Brunnenstr. 27 left

Did people look at me strangely while I was holding a 3-meter pole with a camera attached to it? Nope. This is Düsseldorf, a town which is lousy with artists and photographers, both amateur and professional. You can’t swing a dead cat here without someone taking a picture of it.

The story behind the horse’s head is told in the latest issue of the local magazine devoted to the history of the neighborhood, the Bilker Sternwarte (g, pdf).

The building, which is now Brunnenstr. 27, was constructed in 1888/1889 by Jakob Torney, a construction foreman and developer. The building was later acquired by one Anton Schmalscheidt in the late 1890s, who installed stalls for ten horses on the ground floor, and ran a carriage business from the house. (The house is known as the Schmalscheidt house). This is probably when the horse’s head you see above you was made. We don’t know who made it.

The main client of the carriage business was the Julius Schulte and Sons paper factory founded in 1886, which still exists (g) and lends its fragrant aroma to the neighborhood every summer. They used horses to transport their paper to a nearby train station, until the paper factory finally bought a tractor for this purpose.

Unfortunately, plans are now afoot by Holatec, a business which currently owns the building and operates from it. They want to tear it down and make it into student apartments. Local politicians filed a petition to have the building designated a historical landmark, but the petition was denied on December 5, 2017. The local landmark commission found the building did not have enough historical value. There have been demonstrations (g) by local residents who want to preserve the building. They stood outside it, making “clop-clop” noises with coconut halves.

The local Green party representative for District 3 of the city said (g): “We are very much interested in allowing people to continue to live in Brunnenstraße 27. We also expressly support the idea of student apartments here. But why does the entire building need to be torn down, instead of integrating the new construction into the existing building? For many residents of Bilk, this will mean the disappearance of a piece of their neighborhood which makes it a great place to live.”

Will the horse’s head building be saved? Stay tuned — I will keep you informed of every twist and turn in this utterly fascinating (by German local-history standards) story.

Bambi’s Friends the Communist Spy and the Viennese Whore

Bambi

[from the extremely NSFW website Slutbambi]

If you're a fan of Roald Dahl, you know that in addition to the beloved children's classics such as James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he also published a collection of erotic stories entitled Switch Bitch.

But that's nothing compared to what the author of Bambi got up to. Bambi was originally published in Austria in 1923 as Bambi, eine Lebensgeschichte aus dem Walde (Bambi, a Life in the Woods) by the Austrian writer Felix Salten.

Now before we get to the Viennese whore, it's time for a detour to visit with the Soviet spy. Bambi was translated into English in 1928 by none other than Whittaker Chambers, one of the most notorious American figures of the Cold War. Take it away, Wikipedia:

Whittaker Chambers … was a 20th-Century American writer, editor, and Soviet spy.

After early years as a Communist Party member (1925) and Soviet spy (1932–1938), he defected from communism (underground and open party) and worked at Time magazine (1939–1948). Under subpoena in 1948, he testified in what became Alger Hiss's perjury (espionage) trials (1949–1950) and he became an outspoken anti-communist (all described in his 1952 memoir Witness). Afterwards, he worked briefly as a senior editor at National Review (1957–1959). President Ronald Reagan awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 1984.

But Bambi's unwholesome associations go even further. Long before he wrote the story of the cuddly deer baby Bambi, Felix Salten wrote what one critic called "the only German pornographic novel of world-wide status", the 1906 book entitled Josefine Mutzenbacher, or the story of a Viennese Whore as Told by Herself (Josefine Mutzenbacher oder Die Geschichte einer Wienerischen Dirne von ihr selbst erzählt) (full German text here). The initial printing was subscription-only to avoid censorship laws.

Salten never explicitly admitted authorship of Josefine Mutzenbacher, and because neither he nor the publisher submitted it for copyright protection, it was freely pirated, and remains in print to this day, having sold some 3 million copies to date. It furnished the basis for not one but 11 German soft-core porno films made between 1970 and 1994 (the original film's English title was "Naughty Knickers").

But even that's not all. The original novel itself was put on an "index" of books harmful to minors by the Federal Republic of Germany's Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Minors in 1969. This didn't mean the novel was banned, but it did severely restrict sales and marketing. The Wikipedia summary of the book's plot may give you an idea of why they made this decision:

The story is told from the point of view of an accomplished aging 50-year-old Viennese courtesan who is looking back upon the sexual escapades she enjoyed during her unbridled youth in Vienna. Contrary to the title, almost the entirety of the book takes place when Josephine is between the ages of 5–12 years old, before she actually becomes a licensed prostitute in the brothels of Vienna. The book begins when she is five years old and ends when she is twelve years old and about to enter professional service in a brothel.

Although the book makes use of many "euphemisms" for human anatomy and sexual behavior that seem quaint today, its content is entirely pornographic. The actual progression of events amounts to little more than a graphic, unapologetic description of the reckless sexuality exhibited by the heroine, all before reaching her 13th year. The style bears more than a passing resemblance to the Marquis de Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom in its unabashed "laundry list" cataloging of all manner of taboo sexual antics from incest and rape to child prostitution, group sex and fellatio.

Adding to the general perversion, Bambi himself makes a cameo appearance in one of those group-sex scenes [no, he doesn't — ed.]. In the late 1970s, a legal campaign was launched to remove the book from the index. In 1990, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court issued a landmark decision on the case.

Although the court acknowledged the book had plenty of potentially child-endangering pornographic elements, including a rather eye-popping amount of pedophilia and incest, it also had literary qualities which qualified it as a work of art, thus entitling it to protection under the artistic freedom provisions of Article 5 of the German Constitution.* The Court decision held (g) that some parts of the youth protection law were unconstitutional infringements of artistic freedom.

Nowadays, Felix Salten is largely forgotten, but that didn't stop the Austrian government from sending an official delegate (g) to the Jewish Museum of Vienna (Salten was Jewish) to open a 2007 exhibition on the man and his work.

* Just so nobody gets the wrong idea: the Court's decision doesn't mean that the book can't be regulated, it just means that the book's qualities as a work of art must be taken into account when balancing artistic freedom against the legitimate government interest in preventing harm to minors.

-itzes, -ows, -dorfs- and -hausens

Moritz Stefaner, at truth and beauty, put together a list of the geographical frequency of place names in Germany. The whole map can be seen here. A few selections:

Place names Unspecified

I get that -ow and -itz are going to be mostly in the East, since they are usually transliterations of Polish words. But it would be interesting to know why certain other kinds of place names appear in such geographically distinct patterns.

Rifle Grenades Roasting on an Open Fire

2841228116

71 years ago, near the town of Rees, in far west Germany near the Dutch border, there was heavy fighting between the invading Allies and German defenders. A German soldier fired a rifle grenade which hit a tree and stuck there. Over the years, the tree grew, enveloping the grenade. Then the tree was cut down and sold for firewood. The woman in this photo was enjoying a pleasant Advent Sunday afternoon with friends, and put another log in the stove in her living room.

A fateful log.

A log of destiny.

A log, almost, of doom.

You can see the result above (g). The woman was unlucky in that the grenade destroyed her stove and sent bits flying around her living room. But she was lucky in another way: because the grenade was damaged when it hit the tree, its full explosive charge didn't go off. Otherwise she'd probably be drinking her Christmas goose through a straw.

It's things like this that help explain why Germans tend to have a strong pacifist bent.

Royal Intermarriage Prevented Wars

This fascinating paper (pdf) by Seth G. Benzell and Kevin Cooke argues that intermarriage among European royal houses played a significant role in decreases in the number of wars in early modern Europe:

Specifically, we show exogenous increases in kinship network distance lead to an increased likelihood of war. While our framework predicts we should also see a decreased likelihood of fighting as allies, evidence on this is inconclusive. We conclude that the rise in kinship connections is an important factor in the well-known long-run decrease in the frequency of war.

We tentatively estimate that increased kinship ties explain 30 percent of the decrease in European warfare. Suppose, conservatively, that the presence of a kinship connection reduces the chance of war between a pair of states by .67 percent. This number is a lower bound on the effect of disconnecting onpath deaths in the latter part of our sample. Relative to pre-1600, the share of monarchs connected after 1800 increased by 53 percentage points. Preventing all these new ties from being formed would therefore be expected to increase the share of dyads at war after 1800 from 1.17% to 1.53%. This is approximately 30 percent of the decrease in war over the same period.

Our data provides a rich environment to study the influence of interpersonal relationships on long-run macroeconomic, political and institutional outcomes. In this paper, we have focused on the relationship between kinship and conflict. However, the same data and network tools might well be applied to more traditional economic questions. We think future work investigating the long-run implications of kinship networks for trade, growth, and development will be fruitful. Another interesting path for future study is explicitly modeling the network formation in this environment. Strategic marriages played a major role in international relations during our period of interest. Building a structural model of strategic marriage and fertility decisions is also an interesting direction for future research.

We New Worlders, almost all of whom grew up in republics, always find odd to think that the mere fact that Prince X married (or refused) Princess Y would change the lives of millions of people. But it did!

Physician, Heal Thyself

From a review of a book about the mental state of the Nuremberg defendants:

Dimsdale cherry-picks his examples to cater to our idea that human evil must have something to do with psychopathology. But the verdict goes in the other direction: The overwhelming majority of the Nuremberg defendants did not possess the traits of the mentally diseased. Their Rorschach tests were normal. Yet one of their examiners, the psychologist Gustave Gilbert, still labeled them insane. Gilbert, the Jewish son of emigrés from Austria, described the Nazi defendants as “narcissistic psychopaths whose lives were deformed by a diseased German culture.” This made them more rather than less culpable in Gilbert’s view: “to him [they were] the devil incarnate,” Dimsdale writes.

The other examiner, Douglas Kelley, disagreed with Gilbert. He thought that the Nazis displayed “profound moral failing” rather than mental illness. In spite of his disapproval, Kelley seems to have bonded with Göring and a few of the others. Bizarrely, the emotionally troubled Kelley, who was a professional magician as well as a psychiatrist, committed suicide 12 years after Nuremberg. In his living room, in front of his wife, parents, and children, he swallowed a cyanide pill, the same method that Göring had used.

Golden Rules for East German Teachers

CnkABq5WYAAdITn

Courtesy of the DDR (East German) Museum Pirna, a plaque with guidance for teachers: 

Golden Rules for Teachers' Work

Make an Effort to Maintain Ideological Clarity!

Take Up a Firm Fundamental Position!

Be Optimistic!

Be Humble!

Be Balanced! Guard Against Cynicism!

Judge Your Work Realistically and Be Critical of Yourself!

Recognize Successes! Use Scolding Rarely!

Trust and Love Children!

Respect the Pupil! Give Him Responsibility! 

Convince, Don't Browbeat!

Anglosplaining and the Amusingness Gap

The Economist looks at why the most high-middlebrow shows and books about Germany are written by Brits:

This popularity of Anglo-Saxon storytellers “really is astonishing”, says Hermann Parzinger. He is a German archaeologist (best known for his work on the Scythians) and president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which owns museums, libraries and archives in Berlin. He is working with MacGregor in dreaming up how to curate the Humboldt Forum’s exhibits.

German academics, Parzinger says, write books to impress the five most important experts in their field. Popularity is suspect in German academia. The German word unseriös, etymologically the same as “unserious”, in fact means “lacking credibility”. But Anglo-Saxons, Parzinger thinks, “have it in their blood to make these things suspenseful and interesting even for lay people”. In particular, they know how to integrate into their storytelling “both the high and the low, without anything being banal”. Thus MacGregor effortlessly mixes Luther and Goethe with sausages and garden gnomes into one analysis that makes Germans feel they’ve understood something about themselves.

The Anglos also come across as likeable rather than belehrend, says Parzinger. That German word means “lecturing”, and is often used by Germans of Germans. The greatest fear of intellectuals in Germany and other continental countries is to appear shallow. The greatest fear of Britons is to seem pompous, says MacGregor. So they enliven their knowledge with good delivery and showmanship….

But even among outsiders the Anglos have the edge in Germany over, say, French, Polish, Dutch or Danish intellectuals. These neighbours were often part of German history – as enemies, victims or collaborators. German audiences expect them to reflect that perspective. A French historian talking about the 1940s, say, should probably also expound on Vichy and French collaboration.

The Brits, however, were always “geographically more outside”, says Parzinger, which makes them appear credible. Since the 1960s, for example, it has been all but taboo for German writers to argue anything other than that Germany bears sole responsibility for starting the first world war. Clark gleefully ignored that taboo in “The Sleepwalkers” – and outsold all the Germans, even in Germany. Clark can say the question of guilt is complicated, says Parzinger, but hearing it “from a German would have been more difficult”.

This goes back to a fundamental cultural difference which virtually every Anglo-Saxon picks up on quickly in Germany: Most Germans just aren't funny in ways Anglo-Saxons recognize, and a substantial minority aren't funny at all. Free-floating, value-neutral absurdity; obscene wordplay; sarcasm and irony; casual teasing insults among friends — these styles of communication are much rarer in Germany than in the Anglo-Saxon world. Unless you know someone fairly well, the safest mode of communication is straightforward communication about mundane details of everyday life or anodyne remarks about current affairs which do not reveal a controversial personal opinion.

This is not to say there ain't no funny Germans, etc. etc. As with everything in life, this is a matter of probability distributions and bell curves, not of absolutes. Behold this scientific-looking graph:

DddThe more to the left you are on this graph, the more sincere and loyal. You become more entertaining as you move to the right. Germany is the bell curve with the peak of 52. England with the peak of 76. The separation is too wide, but it still makes the point. There's plenty of overlap (i.e. decent and funny people) in both directions, but the average Brit you meet is likely to be more entertaining than the average German.

The canon of values the average German has been raised with tend toward sincerity, honesty, credibility, punctuality, and loyalty. You can be a worthy, admirable person on this scale while being crushingly boring. In fact, being crushingly boring can actually be a helpful strategy, since humor, used inappropriately or at the wrong time, can undermine your reputation. Leave humor to the professionals. Or if you are called upon to be funny yourself, have a few memorized jokes or sayings on tap, just in case. Even if they're crushingly unfunny, people will laugh. Out of politeness.

Maybe I can't make you laugh, says the German, but I will take time out of my busy schedule to visit you in the hospital, and bring a thoughtful gift. Which is more important?

Growing up in the Anglo-Saxon world, there's a premium on being entertaining. Your cultural heroes are likely to be comedians rather than violinists or human-rights activists. You're likely to spend hours each day consuming humor. Dull people are ostracized. Unlike in Germany, where you might bring them along even though you know they'll just sit there silently, in England and the USA you will simply avoid them and mock them.

In this atmosphere, even renowned historians often learn to be decent storytellers and amusing chaps, because everyone is expected to be a decent storyteller and an amusing chap. In Germany, you can live a life that you and others would consider rich and full without ever (1) intentionally provoking (2) sincere laughter in another human being.

The German Race Wars Have Just Begun!

William Faulkner (remember him?) once said: "The past is never dead. It isn't even the past."

Just when you thought it was safe to go into Central Europe again, comes this shocking news:

Fullscreen capture 572016 112034 AM.bmp

The German Race Wars (g) are back! "Session One" has already begun in Thuringia.

This time, instead of all those grim information placards threatening retribution massacres, the German Race Warriors are going for a decidedly lighter tone, promising "Action, Spaß und mehr…" There's even going to be a "Party Area".

If that's not enough to get you searching the attic for great-grandpa's old uniform, I don't know what is.

The German Race Wars: Come for the genocide, stay for the bratwurst!

That ’70s Feeling: Jörg Immendorff’s Revolutionary Struggle

MAO — Materialien zur Analyse von Opposition (Materials for Analysis of the Opposition) is an online archive (g) of documents from the heyday of German Maoism. It collects flyers, magazines, manifestos, artwork, banners and other ephemera from the early- to mid-1970s, when some factions on the German left became enthusiastic adherents of Chairman Mao thought. The website is a bit hard to navigate, but you can tell it's a labor of love and probably dates from the 1990s, so gratitude is in order.

I stumbled on an interesting document, a review of a book by Jörg Immendorff. First, a bit of background. Immendorff was a Düsseldorf-based artist famous enough to have an English Wikipedia entry. He was a fixture of the Düsseldorf culture scene and a teacher at the Kunstakademie until his death from ALS in 2008. More on him later.

The book the Maoists review is entitled (my trans.): 'Here and Now: Do What Must Be Done. Jörg Immendorf. Materials for a Discussion: Art in Political Struggle. Whose Side Are You On, Culture-Creator?' Despite this engaging title, the book doesn't seem to have sold many copies and is now rare. This is the cover (from this antiquarian website (g) where you can buy the book for €120):  

12641_0

I'm sure this painting is by Immendorff himself. It isn't Hockney/Currin-esque ironically self-aware textureless or 'bad' painting. It's just clumsy. This is what most Immendorffs look like. If you're getting the idea that I don't dig him, you're right-on, man. I've always found his stuff unconvincing: either crowded and ugly, or flat and cliched.

But what about his political views? Like so many German lefty/culture types, Immendorff jumped onto the bandwagon of Maoism in the early 1970s. This book is obviously from that period.

A review of the book and the associated exhibition can be found in this 1973 agitprop flyer (g) from the Revolutionary Artists' Group, found on the archive website. Let me apologize in advance for the layout of this page from a self-proclaimed 'Artists' group'. Clearly, these Revolutionary Artists are mostly untrained, given what's on display in most of the pamphlet. Yet no matter how limited your means are, there's no excuse for pages clogged with unreadable clots of text like the one below. Apparently columns are tools of the bourgeoisie.

But let's forge ahead anyway. The handwritten title reads: "Progress at the anti-imperialist Culture Front!" and begins: "A book has just appeared from Comrade Jörg Immendorff, who is active in the Group of Revolutionary Artists — Ruhr Struggle." 

  Duesseldorf_GRK_Ruhrkampf_1973_123_21

The review, misspelling Immendorff's name, reports breathlessly that he has decided 'to consciously place his artistic activity in the service of the people and the revolutionary proletariat'.

The article then reports on the exhibition accompanying the book, which was held in the Westphalian Artist's League in Münster. Both the exhibition and the book, the review states, 'show the attitude of a partisan artist who has developed away from bourgeois philistinism towards cultural creation marked by class struggle. Both (the exhibition and the book) are a declaration of war on the brainless bourgeois avant-garde…which have learned nothing from the anti-imperialist movement of 1968.'

During the entire exhibition, young members of the 'anti-imperialist league' staffed a book-table with 'revolutionary writings' inside the museum.

The exhibition also featured a roundtable discussion with members of the Communist Students' Association, the Anti-Imperialist League, the Group of Revolutionary Artists, and Immendorff. Immendorff admitted his works were not yet fully 'revolutionary', given their incompleteness and flaws, and thus that he sought 'discussion and critique' from the audience.

One critique focused on Immendorff's portraits of 'Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung', which were based on the works of Chinese 'people's artists'. One cannot simply import the stylistic devices of the Chinese revolutionary artists' Social Realism into German conditions, because the international class struggle is always defined by the particular historical, social, etc. etc. — you get the picture. 

Immendorff's later history is well-known to all Germans. He continued producing masterpieces of socialist-realist artwork in the service of the international proletariat, donating every penny of profit to Third World liberation movements. He lived in a humble apartment in the working-class section of Düsseldorf, volunteering much of his time teaching painting to Turkish immigrant children. Even those who disagreed with his political views couldn't help admiring the depth of his commitment to social justice.

Oh wait, wrong Immendorff. While no doubt continuing to mouth the occasional revolutionary slogan, he went on to amass a fortune of between 15 and 18 million Euros (g) at the time of his death. He described his own philosophy of life as 'selfishness'. Late in life, he married a Romanian ingenue 30 years his junior (former student) and rechristened her Oda (after a Germanic god), last name Jaune. The French word for yellow, Immendorff's favorite color. Not hers.

But that didn't stop Immendorff from regularly renting luxury hotel rooms, to which he would invite groups of up to 15 prostitutes. There, he held hours-long cocaine orgies with them costing sums in the five-figure range. He was caught white-handed during one of these, so to speak, and eventually sentenced to 11 months' probation. At the time of this coke and champagne orgy, his wife Oda was in an advanced state of pregnancy. As a result of the prosecution, Immendorff nearly lost his comfortable civil-servant position as a teacher at the Düsseldorf art academy — run by the state he no doubt routinely claimed to despise.

Just before he died, he changed his will to try to bestow upon the long-suffering Oda his entire fortune. This came as rather a disappointment to Immendorff's illegitimate son Jean-Louis, born in 1999. Immendorf ignored the letters and pictures his son sent him during his life, and took no interest in him. Fortunately, German law guaranteed the son an 1/8 of Immendorff's inheritance, no matter what Immendorff tried to arrange.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is yet another object lesson in why nobody should pay the slightest attention to the political opinions artists claim to have.

Especially, it must be said, German ones.