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Posts Tagged ‘history

Unearthed and Buried again – the Remains of Verden’s Synagogue

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Verden Synagogue site, Johanniswall, 2011

Verden Synagogue site, Johanniswall, 2011

This used to be the site of Verden’s synagogue, from 1858 to 1938, before it was burnt down in the “Night of Broken Glass”. The place has been car dealer’s parking lot since early after the end of the war. In summer, the bulldozers were back. A shopping center will be built here, soon.

My guess about the future: one eighth of Verdeners may continue to add stolpersteine memorials to their city, and people will continue to traipse across them (literally, stolperstein means stumbling stone, but these won’t make you stumble), and try to put a Reichsbahn waggon next to the train station to remind people of the concentration camp transports, another quarter of Verdeners may continue to oppose  Reichsbahn waggons, and all other Verdeners will be shopping on this site, and listen to the sermons in church on christmas eve.

A small town in Germany – or: how to avoid remembering a real bit of the past.

Oh, and the foundations and underground facilities (including the mikveh, I seem to understand) were unearthed in summer, and then returned to the underground.

The Kreiszeitung referred to the location as a “place of memory”. But that was long ago, in 2010.

Written by taide

November 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Rage against the Machine: Mow-My-Lawn!!!

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I mentioned the way German society is ticking, in my post on Rafael Behr and the way he criticizes”complaints” from the police (or their trade union), on Monday. Rafael Behr’s article on DIE ZEIT has got some 163 comments, which is no small number (even though middle-east related articles frequently get more).

One comment by a certain Guy of Osborne (if that’s a place in Britain or elsewhere in the English-speaking world, don’t take it personally – the guy is definitely German, and from how he writes, I can say with confidence that his family has been German for generations):

The police are no service providers? But of course they are! Just like any public officer! Do you think I’m paying for persons who harass me on behalf of an authority (for which I feel no respect either!), or who, in the best case, ignore me? Do I pay taxes so as to enable the state (I’m not referring to the rest of the populace) to subjugate me even better, or to finance his little adventure trips to Afghanistan? Maybe you are right, and I should raise money with other injured parties and hire the Hells Angels – that’s cheaper and more effective.

If I had replied to that poor guy (he’s a damaged party because police in a rather tranquil residential area didn’t save his and his neighbors’ cars as they were scratched at nighttime), I would have wished the “Hells Angels” upon him, and DIE ZEIT would have moderated my comment. But anyway – a friendly patrolman (that’s what he wrote he is), in his capacity as another commenter, took care of Guy’s woes:

“I’m paying your salary with my tax money, so you’ll need to do as I say.”

You pay your taxes, amongst others, so that your children get to school safely, without getting run over by drunk car drivers or being kidnapped by marauding horsemen. You pay so that someone will help you when you are in trouble, when you are trapped in your car, your bank account is being looted, or a crazy stalker is after you.

You pay so that someone patrols your road at half past four, come rain or **** cold, so that you can stay in your bad without being scared.

You pay for someone who’s looking after your ill sister who you can’t reach, and who, with some hundred colleagues, helicopters, and infrared cameras, searches the thickest forest when your high-maintenance mother escaped the home for the elderly.

You pay taxes so that there is always someone who will risk his own health to save yours – no matter how little he may like you.

And your fellow people pay taxes so that the police will protect them from you, if you infringe their rights and break the law.

So – don’t tell me that the police weren’t there for you, only because they won’t mow your lawn!

Police Academy Professor: “Only Perceptions have Shifted”

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In 1998, Rafael Behr worked as the head of a police task force or work group (Dienstgruppenleiter). After fifteen years of work as a policeman, he became a professor at Hamburg’s police academy (Hochschule der Polizei). This information, provided by Behr himself, in an article for Germany’s weekly DIE ZEIT, doesn’t give me an exact idea of how long ago he left the active police service.

At the moment we begin to change ourselves, the world around us changes, too. Not just seemingly, but really, his website at the academy (currently being relaunched) says. Behr’s field of work at the academy is sociology and coaching.

Things hadn’t become tougher for the police, Behr believes – or rather, “I can’t quite believe the complaints that things were getting worse” (Ich kann das Klagen der Polizei in Deutschland, dass alles schlimmer werde, nicht so recht glauben). “Police is neither defenceless, nor are things getting worse. But above all, there isn’t more violence aimed at the police. Only perceptions have shifted” (Polizisten sind weder wehrlos, noch wird alles immer schlimmer. Vor allem gibt es nicht mehr Gewalt gegen Beamte. Es hat sich lediglich die Wahrnehmung verschoben).

Expectations to the police had become more diverse, from a time somewhere in the late 1980s, Behr suggests. After all, police staff had to show empathy with victims, a sense of justice, communication skills, etc.. Violence, strangely, had been blinded out in that idealised new concept. When police staff happened on people with few or no prospects in life (resignierte und aussichtslose Lebensperspektiven), they were ill-prepared for such encounters. After all, resignation and exclusion [from society] were frequently combined with aggression, and police staff was usually recruited from the middle class, not from the class where aggression was a more frequent phenomenon.

Violence hadn’t increased, argues Behr, quoting the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony. At times, violence was even decreasing. Rather than violence, it was insubordination which was on the rise, and where police staff wasn’t well-prepared. The use of the term “violence” had become inflationary.

It’s probably a matter of definition. According to German news magazine DER SPIEGEL (November 2010), the number of police seriously injured on duty rose by 60 per cent during the previous five years. (Seriously injured, of course, may be a matter of definition, too.) Closer to home, Verden’s nightlife has certainly changed, and the patrolman who was knived here in summer 2009 was a first-night in our  small town.

I agree with his latter point – violence has been surrounded with taboos, to a silly degree. When even boxing becomes a “no” in “good society”, it’s no wonder that you can’t make violence a topic. Addressing it seems to be about as worldly innocent as asking Pope Benedict to discuss the benefits of buggery on television. And just as bad, addressing the former matter in an open-minded way may discredit you, just as addressing the latter one would discredit the Pope.

But that’s probably the only issue where I might agree with Behr. Let’s address a police person’s realities. One of these realities is that police staff bear guns. If someone approaches you as a police person, as happened on the Bremen Freimarkt last month, to adorn his or her face with lipstick colors (it seems to be a frequent practice), you better don’t carry a gun at all. To let unknown people come that close to you won’t be advisable otherwise. And frankly, just as these people wouldn’t paint the face of a carousel owner’s or a supermarket cashier’s face with lipstick, they shouldn’t be allowed to paint a police person’s face.

Behr replaces much of what is conveniently termed “violence” with “insubordination”. But that term, too, lacks definition. It seems to suggest that it is basically about some happy, occasional anarchism light. But that’s not the case, certainly not in Germany, which is still ticking like the corporate state it used to be. People who spit to the feet of police people (let alone into their faces) are angry, because a police person epitomises state power. The problem is that just as violence, power, too, is surrounded by taboos. German civil society, to quite a degree, and not only below the middle class, is unable to handle authority. Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer ´described stupidity this way, in 1943:

The fact that a stupid person is often stubborn should not deceive anyone into thinking he is independent.  In conversation with him it is felt that you are not dealing with the person himself, but with cliches, slogans, etc. that have gained dominance over him. (Daß der Dumme oft bockig ist, darf nicht darüber hinwegtäuschen, daß er nicht selbständig ist. Man spürt es geradezu im Gespräch mit ihm, daß man es gar nicht mit ihm selbst, mit ihm persönlich, sondern mit über ihn mächtig gewordenen Schlagworten, Parolen etc. zu tun hat.)

I’m not trying to judge if the classical American cop approach – common wisdom suggests that it includes no fun factor – can be attributed to an innate American feeling that you are free anyway, and that (as a member of the middle class, anywaqy) you practically cooperate with, rather than cowardly submit to a cop. In Germany, a citizen’s feelings are much more likely to be dominated by concepts of authority and powerlessness than elsewhere. And when a cop in Germany comes across as weak, the mice will play. It’s hardly a coincidence that many Germans  find the idea of Per Steinbrück for chancellor (that’s Germany’s political top job) not only tolerable, but even desirable. It’s hardly a coincidence that Helmut Schmidt, German chancellor from 1974 to 1982, and Wehrmacht lieutenant in the 1940s, endorsed Steinbrück last week, even before Steinbrück actually decided to apply for the job.

The times when a cop’s word “counted for something” are over, writes Behr. Those times wouldn’t come back, and a different society wasn’t in sight. “It is imperative to think police anew.”

Maybe. But before doing that, we must understand what our society – not just the “new underclass” – is actually like.

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Related

We, the Anti-Democrats, December 5, 2010

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Verden’s Commemoration Efforts: those Unhappy Memories

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It has been said before that the way Germans remember their former fellow citizens –  citizens murdered and expelled in the 1930s and 1940s, and many of them Jewish – may matter more to the German citizens of today, than to the actual victims, their surviving relatives and the following generations (many of whom live abroad).

This thought could make commemoration easier. It wouldn’t need to include the horrors, which can’t be adequately described anyway. People who once lived and worked here, and who worshipped their God in our town, would be remembered for the respect we owe them. People who, if this had always been a normal and decent country, could have stayed among us, rather than getting killed, or having to flee what had been their city and country, too.

Excavations on the old synagogue site, Verden, July 18, 2011

Excavations on the old synagogue site, Verden, July 18, 2011

Verden’s synagogue was inaugurated in 1858, and burnt down during the “Night of Broken Glass” (Reichskristallnacht or Reichsprogromnacht) in November, 1938. Until recently a car dealership’s location, the old site is now to become a shopping center. Excavations have begun last week.

Some eight years ago, a Verden Society for Regional History (Verein für Regionalgeschichte Verden e. V.) planned to place a Reichsbahn railway waggon at Verden Railway Station, as a site to remember the haulage of forced labourers and other nazi victims to the concentration camps. The railway waggon was arsoned on January 2007.

For the arson attack alone, the waggon had served a function after all – the attack was a clear indication that commemoration of nazi crimes was deemed undesirable by certain quarters (something that many opponents would have liked to deny). But many Verdeners – correctly – pointed out that deportations by rail had taken place from Bremen, rather than from Verden, and that for historical reasons alone, Verden’s railway station was hardly the right place for the waggon.

In April 2010, Eilert Obernolte, teacher at Verden’s Domgymnasium (one of the city’s secondary schools) and two students,  picked up a suggestion by city council member Jürgen Weidemann (FDP, liberal democrats) to find a way to commemorate the synagoge, within the shopping center concept.

While the railway waggon approach was questionable from a historian’s perspecitve, the synagogue is definitely part of Verden’s past. Now that the shopping center’s construction has begun, one wonders if and how the synagogue and Verden’s former Jewish congregation will be remembered.

Stay tuned.

Written by taide

July 18, 2011 at 4:52 pm

We, the Anti-Democrats

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The following is my – unauthorised – translation of a short article by Adam Soboczynski, a journalist who has attracted a lot of attention and frequently readers’ anger with his articles for Germany’s weekly Die Zeit. In his latest article, he criticises the appreciation for a French manifesto, “L’Insurrection Qui Vient” (German: “Der Kommende Aufstand”). Whenever published online, Soboczynski’s utterances draw great numbers of – mostly angry – comments. His references to Stuttgart in the following are about Stuttgart 21.

– TAIDE

We, the Anti-Democrats

Adam Soboczynski, Die Zeit (online and printed ed. 49), 2 December, 2010

 The angry citizen isn’t conservative. He’s reactionary.

The Coming Uprising (Der kommende Aufstand), the much-discussed, partly printed by Der Spiegel, prized in the feature pages, manifesto of a French “invisible committee” has, despite all revolutionary rhetoric, a conservative nucleus: the loss of traditional conviviality, donnybrooks, good manners. Thought that could be associated with the left – a call for building communes, a celebration of subversive protest, anti-capitalism – are being notched with mourning past everyday habits.

The coming uprising is also anticipated so briskly because it seems to picture the uprisings of angry citizens who didn’t only agitate this country in Stuttgart. That’s what Der Spiegel claims this week. The paper misses the point that the protests are – despite what they may seem to be – of no conservative kind. Certainly, as a pensioner, you don’t want to be confronted with a construction site that is going to stay for ten years. For the last few years of your life, everything should remain the way it has been.

What appears to be, at first glance, a conservative impulse, is in fact reactionary. Reactionary in that secretly, it is moulded by a fervent distrust of parliamentarism and democratic institutions that structure [political or social, probably – Taide] participation.
Apparently, every sense of formal aspects of democracy have been lost: people don’t want to get involved in the political parties’ mean business, but shortcut opinion formation by referenda. No governments relying on discreet communication, people celebrate WikiLeaks. People wish to restrict minorities (such as migrants or smokers) by referenda, while the state is unnecessarily still protecting them.

Just as the sixtyeighters once came from America to Germany, it’s the reactionary Tea-Party movement today which inspires us. Even if only for operating the principle of majority against democratic institutions, quite in accordance with market-economy principles, you can’t consider citizen anger as conservative. If the sixtyeighters believed that the state was mixing with capitalism in a calamitous way, today’s angry citizens structurally align with capitalism.

Henning Ritter, a publicist, has recently noted in his jotter the fine observation that self-fulfilment may be highly appreciated, but without having anything in common with emancipation. The sixtyeighters were filled with the legitimate desire to emancipate from many things – the generation of their parents, or the patriarchy. Despite all revolutionary pathos, the protest soon turned to subcultural recesses or all kinds of careers that were felt meaningful. But from the moment where it dawns on you that self-fulfilment beyond the existing achievements doesn’t translate into individual gains in liberty any more, there will be no march through the institutions any longer, but their dismantlement instead.

Web Critic: a Website about Aleppo

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The best way to experience Aleppo, other than going there, is to view the pages of this website, Historische Alepposeife, which means Aleppo soap in English. The authors are clearly overweening, but their rambles through the city, its history and its specters is entertaining enough.

This is true for the North Arabian Diary in particular, from 2007, with words and pictures, and occasional ideological quarrels between Germans and Arabs, some news (more frequent updates there wouldn’t hurt), and an overview over Syria’s foreign-language media.

Written by taide

November 19, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Six Decades of Kitsch and Vulgar Productions

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From the News

Culture Minister Cai Wu criticized the trend of “vulgar productions” and “kitsch” in print and on electronic Chinese media, and lashed out at publications with gossip and sensational stories that advocate money worship and consumerism.

“We publish more than 300,000 books every year, but how many of them could be compared with the scriptures inherited from our ancestors?” asked Cai in an interview with Xinhua.

From china.org.cn

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Some vulgar books about China suggest to point at the mulberry but curse the locust when you criticize someone or something.

But what I do know is that China is as old as it owns Tibet. When I’m looking at the list of Chinese classics as listed by Wikipedia, it seems to me that the classics weren’t all written within sixty years. (The first Chinese classic I ever read, aged twelve or so, was Jin Ping Mei).

The People’s Republic of China is a rather young dynasty state, and during the 1950s China reconstructed, during the 1960s, the Great Helmsman and his vulgar fat ass knocked over what had been reconstructed previously, same during much of the 1970s, and then it was time to reconstruct again.

But it’s true – after 1978, some more useful stuff could have been written. Instead, we got:

– Deng Xiaoping’s Theories (and some other of his works)

– Jiang Zemin’s Three Represents and an opera building which (experts say) lacks architectural freedom (but still looks like the shell of a nuclear reactor)

– and I’m sure Hu Jintao has hired a gang of ghostwriters already, to write some more politporn.

Not to mention the “Modern Beijing Opera” and Chinese pop “music”. And almost every speech ever delivered and printed by a Communist cadre, on whatever level of the hierarchy.

But there’s no reason to become alarmist. Time after 1949 has been too short to build a civilization in China.

Written by taide

August 8, 2010 at 8:44 pm