"Boston Strong" war das Motto dieser Tage. Statt den Ort der Tragödie zu verlassen, blieben viele der Marathonläufer in der Stadt, demonstrierten ihren Widerstandsgeist, spendeten Blut für die Verletzten; Tausende hielten Mahnwache für Martin Richard, den Jungen mit dem Peace-Plakat; Tausende säumten die Straßen, als US-Präsident Barack Obama zum Gedenkgottesdienst kam; Zehntausende besuchten das nächste Heimspiel der Baseball-Mannschaft Red Sox. "Die guten Menschen von Boston", sagte Obama damals (Sehen Sie hier ein Video aus der Zeit).
(Boston Strong was the motto for these days. Instead of leaving the place where the tragedy happened, many marathon runnvers remained in the city, demsontrated their spirit of resistance and donated blood for the injured. Thousands held a candellight vigil for Martin Richard, the boy with the peace poster; thousands ringed the streets when Presiden Barack Obama came to the memorial service; tens of thousands attended the next home game of the Boston Red Sox. "The good people of Boston," Obama said then.)
Just as the bombs exploded at the Marathon finish line, my wife and I were on a train pulling into North Station (my wife was to attend a conference in Boston). We arrived at scene of panic and chaos, since there were false reports of bombs going off across the city. Many were streaming into the station, anxious to leave Boston, and we also thought about turning around and getting on the next train out of town. But we decided to stay, and thus experienced the next traumatic days as the people of Boston coped with the tragedy. At our hotel we encountered marathon runners from Italy, Ireland and Australia, dazed and amazed by what they had just experienced. The next couple of days everyone went about their business - there was a sense of fear everywhere, especially in the subway, since we knew the bombers were among us and may strike again. Tensions continued to mount over the next few days as the news media - led by CNN - came out with mistaken reports that the terrorists had been captured. FInally, things came to a climax four days after the bombing with the bloody shootout and capture of of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
What has happened in Boston over the past twelve months has been truly amazing. The city came together to embrace the doqens of victims and help them heal from the terrible wounds - both physical and emotional.
We are getting close to the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Sebastian Fischer makes a good point about the citizens of Boston:
Gut vier Monate wird der Zarnajew-Prozess dauern, bis zu hundert Zeugen sollen gehört werden. Die insgesamt 30 Anklagepunkte umfassen unter anderem den Vorwurf des vierfachen Mordes und des Einsatzes von Massenvernichtungswaffen. Dennoch scheint eine lebenslange Haftstrafe für Zarnajew wahrscheinlicher als die Todesstrafe: Denn das Urteil müssen am Ende Geschworene fällen. Und wenn die Mehrheitsmeinung der Bevölkerung von Massachusetts ein Anhaltspunkt sein kann, dann dürfte der Angeklagte mit dem Leben davonkommen.
(The Tsarnaev trial is expected to last at least four months, up to one hundred witnesses will testify. The 30 criminal charges include among other thing four counts of murder and the use of weapons of mass destruction. Even so, life imprisonment is a more likely sentence than the death penalty: for the verdict must be reached by a jury, and if the majority opinion of the people of Massachusetts is any indication, then the accused's life will be spared.)
Boston, city of great universities and enlightenment, the center of the abolitionist movement, last put a citizen to death in 1947. The last thing Boston wants to do is respond to this tragedy with another killing.
Nearly 25 years after the collapse of the "Deutsche Demokratische Republik" some high-school history teachers are telling their students ""Es war nicht alles schlecht in der DDR". Dictatorships, they teach, are not so bad - as long as you "play by the rules".
"Ich habe mich wohlgefühlt in der DDR", .... Und Sie haben heute die DDR schlechtgemacht. Wenn man sich in Diktaturen an die Regeln hält, passiert einem nichts. Ich frage mich, warum Sie wieder hergekommen sind, wenn Sie Stendal nur schlechtmachen."
("Life was good in the GDR... And you come here today to denigrate the GDR. Nothing can happen to you in a dictatorship if you play by the rules. I really wonder why you came if you just want to say bad things about Stendal.")
At another school he was told by a "history teacher":
"Ich habe eine andere Meinung über die DDR als Sie. Ich habe direkt am Grenzzaun gewohnt, mich hat der Zaun nicht gestört. Wir konnten nach Ungarn und Bulgarien reisen, das hat uns genügt."
("I have different opinion than you about the GDR. I lived next to the border fence- it never once bothered me. We could travel to Hungary or Bulgaria- that was plenty for us.")
Comments like this are made openly to a vistor to the schools. But what are teachers telling their students when no outsiders are around? What are students learning about recent history? And could this Ostalgie (nostalgia for the old East Germany) result in hostility or plain indifference to democratic principles?
Frank Schmiechen, of the Hamburg daily Die Welt, spent four months living in California. We was so smitten by the "das Land der unbegrenzten Möglichkeiten" that he published a love letter to the United States:
Du hast mich mit offenen Armen empfangen. Du bist offen und neugierig auf mich zugekommen. Du hast mich vier Monate bei dir aufgenommen. Obwohl du gar nicht wusstest, wer ich bin, was ich kann und was ich will. Das war dir egal. Du hast all meine Fragen beantwortet, meine merkwürdige Aussprache und mein sehr mittelmäßiges Englisch höflich überhört.
(You received me with open arms. You approached me with openness and curiosity. You took me in for four months. Even though you had no idea who I am, what I can do, what I want. That didn't matter. You answered all my questions, and politely ignored my strange accent and mediocre English.)
Many in Europe scoff at how friendly people are in the US - a sign of superficiality. For Schmiechen it was a breath of fresh air:
Deine Freundlichkeit wird dir ja oft als Oberflächlichkeit ausgelegt. Vor allem von uns Deutschen. Ich wünsche mir mehr von dieser Freundlichkeit in meiner Heimat. Ich mag freundliche Oberflächen. Vielleicht handelt es sich bei deiner Freundlichkeit einfach nur um gute Erziehung. Und hinter all den Floskeln und Ritualen verbergen sich oft sehr schlaue Köpfe.
(Your friendliness is often seen as superficial. Most of all by us Germans. I wish we had more of this in my homeland. I like friendly surfaces. Maybe your friendliness is just a sign of good upbringing. And behind all the friendly banter there is often an intelligent mind.)
Schmiechen is not blind to the social inequality, the struggles of many just to keep from falling deeper into poverty. But he admires the risk-taking, the pragmatism and can-do attitude of Americans. Not to mention the celebration of success here - in contrast to the deep suspicion of success in Germany.
In the end, it's the fact that America is constantly re-inventing itself that he most admires:
Und so wie es aussieht, bist du in der Lage, dich immer wieder zu verändern, zu wachsen und zu verbessern. Das mag ich an dir. Und lass dich bitte nicht von uns ewigen Besserwissern aus dem alten Europa durcheinanderbringen. Am Ende musst du uns wahrscheinlich wieder aus irgendeiner Patsche helfen.
(It seems that you're always able to keep changing, to grow, to improve. That's what I like about you. And please don't get out of sorts by those in old Europe who always know better. In the end you'll probably once again have to help out out of a mess.)
To be sure, four months is not a great amount of time to get to know another country. And California is not representative for all of the vast US. Would Schmiechen have been so enthusiastic if he had spent a winter in Utica, New York?
Still, it is illuminating to read through the many comments to this piece. Those who have traveled to the US or lived here for some time for the most part share Schmiechen's positive view. More common, however were comments like this from a "Serpentine":
Wie schade eigentlich, dass Herr Schmiechen ausschließlich die tollen Seiten des Lebens in Amerika thematisiert hat. Kein einziges Wort über die fast 50 Millionen Amerikaner, die mithilfe von Lebensmittelmarken "überleben" können, kein einziges Wort über die fast genau so vielen Amerikaner, die immer noch nicht krankenversichert sind, kein einziges Wort über die marode, einem Drittweltland ähnliche Infrastruktur. Die Liste ließe sich beliebig fortsetzen, aber hey, im Land der Blinden sind die Einäugige immer noch Könige.
(Too bad that Herr Schmiechen chose to highlight only the good side of life in America. Not one word about the 50 million Americans who survive only because of food stamps. Not one word about the same number of Americans without health insurance. Not one word on the crumbling infrastructure like in a Third World country. The list goes on and on, but, hey, in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.)
Given the current sentiment in Germany, publishing this glowing tribute to America in a major news outlet is truly an act of courage.
I am currently reading Clemens Meyer's Im Stein, a panoramic mosaic of the sex industry in Germany (review to follow). Meyer doesn't make any moral judgment, but just lets the voices of the prostitutes, brothel owners, pimps, johns, and the police speak for themselves.
Prostitution is legal in Germany. Sex workers pay taxes and receive the same health and pension benefits as any other employee. Is this a good thing? I guess the only logical answer is: it's better than the alternative. I watched the German talk show Günther Jauch the other evening which dealt with the topic. The guests included a young woman who abandoned her studies in computer science to become an enthusiastic prostitute, as well as a bordello magnate who was proud of his exemplary "customer service" ( you might still be able to watch the show on the Mediathek.)
There are an estimated 400,000 sex workers in Germany - more than in any other country in Europe. The overwhelming majority are "independent contractors" and are from countries to the east, such as Romania, Bulgaria and the Ukraine. No question that many are the victims of human trafficking and were "tricked" into the profession in their desire to leave the poverty and dismal prospects in their home countries.
Still, there are a vocal minority who are proud of their independence and vehemently deny that they are being exploited in any way. One anonymous "sex entrepreneur" made her views known in Die Zeit. This woman turned to freelance prostitution after being treated shabbily by the local employent office, where she was only offered minimum wage jobs (actually, there is no minimum wage in Germany). Now she is simply following the neoliberal agenda:
"Niemand kann mir einen Vorwurf machen. Ich liege nicht der Allgemeinheit auf der Tasche, sondern habe das getan, was uns von den Verfechtern des Neoliberalismus ständig gepredigt wird: Ich habe festgestellt, dass es für das, was ich anzubieten habe, einen Bedarf gibt und habe mir meinen Arbeitsplatz selbst geschaffen. Ja, ich verdiene einen Teil meines Lebensunterhaltes mit Sexarbeit und ich bin froh, dass ich mit über 50 diese Möglichkeit für mich entdeckt habe."
("No one can accuse me of being a financial burden on society. I have simply done what the proponents of neoliberalism constantly preach: I discovered that there is a need for the services that I offer and created my own job. Sure I make some of my income by performing sex work and I'm just happy that at the age of over 50 I 've discovered this possibility for myself.)
I wonder what the moralistic libertarians in America ike Rand Paul, who are constantly complaining about the "lazy poor people",would say to this enterprising woman.
While waiting for my UBER car to show up and checking out @UberFacts on Twitter, I reflected on the growing use of über (or uber) in everyday English ; über is everywhere (or überall). How did this happen?
Die OED erläutert, das Wort superman
sei als philosophischer Begriff seit den Dreißigerjahren ein wenig
durch die Comichefte kontaminiert, weshalb man in akademischen Kreisen
dazu neige, lieber einfach das deutsche Wort übermensch (mal mit, mal ohne Umlaut: uebermensch) zu benutzen, wenn es um Nietzsche geht.
Vielleicht führt von hier ein Spur zum massenhaften Gebrauch des Wörtchens über/ueber,
das als Steigerungsmittel in der englischen Sprache seit etwa 20 Jahren
eine geradezu sagenhafte Auswanderkarriere hingelegt hat.
(The OED explains that the word "superman" as a philosophical concept has been somewhat contaminated by the comic books. So in academic circles the German word übermensch (with our without the umlaut) is much preferred when talking about Nietzsche.
So perhaps we can trace the massive use of the word über/ueber back to that; for the past 20 years it has enjoyed an incredible career as a way to intensify meaning in English.)
As I noted elsewhere, Nietzsche has had a profound influence on American intellectual life. So it is fitting that at least one word - über - finds its way into popular culture here.
When analyzing the virulent anti-American sentiment that has resurfaced in Germany - especially among left-wing pundits and observers - following the Snowden revelations concerning massive data-mining, it is useful to consider the recent history of anti-Semitism.
Martin Engelberg, writing in Die Presse, sees a close connection between both positions, which are particularly entrenched in the German left today:
Dazu werden beide ("die Amerikaner" und "die Juden") für bestimmte Erscheinungen – insbesondere der Moderne
– personifiziert und diffamiert. Juden und Amerikaner werden als „das
andere“ oder „das Böse“, als konträr der eigenen moralischen Position
gegenüber bezeichnet. Bereits zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts wurde der
„amerikanische Geist“ als bedrohlich und zersetzend für die deutsche
Kultur angesehen; sehr ähnlich der „jüdische Geist“, dessen Bekämpfung
in der Nazi-Zeit ihren Höhepunkt fand.
(Both the Americans and the Jews personify certain social phemonena - especially modernity - and are reviled for this. Jew and Americans are seen as "the other" and "evil", since they are contrary to the superior moral standing of the Volk. Already at the beginning of the 2oth century the "American spirit" was seen as a corrosive influence on the "German spirit; the same as well with the "Jewish spirit", the resistance against which reached its apex in tne Nazi era.)
Underlying both anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, according to Martin Engelberg, is a feeling of profound powerlessness:
Amerikanern und Juden wird gleichermaßen zugeschrieben, die Macht zu
besitzen, das Weltgeschehen bis in Details zu bestimmen. Die Bedrohung
durch beide ist deshalb so gefährlich, weil sie sich im Inneren
europäischer Gesellschaften „eingenistet“ haben. Die Juden lebten
tatsächlich bis zur Nazi-Zeit inmitten europäischer Gesellschaften, die
USA drangen mit ihrer Sprache, Kultur, ihrem Lebensgefühl in Herz und
Seele der Europäer ein. Bei jeder sich bietenden Gelegenheit muss die
Volksseele versuchen, sich dieser Dominanz zu entledigen.
(It is taken for granted that both the Americans and "the Jews" have the power to influence world events down to the smallest detail. They pose such a great threat since both have "burrowed" deeply in European society. Up until the Nazi era the Jews lived in the heart of European society, while the US forced itself into the European soul with its language, its culture, its American way of life. The pure soul of the Volk must take every opportunity to throw off this dominance.)
But Engelberg's critique is tame compared with that of Andrei S. Markovits, who sees anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism as "Siamese Twins" in Europe today. Markovits has written a good book about the history of anti-Americanism in Europe: Amerika, dich hasst sich's besser. In another essay he writes about how the perception of an all-powerful Israel has bled into the perception of an all-powerful America - creating a two-headed evil monster in the left-wing imagination:
In today's intellectual Europe it is illegitimate to view European Jews
as Shylocks (or deride them as such), but it is entirely legitimate to
portray those Jews who, instead of fitting the picture of the weak
pariah, have built their own state (namely Israel and the Israelis) as
Rambos and to hate them as such.13 It
is the figure of the tough, aggressive, unscrupulous, and ruthless Jew
in the form of the powerful, brutal Israeli that is lending a new
dimension to contemporary European anti-Semitism. And it is strength and
(military) power that assigns anti-Americanism an auxiliary and
indispensable role in this new form of anti-Semitism (outfitted as
hostility toward Israel)14 and that turns these two phenomena into politically potent Siamese twins throughout Europe.
Until recently, it was clear how the U.S.-Israel relationship fit into
this line of thinking: It was the powerful United States that was using
Israel as a marionette or "aircraft carrier" for its "imperialist" and
"neo-colonial" schemes; the U.S. was the real power, and Israel was the
henchman. But in the discourse of many Europeans after 11 September 2001
- and especially since the Iraq war - this has been reversed almost 180
The current controversy around the spying activity of the HSA will gradually fade away, but anti-Americanism is bound to resurface in Germany over and over again.
It’s as if Leipzig, Hanover and Dresden had disappeared in the blink of an eye, statistically speaking.
Germany, which has been deeply concerned about its rapidly dwindling
population, released the results of its first census in nearly a quarter
of a century on Friday and found 1.5 million fewer inhabitants than previously assumed.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was already worried about the shrinking numbers
of taxpayers and able-bodied workers. How future smaller generations
will repay German debts, much less the mounting liabilities and
guarantees meant to contain the euro-zone debt crisis, is a central
But immigrants to Germany are not the danger to the gene pool that Sarrazin warned against. If anything, the census data underscores the fact that immigrants are Germany's salvation:
Sie, die Einwanderer und ihre Nachkommen, gehören also längst zu Deutschland,
und wie sehr das Land sie braucht, zeigt ein Blick auf die
Altersstatistik: Fast jeder vierte Einwohner ohne, aber nur knapp jeder
zehnte mit Migrationshintergrund ist bereits im Rentenalter. Umgekehrt
stammt mehr als jedes vierte Kind von Einwanderern ab. Ohne die
Migranten hat Deutschland keine Zukunft.
(The immigrants and their offspring are an established part of Germany. And the age statistics only prove how much the country needs them: nearly one out of four German residents without any immigrant background is now in the retirement age. On the other hand, more than one out of four children are immigrants. WIthout immigrants Germany has no future.)
Next week the trial of Beate Zschäpe, member of the National Socialist Underground, begins in Munich. Ms. Zschäpe is charge with being an accessory to the murder of ten people, mostly individuals with Turkish background, during a six-year racist rampage throughout Germany.
Ms. Zschäpe was described by neighbors as a "nice girl" (herzensgut) who unfortunately fell in with the wrong men. Whatever role she played in the murders was performed out of loyalty or love, not any political conviction. This brings of up the cliché of the "Nazi Bride" (Nazibraut), those naive women who stay home to cook and clean while their Nazi menfolk are out knocking heads or - in this case - killing people in cold blood.
But the cliché is completely wrong, according to Das Forschungs- netzwerk Frauen und Rechtsextremismus(Research Network Women and Right-wing Extremism). The women involved in the neo-Nazi groups are hardly passive fellow travelers (Mitläuferinnen). Rather, they are often key players - even instigators - of right-wing violence, and are often more fanatical than their boyfriends or husbands. The Forschungsnetzwerk published an open letter - (pdf warning) concerning the upcoming trial of Beate Zschäpe, urging the court to take her participation in the NSU seriously:
Ohne das Engagement von Mädchen und Frauen würde die extreme Rechte weder lebensweltlich noch ideologisch funktionieren: sie sind aktiver Part in Skinheadgruppen, Kameradschaften, extrem rechten Parteien und Terrorgruppen. Häufig üben sie Funktionen in den Bereichen Vernetzung, Kommunikation, Organisation, Logistik, Finanzierung, Tarnung, Recherche- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit aus und übernehmen damit Aufgaben, ohne die extrem rechte Terrorakte, Morde und Überfälle kaum denkbar wären. Zum anderen sind auch in der Vergangenheit seit 1945 extrem rechte Frauen als Anstifterinnen,vorbereitende Kaderinnen, Fluchthelferinnen und gewalttätige Täterinnen in Erscheinung getreten und dafür zum Teil zu Haftstrafen verurteilt worden. All dies steht im Widerspruch zum Versuch extrem rechter Frauenorganisationen, die Gewaltbereitschaft der Szene zu leugnen und für eine vermeintliche „Politik derHarmlosigkeit“ einzustehen.
(The extreme right-wing would not be able to function tactically or ideologically without the active engagement of girls and women: they are active participants in skinhead groups, Kameradschaften, right-wing extremist parties and terror groups. Often they play critical roles in coordination, communication, organization, logistics, finance, concealment, research and public relations and therefore take on tasks that are essential for the carrying out of of terrorist acts, murder, and assaults. In the past, since 1945, extreme right-wing women have been active as cadres, provocateurs, escape helpers and violent criminals and have been sent to prison. ALl of this runs counter to the the attempt to paint extreme right-wing women;s groups as politically harmless.)
German authorities botched the investigation into the NSU terror acts for over a decade. Hopefully they won't botch the trial of Beate Zschäpe.
Tune into Fox News any time day or night and you will find frequent comparisons of President Obama to Adolf Hitler. For just like Hitler, Obama wants to disarm the American people so that he can impose a Socialist/Fascist dictatorship. The "Gun Control = Holocaust" meme is so pervasive that it is even invoked by Republican members of Congress. The premise is that Hitler was able to consolidate his power through implementing a gun registry, and then murder six million Jews by confiscating their weapons. It is an article of faith among American gun fetishists that "the first thing Hitler did was round up all the guns."
The myth of Nazi gun control was exploded already in 2004 by Bernard E. Harcourt in his article On Gun Registration, the NRA, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Gun Laws: Exploding the Gun Culture Wars (pdf warning) published in the Journal of the University of Chicago Law School. It turns out, as Harcourt documents, that the Nazis relaxed many of the gun ownership restrictions that were put in place during the Weimar Republic (as required under the Versailles Treaty). And one could argue that the Nazi Party might not have successfully seized power if gun laws had been strictly enforced during the Weimar Republic, since Hitler had few problems procuring illegal weapons for his paramilitary troops such as the SA.
It is true that after the Novemberpogrom of 1938 the Nazi regime expressly forbade Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other "undesirables" from owning any weapons (Waffengesetz von 1938), but it is not clear at all that this had any significant effect on the persecution of Jews. And it is patently absurd to point to this as the cause of the Holocaust. The Jews that were detained and then deported after 1938 tended to be older and less-well off; most Jews with any resources left Germany much earlier. The deportation took place with the open or tacit approval and complicity of the vast majority of Germans; any act of armed resistance would have been completely futile. In any case, most of the Jews who perished in in the Nazi death camps were non-Germans and not subject to the Waffengesetz.
But don't expect any rational discussion of history to change the Gun Control = Holocaust hysteria. There is a segment of white males in America who fantasize about using their AR-15 military assault rifles to mow down Obama's gay Muslim storm-troopers who will be coming to a neighborhood near you to take your guns.