A maze and amazement go together, no?
Indeed, they do.
A very good thing happened: With the help of friends I could recover my long lost collection of pictures I made in Australia, China, Cambodia in 2006 and 2007. I had not seen these pictures for years and last week they suddenly started to pop up in my dropbox folder. Every single “pop” was like a homecoming, like the family getting together again.
I will post a selection of these pictures over the next month. I start with this one from the Mindil Beach Night Markets in Darwin, Australia. It is one of my favourites. It taught me how wonder- and colorful documentary photos can be.
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re cracking
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance
Why can’t we give love that one more chance
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
give love give love give love give love give love
‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the Night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Freddie Mercury, David Bowie
In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword.
Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers No. 1,
Name of U.S. Presidents during Cold War:
Leader Of The Free World
Name after Guantanamo, drone strikes and the spying scandal:
Leader Of The
After government shutdown:
Photo: Wikipedia; download a png of this post here.
Die Waffen für zwei Weltkriege geliefert, nie eine Wahl gehabt, unter die Erde und in die Gluthitze der Hochöfen gezwungen, beide Kriege verloren, Millionen von Menschen getötet. Und nie, nie, niemals durftest du darüber reden. Sonst kriegst du auf die Fresse. Ich sag’ mal so: Aufrechter Gang geht anders. Wer das Ruhrgebiet verstehen will, muß sich mit diesem sehr komplexen, vielschichtigen, zähen Gefühl auseinandersetzen: Scham. Und er muß damit rechnen, dass er dafür auf die Fresse kriegt.
“Ruhrgebiet inszenieren!” von Michael-Walter Erdmann, Lettre International
Wäre das Land vernünftig statt sentimental, würde es aufhören, sich etwas vorzumachen. Es würde sich als das begreifen und benennen, was es ist: eine Klassengesellschaft.
Katja Kullmann, “Im kalten Nebel”
Wir versuchen eine vernünftige Zeitung zu machen, aber weil die Welt absurd ist, wird das scheitern.
Pascal Pia, Herausgeber von Combat, der Zeitung der französischen Resistance
Hier lebt ein freier Mensch. Niemand schuldet ihm etwas.
Albert Camus & René Char, “La Postérité du soleil”, 1986
To grasp what is happening, we must set aside a number of deep-rooted prejudices. The first of these is the assumption that democracy presupposes secularisation. The second is the idea that a democrat is, by definition, also a liberal. Historically, this has not been the case. The American Founding Fathers were not secularists; for them, the separation of church and state was a way of protecting religion from government, not the reverse. The French Third Republic was established in 1871 by a predominantly conservative, Catholic, monarchist parliament that had just crushed the Paris Commune.
When the beards get longer, the hats weirder, the guns bigger, the domes more golden and the ailes more narrow, when the trams get too crowded, your roomies french, the politics more complicated, the stones whiter, the hill slopes smoother, the cabbies more rude and the sky clearer – then you know that you are in Jerusalem again. Hello!
This is Uwe Behrens. He is a homicide detective with the Berlin Police Department. I had invited him to watch with me “Tatort” – a hugely popular crime series that gets screened every Sunday in German public TV (IchWerdeEinBerliner has got a thorough explanation of this phenomenon.)
Behrens joined the police straight after his A-Levels in October 1987. He was trained and soon started to work in the “fraud”-department. “I did very exciting things such as handling delays in filing bankruptcy petition”, he says ironically. For him this work meant too less of the real police work: getting out, talking to people, interrogating them. “We came with a horde of tax accountants to collect files and binders.” He soon switched departments. Since 20 years he is working now in the homicide department – and there was this one case he could not forget.
He was still a greenhorn in February 1993 as a man walked into a car shop in Berlin, entered the office, drew a shotgun and killed Doris Kirche, an employee at the firm since 25 years. She was an ordinary women in the Mid-Fifties and did impeccable work. Behrens and his colleagues did not know why somebody would shoot her. They looked for evidence, crumbs of clues. They did not find a thing.
“At one point I almost did not care anymore who shot her, I only wanted to know why this women had to die”, he says. Her death made no sense. Five years later they follow a new lead and they can arrest the murderers. Doris Kirche had to die because she did not want to move out of her apartment. Her landlord wanted to charge more rent but he could only do that if she moves out. So, he had her killed. If an episode of Tatort would feature such a plot line people would debunk it as a utter nonsense. But, well, here it is. Sometimes reality is banal.
Uwe Behrens, however, is not a fan of Tatort. He loves the US-show Dexter. It is about a homicide detective who hunts down murderers at daytime and kills other people at night.
Es riecht nach Blut und Kaffee.
Wolfgang Herrndorf, “Tschick”
Know your true measurements and dress your mind accordingly.
This is John Dyke. He grew up in Melbourne, Australia and lives now as a singer in Berlin which is nothing special. Berlin is, thankfully, full of musicians. But Dyke is somewhat special because he does not live in Neukölln or Kreuzberg – he bought a house in the middle of the city and lives there now with wife, kids and a garden. And he sings about that life – in German.
It was 20 years ago when he first came here. He worked for the percussion company Sonor. And one day he walked into a bar and ordered a beer. “It was awesome to see that you order a beer in Germany and somebody only draws a line on your beermat to count the number of beers you had. The people trusted each other. Something like that would be unthinkable in England.”
John Dyke fell in love with the country. He stayed and is now something like a culture ambassador of it. The ‘Goethe-Institut’ is dedicated to promote German language and culture in the world and regularly books him for events from Usbekistan to New York.
Es gibt viele Büchsen der Pandora. Sie laufen rum, schreiben SMS und riechen dann auch noch so spannend.
Die Zeit ist eine Maschine, die Leben zermahlt, das habe ich beim Schreiben dieses Buchs gelernt, aber hin und wieder gibt es auch Menschen, die die Zeit zermahlen.
David van Reybrouck, “Kongo”
Muawiya personified ‘hilm’, the wisdom and patience of the Arab sheikh: “I apply not my sword when my lash suffices nor my lash when my tongue suffices. And even if but one hair is binding me to my fellow men, I don’t let it break. When they pull, I loosen, if they loosen I pull.
Simon Sebag Montefiore, “Jerusalem. The Biography”.
Pictures don’t just speak a thousand words, they also speak a thousand languages.
Can America face up to the terrible reality of slavery in the way that Germany has faced up to the Holocaust?
This is a very interesting read.For Germans, Americans, Israelis, Palestinians, Australians, Kurds, Turks. For everyone, actually. Because – without questioning the singularity of events – I cannot think of one nation who did not stomp over other peoples rights in its history. (If you can, let me know) Inflicting sorrow to their fellow humans is a common trait of all people. Take that into account, try to fully understand what it means that there is no “good nation”, no “light unto the nations”, no “God’s own country”, that in the end nations always do good *and* bad – it becomes a lesson of humbleness you can not forget nor ignore. That is why coming to the terms with the past is so important.
Photo: Scene from “Django Unchained”
On Jubilee Street there was a girl named Bee
She had a history but she had no past
When they shut her down the Russians moved in
Now I’m too scared to even walk on past
She used to say all those good people down on Jubilee Street
They ought to practise what they preach
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, “Jubilee Street”
Reisen – es macht dich zuerst sprachlos und verwandelt dich dann in einen Geschichten-Erzähler.
Kurz vor seiner Abreise lernte er den berühmten Georg Forster kennen, einen dünnen, hustenden Mann mit ungesunder Gesichtsfarbe. Er hatte mit Cook die Welt umrundet und mehr gesehen, als irgendein anderer Mensch aus Deutschland, jetzt war er eine Legende, sein Buch war weltbekannt, und er arbeitete als Bibliothekar in Mainz. Er erzählte von Drachen und lebenden Toten, von überaus höflichen Kannibalen und Tagen, an denen das Meer so klar war, das man meinte, über einen Abgrund zu schweben, von Stürmen, so heftig, dass man nicht zu beten wagte. Melancholie umgab ihn wie ein feiner Nebel. Er habe zu viel gesehen, sagte er. Eben davon handle das Gleichnis von Odysseus und den Sirenen. Es helfe nichts, sich an den Mast zu binden, auch als Davongekommener erhole man sich nicht von der Nähe des Fremden. Er finde kaum Schlaf mehr, die Erinnerungen seinen zu stark. Vor Kurzem habe er Nachricht bekommen, dass sein Kapitän, der große und dunkle Cook auf Hawaii gekocht und gegessen worden sei. Er rieb sich die Stirn und betrachtete die Schnallen seiner Schule. Gekocht und gegessen, wiederholte er.
Er wolle auch reisen, sagte Humboldt.
Foster nickte. Mancher wolle das. Und jeder bereue es später.
Weil man nie zurückkommen könne.
Daniel Kehlmann, “Die Vermessung der Welt”
Flirting in German is a bit like bulldozers making love
This is Gunter, he owns a German restaurant in Iraq, in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Ordering a beer in his restaurant was a small home-coming for me. Because the beer was brewed 10km away from where I grew up. The food Gunter cooked was the same my grandma always prepared for me.
Gunter comes from a small town in Thuriniga, in the middle of Germany. Him owning a restaurant in Iraq was not a propect he could have fathomed some 25 years earlier. It was the fall of 1989 when he went for “a walk” and demanded freedom of movement, when he demonstrated against the government of the German Democratic Republic. In a childish move of vengeance this government enlisted him for military service. A couple of weeks later the Wall came down and the East-German forces were reunited with their West-German counterparts. Gunter stayed in the army and did what he had learned. He cooked. In Bosnia, in Kosovo, in Kabul. It was in the Afghan capital that he opened his first restaurant in 2003. Times were good at that time in Afghanistan. Everybody was optimistic, Gunter recalls. With every bomb attack this optimism vanished further, making him closing his restaurant in the process. 30.000 Euros were lost. He started again in Iraq. Same story here: many Internationals, optimism, no competition. This time it worked. Gunter wants to open his next restaurant on the island of Sri Lanka.
When I was asking Gunter what he thinks of Germany, if he would go back, he replied: “What could I possibly want there?”
Man sagt, Kurden haben die schönsten Augen, weil ihr Sprache verboten ist und ihr Leben in ihren Augen zu lesen ist.
This is Hesam Misaghi, a 25-year old Iranian. Other Iranians are electing a new president today. He lives and soon studies in Berlin and has not seen home since three years. He is a dissident, he took part in the so called “Green Movement” which almost toppled the Iranian regime four years ago. But only almost.
But the oppression started for Hesam even earlier – because he is a Bahai, a member of a religious group that the Iranian government dsicriminates against. Once, he was five year old, did he visit his grandparents. This happened (in his words):
The door bell rang and when my grandparents opened they saw two bearded guys who began to search the apartment. After they found the library of my grandpa they confiscated his books. My uncle had deposited his whole collection of Tin-Tin-comics there. My favourite adventure was Tintins Journey to the Moon and I had to watch helplessly how these bearded guys took away the comics. They were not stupid, they knew exactly that Tintin is harmless. But they liked them and they had the power to take them away. I was really sad.
It started with comic books, in 2009 the police threatened to arrest him because he was a dissident blogger. They had already jailed seven of his friends. Hesam had to flee.
This is Thomas W., technician with the German army. Being part of a Nato-deployment, he was stationed in South Turkey for three months. Look at his shoulders, they tell alot about him – because they are empyty. Thomas W. wears his uniform badge on his breast.
He is a optimistic, funny guy from Hamburg trying to cope with the boredom of this deployment. In the back of the picture you can see the improvised workshop where he and his team tend to the cars and trucks of the German units.
You can read my full (German) report about this Nato-Operation here.
Exactly 80 years ago the Nazis burned books on public squares all over Germany. They burned writings by Erich Maria Remarque, Erich Kästner, Sigmund Freud, Kurt Tucholsky, Karl Marx – to name just a few. It was a portent, typical for every dictatorship: First they wanted to eliminate ideas than they grew bolder and wanted to kill all the people behind them.
It was in Sulaymania, Iraq, that I was reminded of the burning piles of books in Germany. A kurdish musician and his girifriend showed me this German PhD-thesis about the “Music of the Sumerians”. Saddam Hussein had banned the book during his rule. But the couple managed to get a copy from Beirut which they cherished alot even though both could not understand a word of it. The book was a token of their heritage and history.
Saddam Hussein had failed, the Nazis had failed. The empire of mind is stronger than the Third Reich ever was or any brutal regime ever will be.
War is primarily not about victory or defeat but about death and the infliction of death. It represents the total failure of the human spirit.
Robert Fisk “The Great War for Civilization”
A Little shoeshine boy never gets low down
But he’s got the dirtiest job in town
Bendin’ low at the peoples’ feet
On the windy corner of the dirty street
Well, I asked him while he shined my shoes
How’d he keep from gettin’ the blues
He grinned as he raised his little head
Popped a shoeshine rag and then he said
Get rhythm when you get the blues
“There must never again be and there will never again be a November 1918 in Germany,” was his first political resolution after a great many political ponderings and speculations. It was the first specific objective the young private politician set himself and incidentally the only one he truly accomplished. There was certainly no November 1918 in the Second World War—neither a timely termination of a lost war nor a revolution. Hitler prevented both.
Let us be clear about what this “never again a November 1918” implied. It implied quite a lot. First of all the determination to make impossible any future revolution in a situation analogous to November 1918. Secondly—since otherwise the first point would be left in the air—the determination to bring about once more a similar situation. And this implied, thirdly, the resumption of the war that was lost or believed to be lost. Fourthly, the war had to be resumed on the basis of a domestic constitution in which there were no potentially revolutionary forces. From here it was not far to the fifth point, the abolition of all Left-wing parties, and indeed why not, while one was about it, of all parties. Since, however, one could not abolish the people behind the Left-wing parties, the workers, they would have to be politically won over to nationalism, and this implied, sixth, that one had to offer them socialism, or at least a kind of socialism, in fact National Socialism. Seventh, their former faith, Marxism, had to be uprooted and that meant—eighth—the physical annihilation of the Marxist politicians and intellectuals who, fortunately, included quite a lot of Jews so that—ninth, and Hitler’s oldest wish—one could also, at the same time, exterminate all the Jews.
Sebastian Haffner, “The Meaning of Hitler”
I met Halmat at a dusty bus station in the kurdish city of Koia. When the Americans started Operation “Enduring Freedom” to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003, he helped to liberate the city of Kirkuk. Today he works as a bodyguard of the deputy prime minister Kosrat Rasul, a former general, the “kurdish Che Guevara”, a living legend among the guerilla fighters of Kurdistan. Halmat is a Peshmerga, one of these guerillas.
Halmat speaks Kurd, Arabic and Fars. I do not speak any of his languages. Halmat showed me his duty pass on which all his credentials were printed in impeccable English – traces of the US-invasion. That’s why I know all this.
Route nach Sulaymaniyah, Irak auf einer größeren Karte anzeigen
Me and Halmat shared a cab from Koia to Sulaymania in the farther east of the Kurdistan Region. After we arrived, Halmat wanted to help me find a hotel but did not understand where I wanted to go. So, he handed me without saying a word his mobile phone. A man answered in German: “Hello? What’s up?” I heard a till ringing in the background. The voice on the other end of the phone gave us directions to the hotel. It belonged to Halmats brother who owns a shop in the German city of Aachen. The brother said finally: “Dude, I gotta run. The shop is full of customers. You know what Saturdays are like in Germany.” Oh yes, I know them.
But now, I too know what Saturdays are like in Kurdistan.
Azuz just laughed when I stepped into the smoky lobby of a hostel in Amman, Jordan. He made a comment about some actor I supposingly looked similar to. I had to join his laughter. Azuz was that kind of guy you like right from the beginning without knowing why.
He jumped in two large steps to the reception area, handed me a piece of paper to fill in my details. I wrote in the line of nationality “German”, he saw that and talked away. “Hallo, wie gehts? Wo kommst du her?” Berlin, Munich, he talked alot. But no, he has never been to Germany before. He taught that himself. He then conversed with a guy from Peru in Spanish, made a comment to an Italian girl in Italian and answered his phone in Arabic. I expected him in a moment to tell a joke in Suaheli.
Instead he told his story: He came to Jordan seven months ago with 5 Dinar, equalling maybe 8 Dollars, in his pockets. He was a student from Daraa in Syria, the town where the uprising began with a couple of Graffitis on the wall. He joined the first demonstrations. It was awesome, he says, we were strong and we had no fear. But the situation worsened.
Arriving in Amman he asked the supermarkets to give him a job. They gave him one and finally he got the offer to work in an environmental project that does fish research. He happily agreed and works there ever since. He loves that job alot. He did not even bother to attend a job interview with the refugee organisation of the UN he had been invited to.
And that might be a small, good sign. Because at home, in Daraa, he was studying veterinary medicine. His old life continues – at least a little bit.
- NYT gives an overview of the refugee crisis in the countries bordering Syria. A UN worker is quoted: “This is the type of crisis that humanitarian agencies at some point cannot handle any more.”
These are Itamar and Muthana. Itamar is a jewish boy and Muthana son of bedouins. They are best friends and attend the same class in a school in Be’er Sheva. That is special because the school system in Israel is segregated (like the rest of society). Schools like this are rare.
I am profiling Itamars and Muthanas school for a German kids magazine right now. I realised something interesting while writing the piece. Explaining this conflict on a kids level is actually really simple: “Two people, one home” like in “Two kids, one toy”. Even a reasonable solution is quite obvious on this basic level: “Share the home, share the toy.”
But explaining to a young audience why nobody solved the conflict yet if causes and solution are that well understood would be a tough call. Not only for me but the most knowledgeable scholars around, I guess. Is it because of a lack of talking to each other? A lack of venues to meet and exchange? A lack of good will?
It is a question of “process” in the end, of the path that leads from recognizing causes to reaching a solution.
That means for any iniative that is supposed to break this deadlock: If you cannot explain to a kid how you would go about it, you cannot explain it all.
It is bound to fail then.
Ideen, die die Welt entvölkern.
Saul Bellow, “Herzog”
Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.