Don’t Make Germans Like They Used To

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Perhaps it is untoward to quote oneself, but in this case my tweet of a few days ago has to be revised and extended in light of further information.

Aldi
In particular, I put there “after complaints,” but in that I was just being faithful to the original article out of De Volkskrant, a Dutch newspaper.

Aldi received at the beginning of last week the first complaints. One customer asked them not to use anymore the mosque, a religious symbol, on the label. Then a discussion arose on the Internet, after which Aldi pulled the soap from the shelves.

Now another version of events has arisen, this time from an actual German source:

AldiSeife
According to this, it wasn’t “complaints”; it was one complaint about that mosque on the soap-label, from one guy on Facebook. This is backed up by this report from the local newspaper from the area where this Aldi store is located (North Rhine-Westphalia).

Shitstorm

The customer argued that the mosque and minaret of the Muslims were to be observed with respect and dignity. “And it is precisely for this reason that I do not find it suitable that one should put this illustration, so full of meaning, on just any consumer product.”

That was all that it took: off of the shelves those bottles of liquid soap flew! But in that last tweet you’ll perhaps have notice a recent addition to German public vocabulary: “shitstorm.” That is what ensued: Aldi promptly came under fire for its action (although I’m unaware that that has caused them to reverse it and start selling the soap with those labels again).

But that was last week – the first full week after the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. This week saw something similar, in fact even more alarming. The usual Monday-evening march of the new, anti-immigrant PEGIDA movement in Dresden was canceled by the authorities – and of course the counter-demonstrations that had been planned for that evening as well – because of a threat that had been received against Lutz Bachman, one of the movement’s leaders until, just two days ago, he resigned after pictures of him posing as Adolph Hitler became public. (more…)

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Conduct Unbecoming a Guest

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

The current sojourn by German President Joachim Gauck in Turkey has turned out to be far from your garden-variety Head-of-State visit (quite apart from the strange paranoia against mobile telephones exhibited by security services there that I tweeted about earlier). These sorts of occasions tend to be scheduled quite far in advance, but in this case you wonder just how far ahead – before the Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan started to see videos pop up on YouTube implicating him and those around him in corruption, before he started to get all sorts of nasty back-talk on Twitter, for example? Before he went so far as to ban – or to try to ban – both YouTube and Twitter in Turkey, for example?

Yes, before all those developments, you’d have to think. But the show must go on, and Gauck is a trooper for Germany. Let me hasten to add: not THAT kind of trooper for Germany, not at all, really rather a trooper for Truth and Justice. I am serious, he was a civil rights activitist in the former East Germany, which is one of the most unpleasant, pain-inducing job-descriptions you can come up with. But this also means that, although Gauck easily agreed to fulfill his previously-scheduled duty to visit Turkey, he did not intend to shut up about what he found there.

And so we have this:

Gauck in Turkey
“Erdogan rejects Gauck’s criticism.” Mind you, this is while Gauck is still in Turkey.
And the situation is rendered even more awkward by the fact that Prime Minister Erdogan is just one of a pair of Gauck’s official hosts for his visit, the other one of course being Turkish President Abdullah Gül, once almost as politically close to Erdogan as a brother, but now clearly worried about the anti-democratic direction his prime minister is taking the country. (And in addition, completely dismissive of Erdogan’s attempted Twitter-ban – an attitude he communicated via a tweet from his presidential account.) (more…)

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Driving A Stake Through the DDR

Friday, May 24th, 2013

You would think such a question would be particularly easy for the Germans. They should even be the world’s experts in this sort of thing.

SED-Regime: Warum wir die Symbole der DDR verbieten sollten http://t.co/riAVcFhIGv

@welt

DIE WELT


State_arms_of_German_Democratic_Republic.svgWhat do you do with the legacy of a monstrous political regime? Particularly when you represent the successor regime, which in reaction rather understandably becomes hesitant to tell people what to think? Inevitably, there are going to be some partisan holdovers, even some misguided fans from new generations that never had to live with it. (See Russia: Papa Stalin.)

Do you refrain from banning the former dictatorial party and its symbols, confident that the voting public at large will have too much sense to ever let it get close to power again? That has been the Czech Republic’s approach to its Communist Party, which after the Velvet Revolution was allowed to survive and simply renamed (rebranded?) itself the Communist Party of the Czech Lands and Moravia (KSČM – that link is to their English page). This decision has not quite redounded in an unfortunate way on the Czech political scene – by which I mean, the Communists have never been back in government – but occasionally they have come close, even though all major political parties claim that they will never work with them. (I actually treated this question of the KSČM on this site back in 2003, in a somewhat over-long post.)

Or do you say “Yes, we believe in free speech, but sometime there have to be exceptions and this is one of them”? In particular, this is what Germany – or the Germanies, both of them – did with the Nazi Party once they were allowed to regain some measure of sovereignty after World War II: no swastikas allowed, no Mein Kampf, no organization calling itself National Socialist, all under threat of real legal sanction.

Now the question has arisen with respect to the DDR, that is, the Communist and Soviet-dominated “German Democratic Republic” that was the ruling regime of East Germany from 1949 until almost a year after the Wall fell – until Reunification on 3 October, 1990. That’s what this tweet, and the Die Welt article it links to, by Richard Herzinger, is about, namely a growing consensus (at least among Germany’s ruling coalition parties, the CDU/CSU and FDP) to try to get a law passed that would similarly forbid the display of DDR symbols. (more…)

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Pick Up the Pieces

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Are you looking for employment? Do you like to do jigsaw puzzles? No, I mean do you REALLY like to do jigsaw puzzles, like REALLY, REALLY? For instance, do you have just incredible patience, to keep trying to plow ahead even as the task seems gigantic? Oh, and perhaps a sense of pleasure in setting injustice right could help here, too.

Finally, can you read German? Then maybe Germany’s federal government has a job for you! Die Zeit now has a piece about it, called Those who glue together the Stasi files. The former East German State Secret Police (formally the “Ministry for State Security”) got really busy with their shredding-machines in October and November of 1989 as it became increasingly obvious that the regime was tottering and probably about to fall. They had a just incredible amount of incriminating documentation to worry about, miles & miles of files & files (the vast majority in traditional paper). After all, the former East Germany might have set some sort of record for percent of the population informing for the government – spouse spying on spouse was hardly unheard-of – and the Stasi were interested in almost everything.

Unfortunately, those shredders were given the time and lack of interruption to do a pretty good job, resulting in 16,000 sacks of . . . confetti, basically, the shredding machines’ output, each sack containing 50,000 to 80,000 little bits of document.

Nevertheless, the re-unified German government wants to recover as many of those as it can, and has already had people at work since 1995 trying to piece them together. Soon – thank Heavens! – they will be assisted by computer software developed by Germany’s renowned Fraunhofer Research Institute, designed first to scan all the little pieces electronically and then to use automatic algorithms to fit them together.

Until then – and, surely, afterwards as well – there will be a continuing need for human application. This Die Zeit piece is really not any sort of article but a brief photo-series. Yes, the first few are of some unexciting paper-shreds, but then there follow a couple shots showing the puzzle-workers on the job, contemplating the pieces before them, with yet more available in a seemingly-endless procession of sacks. They look stoic; what could be going through their heads? Anything more interesting than a yearning for that next cigarette/chocolate break?

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My Mayor, My Informant

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

On Sunday 3 October the run-off election is scheduled for Mayor (Oberbürgermeister) of Potsdam, that city of around 150,000 inhabitants just to the southwest of Berlin which was Frederick the Great’s capital and garrison-town and now is the capital of the state of Brandenburg. There’s a run-off because in the regular election, last Sunday, no one candidate got a majority of the votes, so the competition has now been narrowed down to the top two. Lying as it does within the former East Germany, Potsdam is not surprisingly a rather left-wing place, so it’s no surprise that those two candidates represent Germany’s main leftist party, the Social Democrats (SPD), in the person of incumbent Oberbürgermeister Jann Jacobs, and the formation even more to the left, namely The Left (Die Linke), represented by one Hans-Jürgen Scharfenberg.

Jacobs has been Potsdam’s mayor for a while now, since March of 1999, and he did come out on top of that initial vote with 41%. But Scharfenberg was not all that far behind at 33%, and the guy does have many useful qualities, such as being a shrewd judge of people’s character, and able both to keep a secret and submit thorough, informative reports. How do I know this? Because Hans-Jürgen Scharfenberg is also unique as the first significant German political candidate known to have been an informer back in the day for the East German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, better known as the Stasi. (more…)

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Child-Abusers of Another Stripe

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

The tales of mistreated youth at these institutions are continuing to multiply. There was sexual abuse coming from those who were supposed to care for them, to be sure. But far more pervasive was the intimidating atmosphere, often accompanied by violence: heads shoved down toilets; beatings; even confinement for extended periods in cells, like common criminals.

I’m not making any of this up, as I will shortly document, at least for those of you who read German. Yet long-time readers of this weblog – Hi Mom! – will remember my fondness for the “false lead,” where impressions about what a given blogpost is about gained from its opening lines turn out to be wildly off-the-mark. Surely I am describing here the Roman Catholic institutions, run by paedophile priests, whose reputations are now being blackened by accusations leveled against their administrators by former inhabitants? Actually, no; taking as my cue a new article by Alan Posener in Die Welt (Brutal daily life in DDR youth institutions), I am referring to the establishments for problem youths set up and run by the former Communist East Germany. (more…)

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“Stasi Reloaded”

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

Ever heard of the term “ostalgia”? More accurately, it’s spelled ostalgie because it’s a German word, basically meaning “nostalgia for the Ost,” that is, for the old East Germany. Citizens of that erstwhile DDR (German Democratic Republic) had sky-high hopes for their lives once the Wall was torn down and the DDR was folded into what was West Germany; inevitably, those hopes were to a lesser or greater extent disappointed, leading some to pine back for the “good old days” of German socialism in the Eastern third of the country.

You surely didn’t much notice if you are not yourself German, but two weeks back from last Sunday (on 27 January) local elections were held in the (West) German states of Hesse and Lower Saxony. In the latter state, whose capital is Hannover, it is fair to say that “ostalgie” won a seat in the state parliament – and how! The Süddeutsche Zeitung reports on the rise of one Christel Wegner, a trained nurse of some sixty years of age, but also a founding member of the German Communist Party (DKP – Deutsche Kommunistische Partei). Now, it’s not as if she owes her new seat in the Lower Saxon parliament to being directly elected to the position – it doesn’t work that way in the German political system. Rather, the different parties make up their own lists of candidates, and how far down the list you go in giving the candidates seats in the new parliament is a function of how many votes that party receives in the election. Although formally of the DKP, Wegner was nonetheless taken up on the electoral list of the party that calls itself The Left (Die Linke), that did rather better than usual in the 27 January elections. And so Christel Wegner is going to Hannover.

What’s the problem? you may ask. (more…)

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RIAS and the Revolt of 17 June 1953

Wednesday, June 18th, 2003

Going through the Dutch press today, I ran across an article that sheds further light on the workers’ revolt in the DDR (East Germany) in June, 1953 – in the daily Trouw, formerly a religiously-affiliated journal, now simply a respected, mainstream Dutch newspaper. It is entitled Duitsland/De revolutie waarover niemand sprak – “Germany/The Revolution that No One Talked About.” (more…)

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The Meaning of 17 June in Germany

Tuesday, June 17th, 2003

Enough – enough already! – of the Czech Republic and its EU accession referendum. They voted “Yes” – “massively,” some would say, at 77,33% – so congratulations to them. Now it’s time to move on, beyond the Czech future to . . . the German past because, after all, it’s the 17th of June. (more…)

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