Archive for April, 2010

April 30, 2010

Notorious Bavarian school assassin gets nine years in prison

Would-be school assassin Georg R. at his sentencing in Ansbach today

IT WAS GOING TO be the crime of the century. 18-year-old Georg R. had studied previous school massacres, particularly Columbine and Germany’s Erfurt bloodbath of 2002, in detail. All he wondered was: “Why not wipe out the entire school?” His plan: burn his high school to the ground, “roast children,” and kill as many teachers – “these maggots,” as he called them – in the process. He himself would die in a glorious shower of police bullets and become a media legend, inspiring similar assaults in the future. If Georg ultimately failed in this project, it was not due to poor planning on his part but to the efficiency of the German police.

Georg planned his deed down to the smallest detail…

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April 27, 2010

“Shut up and govern!” The political education of Aygün Özkan

Aygül Özkan

TURKS ARE KNOWN THE world over for their spicy meat and vegetable dishes. But this week in Germany, a young politician of Turkish extraction called Aygül Özkan is learning to relish a new recipe: crow with sauerkraut and dumplings.

Özkan (38) rocketed to global prominence last week when Lower Saxony’s Christian Democratic minister president Christian Wulff nominated her to become Germany’s first female Muslim government minister (I already wrote about Özkan in this space yesterday). She was to take over the state’s department of social affairs, including the tricky integration desk, where it was hoped that this principled and enlightened lawyer and mother of one would represent a progressive role model to female Muslims in Germany. However, Özkan immediately brought conservative hellfire upon her head…

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April 26, 2010

When Muslims become too secular for comfort

A crucifix in a German classroom

THERE’S AN OLD SAYING that you should be careful what you wish for because you might actually get it. Germany’s ruling conservative Christian Democratic Party got what it thought it wanted in the form of a young, female, independently-minded, and above all Muslim minister of social affairs in the state of Lower Saxony. But now that their dream candidate is starting to talk about actual policy, some party members are starting to feel as if they’re getting a lot more than they bargained for.

38-year-old Aygül Özkan was born toTurkish parents in Hamburg. She studied law and worked for some large-scale telecommunications companies before joining the CDU and running for the Hamburg state parliament in 2008, where she soon assumed major functions for her party. On April 19 of this year…

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April 20, 2010

Europe in “the Days of the Cloud”

The German tabloid BILD transformed an infrared image of the Icelandic volcano into an impressive title page over the weekend

WHEN I WAS ABOUT twelve or thirteen, I stumbled across H.G. Wells’s 1906 novel In the Days of the Comet at my local library. If I had been expecting a mind-expanding science fiction story along the lines of The Time Machine or The War of the Worlds, I was soon disappointed. Comet contains sci-fi elements, but it is clearly one of Wells’s “social” novels in which he laid out his vision of how much better the world would be if it were run according to enlightened socialist principles: An approaching comet foils both a young man’s plans for murder and an impending war between Britain and Germany by enveloping our planet in a strange cloud of gas that serendipitously arouses humankind from its moral torpor and permits it to resolve its problems through reasonable discussion. It’s a nice enough sentiment, although it’s hardly Steven Spielberg material.

Wells’s utopian premise is never far from my thoughts as Europe begins emerging from the vast cloud of hazardous grit and glass particles spewing from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland…

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April 19, 2010

“My heart is pure”: Bishop Mixa confronts an abusive past

Bishop Walter Mixa

ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE ONCE wrote that the most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it begins to reform. While it’s unclear whether the Catholic Church’s sluggish response to the current child molestation scandal represents a reform process of any kind, there is no doubt that this badly-supervised organization is indeed entering a dangerous moment in its history. Take the case of German bishop Walter Mixa, who is himself facing child abuse charges of a different kind that may open the Church up to a tsunami of public embarrassment and costly lawsuits.

Walter Mixa, the Bishop of the Bavarian town of Augsburg and Germany’s high profile “military bishop” responsible for the pastoral care of the German armed forces, is the sort of clergyman the German press loves…

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April 16, 2010

Adventures in PC: Are East Germans an “ethnic group”?

The classic Ossi joke from November, 1989: 17 year-old Gaby visits the West and samples her first "banana"

THE NOTION OF “POLITICAL Correctness” has taken plenty of knocks over the past two decades or so. Alongside the traditional grounds for discrimination complaints, i.e. race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion, new terms seemed to pop up daily: old people were now victims of “ageism,” ugly people suffered from “lookism,” short people became “vertically challenged,” and the impotent became “horizontally challenged” (although I always suspected this last one was meant a joke). What would “they” come up with next? the critics asked. For example, could the mere accident of birth in a certain region of a country be considered grounds for job discrimination? A former East German woman certainly thought so and took her case to court…

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April 16, 2010

Happy 90th birthday, Richard von Weizsäcker!

Former German President Richard von Weizsäcker, born on April 15, 1920

“PITY THE LAND THAT needs heroes,” Bertolt Brecht once wrote. But today, on the ninetieth birthday of former West German president Richard von Weizsäcker, I think I’m entitled to say: “Envy the land that produces – and honors – great statesmen.”

Richard von Weizsäcker was born on the run in a side wing of the former Württemberg royal palace in Stuttgart. His mother and his diplomat father had been forced to flee Berlin with the rest of the Reich government just a few weeks earlier in the face of the failed right-wing Kapp Putsch against the struggling Weimar Republic…

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April 9, 2010

Alleged Auschwitz sign thief deported to Poland

TODAY, JUST IN TIME for Holocaust Remembrance Day this weekend, the man suspected of commissioning the theft of the “Arbeit macht frei” sign from the gate of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp last December has been transferred to Polish custody by the Swedish authorities. He faces theft charges in a Cracow courtroom.

At first glance, thirty-four year-old Anders Högström would appear to be an unlikely candidate for such a crime. While he had been an active member of the far-right Swedish Nationalsocialistik front until 1999, Högström soon abandoned Nazism and joined first the left-wing Social Democratic Party and, later, Sweden’s conservative Moderata samlingspartiet. Högström soon joined an anti-Nazi organization called “Exit”…

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April 7, 2010

Poland and Russia mark 70th anniversary of Katyn Massacre

Memorial in Katyn Forest

TODAY, RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER Vladimir Putin and Polish prime minister Donald Tusk are scheduled to take part in a joint ceremony marking the seventieth anniversary of an historical event. This sort of item would normally fall under the news desk, since government leaders are constantly marking historical events of one kind or another. But this ceremony is different, since it is taking place in Katyn Forest near the Russian town of Smolensk, where – among other places – up to 22,000 Polish officers and other members of the Polish elite met a gruesome death at the hands of Josef Stalin’s NKVD secret police.

Pursuant to a secret clause of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and following Germany’s attack on Poland on September 1, 1939, Soviet forces…

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