August 16, 2010

From pastor’s daughter to terrorist: Gudrun Ensslin at 70

YESTERDAY, AUGUST 15, MARKED the seventieth anniversary of the birth of German terrorist Gudrun Ensslin. Born to a Lutheran pastor and his wife in the Swabian village of Bartholomä during the Second World War, Ensslin absorbed her social conscience with her mother’s milk. She prayed to Jesus, hiked with her local Wandervogel group, spent a year as a high school exchange student in Pennsylvania, and sought to make the world a better place. While still a student she moved to West Berlin in 1965 to fight for nuclear disarmament. There she met revolutionary outlaw Andreas Baader. Soon the couple were torching department stores and planning bloody revolution. What ensued was a love affair made in hell that still haunts the Federal Republic to this day.

The so-called Baader-Meinhof Gang (the later Red Army Faction), born in a spectacular prison escape in 1970, was innacurately named. Despite journalist Ulrike Meinhof’s high profile, her depressive, masochistic personality was no match for Ensslin’s sheer terrorist drive…

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August 13, 2010

Gay foreign minister treads softly abroad

LAST OCTOBER, GERMAN POLITICIAN Guido Westerwelle grabbed world headlines when he was appointed as the world’s first openly gay foreign minister. In January, he nearly provoked a diplomatic incident by insisting on making a state visit to Japan with his long-time partner, German sport manager Michael Mronz, at his side. The confused Japanese protocol officers quietly decided to offered Mronz its standard “lady’s program” of official sightseeing and museum visits in the company of the Japanese prime minister’s wife. (I already wrote extensively about Westerwelle and Mronz in my essay “When the Minister’s Wife is a Man.”) The press got a good story out of the trip and it looked as if Westerwelle…

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August 11, 2010

Here we go again: Danish Mohammed caricature to be republished

THE MOHAMMED CARICATURE CONTROVERSY five years ago shook the world, although it’s hard to know which side of the world received more of a shaking: outraged Muslims across the globe who felt insulted by what they perceived as neo-imperialist European contempt for their religious values, or the so-called “West,” whose most outspoken pundits chose to depict the Muslim response to the provocation as a “clash of civilizations.” The crisis, which ensued from a series of cartoons sponsored by the conservative Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, led to an estimated 100 deaths around the world. It has been causing aftershocks ever since, most recently in the form of a spate of Holocaust-denying caricatures from the Muslim world and a physical assault on Swedish artist Lars Vilks (whom I’ve written about here) while he presented a provocative art lecture in Uppsala last spring…

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August 11, 2010

What, no trophy? Swedish playboy sets new Swiss speed record

YOU KNOW, IT’S TRUE: Sometimes, when the sign tells you to slow down, it really wants you to slow the eff down. This is the lesson a thirty-seven year-old Swede recently learned on a motor trip through Switzerland. His mistake? He confused this compact, respectable Alpine republic, which has a speed limit, with big, brassy Germany, which doesn’t. Maybe he missed the border sign – hardly surprising at the clip he was going. Whatever the reason,  last Friday Swiss highway police clocked the driver of a Mercedes SLS sportscar driving on an Autobahn between Bern and Lausanne at a speed of 290 km/h (180 mph) in a 120 km/h (75 mph) zone. As far as the police know, this is the highest speed ever recorded in the country. Not only did the driver ignore the signs…

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August 10, 2010

God weighs in on Love Parade tragedy

SO WHAT TOOK HIM so long? Finally, more than two weeks after the Love Parade disaster in Duisburg last month, God himself has added his two cents’ worth to the ongoing debate over responsibility. And according to the Almighty, the victims had it coming. 

The Lord didn’t make this statement personally, however. He just doesn’t work like that. Instead, He appointed his loyal and devout servant, His Grace, Andreas Laun, Auxiliary Bishop of Salzburg, to publish His thoughts for Him. Last Friday, Bishop Laun bestowed his own special kind of tough love on the victims of the Duisburg disaster via his regular online column. 

On July 24, the more than one million participants…

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August 3, 2010

Update on North Sea summer camp abuse case

ONE STENCH DRIVES OUT another, as prankster Till Eulenspiegel used to say, and if that was true in medieval Germany, it is even truer in the high tech, post-reunification Federal Republic. This summer the vicious news dribble of the Catholic sex abuse scandal soon gave way to the truly sadistic North Sea summer camp story. Since then, both have since been unseated by the horrific Love Parade disaster of Duisburg on July 24 (which I wrote about here). 

But faster and gaudier news images do not actually drive earlier evils out of the world, they merely push their heads under water until they are forced back up for air. This is the case with the North Sea summer camp nightmare in early July…

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July 30, 2010

Crime author Henning Mankell’s Israeli surprise

HENNING MANKELL IS NOT only Sweden’s most popular crime author, he is also a very stubborn man. On May 31, 2010, he was on board one of the ships taking part in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. When his ship was seized by Israeli forces in international waters and he, along with the other 600 or so participants, was spirited away to Israel, he was forced to leave all his belongings behind. (I already wrote about Mankell’s Gaza adventure here.)

Since returning to Sweden soon afterwards, he has kept up the pressure on the Israeli ambassador in Stockholm to return his property. Finally, on Thursday …

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July 30, 2010

Unbelievable: Actor Johannes Heesters still on stage at 106

WHO COULD HAVE BELIEVED it? Tonight, in the world-renowned Berliner Ensemble on the capital’s Schiffbauerdamm, musical star Jopi Heesters will tread the boards once again in a much-anticipated premiere. Heesters, who reached the truly biblical age of 106 last December (I wrote about it here), is by far the world’s oldest performing actor.  

The musical is entitled The Island Comedy, or Lysistrata and NATO. It is a modern and tongue-in-cheek retelling of the ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes. In the new version, the women on a Greek island go on a sex strike against their husbands and lovers until they prevent the Americans from buying land to build a new NATO base. Heesters will play the role of King. The play’s author is the celebrated German dramatist Rolf Hochhuth (79), who is best known…

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July 28, 2010

Ahmadinejad vs. Paul: Should the West take action?

IRANIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD regards himself as something of an authority on world affairs and twentieth century history. But who would have thought he was also an expert on sea life? 

So far, oceanography hasn’t exactly been Ahmadinejad’s calling card. He is best known for such fatuous (but frequently disputed) statements as: “Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury,” “There is no doubt that the new wave (of attacks) in Palestine will wipe off this stigma (Israel) from the face of the Islamic world, … The World without Zionism,” “we don’t accept this claim [of the holocaust],” or for glibly  claiming that…

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July 26, 2010

Find of prehistoric “tool” gets Swedish scientists aroused

WHAT A MONTH THIS has been for archeologists! First, a British team celebrated the discovery of a second vast Neolithic site just 900 meters from Stonehenge. Then, over the weekend, Swedish scientists announced the discovery of what may be one of the world’s very first “boners.” The twelve centimeter long and two centimeter thick phallus carved of antler was found at a Neolithic site near the banks of Sweden’s Göta Canal. Whatever the eventual scientific consequences of the find, one thing is for sure: It has pricked its finders’ imaginations like nothing else they have turned up in recent years.  

As archaeologist Sara Gummesson described the 6,000 year-old discovery on the expedition’s blog, “First I thought it was just a carved horn…

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