Posts tagged ‘history’

November 10, 2010

“Degenerate art” on display again in Berlin after 69 years

WE TYPICALLY ASSOCIATE BURIED treasure with desert islands and remote monasteries, but sometimes it’s lying right beneath your nose. That’s what Berlin workers discovered earlier this year when they came across a lost trove of so-called degenerate art that had been eliminated from the city’s collections during the Third Reich. “Degenerate art,” of course, was the Nazi term for any kind of modern non-representational or else all-too realistic painting or sculpture that did not fit into the regime’s conception of a heroic Aryan…

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October 29, 2010

Reenacting the Holocaust: A Polish town remembers

REP. JOHN BOEHNER IS out campaigning for Ohio Congressional candidate Rich Iott, and why shouldn’t he be? The upcoming national election may be tight, and if Boehner wants to become Speaker of the House he’s going to need all the Republican backing he can get. And yet, Iott may prove to be a tough sell, largely due to the consternation he caused when he admitted that he regularly plays the role of an SS officer in World War II reenactments, proudly posing for cameras in an SS uniform. While Iott claims a certain admiration for the Third Reich’s military prowess, he protests that he dons the uniform not out of any genocidal impulses but solely “to keep the public aware of what happened.” In a piece on Salon.com today, Joan Walsh writes: “What’s next: Re-enacting cross-burnings while denying fealty to the Ku Klux Klan, just because…

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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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June 14, 2010

Of Soccer World Cups and “inner Nuremberg Rallies”

I HAD NEVER HEARD of TV commentator Katrin Müller-Hohenstein before, but I know how her mind works. And doesn’t everyone else in Germany? As I made my way to the office this morning, I tried to think of how to explain why I didn’t bother watching the big Germany vs. Australia soccer game in South Africa yesterday (in the end, nobody did ask). I thought I’d say something like: “You know, I’ve never cared much for the Nuremberg Rallies. This Soccer World Cup, with all the flags on the cars and all the shouting and trumpets and fireworks, sounds too much like Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fußball for my taste.’” Germany won 4-0 by the way, or at last that’s what I heard on the BBC at breakfast.

The similarities are indeed more than obvious, but it doesn’t exactly do your career a lot of good to mention the fact. Ms. Müller-Hohenstein learned this the hard way yesterday when she made the following comment about a spectacular goal shot by German player Miro Klose: “For Miro Klose it’s an inner Nuremberg Rally [Reichsparteitag], honestly, that he shot this goal today.”

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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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February 19, 2010

Just a dumb blonde? A new look at Eva Braun

SHE IS THE WORLD’S most famous dumb blonde, the ultimate victim of personal stupidity. It was not just her hair color that made her reputation, but also her very name: Braun/Brown is one of the most ordinary in any European language, and reflected the brown of the Nazi Party uniform. And if there is anything everybody can agree on, it is that she got what was coming to her.

That’s the cliché that the “History” Channel and dozens of poorly researched biographies have served up to us for the past sixty-five years. But was there more to Eva Braun? German historian Heike Görtemacher, whose new biography of Hitler’s intellectually challenged mistress hits bookshops this month, certainly thinks so…

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February 17, 2010

Prague recalls 1945 “Ugly Wednesday” with a photo exhibit

IT WAS ONE OF the cruelest and stupidest of the many thousands of cruel and stupid mistakes that made the Second World War into the global massacre Americans still insist on calling “the Good War.” On February 14, 1945 sixty-two B-17 Flying Fortresses assigned to the US Army Air Force’s 398th Bomb Group got lost on their way to the firebombing of Dresden and erroneously released their payloads over the Nazi-occupied Czech capital, Prague. At precisely 12:35 p.m., 152 tons of high explosives rained down on the central city and two suburbs, destroying around a hundred houses and many historical monuments. Another two hundred buildings were heavily damaged. Ironically, the destroyed monuments included one of Prague’s main synagogues. The raid killed 701 civilians and injured 1,184. 11,000 people were left homeless. No military or industrial targets of any kind…

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January 10, 2010

Rosa Luxemburg “floater” released for burial after 90 years

IT’S TAKEN NINE DECADES, but the unclaimed female torso that was fished out of Berlin’s Landwehr Canal in the spring of 1919 has finally been released for burial. It had been kept on display in the pathology department of Charité Hospital as a classic example of a water corpse or “floater” until 2007, when Dr. Michael Tsokos, the department’s director, noticed it and determined that it probably belonged to the murdered German communist leader Rosa Luxemburg.

Tsokos announced his discovery to the press last spring and promptly issued a call for genetic material in order to confirm his suspicions (I have already written about this case here and here). But after over a year of study and nine months of media overkill, Tsokos has finally laid down his scalpel. “There are indications that it could have been Rosa Luxemburg,” the public prosecutor’s office told the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel on Monday, “but they have not been enough to provide conclusive proof.” DNA extracted from the hair of a living relative in Israel did not match that belonging to the cadaver – Tsokos himself stated last summer that the chances of a match stood at only forty percent anyway. Now the remains will finally be buried at an undisclosed location. Testing will continue on tissue samples, however, and a positive identification cannot be ruled out in the future. …

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December 28, 2009

Horror film of the decade: “The White Ribbon”

AS EVERY CONNOISSEUR OF horror films knows, the scariest monsters aren’t the ones you see but the ones you don’t. In his latest film, The White Ribbon: A German Children’s Story, winner of this year’s Palme d’Or in Cannes and Germany’s Oscar submission for 2010, director Michael Haneke presents his audience with the creepiest film of the decade without showing a single creepy monster. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that he does indeed show an entire village filled with creepy beings, leaving us to figure out which among them are even more monstrous than the rest.

It is the year 1913 in the fictitious northern German village of Eichwald – an innocuous enough name in itself (“Oakwood”) that nevertheless leaves a creepy taste in the viewer’s mouth due to its associations with Eichmann and Buchenwald. Everything should be just fine here, because these are, after all, Germany’s good old days. The First World War has yet to erupt (it will before the film is over), Wilhelm is still wearing the crown of the German Empire, and the Nazi Party is not even a sparkle in the eye of a young Munich painter called Adolf Hitler. And yet all is not well in this picture book quasi-feudal community. Three men reign supreme: the feckless baron (played by Ulrich Tukur) in his manor house, who owns all the means of production for miles around (assisted by his violent and lecherous administrator, played by Joseph Bierbichler), the tyrannical Lutheran pastor (Burghart Klaussner), and the incestuous and seemingly psychopathic village doctor (Rainer Bock). The regime they maintain is characterized by violence, misogyny, stupidity, systematic hypocrisy, and “God-given” authority. As the narrator (the empathetic village schoolteacher, played by Christian Friedel) says retrospectively at the start of the film, what happens in Eichwald “may cast light on other events in this country.”…

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