a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

German blogger series: Barack in Berlin

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th July 2008

It’s time for another installment of everyone’s favorite transatlantic blogosphere extravaganza — the “” German blogger series, now in our handsome, spacious new web site! This week’s episode — the first in over two years, I regret to say — takes us, of course, to Barack in Berlin. Play the video of the speech, if you like, as you read the reactions. It’s an utterly unscientific sample, of course, but some of the bloggers cited have fairly large readership in Germany.

The various reactions I found are below the fold; the upshot is… well, who knows. Maybe the obvious will do: clearly, it was the political event of the summer in Germany; clearly, there’s quite a lot of good will for Obama and what people hope he stands for in this country. There’s also some wariness and some hostility to the hype, just like here. Make of it what you will, but I think both the crowd and many of the reactions I found bear out that there’s a world out there that would like to be better friends again. That seems like good news, and a deserved plus for Obama.

Speech transcript here. Reactions follow.

Read the rest of this entry »

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German blogger series: the Mohammed cartoons

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th February 2006

Many German bloggers appear more uncertain, angered or rattled about the cartoon controversy than they have seemed about other topics like the Iraq war or Abu Ghraib. There’s a fair amount of “don’t push us around” attitude even among the usually leftish, moderate sections of the German blogosphere. An unscientific opinion sample:

Jochen Bittner writes for the German weekly Die Zeit, and maintains the blog “Beruf Terrorist [Profession Terrorist] The Enemy of all the World” — Bittner is a knowledgeable reporter on the subject, and the blog name belies what is usually a calm, wry, analytical attitude. Nevertheless, in this case Bittner actually considers the cartoon a “justified provocation,” and is, I think, uncharacteristically dismissive of all Islam itself:

If proof was needed that the Mohammed cartoons in the Danish newspaper ‘Jyllands-Posten’ were a justified provocation, then it’s the reactions of broad parts of the Muslim world. […]

And [someone who reacts to cartoons with bomb threats] should — instead of accusing others of intolerance — start to ask oneself if a religion that can’t be laughed about might itself be responsible for a medieval attitude.

Schockwellenreiter, a very popular computers/Internet blogger with leftish/libertarian sensibilities, also dismisses anything but pure free speech concerns:

I actually never agree with Henryk M. Broder, but in the case of the monkey dance around the Mohammed cartoon controversy he’s simply correct: the case is Exhibit A for how a democratic public pulls in its tail before a totalitarian, religiously dressed up sensibility. And presumably only, because they’re afraid about their business with Petrodollars… [Spiegel Online]

Even if the cartoons (I’ve never seen them) presumably weren’t exactly a high point in satirical art, the basic right to freedom of opinion is being sacrificed on the altar of religious insanity. I therefore declare the Mohammed-Karikaturen [Mohammed cartoons] to be the “Google of the Day.”


Sven Scholz, on the other hand, sees needless provocations on both sides. He recommends a Frankfurter Allgemeine article by Nils Minkmar, provides an extensive link list of other blogger reactions, and writes

And it would be nice, if the press here and the mobs there would not let themselves be provoked, manipulated, or instrumentalized by anybody who comes along. Bigotry combined with banalities, regardless in which direction, and with obvious motivations, is really annoying. Tremendously.

Kuechenkabinett‘s (“Kitchen Cabinet”) Stefan (who provides another huge links roundup) writes:

The clash of cultures is warned against, but these days it seems to be an almost unavoidable Self-fulfilling Prophecy. Polemics reign, and moderating voices succumb often enough to the crude demands of Hardliners on both sides.*

The Bembelkandidat writes:

a quarrel about cartoons and freedom of the press became a projection screen for fundamentalist prejudices and aggressions, no holds barred thrashings for everyone, all against all.

In the end it won’t be good sense that wins out, but escalation, which in the West will be driven by the stigmatization of Muslims as seemingly hotblooded fundamentalists and carriers of the Islamic threat. Anti-Western sentiments irresponsibly fanned in the Muslim world help confirm the image of the reckless West.

Ulrich Speck (“Kosmoblog”), another Die Zeit pro-blogger, is more relaxed about it all:

But only a barely measurable, vanishingly small minority of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world have participated in the unrest. This small degree of mobilization, even in countries whose governments are seeking to heat up the situation — such as Iran — can be seen as a clear rejection of a clash of cultures.

On the other hand, hardly any of the commenters for this post agreed with him, “Wachtmeister” for instance: “Even if I don’t like it myself: the Clash of Civilizations is reality. Instead of denying it one should start dealing with it.”

Don Dahlmann:

My feeling is that the cause for the reactions here and there, besides the political motivated ones, is fear. Here the diffuse fear of economic calamities, an unknown religion and behaviors that one isn’t familiar with and can’t avoid, there the fear about one’s own identity and the loss of sovereignty to a superior military presence nearby.

Telegehirn (“Telebrain”), on the other hand, more or less says “bring it on,” and wants to start a “DU BIST DIE MEINUNGSFREIHEIT!” (“You are freedom of opinion”) campaign echoing the somewhat notorious “Du bist Deutschland” campaign. He writes:

Our times are not always perfect. No one denies that. Maybe the Islamists stand before Your newspaper building or the embassy of Your country is set on fire by fanatics. But we have kicked out the fires of total tyranny once before. Europe has enough free people who raise their voices against religious totalitarianism. You just have to open Your mouth.*

We have enough voices to drown out the chorus of fanatics. We are 425 million. You are the voice. Let’s use it. You are Europe.


Politically Incorrect (“Achtung! Pro-US blog!”) is a new one to me, but has apparently seen its readership climb to the top of the German charts lately. It seems to be a kind of LGF-lite, but they’re working on it. Showing a photo of a victim of an Abu Sayyaf attack in Philippines side by side with one of the Danish cartoons, it asks:

Only one of these two pictures provoked Muslims to hysteria, fiery demonstrations, boycotts and death threats against the perpetrators. Do you know Islam well enough to figure out which picture that was?

Hinterding prefers a kind of scientific approach:

hello. this is a survey for Muslims who believe it is sinful to attempt to draw the Prophet Muhammad. in your opinion, at what point do these images start to become sinful?

Seems a fair question.

Of course many German blogs have reacted sparingly, if at all. Jens Scholz observes that “burning down embassies is a form of expression too, if you look at it that way.” Andreas Schaefer simply links to a cartoon showing Muslims running out of stuff to burn and opting for Legos. Praschl et al at le sofa blog seem not to have mentioned the topic at all. — a kind of MediaMatters focused on the single German tabloid Bild, and the most visited German blog — has apparently found nothing in that paper worth mentioning about the cartoon story.

Still, on the whole, the shoe seems to be on the other foot here compared to two and four years ago: it seems easier to run across German bloggers who see their own rights endangered, if not their safety, in a way that was not as salient to them in the past. The riots in France last year may also have contributed to some of the palpably greater unease, “Schnauze” (lip), and belligerence on display.

Whether sadly, deservedly, tragically, or some combination thereof, it’s my (again, quite unscientific) impression that the picture of an undifferentiated and dangerous “Muslim enemy” is developing in Germany, just as it has in the U.S. in many quarters.

If so, that country’s allegiance to the rule of law and equal protection under the law of its own Muslim minorities may soon be tested. So far, German courts have seemed to be equal to the task of facing down pressures to cut corners in the “clash of cultures”; the question is whether that will continue when that pressure comes from Berlin, not Washington, DC. As the question suggests, it’s not like our country has shown the way of late.

* TRANSLATION NOTES: “Medieval”: voraufklaererisch, lit. pre-Enlightenment. The Kuechenkabinett writer used and capitalized the English phrases “Self fulfilling Prophecy” and “Hardliners.” Telegehirn’s “Your”s are capitalized to follow his/her use of the capitalized “Deine” in mid-sentence, signaling a slightly archaic, if not to say Voelkisch kind of polemic. Finally, I’ve taken the liberty of translating some sentences to a more active voice from the passive voice used by the German writer.
NOTE: German blogger series tag link.
EDIT, 2/12: “that pressure comes” for “the pressure not to is”.

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German blogger series: EU Constitution referendum defeats

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th June 2005

As is well known, French and Dutch voters voted “no” against the proposed European constitution over the last week. I thought I’d scan German blogs for reactions to this development. All quotes are translations, unless otherwise indicated.

Kai Pahl (“dogfood”) — Pahl characterizes the French result as “basically a protest vote against Chirac,” and a protest vote against the rise of so-called “locust” or “Anglo-Saxon” capitalism in the EU. Pahl also sees the Iraq war as further aggravating this kind of protest voter, because it revealed “the divide between the ‘old Europe’ and the ‘transatlanticists'”:

The former want to position Europe as an independent power, the latter understand Europe as an economic alliance and seek partnership with the US in other areas. The Iraq war has made plain that there has been massive change in the center of gravity towards transatlanticism because of the addition of east European countries.

Turkey’s application for admission played an important secondary role, Pahl thinks:

I don’t think that the Turkey question was decisive, but was rather a further indication for many that the EU is heading in the wrong direction.

Pahl adds:

I probably would have voted against the referendum too. Purely as protest. I don’t like the way the politicians associated with the EU constitution expected that the thing would just be passed by acclamation [abgenickt].

Joerg Kantel (“Schockwellenreiter”) — Adopts a “Junge Welt” headline as his own: “Non c’est non: Europe says thank you, France!” Kantel’s quickie post lifts the theme of a second analysis (Bernard Schmid in telepolis), presumably to signal Kantel’s take on the event:

The rejection of the EU constitution points to a growing social polarization; the choice is between an economically liberal or a social Europe.

In the German usage, “liberal” has a different meaning, at least lately, from the “FDR/social safety net/civil rights” meaings it’s associated with in the U.S. It’s beome the word used to mean +/- free-market, “creative destruction,” sink or swim style economics.

Heiko Hebig — writing in English, Hebig comments:

A European Constitution should have less than 1000 words, less than 100 articles and should be easy to learn and understand by school children. […]

A European Constitution should establish a legal foundation for common principles and values. It should not establish red tape.

UPDATE, 6/7: In a second post, Hebig criticizes Schroeder and Chirac for trying to keep the ratification process alive, and writes, “I should start referring to the Draft EU Constitution as the “Terri Schiavo Constitution”.

Andreas Schaefer (“dekaf”) — Schaefer (profiled here in 2003) sounded disappointed, asking:

How many of the potential voters have any idea what’s at stake with the EU constitution constitution, or have even read it? And how many of the blowhards [Dummschwaetzern] in radio, television, and the weblogs, who think they have to comment about it?

His headline: “Why democracy doesn’t work.”

chief pedro (“Der Denkpass”) — this blogger regrets the French and Dutch votes, and thinks the “no” vote was driven not just by concerns about the constitution, but by concerns about the concept of a unified Europe itself –an issue pedro considers settled and out of bounds. Nevertheless, he (or she) acknowledges concerns about the proposed constitution:

It shouldn’t be surprising that this constitution isn’t able to generate much enthusiasm among the voters. A constitution that is supported by its citizens, must above all be understandable by these citizens. One of the fundamental prerequisites for that is a clear, terse statement, something which unfortunately eluded the European constitutional proposal. The American constitution may be a source of American patriotism for that reason, because every American can read and understand it without needing to take several weeks of vacation or needing a panel of experts to explain the most important concepts of international law.

Tobias Schwarz (“a fistful of euros”) — Schwarz, writing in English, puts his hopes in German foreign minister Joschka Fischer’s ‘glass half full’ spin on the defeat in France. Fischer, speaking in Berlin :

The real positive and new experience in the French campaign was that it was a European campaign…. The French (referendum) campaign was the first time that I was really campaigning for Europe.

And such a model (of campaigning for Europe) can work. This would mean that the next time the European Parliament is up for election, we have to raise issues not on a national level, but we have to form Europe-wide platforms created by European-wide parties. And we have to run with candidates representing not national programs, but European programs. I am not talking about a pie-in-the-sky European program with nice ideas that nobody is really interested in. But they have to have a substance. What about social justice in the European Union? What about the free market? What does it mean in France, in Germany, in Poland, in Lithuania, in Slovenia, in Portugal? And then (we have to) present candidates for the job for the president of the Commission and they must run for that position. Without that, I don’t believe we can really bridge the gap between the project of the elites and the reality of the people.

The dog that didn’t bark
Mainly, though, I found no comment at all about either election at most of the German blogs I checked. You can see a partial list under “german blogs” in the sidebar. It’s possible that something’s been added at the ones I looked at since then, of course.

Blogging is a personal thing done in one’s spare time, so I shouldn’t make too much of the lack of comment by any one particular German blogger. Also, the German blogs I frequent are more “mixed purpose” sites than mine, longer on personal reflections and experiences, and shorter on reactions to news of the day.

Still, it seems fair to say there was little deep anguish about the events in France and Holland or the fate of the European Union in this particular online scribbling class. Instead, I’d describe a strong minority of reactions as quiet satisfaction at the “non” and “nee” votes, with reluctant nods of agreement from those supporting the European Union and its proposed constitution. Even among supporters, there seems to be increased skepticism about a constitution, or at least this constitution, for the European Union. Overall, there’s a “wait and see” approach that doesn’t signal deep support for the kind of far-flung “United States of Europe” the constitution seemed to envision.

If my little sample were taken to be representative of German bloggers, their opinions seem to run somewhat counter to German public opinion — but with public opinion catching up. An ‘Infratest Dimap’ opinion poll in early May found that 59% of Germans would have voted for the European Constitution, given the chance — a chance which another poll found 77% of Germans wished they’d been afforded (Deutsche Welle). Instead, the constitution was ratified by the German Bundestag and Bundesrat. Following the French and Dutch votes, a June 4 Ipsos poll found that the margin of support had narrowed to 44% for, 39% against (SPIEGEL).

OTHER “German blogger series” posts: 2002: “German bloggers: an occasional series”; “Gedanken zum Thema Pirna” (East German anti-minority immigrant incident); 2003: “Reactions to Rumsfeld ‘Old Europe’ phrase”; Expatriates: Schaefer, siebenviertel, Klein, Hanson, Praschl; 2004: “Reactions to Abu Ghraib”; 2005:”Discussing German poverty at le sofa blog.”
UPDATE, 6/7: “Allerschaerfstes Willkommen,” Heiko Hebig and Schockwellenreiter readers! Please feel free to leave a comment!
EDITS, 6/7: “pregnant” to “terse” as per chief pedro’s comment. In the same quote, “Darstellung” was edited to “statement” (“exegesis” might have worked, too), and “cause” to “be a source of … for that reason” (deswegen). I will have a word with my editor for leaving translations in such sloppy condition.

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Discussing German poverty at "le sofa blog"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 31st January 2005

Peter Praschl of the German “le sofa blog” recently excoriated an article in the weekly German glossy periodical “Stern” titled “The true misery,” by Walter Wüllenweber. Run under the rubric “underclass,” the article zeroes in on one of the poorest neighborhoods in Germany: the Meerkamp quarter of Essen, a city in the rustbelt Ruhrgebiet of northwest Germany.*

The photographs give you some of the flavor of the story. A toddler sits two feet away from a huge TV screen; tattooed arms sort through a plate of junk food; a tidy, but soulless housing project dwarfs a children’s slide; a single, pregnant 35 year old smoking a cigarette stares tiredly at the camera. Wüllenweber opens with a provocative profile of German poverty:

The lowrise housing projects from the 60s are well tended. No trash, no graffiti, slides and swings stand in the autumn leaves on the large grassy areas. A battalion of dishes points to satellites. Salon-tanned girls click-clack down the sidewalks. Bluish light shines from behind the curtains. Fat guys heave themselves out of wide-tired BMWs, Audi TTs and lowrider Golfs. The housemaster sweeps up a couple of cigarette butts. “Poverty?” His laughter dies in smoky coughing fit. “I know everyone in Meerkamp. But poverty, no, not here.”

A family of four living on welfare gets about 1550 Euro a month, including rent and all services, it’s about 1840 Euro for five persons. That’s more than untrained people can earn after taxes. In Meerkamp [and other poor German neighborhoods], in the typical German underclass quarters the poor live in roomy housing with built-in kitchen, microwave, washing machine, dishwasher, cell phone, usually several TVs and VCRs. These are the findings of the German census bureau [Statistischen Bundesamtes]. Today’s underclass does not suffer want like it’s described in novels of the 19th century. But it still lives in misery.

The misery isn’t poverty of the wallet, it’s poverty of the spirit.

Praschl’s angry reaction:

Cut chocolates, cut candy, cut cigarettes, cut money wasting cellphones, cut tattoos, cut junk food, cut trash service, cut large lawns, cut slides and swings,… [18 lines later] … some arcades are OK, TV, DVD, PC, Playstation, just take everything.

The poor still have too much stuff.

Let it be said straight off that this isn’t to be some kind of “ha! they have problems, too” post. Rather, I think that the terms of the discussion the article provoked are interesting. The idea of a German underclass is one that shouldn’t surprise me by now, but it still does — as did the resulting wide-ranging discussion that the Praschl’s post and the article touched off. The first comment:

I don’t understand the “cut everything” summary here. The article doesn’t imply taking stuff away from the poor, but rather that the generation-spanning, all-encompassing lethargy it describes follows from insufficient education — and not from the economic status quo. Is it bad if STERN points out that parents are not doing right by their children if they don’t provide some way out of the cable/Xbox/cheap bar ghetto? “Invest in people’s heads, not their stomachs.” – that’s surely a supportable demand that isn’t bound to some model of social class. No?

It shouldn’t necessarily be an either/or choice, I think. Responding, Praschl (I think correctly) identified an off-putting tone to the article, a kind of wildlife documentary approach that dehumanized its subjects while purporting to care about them:

…it’s unseemly to do this. It’s unseemly to walk through a poor neighborhood, to size up the poor and write that they’re not poor because they have this or that and something else besides. It’s unseemly even if one just does it for two-thirds of the article, and then sticks on another third that there really is poverty, poverty of the spirit, poverty of education, etc. […]

It is, and this is the saddest part, the usual gaze, the gaze that one grants the lower classes, this mixture of shuddering and finger-wagging. … It’s no gaze that loves the people it claims to worry about, it’s the gaze that always just demonstrates to them that they’re idiots, it’s their own fault, and that they still have too much of the wrong stuff.**

I suppose I agree with that, and yet I think it was ultimately unfair to Wüllenweber, who I think was (also) trying to say that there was (a) not a situation of dire want here, (b) that there is nevertheless a malaise being medicated, so to speak, with consumption of all sorts, and (c) that the focus should be on how to keep poverty from becoming something being passed on to children and grandchildren. But even this impulse was suspect to some commenters, e.g.:

…but to talk about people as if they were absolutely in need of help, just because their life is different from yours or for that matter mine, that has something of the social worker about it, come now, I know better, I’ll show you the way, you’re just a little stupid, but that’s because of the environment, etc. I hate hearing that.

So what is Wüllenweber’s solution? A paragraph’s worth of experts repeats the single word “Education” over and over (a consensus so complete you almost forget to add “jobs”). And Wüllenweber describes worthy, if ad hoc, grant-supported day care and kindergarten programs that spend time with poor and/or immigrant parents to foster parenting skills, and that have shown good results. Another reader defended the article along those lines:

…there’s a lot that I’d rather have had go differently in my life. But I only had the choice to get out of there because my parents worked their hands raw on the night shift so we could go to a good school, and because we had books… I don’t know [how to fix this]. Maybe someone can calmly explain why it’s wrong to demand opportunities for those who can’t make demands themselves.

Praschl acknowledged the STERN article’s call for improved education programs, but ultimately felt the earlier sensationalization of conspicuous “underclass” consumption made the author’s and magazine’s motives suspect; at the end of the day, maybe it was just a way to peddle some smug tut-tutting to middle class subscribers:

if I were worried about inadequate education, inadequate books and all that, then I’d write about that and how to solve that. … and the [well-off] wouldn’t mutter to eachother about articles like that, because they would know after all, that an educational system for the lower classes would just [cost them a lot of money]. But that the supposedly poor are only supposedly poor… one likes to mutter that to one another, and that doesn’t cost anything.

Yet Wüllenweber didn’t exactly let the well-off off the hook in his article:

Like most cities, Essen is a divided city. The underclass lives in its quarter, Katernberg in the north. The south belongs to the chairmen of the board of the Ruhrgebiet [Ruhr region]. The upper class kids don’t need as much help from school and kindergarten as the children of Meerkamp do. That should mean: fewer teachers, fewer kindergarten teachers, fewer programs in the south, more of them in the north. “Handle inequity unequally,” [Essen development director] Wermker calls it. “But no politician of any party would survive taking something away from those in the south part of the city,” says Wermker.

But those comments come at the end of a long article, Praschl is right that the first impression is a different one.

The discussion seems pretty close to those here in the U.S. back in the early and mid-90s, as welfare reform ideas were kicked around and finally implemented. What’s similar is the degree of awkwardness in discussing whether there’s even a problem, the questionable empathy with the subjects of the discussion, and the suspicions and accusations swirling around the issue.

The difference may be that the impact of 1990s welfare policy reform in the US was cushioned by an economic upswing, however illusory that upswing may have been. In Germany, by contrast, this discussion takes place against a backdrop of pessimism about the economic future that has already led to highly controversial reductions in unemployment compensation, the so-called Hartz IV reform. With globalization at work in Germany, too, the poor and working poor of that country will be under the gun just as they are here and everywhere. In Germany, at least, they seem to have political allies — even if those allies don’t recognize eachother, or agree what is to be done.


* I’ve also read articles describing similar hopelessness in parts of the former East Germany, for example “Even the mayor wants to leave,” Die ZEIT, 2004

** Incidentally, the idea of “unseemliness” rang a bell, and I soon recalled the generally unseemly discussion of hunger, obesity, and poverty at the libertarian/conservative Asymmetrical Information site (via Belle Waring).

TRANSLATION NOTES: “it’s unseemly”: “es schickt sich nicht.”

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German blogger series: reactions to Abu Ghraib

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 25th May 2004

Most German blogger reactions to the American disgraces and crimes at Abu Ghraib run the spectrum from moderate to leftish to I-told-you-so(-damn-it). But at least one German blog joins a number of American blogs with a ‘what’s all the fuss, there’s a war on’ attitude. Herewith a sampling:

  • Peter Praschl of “le sofa blog” has a “too dark yet” topic set aside for the affair. Most posts are simply quick links to Seymour Hersh articles and other coverage; the overall effect, not surprisingly, is one of simmering anger and disgust. But Praschl also includes an item about Nick Berg that says simply:

    if you’ve seen the video, you know that even words like decapitation can be horribly hypocritical euphemisms.

  • Scott Hanson, an American living in Hamburg, adopts Tim Bray’s comment as his own:

    But if I’d had to write a one-liner as to why (I though the war in Iraq was a good idea), it would have been something along the lines of ‘to stop the torture and brutality in the Baghdad hellholes.’ Well, so much for that.

  • Haiko Hebig quotes a SPIEGEL (“Boulevard Online“) piece saying that the “Clash of Civilizations” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hebig’s introduction:

    It was obvious that it could go badly to occupy an Arab country for the purpose of any sort of fascistic power plan of any sort, while simultaneously thoroughly lying to the public about the true motive. Abu Ghraib could really be a step forward there.

  • Jens Scholz begins one comment by quoting another blogger, Karsten:

    If Bush could tell the truth, one would hear him saying that the pictures of the torture by American soldiers bother him much more than the torture itself.*

    And that’s exactly how it is. And everyone knows it and will basically just nod in agreement, which I think is very good. In Germany people are possibly once and for all done with the idea that one can achieve any sensible goal by war. That’s what I believe.

    I argued with Jens about the war before it started, and still don’t agree with his pacifism. I do agree that the Bush administration seems to care more about Abu Ghraib as a propaganda setback than as a wakeup call or grounds for resignations.

  • Technoblogger Joerg Kantel (“Schockwellenreiter”) — who owns one of the most widely linked German blog sites — took time to link to comments by Iraqi blogger “Riverbend”:

    I don’t understand the ‘shock’ Americans claim to feel at the lurid pictures. You’ve seen the troops break down doors and terrify women and children… curse, scream, push, pull and throw people to the ground with a boot over their head. You’ve seen troops shoot civilians in cold blood. You’ve seen them bomb cities and towns. You’ve seen them burn cars and humans using tanks and helicopters. Is this latest debacle so very shocking or appalling?

    I haven’t seen “cold blood” or boots on heads, but maybe that’s because of not looking for it. The question is whether what Riverbend describes is the rule or the exception. Another cost of Abu Ghraib: if the American military can conduct itself so poorly in relative safety, it undermines confidence how they conduct themselves in combat.

    Kantel also points to the leftie group blog “Rollberg” for added coverage, some of which he contributes. Purely as a point of information, Kantel appeared to oppose the Afghanistan war as well as far as I could tell, but it’s hard to argue with his disgust about Abu Ghraib now.

  • Richard Herzinger, blogging for Die Zeit on May 1 as the story broke into the mainstream:

    It is to be feared that this report is not yet the whole truth by a long shot about the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by the U.S. Army. And that these horrible facts, even if only confirmed in part, will irrevocably end every moral legitimacy for the American occupation forces.

    Brett Marston later noted a May 17 post of Herzinger’s that identifies (via the progressive-left German daily TAZ) one of the few people entitled to put the American crimes at Abu Ghraib in the perspective of those by Saddam’s regime: Iraqi Governing Council Minister for Human Rights Bhaktiar Amin. Of course, I’d have liked a comparison of the U.S Army with Saddam’s regime to provide a much stronger contrast than this.

  • Wetterdistel**:

    Couldn’t get worse? The next decades no one from the West will dare show their face in an Arab country. Democracy, peace, equal rights, market economy — all that was regarded with the highest skepticism — but now? Not a soul will believe us about any of that any more. And with good reason.

    So. I’ll go throw up now.

  • David’s Medienkritik, on the other hand, takes the hard Bush-support line, approvingly citing a stupid cartoon about how the press is ignoring Berg’s execution in favor of more Abu Ghraib stories, concluding:

    Folks, you don’t get it.

    It’s not about killing or beheading or torture. It’s not about the Geneva Convention or the rights of prisoners or international law.

    It’s about Bush and the election in November.

    Well, yes, the Cheney administration reactions seem to bear that out.

    Grasping at straws here, the best that can be said is that at least some Germans see Abu Ghraib and the U.S. failures in Iraq — either going in in the first place, or the incessant screwups and worse since getting there — as bad news for them and their ideals as well.

    It’s not the most important aspect of this disgrace, but the Bush administration isn’t just guilty of fomenting and committing crimes against Iraqi prisoners, or for dishonoring my country, but for letting down friends of America’s ideals around the world as well.


    * Bingo: Rumsfeld bans camera phones in Iraq. Cautionary note: this is still not on American media radar screens as of Monday. On the other hand, that’s almost a point in the story’s favor.

    ** “Weather thistle”, a.k.a. Carina acaulis, a wildflower adapted to open and close its petals depending on the weather.

    UPDATE, June 4: Atomz search link to archival pages with other “German blogger series” items on this site.

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    German blogger series: expatriates in America and Germany (IV)

    Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th September 2003

    Peter Praschl, who authors most of the posts on “le sofa blogger,” is an Austrian living in Hamburg. No matter what he says, that qualifies him for “expat” status in my book, so I included him in the list of folks I e-mailed my questions about “expatriate” blogging.

    Peter Praschl was the first blogger I profiled once upon a time in this occasional series on German bloggers. The story concerned Praschl’s electronic pillorying by a German columnist named Willemsen, regarding Praschl’s nonpacifist attitudes towards the Taliban et al, and also mentioned Praschl’s reaction to 9/11.*

    I’ve linked to a number of items of Praschl’s since then, such as his reactions to a Jane Kramer piece about Germany, or a list of provocative (to me, too) questions about the looming war in Iraq, or interesting Internet finds like the New York City meta story site Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood.

    I’ve decided (with Praschl’s permission**) to simply print Praschl’s e-mail, to acquaint non-German speakers better with him. His (misplaced) concerns about his English notwithstanding, the “voice” is quite the same as his German commentary, so I think it’s a good introduction to one of my daily reads.

    Enough chitchat. Here’s the e-mail, with the occasional link to some supporting item from “le sofa blogger”:

    Expat? Sounds way too glamorous for me. I moved from Vienna to Hamburg 16 years ago. Which of course is a move from Austria to Germany. But it was not a big step. Just happened to find a more interesting job in another city, and when you are a journalist in Vienna, the capital of a very small country, the more interesting jobs are in Munich or Hamburg, where all the media corporations are located. Think of moving from Los Angeles to New York and you get the picture. Yes, sometimes I do get homesick (the Viennese savoir vivre, the nightlife, the coolness, the art scene), yes, sometimes I do hate these bloody krauts and piefkes (their tightness, their depressions, their whining, you name it, every cliché is true…), but it is okay here. Got a girlfriend, an ex-girlfriend, two kids, a bunch of friends, some great hangouts, a gym and whatever one needs for feeling at home at a certain place. And I really do like being a foreigner: you always have the option to think “ah, that´s the way THEY are”, you have the privilege to decide whether you are just a curious voyeur or you already belong to them (which one does, after 15 years). And the country you come from is distant enough not to wreck your nerves.

    One thing I have to confess: I enjoy driving the love of my life crazy with calling every stupid driver, Bavaria Munich striker, talkshow host, inpolite waiter (etc. etc.) a Nazi. And giving her long rants about all the Nazis surrounding my tortured existence. And expecting her to listen to me, nodding. Which she does not. Luckily…

    When I moved to Germany in 1987 there were no weblogs. There was not even an internet. So starting a blog has nothing to do with being an expat. It just began for the same reasons most webloggers know: you want to give it a try, and then you are hooked. But I do read a lot of Austrian weblogs (and weblogs by Austrians living in Germany), and it often occurs to me that a lot of them are more interesting than German weblogs: more general interest, more subjectivity, more idiosyncracies, less geekdom, less newsfeeds. Austrian culture tends to be more hedonistic, more playful than German culture, and sometimes you will notice that.

    “Can you point to political or other views that have been changed or deepened by being an expatriate?”

    Tough question. I really do not know. I did not like German politics before I came here, and since I came my dislikes have only grown. So, let´s say, my understanding just deepened… Before moving to Germany I always suspected them to just wait for playing a big role again, now I KNOW. And the box I would say I belong in – hedonist leftists with highbrow cultural interests, mild bourgeois manners, liberal lifestyle attitudes and a sense of taking things not too serious – is smaller in protestant Germany than it was in Vienna. And I hate the Anti-american mainstream, the moral snobbery, the moral hypocrisies here. Every day, every time I turn on T.V. But, guess what, I found out that there´s a lot of Germans who think and feel the same.

    Will I ever go back to Austria? I don´t think so, but you never know. I definitely would prefer to move to Paris or to Bangkok than to either stay here or go back to Vienna, and maybe one day I will be able to. Which, after all these years, would really make me an expat.

    As always, pardon my terrible English.

    All the best, Peter [links added]

    The long-simmering Austro-German feud bubbles to the surface! One of Praschl’s pet peeves is about Germans listing Austrians like Mozart as German, and generally acting as if Austria is a mere extension of Germany. As Praschl says, he enjoys being a foreigner; being involuntarily defined as a countryman is understandably irritating.

    Americans often don’t realize the strong national and regional differences within Germany, let alone German-speaking Europe — just as Europeans can be wrong to try to shoehorn Americans into a one-size-fits-all portrait of a country featuring New Orleans, West Virginia, New York City, the South, the North, Maine, Los Angeles, and on and on.

    Given the shared language and overlapping culture, and the long time Praschl has spent in Germany, it’s not surprising that being an expatriate has less to do with Praschl’s blog than the others I’ve profiled. However, the “foreigner’s privilege” applies: Praschl tweaks German conventional wisdom and politics regularly. Whether because of, despite, or unrelated to that, his blog is one of the German language “A-list” blogs, i.e., it’s one of the most widely blogrolled German language blogs.

    I thought I might be able to synthesize some non-trite Grand Unified Theory of Expatriate Blogging from my various e-mail correspondences, but I haven’t been up to that challenge. As I wrote earlier, I think the bloggers I’ve profiled combine the adventurousness needed to pull up stakes and move to a new country, often a certain detachment about any countries or their cultures, and a desire to write — just not necessarily about the ex-pat experience or cultural differences.

    I suppose I respond to them because I’ve been — however briefly — an ex-pat myself, living in Germany for two years as a boy (Juelich) and two more at college age (Tuebingen). Though long ago, those times are still precious to me, and I can only wish I’d written more — indeed, that I’d written much of anything — while I was living them. So once again, this blog isn’t about you, dear reader, it’s about me. Me, me, me.

    Anyhow, thanks for the e-mail, Peter. Take care!

    * All of which would be worth reading in the original — once they’re available again. Some kind of mixup with the old “” files has resulted in “403” errors when I try to view them. They’re not lost; the plan is to move them all to the new “arrog.antville” site. But there’s a second problem, a Blogger glitch that turned umlauts into “?”s, so that a great deal of repair work is needed.
    ** Throughout this expatriate series, I’ve given each person being profiled a chance to read and comment about the piece before I published it. The result has been a lot more pleasant for me than my usual practice of sweating bullets about whether I’ve misunderstood someone.

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    German blogger series: expatriates in America and Germany (III)

    Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th September 2003

    I’ve been writing about German bloggers in America so far: Andreas Schaefer, “siebenviertel,” Konstantin Klein. Tonight I’ll conclude with a profile of an American blogger in Germany.

    Before doing so, I’d like to say that I’ve appreciated the interest in this topic shown by bloggers like Heiko Hebig, Markus (“dormouse dreaming”), and the collective.

    Also, I want to mention that Armin Grewe, a German now living in England, and Elke Sisco, a German living in Northern California, responded to the interview questions on their own blogs. Do have a look. This series’ scope and timing have kept their interesting responses safe from my lengthy treatments.

    Scott Hanson: PapaScott

    Long as his stay in the U.S. has been, Klein has nothing on Scott Hanson, a Minnesotan who has lived in the Hamburg area with his German wife (congratulations on their 20th anniversary last week!) since 1990, with son Christopher joining the family in 1998. Dauntingly, “only my wife could speak the language.”

    Thinking about the move to Germany recently, Scott concluded they might not have done it under the current economic circumstances; luckily, it turned out to be a great opportunity for his wife, who works for a major U.S. multinational company now well established in Germany. Scott also thrived, finding work as a systems administrator. With a house and a child in Germany, Scott writes it’s likely the family will be staying there for the forseeable future: “We wanted to stay for 5 years. We’re now on 13.”

    Responding to whether he felt “in touch” with either country, Scott said,

    If you mean do I feel at home in both countries, then yes, but I do not feel like a native of either country. I’m somewhere in between. I can understand both countries, but I can’t really feel for either one.

    That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of American bones in Scott’s body: he misses baseball a lot, and wouldn’t mind coming across a highlights video of the Twins-Braves 1991 World Series.*

    Like several other expatriate bloggers I corresponded with, Scott makes the point that it’s hard to judge what the effect of living “abroad” is on one’s politics or opinions:

    My thinking on politics has become more detached and analytical, but I can’t say whether that’s because of living abroad or just becoming more mature.

    The issues of affinity and politics became intertwined after 9/11. Scott’s blog archives are arranged by month, and the September, 2001 file makes for some poignant reading:

    5 September, Don’t Make Me Go (Two year old son gets a replacement nanny for the first time) […]

    9 September, Rainy Weekend […]

    12 September, The Day the Earth Stood Still: …Mama called from her car. She had caught the tail end of a news report on the radio, and couldn’t believe what she thought she had heard.

    I decided to leave work early, even though I had started late. Outside the rain was a deluge, the gutters were flooding, traffic was slow. NDR4 radio was reporting what they could see on TV, what the correspondent in NY could see out the window, the towers were collapsing, debate in the Bundestag was cancelled, members of parliament were milling together with visitors in the lobby watching the news broadcasts.

    Mama was home, the television offered pictures but no new information. Christopher was hyperactive, totally beside himself, as if he were breathing the tension in the air. Our satellite dish is on the fritz, can’t get CNN at all, have to rely on the main stations. Chancellor Schroeder spoke of ‘unqualified solidarity’ with the US, which made me feel reassured. Otherwise I just feel numb. I miss an eloqent President, who can express what I and the nation must feel, but cannot put into words.

    Mama shed some tears. Perhaps she had started to fathom what has happened. I haven’t. Not yet. […]

    27 September, Gonna Go For A Whirl: … We use the word “war” quite often to mean a monumental task. The war on crime. The war on drugs. German doesn’t seem to use “Krieg” in this way. Then there is the American phrase “moral equivalent of war”. There’s no German equivalent, I don’t think, no phrase for “moral equivalent of the worst possible moral outcome”. So when American speak of a new “war”, it could very well be misunderstood.

    Not at all to be judgmental about it: despite so clearly feeling the impact of 9/11 — as so many Europeans did – Scott began to part ways early on with most Americans in his reactions to and what to do about the attacks.

    It seems like Scott has in part adopted (or has maybe long embraced) the skepticism about any war that seems to underly much European public opinion. Coming out of a place like Hamburg – brutally and tragically all but annihilated during World War II – that’s an understandable position, if not one that could be “ausschlaggebend” (determinative) for Americans.**

    In our final correspondence about this piece, Scott points out he came to similar conclusions himself by early 2002:

    Visiting the States last month, it was quickly apparent that the effect of 9/11 on ordinary people was much deeper than I had imagined. […]

    For me, 9/11 did not change my world. … after the shock and horror was gone, my view of the world had not changed. Such an event was possible. […]

    Maybe [the terrorists] knew what I just realized: that the United States was much more vulnerable [than their base of operations in Hamburg], and that the impact of an attack there would be much deeper.

    Scott has had interesting things to say about the differences between Europe and America — or at least points of departure in thinking about them. Back in 2000 — this is one of the longest running blogs I know of — Scott wrote:

    After nearly 10 years of being an expatriate (expatriatism?), I should certainly have some interesting views on the subject. But maybe I don’t. 10 years is a long time, and maybe the strangeness of my adopted culture is no longer strange to me, and my memories of life in the US are so old that they are no longer valid. I don’t know. I personally find the similarities between Europe and America to be more interesting than the differences. […]

    You can’t generalize. Simple broad statements are simply not true, and cannot explain the details of your experience in a new culture.

    You have to generalize. But one has to start someplace. The only way to begin to make sense of a new culture is to start with clichés (which usually contain some truth) and compare them to what you are actually experiencing. […]

    Language is nothing. And everything. Americans are not used to hearing conversations they don’t understand. One can learn and survive in a culture without the language, but learning the language will improve your point of view.

    A thematic – not constant, but frequent — concern with German-American communication and understanding is what connects each of the four blogs I’ve mentioned. I think Scott Hanson’s blog — like the other bloggers discussed here – is a new kind of example of what Walter Russell Mead calls “popular foreign policy” in his recent book Special Providence.

    Among other things, Mead has meant by this ordinary/extraordinary people taking politics and foreign affairs personally and into their own hands; people writing about their native or adopted countries to eachother.** Bloggers like Hanson, Klein, Schaefer and siebenviertel are, in a way, new kinds of foreign correspondents and envoys — self-selected for travel, a certain openness, and the desire to write about it for the rest of us. They’re translating not just words for their readers, but worlds.


    * Widely considered one of the best baseball World Series ever played. Well, by me anyway. Yes, including those Reds-Red Sox and Diamondbacks-Yankees deals.

    ** I’m probably taking some liberties with Mead’s ideas here. Mead writes about more concrete examples, like the effect American missionaries to Asia had on American foreign policy or that of American settlers of the early frontier: creating opinions and/or facts on the ground that the U.S. government was obliged to consider.

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    German blogger series: expatriates in America and Germany (II)

    Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th September 2003

    Konstantin Klein: WorldWideKlein

    Mr. Klein, originally from Munich and Berlin, has been in the United States since 1996. He lives in Arlington, Virgina and does freelance work for the Deutsche Welle German television service. Like Andreas Schaefer (profiled earlier), Klein is also leaving the States soon to return to Germany, in Klein’s case to rejoin his family and make a career move “from the writing end of a desk to the technical side, where all the plugs and cables are.”

    Klein has raised a child here, and has grown accustomed to and even fond of his time in America:

    I feel very much at home here. […] Do I live abroad now – or will I in half a year from now? […]

    [A]fter seven years in the DC area I actually have the feeling to have lost the touch with Germany. So my return will be to a (sort of) foreign country – definitely different from the one I left in 1996, anyway. Which makes the move interesting, again.

    Like Schaefer, Klein hopes to return someday. In his correspondence with me, Klein saw effects of his long stay in America on his writing and perspective:

    I’ve started dreaming in English, thinking in English, writing in English – and that hasn’t improved my German at all. Fortunately, I used a proprietary style when writing even before I came here, so I still can claim my mistakes in German are in fact just creative writing. As for the issues: I think every expatriate can confirm that it actually helps to watch one’s own country from outside for a while. It puts things into perspective, opens one’s eyes for different views and in general provides more openness. Very recommendable!

    Klein has been radical in putting an old blog down when he starts a new one, so “WorldWideKlein” will probably not survive the move, even in archive form — Konstantin retired his prior “” blog and allowed the domain to lapse.

    That seems a shame to me; part of what can set apart a blog is being able to trace changes in a person’s writing and thinking over time. (That may be Klein’s point, too, come to think of it.) At any rate, current entries in Klein’s “WorldWideKlein” blog concerned with the contrast between German and American cultures are under the heading “Culture Shock“:

    Italianization: I know lots of Germans, who are firmly convinced they have a sound, well worked-out opinion about the USA. I know no one who would claim he had a sound opinion about, say, Italy. […] “The German” (if there is such a thing) would be understanding (or not), amused, shocked — whatever. But: he would hardly claim he had a sound opinion. Why is it different for the USA?

    — Good question.

    Family life: … a report in the local newspaper about the life of the Peters family of Arlington, VA. Dad, mom, two kids each from first marriages, nine TVs, nine telephones, six VCRs, six cell phones, three stereos, three MP3 players, two DVD players, an Xbox and a Nintendo gaming system, there are four shiny new PCs for the children and two older laptops for the adults, the digital household. Family life happens mainly during 35 minutes of supper, before and after that the dear little ones can be found in front of their respective computers.

    Thesis: This family life works so well, because they never see eachother.

    So that’s how my neighbors live. And? Am I surprised?

    — Not a bit.

    Other entries under the heading “USA: PoliticsRUS” can also sometimes reflect a specifically German take on American politics — or how some of it’s rubbed off:

    Eat this, Homeland Security!: [CNN graphic showing that hijack warnings would not make about 80% of Americans change their travel plans] That’s why I love my chosen countrymen.

    Thinking differently: … It’s a lot of fun to disentangle whether, when, where, how often and with what intent Bush and Blair distorted the truth. It’s so much fun that it will fill our news just as long as the next elections in the USA and the United King Kong.

    Whatever: then I’m just the only one who’s interested instead how the Bush and Blair governments will convince their citizens to support the next project. The critical questions might just be asked in advance next time.

    Look for “” or “.de” to replace “” sometime this fall. Klein tells me he may move to longer, less frequent items; short or long, I look forward to reading them.


    TRANSLATION NOTES: sound, well worked-out: fundiert.

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    German blogger series: expatriates in America and Germany (I)

    Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd September 2003

    Expatriate – the word can evoke a person rejecting his or her native country on the one hand, one rediscovering an affinity for that country amidst new surroundings on the other, or simply immersing oneself in new surroundings.

    Expatriates are “bicultural” and usually bilingual as well. I think this sense of being different, of feeling like one is part ambassador, part scout, part adventurer, in some part homesick, yet in part just getting on with everyday life, adds something to the blogs of a number of people I read regularly. So I compiled a wider list of German-speaking expatriates* and asked them about being expatriate bloggers. I wound up corresponding with four in more detail:

    Andreas Schaefer,

    the anonymous author of Siebenviertel,

    Konstantin Klein, and

    Scott Hanson.**

    Andreas Schaefer: dekaf

    Andreas moved from Munich to Santa Clara, California in 1998, explaining he chose California “because I always had an affinity to the USA, but also because of the better weather, and finally Silicon Valley isn’t the worst place for a nerd to work.” His blog grew out of an earlier website with photos devoted to keeping in touch with friends; the blog relies less on photos than the web site apparently did, but still features occasional nice photos and photo series that alternate slice-of-life with “this is America.” The blog name stands for “Deutsch Kalifornische Freundschaft” (German Californian friendship); Schaefer maintains the blog as a group project with friends in Germany and (I think) elsewhere in California, but is responsible for perhaps three quarters or so of the posts.

    It seems safe to say Andreas no longer feels quite the same affinity he once did; as is the case for many folks, his doubts about the California way of life battle with a sneaking appreciation for its easygoing finer points. In “3 texts about California” Schaefer cites the TV show “It’s Like, You Know,”

    Next day you wake up, it’s two years later, you’ve sold every believe you’ve ever held sacred and you don’t care cause you’re living way to happily ever after in a beachhouse waiting for your guatemalan gardener like every other braindead southern californian.

    The screed-song “Enema” by Tool receives third place mention (Here in this hopeless f*ng hole we call LA, The only way to fix it is to flush it all away […] I wanna see it all come down. suck it down. flush it down. ). The first of the three texts, an Austrian’s (no, not that Austrian) take on California, translates in part as:

    Once you’re there for 2 weeks you totally accept the mellowness, you never get rid of it. And when you go home to the garden dwarves, all of a sudden you’re the mellowest of them all…

    Like any good schizophrenic Californian, Andreas sees elements of truth in all three perspectives. (And like any good Northern Californian, the California criticisms turn out to actually come at Southern California’s expense …)

    In response to my somewhat inanely phrased question about feeling “in touch” with Germany, Andreas was the most definite of the bloggers I corresponded with: “very much so.” He’s also maintained a somewhat arms-length relationship with his temporary home in California — about what I did, even though I lived there for twelve years. You love it in a way, but eventually you still leave. The war in Iraq has not made it harder for Schaefer to plan moving back to Germany sometime later this year.

    If you don’t read the news, it’s as wonderful as ever here [in California]….But I listen to the radio, watch CNN, and read the newspaper and news on the Internet, and the question remains, how and for how long can I live in this country?*

    Posts like that or photos like this one suggest, I think, that Schaefer’s expatriate experience has caused him to rediscover affinities for his home country, or have at least taken the bloom off his affinities for this one. On the other hand — a bit like that Austrian once said — Andreas e-mails that “I will be back. Eventually.”

    That would be nice; Schaefer’s blog from Santa Clara has succeeded as political and cultural reporting from America, with detailed rundowns on the Texas redistricting saga and the California recall election on the one hand, and a Finding Nemo review (thumbs way up) or Alton Brown cooking tips on the other. It has also been a remarkably personal journal. I’ll keep reading Andreas’ blog when he moves back to Germany.

    anonymous: Siebenviertel

    The anonymous author of “Siebenviertel” (which means seven quarters*) has lived in the Los Angeles area for the last few years, and describes the blog as

    perhaps the only German language Weblog from Los Angeles and an unordered chronicle of what’s different about my new life in America from my old one in Europe.

    By e-mail, siebenviertel expressed the reluctance, mentioned in one way or another by all four bloggers, to speak of living “abroad”:

    I find the notion of living abroad or calling any place the ultimate (as in ‘true’) home questionable, mainly because ‘home’ seems to be defined differently depending on where one currently resides. Ask someone in Europe where they’re from and you’ll get their current place of residence. In America the same question is an attempt to find out where one was born. So what then makes one place a ‘real’ home whereas another place isn’t? […] I do consider myself an Angeleno at present, though that might change.

    “Siebenviertel’s” ambition in part is to be a written, German “This American Life” (the often fantastic NPR radio show**) for the L.A. region to readers who can wait two or three weeks between ca. 1000 word “episodes.” A fascinated and fascinating portrait emerges, one that is at least very near book-quality, and one I think would be well worth translating in full for an American audience:

    Totally normal anglicisms: If you follow the fourteen lane highway through the mountains, snake down into the desert, and twitch past mobile homes and isolated road signs, you finally see something light up starkly in the endless desolation. A train line begins to swing itself along the freeway, but those are no train lights flickering in the distance. What’s growing ever larger are the rudders of hundreds of passenger planes, whose white color seems to glow in the glaring desert sun. They grow larger and larger, until a small town seems to appear out of nowhere.

    The things bloom in November: There’s also this unspeakable coastal fog, that likes to move in from the coast on summer mornings all the way to the freeways and turns the airport into a laundry room, and that’s always surprising tourists. California isn’t always sunny. In November roses and oleanders suddenly start blooming everywhere. Some locals call it L.A.’s little spring. That was no typo: the things really bloom in November. […]

    If you drive on a clear night to a place like the Griffith Observatory, you begin to suspect how big this city really is, with its yellow lights that seem to reach to the other end of the continent. You see an endless pearl necklace of airplane lights on their way down to LAX, surrounded by the mosquito-like dartings of the many helicopters that seem to be above the city day and night. And when the evening is particularly clear, you can maybe even see the stars despite all the lights shooting up from the ground and dimming the view of the sky. Once a year, high up over the city.

    Hollywood ending: I really couldn’t explain to her what I was looking for in America. LA was just another waypoint for me when I moved, a hotel room, maybe a chapter in a long book or a course in an evening’s menu. Slowly it dawned on me, though, that I’ve now lived longer here than in my three previous residences put together, that I’m not just a mere guest, but could call myself an Angeleno without putting on airs. The thought seems funny to me, maybe because LA is different from any other big city that I’ve ever lived in. There’s no center here of the European sort, no unique city identity, no unity between the many corners. This city is no melting pot of different cultures, but a mixed salad, in which the different little groups live next to eachother instead of mixing with eachother. California is only really fascinating for outside observers, if you live here you see it more soberly.

    But you can still wind up fascinated all over again, as much of “siebenviertel’s” writing conveys. A great number of very striking photographs — I have the impression this is “siebenviertel’s” day job — round out one of the better blogs I’ve come across in any language.

    I’ll publish the next two posts, about Konstantin Klein and Scott Hanson, when they’re ready — soon.


    * Two good lists of expatriate bloggers are at Armin Grewe’s “Ministry of Propaganda” blog, under “bloggers who blog abroad,” and the Expat Express Blog Ring.

    ** My e-mailed questions:

  • Where do you live abroad? For how long? Where do you come from? Why did you decide to live abroad?
  • When did you take up blogging — before or after moving abroad? Was being an expatriate a reason for blogging?
  • Do you enjoy living abroad? How long do you think you’ll stay?
  • Do you feel “in touch” with the country you’ve left behind? Do you feel “in touch” with the country you’re in now?
  • Can you point to political or other views that have been changed or deepened by being an expatriate? How do you think living abroad has affected you and your writing?
  • Please feel free to change the questions above to more interesting ones if you like! Write about anything else you think is relevant. [Links appreciated.]
  • * [Andreas] My own comment about this particular item of Andreas’ does me no great credit in retrospect, although it was more in annoyed symmetrical response to another commenter than to Andreas. For those following in German, note that I got a factual question wrong by forgetting Syria. Likewise, I was a bit snarkier about Andreas’ item on my own blog than I’m happy to read now.

    * [siebenviertel] By e-mail: …needed to come up with something for the domain name. had seven quarters on my table, looked like two dollars, looked closer, wasn’t. details, distance, europe-america… get it? Sure.

    ** This week, for instance, I happened to listen to a show that managed to plausibly tie Amerigo Vespucci, a p0rn video shop, and a painter named Milton Reid together under the heading “Give The People What They Want” — which might be California’s motto, come to think of it. The Vespucci one was gold. But I digress.

    TRANSLATION NOTES: mellowness: das Lockere. glaring: knallend, lit. explosive, banging.

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    German blogger series: Rumsfeld’s “old Europe” remarks

    Posted by Thomas Nephew on 25th January 2003

    Rumsfeld’s comments* about France and Germany being “old Europe” have drawn a lot of angry rebuttals from the French and German media. Combined with the showy but impressive joint sessions of the German and French parliaments at Versailles, some “old European” commentators sense a dawning of a new age of European-American parity. Spiegel excerpted luminaries from Juergen Habermas to Jacques Derridas venting their displeasure with Rumsfeld and Bush in the major German newspaper “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, and praising the newly energized German-French relationship. (In Spiegel, this was all under the somewhat risible headline “European thinkers take revenge.”)

    The reaction among the German bloggers I follow has been mixed. A prominent strain of German commentary is a reluctance to engage in nationalism of any kind, the new EU or German-French “nationalism” included. But a competing one is to point with some pride and relief the new German-French entente, in light of the world wars of the last hundred years, and to join in some tentative muscle-flexing as a fledgling counterweight to the U.S.

    A comment by Peter Praschl on “Le Sofa Blog” led to a lot of interesting replies. Praschl’s take:

    Just because a US defense minister says France and Germany are a problem, doesn’t mean you all have to join in these pan-European hurt feelings. Rumsfeld just said what’s been obvious for a while: the EU is an alternative imperialistic project. Why is it news that the competition of nations [is a zero sum game]?”

    “gHack”, a Swiss blogger who maintains the amusingly named,** responded in the same vein as his comments on his own blog:

    Even an old Francophile like me has his suspicions about this odd brand new German-French Friendship, under the sign of standing up to the Yankees.*** I would have preferred a stabler, more positive catalyst. I always have the feeling that something is wrong about all these Statements.

    Looking elsewhere, I found that Joerg Schubert, a Leipzig law student who maintains The New Joerg Times blog, seemed to have fewer reservations about the German-French developments. He drew attention to this conclusion by Spiegel writer Markus Deggerich:

    If Rumsfeld has turned “I’m proud to be German or French” into “I’m proud to be an Old European,” then the United States is dealing with a new, young Europe. Rumsfeld be praised. Maybe he’ll even get the Karls Prize [ed: a kind of German Nobel Peace prize] for it someday.

    My own feelings are mixed. I joined in the Sofa Blog discussion:

    It seems like it’s a terrible insult for you to be called “old.” Is that true? Rumsfeld is a bigmouth, he likes to get on his soapbox. But when he claims that Europe doesn’t just consist of France and Germany, isn’t he kind of right? Even as far as EUrope is concerned?

    “MV” (Woerterberg blog) agreed,

    […] Old World culturalism is indeed just as dumb and brutal as the Manichaeism of the Bush administration. Amazing, how well that works even in the so-called left-liberal circles.

    All in all, some unease at the way the German-French relationship seems to be mutating into an odd kind of Euronationalism, mixed with a dollop of satisfaction that it at least helps spite Bush and Company.

    I share the unease, but in my case it’s about this divide politicians over here and over there seem to want to make wider between the U.S. and (“old”) Europe. What ever happened to the “speak softly” part of that famous “big stick” rule? Whether you voted for Bush or not, none of us voted for Rumsfeld. His job seems challenging enough that he might spare us the “wit” that declared Vietnam draftees to “have added no value, really” to the conduct of that war.

    And now this. Would it be too much to ask that the next “Rumsfeld Rule” be “Why don’t I shut up for a while”?

    UPDATE: Joerg writes to tell me he studies in Jena, not Leipzig. He also explains that the Karls Prize (named after Charlemagne) is more specific than a peace prize. It’s given to “organizations and individuals who have contributed to Europe and European unity.” Which of course improves Deggerich’s joke.

    * Rumsfeld, Jan 22, 2003: “Now, you’re thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don’t. I think that’s old Europe. If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east. And there are a lot of new members. And if you just take the list of all the members of NATO and all of those who have been invited in recently — what is it? Twenty-six, something like that? — you’re right. Germany has been a problem, and France has been a problem.”
    ** Lots of bloggers have fun with the “antville” tag in their URL; gHack’s works out to “brain-burned”ville, i.e., nutsville. He does a lot of Jim Treacher-like Photoshop (I guess) stuff. His touching tribute to the German Day of Unity last October is a hoot; translations available on request.
    *** “Amis,” a term with a similar range of connotations as “Yankees” has in the South: from mild disdain to visceral dislike. And sometimes it’s just quicker than saying “Amerikaner.”

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