Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Public Architecture in China Today

In this month's Word of the Month, I pointed out the similarities of public buildings built in China in the 1950s and 60s with those built in Nazi-Germany and the former Soviet Union. But I cannot leave it at that—things have changed, and they have changed dramatically in China. Readers may know the skyline of Pudong, the new financial district of Shanghai, which has become a veritable architectural vanity fair, where each new tower added to the skyline tries to surpass its neighbors not only in height, but also, and especially, through its daring design.

Most of them are unabashedly modern, and this is also true for public buildings. We got a glimpse of this new architecture in 2008 during the Beijing Olympics, where the "bird's nest", the main athletic venue, became an icon of the games. The Beijing Opera, or more accurately, the National Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2007, is equally modern in its design (top left). On my recent trip, I was particularly taken by the Grand Theater in Chongqing, completed in 2009, which occupies a prominent location on a headland overlooking the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers and appears to be Chongqing's answer to the Sydney Opera House: A building with a unique shape, sitting on an exposed platform jutting into a body of water and destined to become an icon of the city (center and bottom left during the day and night, respectively).

It is true that foreign firms are still dominant in the design of these buildings (for example, the French architect Paul Andreu designed the Beijing Center and the German firm van Gerkan, Marg und Partner the Chongqing Theater). But this may change as Chinese architects rise to greater prominence (like Wang Shu, winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 2012). In any case, Chinese authorities appear to be eager to demonstrate to the world that they are as modern in outlook as their Western counterparts.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Word of the Month: Die Herrschaftsarchitektur

Word of the Month: Index

On a recent trip to China, I visited Tiananmen Square in Beijing and was struck by the similarities between the buildings flanking it on the east and west and those built in Nazi-Germany or the Soviet Union to house state functions. The similarities between the latter two were already skewered by Osbert Lancaster in his collection of architectural cartoons Pillar to Post (1938; top two drawings on the left). The Great Hall of the People at Tiananmen Square (bottom left) would have provided him with a third example.

All of these are instances of Herrschaftsarchitektur. Herrschaft is a general term that can refer to any situation in which someone is Herr (in the sense of "master" or "lord") over someone or something else, like the rule of a certain party or the reign of a certain leader. And Architektur is, of course, a cognate of English "architecture".

Herrschaftsarchitektur, then, refers to the buildings a ruling class or party erects to accommodate its operations and, at the same time, express its power and dominance. The latter characteristic is essential: To become Herrschaftsarchitektur, it's not enough that a building be used by a ruling power. It must be intended to symbolize its might and will to rule, often in combination with an attempt to intimidate its subjects.

Follow-up: Public Architecture in China Today.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Word of the Month: Zersiedeln, die Zersiedelung

Word of the Month: Index

Like English, German allows for the creation of new verbs by adding a prefix to an existing one. In fact, German offers a broader range of prefixes that can be used to this end, and I will dedicate my next post to this topic.

For starters, let's look at just one of these prefixes, zer-, which has no real equivalent in English. It indicates an action that destroys something. It is particularly expressive because of the sharp z-sound it starts with. For example, reißen means "to tear", and zerreißen means "to tear apart" or "tear to pieces". Our current word of the month is another example. It's formed by adding zer to siedeln (to settle) and means literally to degrade [a countryside] by settlement. Zersiedelung is the noun formed from the verb. The term originated with urban and regional planners and is usually translated as "urban sprawl". But Zersiedelung is somewhat more general—it can happen far away from urban centers.

The image used in this post is a good illustration. It shows how the second-growth forests covering a good portion of Connecticut often look like moth-eaten carpets from the air. Roads through such areas are typically flanked by a monotonous succession of cookie-cutter houses sitting on grounds that have been cleared of all trees, producing, in the worst case, a barren "moonscape". A frequent consequence is habitat destruction. And when the cleared land is covered by a vast lawn that needs regular watering to stay green, there can be a noticeable effect on the water table (I know of a mansion in a neighboring town that needs a second well just for watering more than one acre of grass!).

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Word of the Month: Der Tatendrang

Word of the Month: Index

Taten is the plural of Tat, which means "action" or "deed", and Drang means "urge" or "drive"—it refers to a strong inclination to do something. In combination, the terms indicate a pronounced psychological disposition towards action. But note that this state of mind is not the same as mindless activism: Yes, people full of Tatendrang get fidgety when something can be done to remedy a situation or when adventure beckons. But that does not mean that they plunge headlessly into action, no matter what the consequences are. Rather, they prefer an active over a contemplative life style, but may well be able to keep their impulses in check when the situation demands it.

Drang is perhaps best known to English speakers in the combination Sturm und Drang, a German literary movement of the late 18th century. The name is usually translated as "Storm and Stress" in English, but that is really a mistranslation because Drang does not mean "stress": a Drang comes from the inside and is not imposed from the outside. So, why does this mistranslation prevail? I don't know. Yes, "Storm and Urge" sounds strange and does not have the catchiness of the German original, but what's wrong with "Storm and Drive"?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Sevenstar Contest Cup 2016

Photobook by Ulrich Flemming et al.
Two exciting days on board the Amica Agrippina in Medemblik, Holland

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Word of the Month: Der Hassprediger

Word of the Month: Index

Hass is the German word for hatred, and a Prediger is a preacher (derived from the verb predigen-to preach). Taken together, the two compounds refer to someone who, in his function as preacher, calls for hatred and violence. Hasspredigerin is the female form.

The term goes back to the end of the 19th century. But the Duden, the official German spelling guide, lists it in 2006 for the first time. This reflects an increased use in the early 2000s in connection with the activities of certain radical imams who used their pulpit to sow hatred against Western liberal societies and to call for a Holy War to overthrow them. [Source: Wikipedia article "Hassprediger"]

Since then, the term has assumed a wider meaning. It is now being used to characterize anyone who, in some public function, attempts to instill in an audience hatred of some group on the outside, be it for ethnic, political, or religious reasons, even instigate violence against members of that group. For example, the leaders of some xenophobic movements on the far right in Germany have been called Hassprediger (like other nouns ending in –er, the plural is the same as the singular). The term also comes to my mind when I listen to Donald Trump's tirades against Muslims and Mexicans.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Euro 2016

Euro 2016 has started, with 24 national teams competing for the cup. For the intial group phase, these teams have been placed into 6 groups, where each team plays 3 matches, one against each of the other members of its group. The first- and second-placed teams in each groups and the 4 best third-placed teams overall will advance to the round of 16. Here are the groups:
Group A
Group B
Group C
N. Ireland

Euro2016 fever in Cologne, courtesy of kidbrother

Group D
Czech Republic
Group E
Group F

The mood in Germany is guardedly optimistic. Since they won the World Cup two years ago, the Germans have hardly ever played at the level they had shown during that cup. But then again, that just fits the pattern: They typically enter a tournament with a mixed record and then improve as they advance through the rounds.

The great strength of the Mannschaft is that it works as a team, a collective in which every player can, in principle, be replaced without an apparent drop in performance of the team as a whole. At the opposite end are sides whose performance depends on and is geared to a single dominant player. Such teams can be beaten if the dominant player can be neutralized—the Germans demonstrated this during the 2014 World Cup when they beat Portugal (with Ronaldo) in the group round and Argentina (with Messi) in the final. More about this in my first comment.