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

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wikileaks: My Two Cents

I have a perspective on this issue (based in part on observations I made when I was living in Germany) that I see rarely voiced—that's why I'm posting, even though I'm late to the party.

I think Assange's argument for total transparency contains a basic fallacy: That when you take one part out of a dynamic system, everything else stays the same. In this case, that when all communication becomes public, it will result in complete transparency. I think this is not the case: If people want to keep their communication secret in plain view, they start to speak in code. Result: Less transparency! Moreover, the communication is now harder to interpret.

More in my comment...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Word of the month: Leitkultur

I selected the present word of the month after reading, in translation, Jürgen Habermas's essay Leadership and Leitkultur, which recently appeared in the NYT. The term Leitkultur is formed from the verb leiten (to guide, lead) and Kultur (culture). It denotes the "guiding culture" of a people or country or, more accurately, the set of values and beliefs, and the rules of behavior based on them, that govern the way the members of the group view themselves and interact with each other.

The concept of a Leitkultur represents one of the flash points in the discussion currently raging in Germany about the best way to deal with immigrants who seemingly refuse integration into the surrounding society and culture. Habermas has argued—in the past and again in the essay—that it is sufficient for immigrants who want to become permanent residents or citizens that they (a) learn German and (b) accept the constitution. Others believe that this is not enough—they demand, in addition, that immigrants embrace a German Leitkultur. In my first comment, I'll talk about Leitkultur as a useful term to focus this discussion, even if it becomes problematic when it's turned into a cry for political action. In a second comment, I will try to indicate connections with trends I observe in the US.

Note on pronunciation: Again, watch your vowels! The "ei" is a diphthong pronounced like English "eye"; the first "u" in Kultur is a short "oo" as in "good"; and the second "u" is a long "oo" as in "boot". The main stress is on the first and a secondary one on the third syllable.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Words of the month: Dreckspatz, Schmutzfink

Dreck and Schmutz mean basically the same thing in German: dirt. A Spatz is a sparrow and a Fink a finch. Hitched to a word meaning "dirt", they refer to people who get themselves dirty easily and may not be too eager to clean up after themselves. Dreckspatz, in particular, is often applied to children who actually enjoy playing in the mud and getting it all over themselves.

Note on pronunciation: The "u" in Schmutz is a short "oo" as in "foot" and the "z" in Spatz and Schmutz a very sharp, voiceless "s".

[Source: Wild Things in the German Language: Kindle version | iBook version]

Friday, October 1, 2010

Word of the month: Nibelungentreue

Word of the Month: Index

Let me start with a story: The coach of the German national soccer team, Jogi Löw, nominated two forwards (Podolski and Klose) to the squad he took to the World Cup in South Africa this summer that raised eyebrows: Podolski had just finished a miserable season for his club, and Klose hadn’t even played on a regular basis—he had been warming the bench for players in better form. But when playing for the national team, they had scored reliably year after year—often the winning goal in clutch situations. So, Löw owed them and was subsequently accused, by some critics, of Nibelungentreue when he nominated them. What did the critics mean by that?

The term Nibelungentreue combines two words: Treue, which, in this context, means “loyalty“; and Nibelungen, which refers, in Norse and Germanic myths, to the royal family of the Burgundians, whose capital was Worms on the Rhine river. The tale of their downfall is told in the Nibelungenlied (Song of the Nibelungs), an epic from the middle ages, in which misplaced loyalty plays a major part. Nibelungentreue, then, refers to a form of blind loyalty that persists beyond reason or to a point where it becomes counterproductive. My first comment will give a little more literary and historical background for this altogether interesting term. (And no, Löw's loyalty turned out to be no Nibelungentreue in the end: Both Podolski and Klose played well enough all through the Cup to silence the critics.)

Keep in mind that the Nibelungen in Nibelungentreue should not be confused with the Nibelung in Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung—he is a dwarf (Alberich), and the Nibelungen are a race of dwarfs in the Ring cycle.

Note on pronunciation: Watch your vowels! The i is a long "ee“ as in "see"; the "u“ a short "oo“ as in "foot“; and the "eu“ a diphthong as the "oy“ im "joy“: NEE•bah•loong•en•TROY•ah.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Word of the month: Seebär

See (fem.) means "sea" and Bär means "bear". Seebär is usually used together with alt (old): Ein alter Seebär is the German equivalent of "an old tar" or "an old salt". I had great fun drawing this one!

BTW See (masc.) means "lake", as in Schwanensee—Swan Lake. And Meer (neut.) also means "sea" in German. In case you wonder how bodies of water can be masculine, feminine and neuter, you may read what I had to say about the difference between natural and grammatical gender on this blog.

[Source: Wild Things in the German Language: Kindle version | iBook version]

Thursday, August 26, 2010

German funk

When I was in Germany this summer, I found the country in a strange funk. I say "strange" because this mood is in contrast to a booming economy, which is bucking the world-wide trend: Unemployment is lower than it has been in years; the carmakers are running extra shifts to meet world-wide demand etc. And besides, the young and inexperienced soccer team did much better than expected during the World Cup. But still, the Germans seem to be unhappy—more in my first comment...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

1963 Trip through the Middle East and North Africa

(Middle East - North Africa by Ulrich Flemming, with contributions by Dirk Schmidt)
I just turned old negatives and slides (of my own and those of a friend) from a 1963 trip into a photobook. The preview is not consecutive, but shows a cross section—from the Balkans to Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya and Tunesia.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Word of the month: Volksverhetzung

This compound noun hitches together Volk (people--as in "the American people") and Verhetzung (stirring up of hatred, especially against other peoples or minorities; vicious demagoguery). Volksverhetzung is a crime in present-day Germany, no doubt in response to the Nazi rhetoric of the past, in which Volksverhetzung played a major part.

The law is being enforced; i.e. people have been convicted based on it. I remember a case of the recent past, when a Neo-Nazi was convicted under the law for anti-semitic remarks that were considered sufficiently close to Nazi rhetoric. However, I do not know how systematic the prosecution of this type of speech is. More in my first comment...

Note on pronunciation: Both v's are pronounced like English "f". (Remember: A Volkswagen is a Folksvagen in German!).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sailing in Croatia

I have been making digital photo books using blurb's cloud now for several years. They recently added a widget that allows people to leaf through such a book from other applications. I'm posting one here for the book I just finished, with pictures from the sailing trip I mentioned in my post on the FIFA World Cup. If it works, it's a nice way for my friends to look at these books—and since I'm not making any money off these books, the link should not be seen as a commercial promotion on my part.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What do Americans make of soccer?

In a comment on the earlier FIFA World Cup post, I briefly alluded to the quadrennial ritual I have been observing in the US since I moved here: Whenever the World Cup is happening somewhere in the world, some Americans fall over themselves declaring how boring, silly etc the game is. H. Hertzberg has a column in the current New Yorker, in which he describes this as a distinctly right-wing phenomenon. I would like to add two points to this discussion (see my comments)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Word of the month: Unschuldslamm

UnschuldslammUnschuldslamm combines Unschuld (innocence) with Lamm (lamb). The term refers to a person claiming innocence w.r.t. some misdeed. It's typically used in sentences like "he plays (or acts) the Unschuldslamm"; i.e. there is a strong implication that the claim is false, like when someone says, "I didn't do it!".

Both the timing of and the drawing for this WoM were inspired by the current FIFA World Cup held in S. Africa, where we can watch, in match after match, players committing fouls and then acting the Unschuldslamm with precisely the gesture shown.

BTW Unschuld is formed by prefixing Schuld ("guilt") with un, which can be used to turn the meaning of a noun or adjective into its opposite--cf. English "unknown" or "undead".

[Source: Wild Things in the German Language: Kindle version | iBook version]

Friday, June 11, 2010

FIFA World Cup 2010


We're under way!

A friend sent me the "photo of the year" on the left...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

FIFA World Cup 2010: One More Week

The last preparatory friendlies have been played, each participating country has nominated the 23 players it will take to S.Africa, and suspense is rising among those to who plan to follow the competition. I myself will travel to Germany next week to watch the matches with my brothers and any other soccer enthusiast who will be in the vicinity. I will start a thread on the day of the first match, June 12, where we may post comments and exchange opinions on a day-by-day basis as we have done in the past. The present thread gives us the opportunity to speculate, on the chances of our team or the team we are rooting for, or about anything else pertinent to the Cup before it starts. I will begin with some comments on the German team.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Word of the month: Reisefieber

Word of the Month: Index

This compound word combines Reise (“travel, trip, journey”) and Fieber (“fever”). It denotes the excitement one may feel in anticipation of an upcoming trip. I experience this feeling right now when I think of my trip to Germany next week to visit my family in Cologne and to watch the games of the FIFA World Cup in S. Africa with soccer enthusiasts like me.

Note on pronunciation. Four distinct syllables, with the stress on the first and a secondary stress on the third syllable: RYE•sah•fee•ber. Note also the difference in the pronunciations of the "ei" and "ie"!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Word of the month: Schmusekatze

Schmusekatze combines the verb schmusen (to snuggle, cuddle) with Katze (cat). It denotes someone who likes to snuggle with or cuddle another person, possibly as prelude to other activities with that person.

It’s interesting to compare German schmusen and Yiddish schmooze, which are clearly related. But they differ in meaning: Schmooze is all talk, while schmusen is all action—talking would break the mood.

Note on pronunciation. Four distinct syllables: SHMOO·zeh·katt·seh. The main stress is on the first syllable, the third one gets a secondary stress.

[Source: Wild Things in the German Language: Kindle version | iBook version]

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Word of the month: Kauderwelsch

The term is used, in the narrower sense, to refer to speech made incomprehensible because it is a mixture of words from different languages, often mispronounced. In the broader sense, it may mean just "gibberish". Welsch is an old-fashioned word for a Romance language or a speaker of such a language. The origin of the Kauder part is not clear. The most convincing explanation, to me, takes into account that in Swiss German, the term is Chuderwälsch and may have originally referred to the speech of the people of Chur in the canton of Graubünden--Martin Luther used the term in this sense.

In any case, this is a favorite word of mine because of the way it sounds--it mimics what it designates (it will never make it into English, though, I think). I was reminded of it when we talked, in a previous post, about Denglish, the mixture of German and English found in the news, in advertising, and in daily speech in present-day Germany--language purists call it, yes, Kauderwelsch, although it's perfectly comprehensible to most.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Word of the month: Frechdachs

FrechdachsDachs is the the German name for a badger (because of its short legs, a Dachshund is able to follow a badger into its burrow). The adjective frech can mean anything from "rude" or "impudent" to "sassy" or "cheeky." The latter, almost positive, meaning is implied in Frechdachs, which Germans use in contexts where one would use "whipper-snapper" or "little rascal" in English, i.e. to refer to a somewhat sassy child. And I have no idea how badgers got involved in all of this.

Addendum (5/23/2012): As was doing research for my book, Wild Things in the German Language, I came across some explanations. According to one of them, Frechdachs is a mnemonic to help students of Latin remember that audax means frech in that language. I find this explanation somewhat more plausible than a second one, which claims that frech survives in Frechdachs in the now obsolete meaning of "brave" and that badgers got a reputation for bravery because they were willing to defend their burrow, when they had young, even against larger predators.

[Source: Wild Things in the German Language: Kindle version | iBook version]

Monday, February 15, 2010

Books on Politics

There are some very interesting books out that deal with various aspects of the current political situation. We start with a comment by one of our "regulars" on The Forty Years War by Len Colodny and Tom Schachtman and Bomb Power by Gary Wills.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Word of the month: Vorfreude

Word of the Month: Index

Vorfreude combines the prefix vor (similar to the English prefix "pre") and Freude (joy, pleasure). The term denotes a form of anticipation that imagines future pleasures ahead of time. When we were kids, for example, we experienced an intense Vorfreude in the weeks before Christmas. Right now, I have similar feelings when I think about the soccer World Cup that will start in S. Africa in mid-June.

Note on pronunciation: Vor is pronounced like English "for"—i.e. the "v" sounds like English "f", not like English "v"; the diphthong "eu" is pronounced like the "oy" in "joy"; and the ending "e" forms a full third syllable with the preceding "d". Try do say "FOR • froy • dah"!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bauhaus at MOMA


Reminder: The Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity exhibition closed on Jan. 25 at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. I've been there twice--my later comments were written after my second visit. I would have gone a third time if had had the opportunity--I loved the exhibition so much--it hit me on a very visceral level.

← table lamp by Wilhelm Wagenfeld

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Word of the month: Salonlöwe

Salonlöwe drawing A Salonlöwe ("lounge lion") is a socialite displaying more style than substance (all that attention paid to hair!). Eine Person, die zwar sehr elegant und gebildet, aber auch sehr oberflächlich ist ("a person who is very elegant and well-educated, but also very shallow") is one definition I found on the web.

It's tempting to compare the German animal to the English "lounge lizard", but I have the sense that the German expression does not connote a slithering parasite, a gigolo who lives off women, which the English definitions of "lounge lizard" stress.

[Source: Wild Things in the German Language: Kindle version | iBook version]

Happy New Year to all my friends!