Archive for the tag “german media in english”

A Mood is Spreading in Europe

The Swiss voted for capping immigration on Sunday. The seeds of right-wing populist and nationalist thinking are germinating, with ramifications for the whole continent.


Despite posters like this, most of Switzerland voted for the right-wing Swiss People’s Party. Photo: Reuters

You could call it political irony. Switzerland, the country sending shockwaves through Europe, is not even a member of the European Union.  The consequences of the referendum are as broad as the margin of victory in the vote was narrow. In part, because EU agreements will have to be renegotiated. And European right-wing populists and nationalists will seize upon the victory as a sign of a shift among voters.

The referendum results increase the likelihood that anti-EU parties will occupy a fourth of the seats in the European Parliament and hence become the largest group in the EU legislature after elections on May 25th. Mark Schulz, the European Social Democrats’ leading candidate, fears that “those who want to destroy Europe are in a position to win the elections in Europe” could become a reality.

A mood is spreading in Europe

The enemy is Brussels. A mood is spreading in Europe, a mood hostile toward the European idea. The Swiss referendum is now a bellwether for far right-wing parties across the continent, for the Finns Party, the French National Front, the anti-Islamic Dutch Freedom Party as well as English EU opponents.

The Eurosceptic party, Alternative for Germany, will easily surpass the 3% hurdle. And the rallying cry is no longer opposing the unpopular euro. The immigration debate and the opening of the borders with Romania and Bulgaria could prove to be a volatile mix and hot topics in the run-up to the election. The question of whether new arrivals in Germany are eligible for social welfare and unemployment benefits is an issue that will make the populist message appealing to unsatisfied voters. The less openly this topic is discussed, the more damage it will do. That politics must become honest is the sentiment of Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière, who has called the discussion helpful that was prompted by Thilo Sarrazin’s book (Deutschland schafft sich ab), which denounces immigration in Germany as a failure.

Fear of Überfremdung

The idea of Europe is not dead, not yet. But most Germans do not see immigration as a promising way to a peaceful future. They consider it be a form of redistribution burdening to Germany and as a threat to hard-earned prosperity. As the results in Switzerland show, the integration of Europe is increasingly associated in people’s minds with a fear of Überfremdung, a word alternately translated as “excessive immigration” or “being overrun with foreigners.” One could argue that it makes no sense to compare immigration in Switzerland and Germany, to compare the impact of 80,000 new arrivals in a country of only eight million residents with a country that has a population ten times larger. Yet 120,000 asylum seeker applications in 2013 was enough to significantly heat up the political debate.

In dealing with the financial crisis, the government has also struggled to communicate that integration and the euro have benefitted Germany and that the country has even profited from the interest on financial aid packages. That applies to an even greater extent for people in countries hit hard by the Eurozone crisis, who feel dominated and blackmailed by Germany. For those focused on saving the banks, it should thus not come as a surprise that voters are looking for solutions elsewhere.

By Gerd Nowakowski. Published in the Tagesspiegel on February 10, 2014.

Politicians Need to Draw the Line With Muslims

Integration policy is chiefly a policy for Turkish Muslims. Or have we ever had a Vietnamese integration politician? Or have Hindus in Germany ever demanded a Hindu holiday?


A picture of harmony, not a picture of harmony: still life with a flag in front of a Swabian mosque. Photo: picture alliance / Frank Rumpenh 

I had a glimmer of hope recently as I read in the newspaper that Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière sought to make wholesale changes to the Islam Conference, which has proved grueling and unfruitful.

Finally, I thought, finally a minister who asks what many others—including myself—have long asked: Why just an Islam Conference? Why not a conference for a Hindus, Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox? Why not a Polish, Vietnamese, or Africa Conference?

Finally a conference for all immigrants, where Vietnamese and Polish immigrants can explain to Turkish immigrants how integrating their children in the school system works and why they haven’t had any need for their own conference or similar things.

But it was clear just hours later that the representatives of Ditib and other Turkish Muslim associations had understood Maizière much better than I had. The result dashed my tentative hopes and left me unnerved and perplexed

Yet another catalog of demands

Maizière’s vague announcement encouraged the Kolats, Kizilkayas and other Muslim spokesmen to submit a catalog of demands to the minister. The catalog is one they apparently hold ready for every auspicious opportunity. It calls for a Muslim holiday, chaplains in the military and prisons (there especially), hospitals, cemeteries, exclusive control of the associations in the advisory boards for Islamic religious education and, according to a demand by Ditib spokesman Bekir Alboga, “positive remarks by politicians” in order to improve “public opinion” of Islam in Germany.

Let’s imagine that I demanded German literary critics make positive remarks about my books in order to improve public opinion about my work. “Write better books” might be the reply of some critics. But they would probably just deem me to be insane.

Ditib, the organization that Bekir Alboga speaks for, is the German representative of the Turkish religious authority, Diyanet, which is directly controlled by the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. And apparently they are attempting to succeed in Germany where they are encountering resistance in Turkey.

15 million citizens with immigrant backgrounds live in Germany. 4.5 million are Muslims, three million of which are Turkish. How many Muslims actually feel represented by their religious associations is not clear.

Why a Muslim holiday for everyone?

But even if they all were, they would only make up 5% of the German population. That means 95% of the population would have to observe a holiday that they have no traditional or religious connection to.

This demand alone appears to me absurd. Complete religious freedom is guaranteed in Germany. Believers of every faith are entitled to time off during religious holidays.

I’ve asked myself for a long time how Muslim associations manage to regularly outrage the entire republic by means of their absurd demands, leaving the impression that we already in fact live in a semi-Islamic state. One whose secular constitution is to be slowly buried by the religious demands of Muslims.

Veiled teachers, prayer rooms in schools, Burkinis in public swimming pools—if Muslim officials had their way, public life in Germany would, in the name of 5% of the population, continue to change until it accorded with Islamic requirements. I sincerely hope that at least half the population of German Muslims wants that as little as I do.

Politicians and their conciliatory tone

What I understand least of all is why German politicians speak with Muslim representatives in this conciliatory tone. It’s as if they had just completed a de-escalation course conducted by the Neukölln police department*. They are the elected representatives of all Germans and are obligated to defend the secular principles of the state in a clear and unmistakable fashion.

If the religious requirements of Muslims collide with the constitutional principle of equality as set out in the German Basic Law, then we should follow the proposal outlined by Egyptian-German writer Hamed Abdel Samad. He argues that the privileges enjoyed by Christians need to be curtailed where possible in order to stave off the push being made by Islam in public life.

It is an illusion to believe the problems associated with Islam can be solved in a German context alone. Devout Muslims see themselves as a worldwide community, as an ummah, whose conflicts and battles also extend into the German classroom.

Turkish, Iranian, Palestinian

The hope of preserving the peace by allowing hard-earned values to be hollowed out is as illusory as the lauded peace of the “Miracle of Marxloh” **.

Politicians in every party elect to take a tolerant course instead of drawing a clear line when it comes to the religious demands of one part of the population. They do this by appointing a Muslim man, or more preferably a Muslim woman whenever possible, to every integration policy post that opens up.

Why not a Vietnamese woman or a Polish man, a Russian or Bulgarian whose religious affiliation will not be especially highlighted? Is integration policy mainly a policy for Muslims, Turks in particular, or does it include the other ten million citizens with migrant backgrounds?

Aydan Özoguz, Minister of State for Integration since December 2013, complained shortly after assuming office that Germans knew too little about Islam and the Islam Conference. Following that, she demanded the abolishment of the law governing dual citizenship—”no ifs ands or buts”.

It is imperative to protect the German Basic Law

The verb “integrate” has both a reflexive and non-reflexive meaning: one can integrate something or someone, and one can integrate oneself.

A minister for integration should consider both meanings of that word in formulating her policies. Otherwise, there is the danger of political patronage and of ignoring the interests of the country as a whole.

The task of integration in German society and politics is to clear away the obstacles faced by people from other cultures and countries, to open doors to schools and universities and to guarantee freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

The task of immigrants is to accept these offers and to observe the Basic Law, which is also to say, the secular identity of the country. And it means that they integrate themselves—as Muslims, atheists, orthodox, Hindus, Jews, Catholics, Protestants—each in their own way.

* Neukölln is a district in Berlin with a large Turkish population and a high crime rate

** The largest mosque in Germany was opened in Duisburg-Marxloh in 2008

By Monika Maron

Monika Maron is a novelist living in Berlin. Her most recent book is Zwischenspiel (Interlude).

Published in Die Welt on February 2, 2014.

They Don’t Call It Work

On the job at home. The care worker revolution strives to elevate the significance of caring work wherever it’s done.


Charité Hospital staff flashmobbing on at Alexanderplatz, Berlin (10.08.2013). Photo:verdi@Charité-Blog

More hospitals are being privatized in Germany nowadays than in any other country. For a long time hospitals were places where people were treated for illnesses and injuries and the costs were publicly financed. But the introduction of the “patient flat rate” in 2004 has turned hospitals into businesses. Profit is generated by undercutting the costs of these flat rates, that is, by treating the highest number of patients with profitable diagnoses at the lowest possible cost. The number of patients has increased by 5.8% since 2000, while hospital staffs are now 10% smaller. The large trade union ver.di claims that German clinics have a staff shortage of 162,000 employees.

Nurses, nurses aides and orderlies at the Charité hospital in Berlin have been fighting for a minimum staff level for months. They use flash mobbing tactics during each round of negotiations, collapsing exhausted on the grass of the interior courtyard of the clinic. Their signs read: “I’m sick, because I have to care for too many patients.”

The message was the same at the Blockupy protests this past May in Frankfurt, where protesters unfurled a new approach intended to place the neglected care work sector at the center of a social movement. A purple banner bearing the slogan “Care Revolution” was carried through the streets. Other signs read, “When was the last time you had an hour for yourself?” and, “Care deserves a fair share.” The message is that cutbacks in essential public services have wider implications beyond staff reductions in clinics.


Charité Hospital staff flashmobbing at Alexanderplatz, Berlin (10.08.2013). Photo:verdi@Charité-Blog

Discriminatory system

A look at the family also makes this evident. The capitalist approach has never really addressed the basic care people need beyond what they receive in hospitals and senior homes, other than by ensuring that care is accomplished through a gender-marked division of labor. Under Fordism, men manned the machines while women worked at home, cooking, cleaning, looking after children and taking care of the elderly. This care work does not yield profits and thus has no value in the system, nor do the people doing it.

The discrimination against women resulting from this division of labor is embedded deeply in our economic system. Undervaluing female-encoded work hasn’t changed much in past decades. The Federal Statistical Office’s most recent figures reveal that in Germany 1.7 times more unpaid “reproduction work” work is done than wage work. Women do 31 hours of unpaid work per week. If tasks like cutting the grass and washing the car are included, then men do 19 hours of unpaid work, but women still do 80% of the care work.

The second women’s movement drew attention to the importance of care work. “They call it love. We call it unpaid work,” wrote the Italian feminist Silvia Federici in 1975. She has been touring the world again in recent years, calling on the next generation to stage a “revolt from the kitchen,” to quote the title of a book of her most important essays that was republished in German.

In the meantime, an increasing number of publications and conferences are addressing the issues of the second women’s movement, issues fundamental to our economy. In the end, care work is what ensures well-being and provides the market with a labor force. And is supported by an ideology that has always glorified the family as a refuge insulated from market forces.

More women pursue careers these days (estimated between 15% and 20%) and largely enjoy the same opportunities afforded their male counterparts. Women can get the same jobs and the same salary but successfully negotiating the work world doesn’t automatically translate into more independence. On the contrary, it means a longer work day. Female workers make up over 60% of those employed in low-wage jobs. And after work there are chores and kids at home to take care of, if not a mother-in-law. Burn out is not the plight of the over ambitious manager. Low earners are three times more likely to suffer from the effects of over work. And there are twice as many women in this group as men.

Separating work and family

Both the conservative Christian Democrats and their center-left coalition partners, the Social Democrats, would like to ignore this problem. The introduction to their coalition agreement makes this clear, clearly separating “people’s accomplishments” into the spheres of “at work” and “for the family.” It is precisely during this crisis that the family is asked to compensate in areas where the community is lacking resources. And thus there is an almost systematic effort in the coalition agreement to further reduce the visibility of the family, which appears only as a sub-item under “Social cohesion”. Under “Nursing”, however, the floridly described intention is to support minimum standards for hospital staff and to elevate the perception of the nursing professions. Yet how they are going to do that is not mentioned.

Since parties are reluctant to speak about care work, others have stepped in to fill the vacuum. Occupational scientist Gabriele Winker coined the term “Care Revolution”, taking her inspiration from a newspaper article by Georg Fülberth. The latter, a political scientist, demands increased wages as well as high investment in the “youngest ones” and “golden agers.”

Winker is pleased that care work is now being talked about more openly by left-leaning men. What she says is missing is “unpaid work,” an issue that doesn’t come up in discussions about daycare centers or senior homes. Hence the Care Revolution. Winker’s point is that increasing wages and investment in education and daycare does not go far enough. She wants financial security for individual members of society. This could be moving in the direction of setting a minimum income in order to relieve the economic pressures on those doing care work privately. At the same time, social work professions must be held in greater esteem. Why should a daycare professional responsible for caring for children only receive a fraction of an engineer’s salary?

These ideas are at odds with the logic of the system. But they are resonating with more and more people. 50 groups registered for the Care Revolution Action Conference in Berlin last March, including Attac, ver.di, nursing networks, women centers and even the Grandmother Revolution of Switzerland. Paid and unpaid care workers want to draw attention to an issue that has been continually ignored despite its fundamental role in society.

By Sebastian Dörfler, published in Der Freitag (50/13) on December 12, 2013.

A Fantastic Goethe Biography


Goethe’s color wheel, 1809

There was nothing Goethe despised with more passion than death. He loved life and made life into high art form. He banished death on the literary stage, exorcised and eluded it, and came away severely disturbed and grossly offended. When his mother died, Goethe remained in Carlsbad and complained afterward that death “made entering Weimar a very gloomy experience.” He lay sick in bed after Schiller died and didn’t feel up to viewing the deceased or attending the funeral. He wrote a eulogy for Wieland but also kept his distance from the deceased and the burial. He withdrew in silence after learning of the death of Duke Karl August and shortly after that his only son had died in Rome. The renowned poet and scientist even remained in bed after his wife died. Charlotte von Stein knew of Goethe’s hatred of death. When making her own final arrangements, she requested that the funeral procession avoid the Frauenplan and not pass by Goethe’s house. For his part, Goethe himself naturally avoided the burial.

Masterfully woven

“The death parades are not what I love.” This was a refrain in Goethe’s letters and discussions, and no sentence is quoted more often by Rüdiger Safranski in his biography of Weimar’s prince of poets. That cannot be due to carelessness in this excellent and stylistically brilliant book on Goethe’s life. Rüdiger Safranski weaves facts and interpretations masterfully, drawing on his wealth of knowledge, and on the life and work of Goethe as well as the time period he lived in. He writes like a novelist and is comfortable navigating waters that could easily drown read and author alike. In the most exquisite way, he uses details to construct the larger picture, tells a life story against the panorama of history and literature and interprets the heart of an existence.

It is not without meaning thus that this telling quote is repeated with remarkable frequency and serves as a leitmotif throughout the book. The biographer sees in it the disposition of the subject. Or more precisely, the eminent factor of the subject’s existence. Which implies a slightly skeptical undertone. The reader has to keep in mind Safranski’s emphatic study of Schiller and Goethe’s (2009) friendship to sense his inner distance to Goethe. He doesn’t idolize Goethe. He finds his subject interesting. Some aspects of his existence irritate him. Certain nuances Safranski employs make that evident, including Goethe’s egocentric contempt for death. Such reservations can perhaps also be gleaned from the apt subtitle Safranski chose: Artwork of Life. Is it impish to hear irony here alongside admiration?

Because this invariably resonates in the sentiment that “the death parades are not what I love.” He had adopted so much of the art of living and lust for life that made him a beneficiary of life many times over that the maxims of this existence likewise demanded a great deal of protection and avoidance against loss. Safranski’s portrait effortlessly depicts how Goethe created art out of life and transformed existence itself into an aesthetic work. The biographer does not demolish the monument along the way, but rather he shows the poet in life size—how he dithered and dilly-dallied and needed to count on outside support in many of his undertakings.

It begins in Strasbourg where Goethe stumbled in his promotion to doctor of law. His dissertation was rejected and so he returned to Frankfurt in 1771 possessing only a license to practice law. After accepting an invitation from the recently appointed ruler Duke Karl August, he moved to Weimar in 1775 and decided life should be “subordinated my writing”.  Nevertheless, this occurred after Goethe had succeeded early on with Goetz von Berlichingen and after The Sorrows of Young Werther became a sensation in 1774. “The works of art succeeded more easily than the artwork of life,” writes Safranski. “He felt like a student in this arena and he knew that genius does not protect one who is an amateur at life.” What Safranski does not tell us directly, but what emerges from his depiction of the poet’s early literary success at this time, is that art and balance were not only lacking in Goethe’s practical affairs but in virtually every dimension of his life.

In any case, Goethe was a cheerful dilettante in romance, writing and government. Karl August immediately involved him in governmental duties, some of which failed – especially Goethe’s prominent projects. In Ilmenau, mining was supposed to contribute to the prosperity of the resource-poor duchy (and allow Goethe to gain insight into the earth’s interior). But the mining venture was a showcase project turned investment failure. Goethe also failed at road construction. The money ran out before the major arteries were built connecting Erfurt, Weimar and Jena. And on the side, the privy councilor pursued his occupation as a (dilettante) scientist, discovering in the intermaxillary bone proof of the human being’s link with the rest of the animal kingdom.

Goethe enthusiastically delved into an array of tasks given to him by the duke or taken up on his own. But in his first decade in Weimar, he worked himself to the bone. Safranski dedicates a lot of space to covering the double life of administration and poetry, effectively setting the stage for the ensuing upheaval. The trip—or rather flight—to Italy marks Goethe’s rebirth as an artist once again. He would later write: “The longing for the land of the arts was replaced by a longing for art itself.” Just as he required someone to give him the decisive push to make the move to Weimar, his transformation in Italy was not his sole doing. In Rome, Goethe found in Karl Philipp Moritz a man to pave the way. While Goethe was there, Moritz worked out an aesthetic philosophy that assigned art an autonomous space. This offered the Weimar exile a new perspective on his double life, whereby art becomes transformed into a sphere with its own rules and independent claim.

It is here that Safranski details circumstances of Goethe’s rebirth, the stupendous and surely most important consequences of midwifery in literary history. After his initiation into the autonomous sphere of art, Goethe allows himself to come under the spell of Fichte’s enthronement of the creative ego. At the same time, his philosophy presages that consequential “auspicious event” of July 20, 1794 in Jena where Schiller and Goethe meet and strike up a friendship. “I ask you”, Goethe writes in a letter to his dear friend, “not to cease, I would like to say, pushing me beyond my own limits.”

Piecemeal creation process

Some things remain piecemeal in Goethe’s creative work till that point and beyond. For Faust, this is true without reservation and up to its completion. Schiller encouraged his friend to continue the work he started in the early 1770s. Goethe struggled with it until the end. His oft-interrupted life work became a mirror of this “artwork of life”, which succeeded most happily when he abandoned maxims and allowed himself to be inspired by friends. Right up to the Oriental Divan, a work based on poetic and erotic conversations with Marianne von Willemer. Which is what makes this life a work of art, that here creative genius was combined with the endowment of multi-facetted love and friendship. And that a group of friendly and open individuals formed around Duke Karl August who even in death were sensitive to feelings of the poet.

Rüdiger Safranski: Goethe. Kunstwerk des Lebens. Biography. Carl-Hanser-Verlag, Munich 2013, 751 pages.

By Roman Bucheli, published in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on December 22, 2013

The Minutes of Kafka’s Trial

 “I feel cold and empty about the extent of my abilities which, when I’m not completely stricken, is undoubtedly very limited.” Franz Kafka, diary entry from August 30, 1914

Written in 1914-15, Franz Kafka’s enigmatic novel The Trial has become something of a Holy Grail in the modern literary world. A century after its fragmented completion, the German Literature Archive in Marbach is displaying the extant manuscript for the first time.

A pervading mystery surrounds Franz Kafka’s The Trial, possibly the most famous and notorious novel in literary history. One would over exaggerate, however, in claiming we know virtually nothing at all. On the contrary, we are astonishingly well informed about its creation and transmission. And we can count ourselves lucky to “possess” the work at all. Max Brod was entrusted with the uncompleted novel along with other manuscripts and papers, which he was supposed to burn after the death of his friend in 1924. But Brod had realized early on the phenomenal stature of Kafka’s work and already snatched away the “incomplete, unfinishable, unpublishable” manuscript between 1918 and 1920 – out of fear of an auto-da-fé.

Brod would save The Trial again on the night of 14th and into the 15th of March 1939. He fled the city just hours before the German Wehrmacht marched into Prague, but didn’t leave without first packing Kafka’s manuscripts in his suitcase. As a Jew he quite rightly feared for his life. He found a new homeland in Palestine, where he continued to act as the guardian of Kafka’s literary legacy. Brod died in 1968 and bequeathed The Trial manuscript along with Kafka’s entire Nachlass to his secretary and partner Esther Hoffe. In 1988, Hoffe announced the manuscript would be auctioned off. Just a year previous, Kafka’s letters to Felice had been auctioned by an unknown seller and disappeared into the hands of a private collection. Fearing a similar fate, the German government, State Cultural Foundation, the Cultural Foundation of the state of Baden Württemberg and private actors raised enough money to acquire the work for a million pounds (3.5 million Marks at the time), the current record high paid for a literary manuscript.

Since the acquisition, the 161 pages of the manuscript have remained in the holdings of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, the most important research center for the history of German literature from 1750 to the present. By analyzing watermarks and traces of damage from the nearly extant notebook material, Oxford germanist Malcolm Pasley assembled a selection from the novel, which was displayed in 1990 under the title The Manuscript Speaks. Now for the first time the entirety of The Trial is on view and arranged to show visitors how it was originally composed. The exhibition also includes the cross references to Brod’s first edition and the critical edition by Roland Reuss and Peter Staengle. Visitors to Marbach enter a solemn exhibition room monitored by Archive staff. The subdued lighting of the display cases illuminates pages bearing witness to an ecstatic throng of creativity that remains mind boggling to this day.

Brod’s astounding achievement

Max Brod was intent on showing that Kafka was not merely “a master of cabaret” but also a writer of the “great epic form.” This motivated him to publish The Trial as quickly as possible. His task however involved collating a book from loose pages, mostly written on both sides, torn out of different notebooks. The only definitive orientation was where the work began and ended. Kafka had roughly arranged the material into bundles, marking finished “chapters” with a cover sheet and unfinished “chapters” with a wrapping sheet (torn from his story “The Stoker”, no less). And on each of the pages he noted the contents using keywords or “titles”. It was not clear, however, in this mishmash of finished, half-finished and outlined sections what the plot sequence actually was, nor what exactly was to be regarded as a section or just a fragment.


The Entire Trial exhibition at the German Literature Archive in Marbach

For Brod it was important to simplify, bundle and smooth out the material in order to “make an idiosyncratic, strange and incomplete work of literature accessible” to a broader reading public and to avoid burdening them with the fragmentary character of the novel. Brod went with his gut feeling in putting the pieces together, and was not exactly fastidious concerning what he added (commas and periods), rendered consistent (names), omitted, moved or corrected. What did not fit initially he left out and later placed in an appendix with fragments. He even wrote in his own hand the steno-transcriptions and references to the manuscripts.

That might make philologists’ hair stand on end today, but Brod’s work resulted in nothing less than a version of The Trial that emanates an aura, a novel that has been experienced as a revelation to generations of readers and critics. Kafka’s editors know and want much more today, but they have yet to find a solution that improves upon Brod’s arrangement of the basic sections of the manuscript. Max Brod’s enthusiasm enabled The Trial to be published by the Berlin publishing house Die Schmiedd in 1925, just ten months after Kafka’s death. Later editions followed between 1935 and 1946. It’s an open question whether Kafka would have been happy to see his work published. In his eyes the novel was a failed project, his second after Amerika (1911 to 1914), despite the fact that he employed a totally new writing approach to thwart previous problems. In writing Amerika, Kafka became trapped in the confines of linearity and lost in the narrative gaps between sections of text. On January 26, 1913 Kafka wrote: “My novel! I told myself the evening before last that it had defeated me. It wanders in different directions. I can no longer lay a hand on it.” Kafka started his next book on August 11, 1914, during the second week of WWI after moving out of his parents’ apartment. And precisely because of the problems that had defeated him previously, he began The Trial by staking out the structure of the novel, simultaneously working on the first and last chapters with their famous opening and final sentences. He planned to fill what lay in between with loosely connected episodes as they occurred to him, telling of Josef K’s experiences during the time of his trial.

But inspiration again interfered with the plan. The muses proved so abrupt and diverting that Kafka began taking notes again, often simultaneously writing different sections in ten separate notebooks. He followed the maxim that “one must write as in a dark tunnel without knowing how the figures will evolve.” He pushed forward with chapters in progress, while at the same time sketching out new ones. The intensity driving his work is evident from how he was writing— not only helter skelter, but also beginning new sections at the back and writing those toward the front, until the sections finally collided and had to be continued in other notebooks. When he suffered from writer’s block or the metaphors grew unwieldy, Kafka quickly segued into one of his own stories. He used the same writing material to continue work on Amerika, write the story “In the Penal Colony“ and keep up on his diary entries. The chaotic multitasking did not make it any easier for him to keep track of the novel.

The 31-year-old author wrote The Trial at night and on holidays, working with extreme concentration and at an unbelievable tempo for six months before becoming disillusioned and setting it aside in January 1915.  The hero Josef K. is arrested one morning “without having done anything wrong” and ends up being killed in a quarry “like a dog” by two henchmen of the court. This fate reflects the simple biographical realities of working as an insurance claims officer and the disintegration of his engagement to the Berliner Felice Bauer, which Kafka experienced as a defendant being prosecuted in court. Kafka was making an inside joke by drawing an equivalence between the unpleasant non-progression of the trial with the non-proceedings of his writing efforts. The result is that content, form and genesis involve a weaving of subtext that is often astounding.

He was enthusiastic and confident at the beginning of the novel, evinced by the relaxed and almost carefree penmanship. But his emotions shifted back and forth, between fear and hope, struggle and doubt. While the war raged far away from him and his work, Kafka found himself before the stage of his “dream-like inner life”, fighting his own battle against the emptiness and meaninglessness of his bachelor existence: “I’ve been writing for a couple of days. I would like to stick with it,” he writes on August 15th. 14 days later his mood is dampened: “The conclusion of one chapter was unsuccessful. Another chapter began nicely, but I’ll hardly be able to progress like that, or rather most definitely not that nicely as I certainly would have succeeded in doing that night. I can’t abandon myself. I’m totally alone.”

Down the path of failure

On August 30th, Kafka felt “cold and empty” about “the extent of my abilities that, when I’m not completely stricken, are undoubtedly very limited.” He attributed an output of “only two pages again” on September 13th first to his “sadness about the defeats suffered by Austria”, and then blamed “torpor that keeps returning and keeps having to be overcome. There is enough time for the sadness itself while I’m not writing.” On October 25th, the outlook is gloomy again: “Work has practically come to a complete halt. What I manage to write doesn’t appear to stand on its own, but is rather a reflection of the good writing I’ve already done.”

And on November 30th, he has his first premonition of failure: “I can’t write any more. I’m at an absolute limit. Perhaps I should remain there for years in order to maybe start a new story or go back again to an unfinished story.” Soon his progress was only a “miserable crawl”, a grind and heavy strain that is evident from the increasingly cramped and shaky handwriting. Kafka nevertheless published some of the particularly successful passages (like “Before the Law”) in magazines and anthologies. In 1920, he put the novel completely behind him.

The content of the novel no doubt also merits attention. But viewing the manuscript pages alone is enough to make one dizzy. Whoever wants to believe it, and yet cannot, needs to make the pilgrimage to Marbach. It’s seldom that such a miracle ever assumes material form as it does here.

By Andreas Breitenstein.  Published on December 6, 2013 in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Soil and Blood


Icon of the youth movement. Painter Hugo Höppener also printed his Light Prayer on postcards. He joined the Nazi Party in 1932. Photo: promo

Green utopias and populist seduction alike grew out the nature-loving German youth movement. An exhibition at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nürnberg focuses chiefly on fathoming the abysses.

The naked young man stands on the cliff extending his hands to the sky. His heels elevated from the earth, his blonde hair swaying in the wind while the rising sun illuminates his slender, athletic body.

In his Light Prayer, the painter Hugo Höppener (better known as Fidus) encapsulated all of the aspirations present in the German youth movement at the turn of the 20th century. The hope-infused attention to healing, salvation and awakening, the ascetic celebration of nudity and beauty, as well as health, power and will are present in his work. At a time of rapid industrialization, the message here was the emphatic call of “back to nature”!

It’s estimated that one out of ten German households in the 1920s had a copy of Fidus’ Light Prayer hung in their home. No surprise then that the Germanisches Nationalmuseum included this icon of Lebensreform or life reform in their exhibition “Dawn of Youth”.

Curators arranged a total of 280 objects in five sections, from the beginnings in Berlin-Steglitz and the Wandervogel, a back-to-nature youth group, to the postwar era, making the exhibition the largest devoted to the youth movement. And nothing could better summarize the history covered than the title of the exhibition: “Between Self-determination and Seduction”. This pendulation was already evident among the youth participants at the Meißnerfest on a mountain ridge near Kassel in 1913, a gathering for the “centennial celebration of all the life reform associations”.

Hugo Höppener had already had his work printed on postcards. The painter himself embodies the ambivalent legacy of the youth movement, the health awareness and warrior cult, “racial hygiene” and homeopathic medicine, organic farming and “blood and soil”. Höppener spread the popularity of the swastika among youth groups and became a member of the Nazi Party in 1932. But the Nazis found his art work overly kitsch. The Hitler Youth turned to the youth groups to appropriate their culture of organized trips, flags and leaders. One of the latter included Hans Scholl, who later opposed the Nazis and paid for it with his life.


Führer, flag and uniform. Youth groups of the 1930s embraced military aesthetics but many had long since parted ways with National Socialism. Photo: promo

The exhibition also reveals paths that seem just as unlikely today. Jewish youth groups appropriated the ideas of German nationalism but looked to Palestine for Lebensraum instead of eastern Europe. The German youth movement left its mark on Zionism too, with the 19th century populist folk song “Wacht am Rhein” being re-worked into the “Wacht am Jordan”.

Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Höß were members of the Artaman League

Youth movements were also responsible for the flight and expulsion of Jews from Germany. The Artaman League was formed in 1923, bringing together youths characterized by nationalist leanings as well as anti-Semitic attitudes and a romanticist-inspired attachment to rural life. They sought to use worker groups on estates on the east side of the Elbe River to bolster German expansion by forcing out Polish farmers. The program of the Artaman League resembled that of the National Socialists and in 1934 they became part of the agricultural service of the Hitler Youth. Some made careers out of this transition. At a conference held for the exhibition, Hamburg historian Stefan Brauckmann related how Heinrich Himmler became the Reichsführer of the SS while his Artaman companion Rudolf Höß was appointed commandant of the Auschwitz death camp. The Artaman League’s obsession with race is also on display in the exhibition. The words “Blood and Soil”, the Nazi ideology yoking ethnicity and agrarianism, was already emblazoned on the cover of the League’s national magazine in 1929.

Museum visitors will also encounter items in the exhibition that have been taken from storage or archives and presented for public view for the first time. Like August Engelhardt’s New Gospel, a pamphlet for cocoivorism (a diet consisting solely of coconuts and light), which served as the basis for Christian Kracht’s bestselling novel, A Small Empire. It’s also interesting to see a Wandervogel logo adorning a beer mug, a combination that should never have existed. Members of the Wandervogel preached abstinence. At the Meißner gathering in 1913 members celebrated but lauded the fact that “all events of the free German youth are alcohol and nicotine-free”. Not all youth groups were squeaky clean. Groups not averse to imbibing and smoking went their own way already before World War I, a move vividly evoked in Ernst Jünger’s 1970 book Annäherungen: Drogen und Rausch (Convergences: Drugs and Intoxication).

The exhibition could have been larger

These kinds of developments could have been explored more deeply in the exhibition, however, while only peripheral space is granted to the context of the youth movements. Adolescence came to be regarded as a distinct phase of life. But why? Because science, social legislation, industrialization and the labor movement improved living conditions in Germany. Children no longer had to support aging parents; birthrates, the work week and working life all decreased. The individual had more time and became more important. That has long been covered by textbooks dealing with the inter-war period. Other sections of the exhibition are also puzzling. What did the worker-youth associations take from the much smaller civic leagues with their (at most) 100,000 members? Visitors are at a loss because the scope of the exhibition is restricted to the youth groups. More space would have helped show relevant context.

Items documenting trips youth groups took are also on view. According to Freiburg historian Rüdiger Ahrens, these trips—including ones to Eastern Europe—reveal “clearly aggressive aspects”. A logbook from one of the groups contains the emblem of the Polish state railway taped to one of the pages, a trophy youths had cut out of the seat upholstery.

Trips to the east intended to bolster claims in settlement areas

Members of youth groups who took trips to Eastern Europe later became influential ethnologists. They sought to invigorate the German language and culture in the east, establish ties between ethnic Germans and the home country and bolster their settlement claims. These ethnologists served as advisors on forced resettlements policies, an aspect of the National Socialist Lebensraum expansion, according to the Berlin ethnologist Heinke Kalinke.

Other legacies of the youth movement prove ambivalent. Youth movement reform pedagogues opposed the military drilling methods of the time and adhered to the ideal of individually-tailored learning, of close rapport between educator and pupil, between leader and respectful young boys in male groups, evident from postcards shown at the exhibition. Toys from the Odenwald School are also on display. Hamburg historian Kristian Meyer recently wrote in the Süddeutsche Zeitung that most of the Oberwald school teachers responsible for abuse came out of the youth movement and that this has “a lot to do with the dark side of the youth movement history.”

Light Prayer painter Fidus made pictures of Stalin after 1945

One such dark aspect of the youth movement was misogyny. As was the norm for this time period, women were peripheral figures in the movement. The museum follows suit in the exhibition, with the main focus on athletic young men and male nudes, posed as Fidus painted them.

The iconic painter of the youth movement carried on with his career as an artist after the fall of the Third Reich. He made pictures of Stalin for the Soviets in exchange for food vouchers.

The exhibition “Dawn of Youth: The German Youth Movement Between Self-determination and Seduction runs at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nürnberg until January 19, 2014.

By Jonas Krumbein. Published on November 22, 2013 in the Tagespiegel.

From the Depths of the Psyche


The exiled Sigmund Freud photographed in a car as he arrives in London in 1938. Photo: AFPBild

The theories of Sigmund Freud have almost vanished from German universities. But psychoanalysis is in no way obsolete.

No science in the modern world has encountered so much hostile resistance from contemporaries as psychoanalysis. Sigmund Freud himself described his theory as causing offence, informing the ego of the unpleasant news that it wasn’t the captain of its own ship. Seen from this perspective, psychoanalysis is the next in a series of blows dealt by modern science. Copernicus discovered the earth was not the center of the universe; Kant cast into doubt the reliability of our senses; Darwin denied the human being a special status in creation. Freud’s theories swept away the last abiding illusion in the modern world, the belief in the purity of the inner life and the preeminence of our consciousness.

What it unearths are views from the depths of the psyche. And the insights into the unconscious disclosed unsettling revelations. Psychological investigations in a range of areas—dreams and neurosis, the power of repression to cause illness, the origin of moral control, the anatomy of angst and delusion, the tension between reason and sexuality as well as the will to live and the death drive—lead to the conclusion that the rational human being was an invention of seminal impact but possessed little psychological coherence.

In hindsight Freud liked to employ romantic metaphors in describing his difficult journeys from hypnosis treatment in 1890 to developing new forms of therapy. He regarded his excursions into the psyche as a descent into the dark underworld of the unconscious, as a journey into the inner recesses of a mountain where he struck gold but came across just as much in the way of mud and filth. Even though these images are romanticized, they contain a kernel of truth. They reflect in particular the feeling of loneliness that accompanied the father of psychoanalysis for many years, the harsh condemnation by the entire medical community and his fear that his hypotheses were in error.

The burden was increased by the fact that Freud made many of his discoveries through self-analysis. This was necessary because the fabric of the new theories was woven from the most intimate personal experiences of the movement’s founder. The resulting ideas were based on an odd fusion whereby doctor and patient, scholar and individual under treatment were one and the same. This moved psychoanalysis into the realm of painting, music and literature, in which the subjective experiences of the artist inspire what he or she creates. In this sense, Freud’s science led to a work of art molded by the fluctuations in his mental state.

It is incontestable that many aspects of Freud’s theories are now obsolete. The world of the late 19th century shaped his perception of gender, understanding of deviant sexual practices, neglect of physical symptoms as well as his theory of culture. Freud’s tendency toward strict dogmatism can be grasped today only if we consider what it was pitted against—the Puritanism of Victorian society. George Steiner spoke of an “unverified belief” that became embedded “in the heart of the psychoanalytic method.” This belief is in the omnipotence of the Trieb, the instinct or drive, which turns up everywhere—in language and everyday life, art and religion.

Freud’s acute perception of contradictions arising in the psyche stood in opposition to an odd tendency of his to use a narrow basis on which to substantiate symptom complexes and treatment methods. Critics such as Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Michel Onfray, in line with early defector C.G. Jung, continue to voice the complaint that Freud’s hypotheses lack a broad enough empirical basis and his theories are too fixated on the ubiquity of the drive. Nevertheless, one cannot deny his cultural and historical impact. Psychoanalysis became part of the modern world as well as an instrument interpreting and powering it. This dual role was typical of the 20th century, an age of commentary and realization through self-interpretation.

As a science of researching identity, psychoanalysis formed the types of thinking in which the denizens of the modern world could see themselves through their intellectual tendencies, finding confirmation and interpretation of the urge to explore hidden traces and signs, of the fact that the mysterious and concealed were so near to oneself. The archeology of the soul offered by Freud was simultaneously one of the epoch. Whoever speaks about the modern must talk about psychoanalysis. He or she may not always do that overtly but will do so inevitably.  To reflect on the modern means to be comprehended by psychoanalysis, to be determined by it. Even Freud’s enemies do not evade it, because the moment they begin voicing criticism they are gripped by the spell of psychoanalytic interpretation. Psychoanalytical diagnosis focuses on the drives and unconscious and thus encompasses the great stories of human culture. No one can approach these tales without paying tribute to Freud.

Freud’s ideal analyst moves within strictly delineated practices and rituals. He or she listens to the patient speaking from the couch and remains for the most part silent, only sporadically asking a question or following up a remark. By instituting talk therapy, psychoanalysis has created a new form of solidifying knowledge that represents a mixture of confession and embarrassing questions. The material Freud molded into the most consequential theory of modern man is not based on substances found in the lab, experiments or writings. It’s made up of the tales of woe related to him over the years. In Studies on Hysteria (1895) he writes that the therapist is a “hearer of confessions who offers absolution through a long-term commitment to the patient and attention to the confessions divested”.  The doctor’s unconscious, Freud wrote in 1912, should be “tuned to the patient like the receiver of a telephone to the caller. Just as the receiver receives electrical fluctuations caused by sound waves and transforms them back into sound waves, the unconscious of the doctor is capable of reconstructing the unconscious of his or her patient from the unconscious derivatives of this unconscious that has determined the free associations of the patient.” The analytical work was first concerned with delving into the vacillations of the other’s psyche and then reconstructing the contexts in which the repressed is located. The principle of listening simultaneously comprises the therapeutic act, beginning and ethos of understanding.

And today? Freud’s theories have survived both their fiercest critics and their most dogmatic defenders. As a therapeutic tool, the therapy derived and later developed does not lack controversy but is nevertheless still recognized. Nevertheless Freud’s theories have practically disappeared from university academic life in Germany. Reasons for this can be found in 20th century history. Jewish analysts were expelled from Germany after 1933 and taken in by Great Britain, France and the United States. Freud himself fled to London in 1938 and his theories are still more at home in the Anglo-American academy than in Germany.

There are also methodological conflicts dividing psychoanalysis and neuroscience. Freud’s system seems too speculative to brain researchers because it is scientifically founded on empirical data and theory, but not experimentation. Nevertheless, an accommodation should be possible. It is a fact that psychoanalysis has exerted more influence on film, the arts and literature than it has on medicine and psychology. But this doesn’t have to be the case in the future.

Freud’s theories are in no way obsolete. In fact, there is a lot of potential for more work to be done precisely because an undogmatic interpretation of his ideas has begun with potential applications in different areas of neuroscience and cultural theory. And eighty years after Freud’s death, universities should also see to it that they do not restrict the presentation of his theories as part of a historical survey.

This article appeared in German in the Tagespiegel (October 8, 2013). By Peter-André Alt

No Spies Allowed

Edward Snowden laughing it up at a recent meeting in Moscow with German Green Party MP Hans-Christian Ströbele, WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison, who escorted Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow, Georg Mascolo, former editor of the German magazine Spiegel, and John Goetz from the Süddeutsche Zeitung

(Article written by John Goetz and Hans Leyendecker and published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on November 3, 2013)

A figure like Edward Snowden is wont to prompt speculation. So it’s no surprise that rumors continue to surface claiming the FSB, Russia’s secret service, is the actual source behind the flow of disclosed information. Agents do not decide when and how documents become public, however. This is the result of hard-fought competition among journalists.

Intelligence agents are at home in a world of cloak and dagger. Intelligence agencies spread information secrets—true and fictitious—by means of “Dezinformatsiya”, as the Russians say. The objective is to discredit the enemy. Like when Russian intelligence services concocted a report that the Aids virus was created by scientists employed by military laboratories in the West. That made headlines.

But there are also numerous examples of “active measures” (distributing false intelligence) undertaken by US intelligence services using this technique in the case of whistleblower Edward Snowden. In talks behind the scenes, high-ranking security officials explain that the Russian secret service (FSB) is behind everything. And they say that claim is “completely reliable”. The eavesdropping on Merkel’s cell phone conversations, for instance, was staged by the Kremlin. “It would be interesting to know what agents in the Russian FSB have found in all the top secret data in the hands of their hostage Snowden, which they can soon use against the West”, prophesied a German newspaper on the weekend.

Snowden initially fled to Hong Kong and has been in Moscow since June 23rd, but he has reiterated that neither the Chinese nor the Russians have received access to his material. Snowden values his stance on this a great deal and is a man who sees himself as a patriot. He also emphasizes that he has not leaked information about the methods employed by US intelligence agencies. Snowden says he didn’t bring the material with him to Moscow. But is he to be believed? In critics’ eyes he is either a traitor or a hostage.

The reality is more banal. Snowden’s revelations proceed along a course determined by journalism principles, not according to the practices of intelligence agencies. In other words, there is more explanation than paranoia, a lot of fire but little smoke. Or the opposite of what we would expect from intelligence agencies.

Snowden’s libertarian ideology

This conclusion follows from the story of how this journalism scoop came to light, much of which has to do with Snowden’s libertarian ideology. “Independent journalists ought to form their own opinions about the contents of the documents”, Snowden told the Green Party MP Hans-Christian Ströbele during a meeting with the German politician in Moscow. He “set the whole thing in motion, but journalists, politicians, technology experts and average citizens” decide in the end “how much we will benefit from it”. He keeps up with the use of his material on the Internet (see Wikileak videos of the meeting in Moscow documented by the Süddeutsche Zeitung).

On May 20th Snowden flew from Hawaii to Hong Kong in order to pass on information to journalists. In The Mira Hotel at the beginning of June, he met the documentary film director and producer Laura Poitras, Guardian blogger Glenn Greenwald and Guardian New York correspondent Ewen MacAskill.

The three inquired about the reasons for the meeting. Snowden handed out the material. On June 5th the Guardian published the first revelation, showing how the US government issued a telecommunications giant Verizon with a secret court order, forcing the company to turn over millions of US citizens’ telephone data. Snowden appeared in a 12 ½-minute video on June 9th, stating his purpose and describing the NSA’s unchecked data obsession. Afterward, he was sheltered by an acquaintance and made brief contact with a journalist from the South Morning Post.

Greenwald and Poitras left Hong Kong with different material, the former carrying information more relevant to the US while the latter held data of more interest to Europeans. Poitras and Greenwald became key figures in the story and later explained they left Hong Kong in part because other people from the press began turning up. Another factor may have been that the two are Americans and must have feared they would be indicted as accessories in any trial brought against Snowden. MacAskill received back up from his colleagues and stayed put longer. He was interested in the activities of the NSA as well any British involvement. Snowden obliged him with material concerning Britain’s Government Communications Headquarter (GCHQ) and data about their cooperation with the NSA.

Three tidy sources with mountains of information. This had nothing to do with intelligence agencies. Poitras, a highly-esteemed director and producer in the world of documentary film, flew to Berlin with her material and soon began assisting Spiegel with their pieces on the Snowden affair. Greenwald flew back to Rio, where he cooperated with media outlets and gave several interviews.

The Guardian is perhaps the best investigative paper in the world right now and has dedicated a large team to reporting on the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ. The paper is subject to extreme pressure brought to bear by strict laws in the UK and has fought valiantly for clarification.

No trace of intelligence agencies anywhere to be found in the affair

Those entrusted with the material have thus been journalists, not intelligence agents. Snowden is a supporter of WikiLeaks, but they have not received any data for their own use either. New relationships have continued to form in past months. Editors-in-chief of top newspapers travel to meet alleged sources in order to obtain some of Snowden’s information. There is stiff competition among journalists and it’s over competence or lack of competence. Nevertheless, no story or development in the affair bears the trace of intelligence agency involvement.
Granted, in theory the revelations about spying on heads of state, including the chancellor, could allow for such speculations. In communist East Germany, Section X of the government’s foreign intelligence service (HVA) made use of “information outlets” to create scandals in West Germany by supplying segments of phone conversations that had been tampered with. But that was a long time ago.

Clearly the Americans and the Russians would like to know what Snowden has tucked away. But they presumably do not know. Information about spying on government leaders was sorted without the involvement of intelligence agents.
A figure like Snowden naturally prompts speculation. In his own words, he has described himself as a Buddhist and a vegan who never eats meat. But during his meeting with the German contingent in Moscow, he ate a steak—and no one forced him to do it.

The Confessions of Emil Nolde

His art was banned during the Third Reich. His pictures were confiscated. He was prohibited from painting. And yet Emil Nolde remained a fervent Nazi. By Stefan Koldehoff (Published on October 21, 2013 in Die Zeit)


                             Schwü̈ler Abend (1930) © Nolde Stiftung Seebüll

A half a century after his death Nolde is a superstar. Judged on the basis of the record highs his works fetch on the international art market, the attendance numbers at the exhibitions (once again over 100,000 recently in Baden-Baden) and the staggering print run of illustrated books, postcards, calendars and posters featuring his art, then Emil Nolde is by thoses standards one of the most prominent figures in the art world. Just as devotees of Claude Monet travel to Giverny, thousands of admirers make the pilgrimage to Seebüll in North Frisian to visit the Nolde House, where the painter resided from 1930 until his death. Six years ago a branch of the museum was built at the Gendarmenmarkt in the heart of Berlin.

Nolde’s luminous marshy landscapes and seas under brooding storm clouds, his biblical scenes and even the repetitive floral watercolors are a veritable hit with the public. His artwork is deemed avant-garde for its time while the vivid color and exuberance suggest timelessness. The artist himself is regarded as apolitical, although in a pinch expressionist artists are typically regarded as left-leaning. After all, many of them were persecuted by the Nazi regime. Nolde’s paintings too were banned as “degenerate”.

And yet the painter, a staunch anti-Semite, was whole heartedly committed to the Third Reich early on. In 1934 at the age of 67, he joined the National Socialist Working Group. Nolde began concealing this fact after the end of the war, rewriting crucial passages of his autobiography. In a talk commemorating Nolde’s 100th birthday back in 1967, the philologist and literary critic Walter Jens warned that one could not trust the rigor of the artist’s statements about himself.

He denounced his colleague Max Pechstein to Goebbels as a Jew

But then in the following year, the novel Deutschstunde became an overnight success. Written by the bestselling author Siegfried Lenz, the book depicts Nolde’s alter ego Max Ludwig Nansen as a resistor. Even later on, Nolde’s behavior has been down played again and again. Just this spring at a conference in Halle the consensus in the audience was that a painter of such beautiful work couldn’t have been a bad person. And this was the view even at the current show in Baden-Baden.

That he was such a person has now been proven again by a previously unknown document held privately in Switzerland. This newspaper article contains the first quotes to be published from the recently recovered six-page typescript. Handwritten notes were added to some of the paragraphs in the typed text, but the document lacks any salutation and merely bears the date, December 6, 1938. The author’s intention is abundantly clear however, with the first sentence casting aside any doubt:

For as long as I’ve worked as an artist I have publicly battled against the foreign infiltration of German art, against the dirty dealings on the art market and the disproportionately predominant Jewish influence everywhere in the arts. Now if that is the case, and I have been attacked and persecuted now for years by the side I championed and fought for, then there must be misunderstandings in need of clarification.

The sentences following this declaration consist of glowing endorsements of the Führer, Volk and Fatherland.

In his eyes the ur-German painter still felt misunderstood and unfairly treated almost six years after the Nazis assumed power and a few months after the regime had 1052 of his works removed from German museums, 48 of which were put on display for ridicule in the Degenerate Art exhibition. The authorities confiscated more of Nolde’s work than from any of his colleagues and yet he never left the slightest doubt regarding his loyalty to the regime.

Berlin art historian Aya Soika suspects the intended recipient of Nolde’s avowal was SS Group Leader Otto Dietrich, chief press officer of the Reich government. After the pogroms on Kristallnacht, Nolde may have complained to Dietrich about newspaper articles depicting the painter as “Jewish friendly”. “Shocking – even in the context it was created in”, Christian Ring said about the letter in speaking with Die Zeit. A few weeks ago, Ring became the director of the Nolde Foundation in Seebüll, which administers the painter’s estate.

The letter is part of a collection belonging to Nolde’s former drawing student Hans Fehr. Fehr was Swiss but held German nationalist beliefs and remained one of his closest confidantes until Nolde’s death. The Nolde Foundation just recently purchased the documents. “All the cards have to be on the table”, says Christian Ring. “There can’t be any more taboos.”

For decades the painter’s antisemitism and belief in Hitler were not mentioned in the literature, in part because the relevant sources were not accessible. It is only in recent years that scholars have been able to research and publish work on Nolde’s life during the Nazi period. Like the author Kirsten Jüngling, whose biography of the artist, Emil Nolde – Die Farben sind meine Noten (Emil Nolde, Colors Are My Music), was recently published by Propyläen.

But what we already know about the painter is enough to belie the image cultivated for the public—that of a mere victim of the Nazis. On April, 27 1933 just twelve weeks after Hitler’s accession to power, Nolde wrote an enthusiastic letter to the Norwegian art historian Henrik Grevenor in Oslo. In it he says the following: “So many things have happened through the political turbulence of this winter. And it occupies one continually because we are in the midst of experiencing the well-orchestrated and beautiful rise of the German people.”

A few days later he turned words into action. In their 2012 biography, Max Pechstein: The Rise and Fall of Expressionism, Bernhard Fulda and Aya Soika document how Nolde went to an official at the propaganda ministry in May of 1933 and denounced Pechstein as allegedly Jewish solely on the basis of his rival’s name. After Pechstein informed his accuser that this claim was untrue but could seriously endanger him and his family, Nolde nevertheless refused to officially rectify his statements.

In November 1933 Nolde wrote to Hans Fehr about attending a dinner to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch. An honored guest of Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, Nolde related the scene:

The commemoration was very moving. We saw and heard the Führer for the first time….The Führer is grand and noble in his efforts and is an affable man of action.  Only a whole swarm of dark figures continues to idolize him in an artificially produced cultural fog. It appears that the sun will soon break though it and dissipate this fog.

1934 saw the publication of Jahre der Kämpfe 1902–1914 (The Struggles of 1902-1914), the second volume of Nolde’s memoirs. After reading the book, the art historian Ernst Gosebruch wrote to the Frankfurt collector Carl Hagemann in December 1934. “The numerous antisemitic and overly teutonic sections of the book reflect feelings we’ve come to expect from Nolde for years. I don’t find it very tasteful of him that he’s decided to express this at precisely this moment.”

Nolde had long hoped that the National Socialists would declare Expressionism as the official Nordic form of state art and place him, Nolde, on a pedestal. After all, unlike Kirchner and Pechstein, Erich Heckel, Hannah Höch, Otto Dix and George Grosz, he had never turned to social criticism but instead was a salt-of-the-earth German who remained true to Christian motifs. There was in fact movement in the direction he sought. A coterie around Joseph Goebbels consisting of Bernhard Rust, later the minister of culture, and Reich youth leader Baldur von Schirach attempted to influence the cultural policies of the regime to go in this direction. But he failed to persuade blood and soil ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, and made no headway with the “greatest artistic genius of all time”—Hitler himself ended the debate after the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, during which he had kept up liberal appearances. Goebbels responded by removing all of the Nolde paintings he had hung up in his private residence. 1937 witnessed the confiscation of the henceforth banned paintings from museums as well as the public ridiculing.

He fights for the “National Socialist cause with the fullest conviction”

The Degenerate Art exhibition was a heavy blow for Nolde. He turned directly to Goebbels on July 2, 1938 and requested the return of the confiscated paintings and the end of the defamations, “in particular because I have sided with the National Socialist movement from the very beginning and was virtually the only German artist to publicly fight against the foreign infiltration of German art, the dirty dealings of the art market and the intrigues during the time of Liebermann and Cassirer.”

Five months later, in the letter from December 6th that has recently emerged, Nolde confessed his unconditional commitment to the Nazi regime:

I revere the extraordinary and most recent form of government that National Socialism embodies; the work has been elevated to an honor. And I believe that our great German Führer Adolf Hitler lives and acts only on behalf of the justice and prosperity of the German people. And that he wants to know the complete truth regarding serious matters…and despite everything recently done to me, I have always and continually stood up for the National Socialist cause with the fullest conviction, at home and abroad. I have the impression that even today only a few people are aware of the culture war I led in 1910 against the prevailing foreign infiltration of all of the arts and against the all-powerful Jewish entity.

The 71-year-old also employed the most malignant form of Nazi-inspired antisemitic diction to provide further clarifications:

There are those who say my art work was sponsored and bought by Jews. This is false too. Some scattered paintings have found their way into the hands of Jews through the art market. Generally however they antagonize me. They have never wanted the purity and pristine German-ness in my art and have ridiculed it. All of my essential paintings are in the hands of Germans, have been purchased by Germans not in any way polluted by foreign influences, but who are conscious about their German-ness.

Emil Nolde continued to maintain his hope of being accepted by the regime early on in the war, submitting 54 pieces to the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts in the first two years of the conflict. On August 23, 1941, however, he received a notice from the chamber expelling him “on account of a lack of reliability” and forbidding him from working “in any professional…capacity in the area of fine art”. The chief of the Third Reich’s security services, Reinhard Heydrich, had sent a complaint previous to the ban, writing that “[T]he notorious art Bolshevik and leader of degenerate art, Emil Nolde, stated an income of 80,000 Reich marks in his tax declaration.”

The intentional warping of Nolde’s image began shortly after war ended. Until his death in April 1956 the painter himself did what he could to assist in the process. He censored sections of his four-volume autobiography that no longer appeared favorable, cleansing them of racist and antisemitic admissions and even partially distorting historical events.

In the second volume (The Struggles of 1902-1914), which includes the account of his conflict with Paul Cassirer and Max Liebermann in the Berlin Secession, he wrote:

Jews have a lot of intelligence and spirit, yet little soul and little creative talent….Jews are different than we are….the unfortunate presence of their settlements in the abodes of the Aryan peoples and their strong involvement in the innermost seats of power and culture have led to an unbearable situation for both sides.

This excerpt is missing from the current edition, as are some other sections dealing with the “danger of interracial mixing” and similar deadly and abstruse claims of Nazi ideology, without an indication that the omission was made. The latest edition of the four-volume memoir was published with the alterations in 2008 and includes the afterword from the one-volume abridged edition put out in 1976. In the latter, the former director of the Nolde Foundation, Martin Urban, wrote simply that “Nolde later revised the manuscript”.

“There’s nothing more to do except keep our mouths shut”

There were also glaring omissions in other publications that the foundation was responsible for in past decades or for which their staff had written articles. The artist could only be viewed as a victim of the regime. Whatever could not be reconciled or denied was excused as “political ignorance”. Only a few authors violated this status quo of silence and euphemism, such as Markus Heinzelmann who did not censor himself in 1999 in the Hanover catalogue on Nolde and his collector Sprengel.

Nolde’s biographer Kirsten Jüngling discovered proof that the historical record was deliberately distorted. In the State Archive in Hannover, she found a letter from May 29, 1963 written by the well-known art historian and early Nolde apologist, Werner Haftmann, and addressed to the painter’s collector Bernhard Sprengel.

Then the “Jewish Museum” in N. Y. exhibited 3 Noldes in their exhibition “Old Testament Paintings”. Meyers & Werner [an émigré journalist] called all the trustees and informed them about the “disgusting Nazi”. Of course that caused a commotion. I was also drawn in to some extent, because I was accused (it was whispered) that I had deliberately kept quiet about Nolde’s Nazi past. That’s true in fact, and I have no argument against it. [Nolde’s former secretary Joachim von] Lepel previously called upon me to remove any mention of it in my book. Finally I did so because after all something like this doesn’t have anything to do with the painter. The issue seems to have been clarified in the meantime. Thomas Messer, the director of the Guggenheim Museum, recently visited me. I promptly informed him at that point and he nipped it in the bud. Also of help there was Peter H. Janson, a professor at Columbia University as well as an old friend of mine who had informed me right at the beginning. There’s nothing more to do than keep our mouths shut. The exhibition apparently went well…”

The Kölner Dumont Verlag has been the Nolde Foundation’s publishing house for decades and is also the printer of Haftmann’s 1963 luxury volume on the “Unpainted Pictures” after 1941. This company has thus been earning money over this time period by publishing material containing a falsified historical record. Walter Jens resigned in protest from the foundation’s board of trustees in 1988, justifying his decision in part on the basis of the “scandalous editions” of Nolde’s writings.

Things have changed recently, however. While the unrevised autobiography continues to be sold, the painter’s dedication to Nazi ideology is no longer ignored in other publications issuing from the foundation and its staff. And the foundation in Seebüll has also ushered in a policy of transparency, having recently decided to allow scholars to thoroughly investigate Nolde’s connections with National Socialism.

Perhaps the result will be a new view of his art, of Emil Nolde’s stormy Nordic skies, his marshy landscapes and flower beds. It certainly won’t hurt postcard sales.

Two White Vests for Hitler

 at Zeit Online delves into some surprising discoveries he made while doing archival research for the first volume of his recently-published new biography of Adolf Hitler. (Article published on October 10, 2013 in Zeit Online)

 ImageRecord of a pleasant day. Hitler bought clothing made of the “best material” and was often a guest at luxury hotels like the Kaiserhof in Berlin. © German Federal Archives Berlin-Lichterfelde

There are astoundingly few well-informed biographies of Hitler, but there is no dearth of studies dealing with particular aspects of his life. Which is why in working on my book I was particularly surprised by the archival holdings yet to be uncovered, by how many had never been touched or had hardly been analyzed.

And to discover this one does not have to travel far, not to the United States or Russia, where a significant amount of material ended up after WWII. I came across a lot of what was previously unknown about Hitler in the Munich Archives. The Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich has recently made accessible the diaries of Gottfried Feder, which comprise eleven volumes and span the years 1919 to 1929. Feder is a forgotten figure today but as an economic policy advisor he exerted a great deal of influence on Hitler through his ideas about “breaking the shackles of interest”.

In Munich’s Bavarian State Library I discovered yet more archival material that has been virtually ignored – namely, the writings of Ernst Hanfstaengl. The son of a publisher and one of Hitler’s early associates, Hanfstaengl was named head of the Foreign Press Bureau in 1930 only to later be ditched by Hitler in 1937. While in exile Hanfstaengl jotted down notes about his one-time boss, and I was able to learn from his accounts that the operas of Richard Wagner bore an influence on Hitler’s own acting repertoire.

A little later I held in my hands the unpublished memoirs of the Bavarian General State Commissioner Gustav Ritter von Kahr, an official Hitler had murdered in the Night of the Long Knives, the bloody 1934 purge of SA leadership. The comprehensive manuscript is housed today in the Bavarian State Archives in Munich and reveals the deep extent to which in 1923 the leading figures in Bavarian political, military and law enforcement circles were enmeshed in plans to establish a “national dictatorship”. The same archive also contains the diaries of Rudolf Buttmann, the Nazi Party’s parliamentary group leader in the Bavarian state legislature. His account afforded me unexpected insights into the party infighting that occurred after Hitler’s release from prison at the end of 1924.

Even documents concerning prominent Nazi bigwigs yielded surprising findings. My research led me at one point to the archival material of Rudolf Hess held in the Swiss Federal Archives. This collection includes Hess’s letters to his parents, as well as to his lover and later wife Ilse Pröhl. His letters offer a sharply delineated portrait of Hitler at the time of his imprisonment in Landberg in 1924, during the Nazi Party’s subsequent rebuilding years and successful rise to popularity. An ardent follower from the very beginning and Hitler’s private secretary from 1925 onwards, Hess was with Hitler or “the Tribune” (as he called him) nearly every day. The excerpts of the correspondence published by Hess’s son Wolf Rüdiger in 1987, the same year his father committed suicide in Spandau Prison, represent only a fraction of the material. I found the strange interplay between the messianic hopes that Hitler’s acolyte projected onto the leader, and his self-perception as a national savior was nowhere as clearly reflected as in Hess’s papers.

The vast Nachlass of the architect and minister of armaments Albert Speer kept in the German Federal Archives in Koblenz counts among the known but not yet properly evaluated repositories of information concerning high-ranking Nazis. One can see from the correspondence here how greatly Speer influenced Joachim Fest, the journalist and later co-editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung who was the first to author a biography of Hitler in the postwar era. Fest was of assistance to Speer in the writing of his 1969 memoirs. Speer returned the favor by providing Fest with information for his 1973 biography of Hitler. Speer’s self-made image as an apolitical expert who fell prey to the dictator’s seductive powers was thus able to make its way into the serious literature about Hitler.

Another remarkably neglected source that has long been accessible in the German Federal Archives in Berlin-Lichterfelde is the thick file containing the receipts for Hitler’s private expenditures between 1930 and 1933. These include detailed cost statements from luxury hotels like the Rheinhotel Dreesen in Bonn where the Führer and his entourage regularly stayed. A receipt from the Dreesen dated March 10, 1932 was addressed to the “High Well-Born Mr. Adolf Hitler”. I discovered other receipts for cars, car parts and garages, expenditures for Hitler’s private apartment and the Berghof, the home Hitler rented in Obersalzberg. Expensive fashion was also a must. In December 1932 the Führer had several items of clothing (of the “best material”) tailor made, including “2 white vests” he paid 1,340 marks for, an amount equivalent to about 5,600 euros today. Contrary to the image widely spread through propaganda, such sources prove the modest “man of the people” was already living large before 1933.

The files of the adjutancy of the Führer and Chancellor of Germany archived in Berlin-Lichterfelde offer insights into Hitler’s everyday life. I found numerous drafts of letters written by adjutants with handwritten corrections by Hitler from 1933-34. These are remarkably considered and stylistically adept. I also leafed through the notes of ordinance officer Max Wünsch from 1938. He maintained a meticulous record of Hitler’s daily routine in Berlin, Munich and at the Berghof, noted the guests he received, the films he saw and wrote comments such as “good acting!” regarding the film So ein Flegel with Heinz Rühmann, and “resonates deeply” about Das Mädchen von gestern Nacht with Willy Fritsch. Similar details, in part strange while also revealing, are found in the records that the head adjutant Wilhelm Brückner kept in 1935 (also accessible in Lichterfelde). Brückner noted down Hitler’s appointments, the destinations of his trips and the names of people to whom he sent gifts and congratulations.

The Koblenz holdings of the conservative coalition partners of Hitler are significant with respect to the 1933-34 seizure of power. I perused the records of the media mogul Alfred Hugenberg, the finance minister Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk and minister of foreign affairs Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath. You can literally seize upon just how quickly the national conservative elites’ plan to “tame” Hitler through a power share and use him to achieve their own reactionary purposes turned out to be a grand illusion.

Even today we continue to wait for some material to be processed. Joseph Goebbels was not the only one to keep a diary (the first complete edition of which was just finished in 2006). So did Alfred Rosenberg, the leading National Socialist ideologue and later Reichsminister of the occupied east. The portions of his notebooks thought to be missing have recently turned up in the United States and are soon to be given to the Holocaust Museum in Washington for analysis.

What for? For the same reason that a historian focuses on Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich in the first place. To explain a crime against humanity — one of the worst in history.

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