‘Hypezig’ für dich und mich

In less than a month (please join me in feeling terrified) I’ll be heading to Leipzig, Germany with Rachel Wittel and a few others for about a month and a half. I heard through the grapevine that Leipzig is just a real sweetheart and is totally stoked to play host for us, so I decided to find out as much as I could before our destined meeting. It turns out, the great ‘Hypezig’ (more on that soon) has been on the map for, coming up in 2015, one thousand years. Anyone wanna get hyphy at a millennial party?

Before the Magna Carta was drafted, before Christopher Columbus’ grandfather was born, even before the Crusaders sacked Constantinople, Leipzig (or urbs Libzi as it was first declared in 1015) was a cultural and commercial hub with international connections. The city lay at the intersection of Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important medieval trade routes, and has developed as a trade center ever since. The Leipzig Trade Fair has existed since at least 1165 and is the oldest such event in Europe. Today the Leipziger Buchmesse (detailed on LVZ’s Blog) joins the Trade Fair as the 2nd largest book fair in Europe.

A view over central Leipzig

A view over central Leipzig

You simply cannot experience Leipzig without seeing and learning about all its landmarks. Some of the most recognizable are the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church), the Gewandhaus opera house, and the controversial Völkerschlachtdenkmal (Battle of the Nations) monument, which commemorates the defeat of Napoleon’s armies at Leipzig in 1813. These places are only a glimpse of Leipzig’s vibrant history.

St. Thomas Church

St. Thomas Church

The Gewandhaus Opera

The Gewandhaus Opera

Battle of the Nations Monument

Battle of the Nations Monument

 

Finally, Leipzig is a city of music. Home to musical geniuses Felix Mendelssohn, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Richard Wagner, the city boasts a musical pedigree unlike any other. Today’s Gewandhaus is the third edition of the building, housing Leipzig’s unique blend of concert and theatre orchestras. The Gewandhaus has played host to a Who’s Who of musical legend: Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Strauss all performed here throughout its illustrious history. Today there are several statues honoring Leipzig’s musical heroes.

Statue honoring Felix Mendelssohn

Statue honoring Felix Mendelssohn

510px-Johann_Sebastian_Bach_Denkmal_Leipzig

Statue honoring J.S. Bach

 

Today’s music scene is slightly different if you want to call it that. Leipzig is home to the world largest Gothic festival and other independent music festivals. For its penchant for new-age music, hip urbanism, and subcultural events, and also for its role in the Monday Demonstrations (the beginning of the end for the East German government), the city is awesomely nicknamed ‘Hypezig,’ with an equally great motto: “Leipzig is coming!”

 

Well I’m coming for you soon, Leipzig, and I can tell that we are gonna be friends.

History Redux Indeed

If you haven’t read Rachel Alvord’s interview with Dagmar Bazzoni, you can do so here. Bazzoni was born in Austria in 1943 and has some very interesting thoughts on World War 2 and Putin to share. I read through it a few times and the Putin-to-Hitler comparisons reminded me of a movie I saw a few years ago, The Wave (‘Die Welle’ auf Deutsch [Available on Netflix!])

Directed by Dennis Gansel, The Wave is a modern German take on a social experiment that took place in Palo Alto in 1967. Jürgen Vogel plays Herr Wenger, the German stand-in for high school teacher Ron Jones, the man behind the myth. Jones explains in his personal account:

“We were studying Nazi Germany and in the middle of a lecture I was interrupted by the question. How could the German populace claim ignorance of the slaughter of the Jewish people? How could the townspeople, railroad conductors, teachers, doctors, claim they knew nothing about concentration camps and human carnage? How can people who were neighbors and maybe even friends of the Jewish citizen say they weren’t there when it happened? It was a good question. I didn’t know the answer. In as such, as there were several months still to go in the school year and I was already at World War II, I decided to take a week and explore the question.”

The results of this experiment were astounding. Ordinary high school students transformed into the very image of fascism we all know. In the space of a week they became a close-knit secret community, fostered along by slogans like “Strength Through Discipline,” “Strength Through Community,” and “Strength Through Action.” Each day Jones pushed the students a little bit closer to a fuller manifestation of Nazi Germany. Just as the students had fully adopted this new mindset, Ron Jones / “Herr Wenger” do the unthinkable…

The Wave

Herr Wenger addresses his converts

I’ll let you explore how it ends but the crux of the story is riveting. Essentially the experiment shows how easily people can be blindly convinced into detestable acts. It also answers the question to how Germans could willfully claim ignorance of the Nazi acts or even go so far as to deny them. Jones sums up the explanation his students were reticent to believe:

“If our enactment of the Fascist mentality is complete, not one of you will ever admit to being at this final Third Wave rally. Like the Germans, you will have trouble admitting to yourself that you come this far. You will not allow your friends and parents to know that you were willing to give up individual freedom and power for the dictates of order and unseen leaders. You can’t admit to being manipulated. Being a follower. To accepting the Third Wave as a way of life. You won’t admit to participating in this madness. You will keep this day and this rally a secret. It’s a secret I shall share with you.”

 

The teacher discusses autocracy

Doesn’t Herr Wenger bear an odd resemblance to Putin?

The similarities between these movements and Putin are arguable to say the least. Our class, especially the session led by Ulrike Langer (a German news foreign correspondent) last week, and Rachel’s interview raised some discussion of Putin’s following in Russia, and this film is a great visual tool for understanding the possibilities of such a radical following.

How the Edukators Taught Me

The Edukators: Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei (2004) directed by Hans Weingartner

The chances are overwhelming that you’re not Burghart Klaussner. I’m also willing to bet you’ve never come home to burglars rearranging your furniture as a form of political discourse.  In ‘The Edukators,’ a 2004 Palme d’Or nominee at the Cannes Film Festival, you can see just that in a sneakily riveting indie flick.

Two of the first German actors with whom I ever became familiar were Daniel Brühl (Private Friedrich Zöller in Inglorious Basterds) and Burghart Klaussner (from Goodbye Lenin! and Yella), and together they form a divisive duo atop this cast. Brühl plays Jan, a left-leaning revolutionary bent on sending the rich capitalists a message. He and his friend Peter (played by Stipe Erceg) break into wealthy homes and rearrange furniture before leaving notes like, “Your days of plenty are over” or simply, “You have too much money.” That second one is cheesy I know, but imagine seeing that plastered across your wall while all your furniture stands in the corner in a magnificent heap. The attack on their sense of security is the most powerful.

"You have too much money. - The Edukators"

“You have too much money. – The Edukators”

Their string of successful break-ins comes to a stop though when Hardenberg, played by the unshakable Burghart Klaussner, catches them in the act. The plot turns noticeably darker in this scene when Jan has to incapacitate Hardenberg until they figure out their next step.

Jule and Hardenberg meet again.

Jule and Hardenberg meet again.

I’ll leave some plot to the imagination, but what follows is the crux of the film, as the Edukators and Hardenberg have a series of long, in-depth conversations about the differences between the rich and poor in a capitalist society, something to which all Germans had to adjust following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Much like a lot of recent literature, the film tells of a struggle to maintain one’s identity in a changing world.

Jan and Hardenberg realize their similarities.

Jan and Hardenberg realize their similarities.

It’s hard to see past the glaring holes in the revolutionaries’ plan, wherein they have no idea how society would function if their plans actually succeeded, but I found at the heart of the film a more important lesson.

*Spoiler Alert* (even though you’re going to keep reading anyway)

As the four protagonists live and converse in the wooded mountains of Austria, Hardenberg goes through a brief transformation where he relates his own youth to that of the Edukators. It turns out he was the spitting image of their ‘free love, anti-establishment’ ways, until he grew up and adopted capitalism in order to pay the bills. At a closer look though, I watched the characters realize that their struggle was not so important as the fact that they fought proactively to establish their identity. It’s a good message for post-Wall Germans and viewers alike, that although society may not play itself out as we’d hope, it’s nonetheless important to struggle for our own place and identity.

This place seems like a good one to find my identity...

Peter and Hardenberg discuss their takes on identity in the picturesque Austrian Alps

The final scene is a bit discouraging, as it turns out Hardenberg has re-assumed his capitalist ways, and turns the kidnappers in to the police. They’re fortunately one step ahead and have already left the country by the time the police arrive. The final note bears an ominous message that really drives home the anti-capitalist sentiment of the film: “Some people never change.”

"Some people never change."

“Manche Menschen ändern sich nie.”

The viewer is left to ponder his or her own opinions but Weingartner presents an intelligible, well-constructed argument against capitalism that at the very least makes the viewer step back and wonder, and I believe that to be a vital aspect to spinning a good yarn.

 

 

 

Check out the movie’s interactive website here and the review written by Joe Yang from ‘Foreign-Films-For-You’

All pictures courtesy of Echte Tunus from his blog.

 

‘Lese’ Fair in Leipzig

In grade school everyone loved going to the Book Fair. I’d beg mother for $12 to get the latest version of ‘The World Almanac for Kids’ and try to impress everyone by reciting all the new factoids. By now I should hope we know how important it is to get people to read and to keep them reading. The annual Leipzig book fair, known as Leipzig Reads or Leipzig Liest, will be held this year from March 13-16 with the express mission of any book fair, to bring modern literature to the forefront of discussion, to raise it above local recognition where it may otherwise go unappreciated. The Leipziger Buchmesse‘s mission statement:

The Leipzig Book Fair is the most important spring meeting place for the publishing and media sector and has evolved into an attractive hallmark both in Germany and across Europe. In a nutshell, the aim of the Leipzig Book Fair is to drum up more publicity for books. Held every March, it’s a massive draw for publishers, writers, readers and journalists. An ideal communication platform, the Leipzig Book Fair provides extensive information about new publications as well as current and future trends in the German-speaking and European markets.

Painted stairway at Leipzig book fair

Stairway bearing Leipzig Liest logo 2011

This year is the 23rd modern installation of the fair, featuring two major themes. The first is the “Auftritt Schweiz” (Appearance Swiss, or ‘the Swiss image’) sponsored by the Schweizer Buchhändler- und Verleger Verband (Swiss Booksellers and Publishers Association) and will showcase numerous Swiss musicians, authors, poets, and more at dozens of places around the city. You can see and hear a Visual Reading at the Leipzig Zoo or even see an outdoor Exhibition of Comic Art at the Moritzbastei. All of these events are aimed at promoting Swiss literature in Leipzig and the surrounding regions, and fostering friendship between die Schweizer and die Sachsen.

The second part of this year’s fair is a program known as ‘Tranzyt. Miles 2014: Literatur aus Polen, der Ukraine, und Belarus.’ The goal of this program is to introduce “new, interesting authors from the region of Central and Eastern Europe to a wider public and to promote their publications with German language publishers.” In this article by the Leipziger Volkszeitung, program curator Martin Pollack explains the purpose of Tranzyt is to focus compassionately on literature amidst the recent political events in Eastern Europe, even now with Ukrainian affairs having taken the world stage.

In this interview with Oliver Zille by Helga King, he relates the history of Leipzig as a literary hub past and present, explains the goals of this year’s fair, and tells us the fair has 3,000 authors, 3,200 events, and 410 reading places scheduled throughout the city.

This year features more Cosplay and Comic Art events than ever before

This year features more Cosplay and Comic Art events than ever before

It’s easy to disregard something that seems as innocuous as a book fair, but on the same token it’s just easy to make real-life connections to people, places, and events through literature; and there’s no better way to understand both your neighbors and those foreign to you than by delving into their language and culture. At Leipzig Liest, the city and the participants make a conscious effort to explore, promote, and learn about different cultures; three tactics that define the well-educated and well-traveled person of the modern world.

 

more on ‘Auftritt Schweiz’

Dancing in the Straßen

Listen closely. Do you hear the drums and horns marching over the horizon? Those are the sounds of Germans preparing for Fasching, or Lent as Americans know it. Parades are one of the cornerstones of this week-long celebration. Germans take off work and celebrate merrily in the streets, while taking part in and watching any number of munificent, city-wide parades.

2 girls in parade costume

Two girls in parade costume

Coming up in a few days is the mother of them all, Rosenmontag (Montag=Monday) or Rosenmontagsumzug (Monday parade). Most people believe it translates to Rose Monday, but the actual meaning comes from the German verb rasen – to rush, rave, or boogie. With a name like Rage Monday you can imagine the atmosphere and the fun that ensues.

Rosenmontag in Cologne

Rosenmontag in Cologne

Seven paper heads in a cologne parade

‘Seven Paper Heads’ in a Cologne parade

As February draws to a close, the Catholic calendar draws nearer to Lent, the English version of Fasching or Karneval or Fastnacht, depending on which region you’re in.

Different names, same celebrations

Different names, same celebrations

The idea originated as far back as the 5th century as an apostolic institution, but its practice and the rites that go along with it have since changed many times over, as you can see here in a slightly Americanized version:

Americans in Soulard, St. Louis, Missouri

Americans in Soulard, St. Louis, Missouri.

Soulard is largely believed to be the second biggest Fasching event in America, behind Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The customs between the countries are wholly different, but the idea of feasts and festivities before the fasting season is the same. If you find yourself in Germany as the Lenten season starts, you are sure to find local parades and festivities, but most will say the biggest celebrations take place in Düsseldorf, Cologne, and Mainz.

Women celebrating Weiberfastnacht

Women celebrating Weiberfastnacht

This year, Fasching kicks off on February 27th with Weiberfastnacht, which is traditionally a women’s holiday in northern regions. Throughout the day, women will snip off men’s ties (a status symbol) then reward them with a Bützchen, or little kiss. What a way to kick off the weekend.

Traditional tie-snipping

Traditional tie-snipping

The whole city then celebrates all weekend before the big parades on Monday, March 3rd this year.

Rosenmontag

Rosenmontagsumzug in Köln

The next and final day is Fastnachtsdienstag on Tuesday. There aren’t many parades on this day, most of the focus is around either burying or burning der Nubbel, a life-sized doll built to symbolize the collective excesses or transgressions of the past season. Curiously enough a native German told me she’d never heard of this event. It’s celebrated in the western half of the country near Cologne and Mainz, so it’s evident there are different traditions throughout Germany. The scapegoat as it were is burned or buried Tuesday evening and everyone celebrates one last time before Aschermittwoch, or Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent.

Der Nubbel before he's burned

Der Nubbel before he’s burned

Suffice it to say, there’s no shortage of camaraderie and celebration this week every year. It’s my goal to see at least one Rosenmontagszug before I die, as it should be for you too.

One thing I didn’t mention is the style of all these parade floats. Their nature ranges from political to downright raunchy, especially in years past, as Cologne parade marshal Christoph Kuckelhorn notes in this interview from Der Spiegel Online (complete with pictures!):  Der Spiegel Panorama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will Germany Abandon the Euro?

German Euro Coins

German Euros

As it stands, the solutions to Europe’s growing financial crisis are weakening by the day. As recently as the 3rd fiscal quarter of last year, countries such as Greece, Italy, and Portugal had debt ratios as high as 128% (with Greece taking the cake at a whopping 171.8%)! What is a debt ratio exactly (explained by smart people here)? Basically, it’s a measurement that tells you how much money a country owes, divided by its gross domestic product (money owed versus money made). That means these failing countries owe vast amounts more than the entirety of their country’s products can pay, a sour position indeed.

As the proclaimed economic powerhouse of Europe, Germany may need to abandon the Euro altogether, according to Dr. Peter Morici. At this point, Morici says, unemployment has exceeded Great Depression levels in several countries, and “slashing government spending and labor market reforms have neither restored Club Med economies nor their governments to solvency.” So what does that mean? We all know the EU has implemented numerous austerity measures throughout its member nations, but it now seems evident that those solutions still aren’t panning out. Governments have tried to cut spending at alarming rates all the while sovereign debts continue to grow.

How to Save the Euro Comic

Saving the Euro

There are two sides to every debate though. Aristides Hatzis is an economics professor at the University of Athens who claims Germany should stay the course in the EU. Germany appears to have the bargaining power in any potential split, but the losses she would incur are far greater that what initially meets the eye. For one, according to Hatzis, “A devalued euro could become the nemesis to an overvalued new deutsche mark as its former dependents could evolve into fierce competitors.”  Germany would also lose millions in devalued foreign assets, and its refurbished independent currency would gain value, causing Germany’s export strengths to weaken. Dr. Morici still maintains, however, that a lot of northern Europe’s economic prowess depends heavily on exporting goods to southern Europe and amassing trade surpluses:

“Simple math requires the Mediterranean states to have corresponding trade deficits as long as those are locked inside the euro and can’t devalue their currencies to escape. Those trade deficits must be financed by borrowing from the north—either by their governments spending and borrowing too much, as Rome and Athens did prior to their crises, or their banks finance real estate bubbles, as Madrid permitted prior to the global financial collapse.”

While there’s no shortage of debate on the future of the Euro, it remains to be seen if Germans will soon be trading in Euros for Deutsch Marks. Regardless, any major shifts in international currency and trading will certainly cause major changes across the economic world.

 

Sources: Morici: Abandon Euro /// Debt Numbers Reference /// Hatzis’ Article