“I always wanted only the best for Germany.” In the prison yard, the rifles of the firing squad were at the ready. The condemned man, seeing their nervousness, tried to calm them. They shouldn’t blame themselves, he said. They were only doing their duty. He himself stood strong. “Shoot well, comrades,” he finished, looking each of them in the eye. The giant-like man before them had been sentenced to death for cowardice. A travesty of justice. Not that it was any of their business. That the condemned man, a former general, had put his signature to hundreds of execution orders carried out in that very place, wasn’t their business, either. Still, they didn’t like it. Not any of it.
Vogelschiss. Birdshit. A German politician used this word recently to describe the National Socialist regime which ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. He was looking for a new perspective, one which would reduce the Nazi dictatorship to proportion in a thousand years of mostly successful German history. Elections were in the offing, and he may have felt that he needed attention. Because I am reluctant to give him any, he will be referred to here as Mr. Bird, leaving out the second syllable.
Claude Lanzmann’s ‘Shoah’ is a memorable film. Not because of what it says. But because of its refusal to say anything at all. The theme of Shoah is the Holocaust, in which over six million Jews were murdered by National Socialist Germany. But to state the theme in this way is to already go beyond the film. Shoah can be classed as a documentary, in that it features interviews about events to which the interviewees were eyewitnesses. But it does not document anything, or try to explain anything. If there is a message, it must be worked out by the viewer, in subjective imagination. Which puts the question to me.
Gomorrah is the title Roberto Saviano chose for his well-known book on the Camorra, the network of criminal organisations that have dominated Naples and Italy’s Campania region for generations. A revelatory choice. Gomorrah and Camorra sound alike. And are alike. The land of the Camorra is a lost place, ruined by greed, hubris, and the vilest excesses. A Biblical place. A place of the damned.
It must be quite a challenge to represent the message of Easter in a painting. Spanish artist Raúl Berzosa, whose ‘Christ Resurrected’ is featured on the new Vatican City 95c postage stamp, tries it with physical beauty. The result, though interesting, fails to convince.
If there are saints of music, Anton Bruckner is surely one of them. Like Beethoven, whom he greatly admired, Bruckner was a strong-willed, undaunted composer. Dreadful abysses lurk in Bruckner’s music, but he does not get stuck in them. That Promethean defiance, that raised fist, which is Beethoven’s, is nowhere to be heard. Perhaps for this reason, Bruckner’s seemingly meandering arguments lead to a deeply satisfying destination, while Beethoven’s powerful affirmations, those clearings in the woods he beats a way to, amount to so much less than the effort made.
Markus Wolf was the legendary head of the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA), the East German foreign intelligence service. The HVA was much better at its work than its West German counterpart, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). Intelligence gathering by the BND in East Germany was of persistently low quality and rarely went beyond what anybody could have read in the newspapers. The reason is simple. Markus Wolf had inflitrated the BND so effectively that much of its activity was steered from the HVA.
For over forty years, from 1949 to 1990, Germany was divided into West and East, each side calling itself a Republic. From the beginning, there were serious attempts at reunification. Why did it take so long? Here are a few reasons.
It is 500 years to the day since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, and unleashed the Reformation. While Germany celebrates one of its most famous sons – some Germans, that is, for fast swathes of the population spend their time playing computer games or foaming at the mouth over football, and couldn’t care less – it is worth asking whether there is any truth to the legendary deed of Wednesday, October 31, 1517.
What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West? Thus begins one of the teaching dilemmas, or koans, through which practitioners of Zen Buddhism strive for Enlightenment. If a student imagines he has the answer to the question, the master may well rise up and clout him with a stick. If the answer is a good one, he might clout the student even harder.