62 posts categorized "Arts and Humanities"

German Youth Word of the Year: Revenge of the Alpha-Kevins

Better known as a bicycle
My Egg File

At Deutschland über Elvis, it's the most wonderful time of the year! 

No, I'm not talking about Halloween.  In southern Germany, Halloween is nothing more than the night before All Saint's Day, a grumpy, morbid Catholic holiday on which you can't dance. 

No, not Oktoberfest, during which nobody stays sober enough to recall if it's wonderful or not.  

And no, not even Christmas.  Like everywhere, Christmas in Bavaria demands you buy a shitload of useless overpriced stuff and drink too much.  But outside, at a market, in the freezing cold.  

The management of Deutschland über Elvis believes the most enchanting season starts with a vote for the Langenscheidt German Youth Word of the Year.  

100% Jugendsprache 2014
The 2014 results in book form, or as they say, unplugged.

We love words here in Germany. New ones, old ones, and especially great big long ones.  We take Word of the Year seriously, as you can tell from the list of official, grown-up, serious German Words of the Year.  

Why does the "Z" key sit conveniently under the right index finger on German keyboards?  Because when asked to describe Official, Grown-Up, Serious German Words of the Year, one simply may type zzzzzzzzzz.  

Not so the Youth Word, or Jugendwort.  Crack Munich lexicographers Langenscheidt sharpen their pencils and open their ears in pubs, on sports-fields and street-corners, at universities and Diskotheken. The results? 

Ouch!  Or as we say in German, Autsch!

Let's take a rando from the list of finalists.  Nowadays, German youth refer to their bicycles as Eierfeilen, or egg files.  In other words, a tool to sand off your balls, which are known in German as a gentleman's eggs.  Not only does this earn a snicker, but it also raises several important linguistic issues.  

Is a woman's bike an Eierfeile?  Why is the word Ei (egg) neither masculine or feminine, but neutral?  (In German, both males and females can have Eier.)  And finally, why use the word file, and not sander?  I looked up sander in German, and found two words, Bandschliefmaschine and Sandstrahlgebläse.  Enough said.

The Countdown, or das Rückwärtzählen zum Start.

Here's a selection of the 2015 finalists. Many of them sound like they could have been stolen from Fede's 100 Days of German Words Project, except his are actually in German. 

  • Swaggetarier—A bling vegetarian.  Someone who is a vegetarian only for the status.

  • Augentinnitus—A ringing in the ears, of the eye.  The unpleasant feeling of being surrounded by stupid people.  Interesting that the word conflates stupid with ugly. Beautiful + stupid is a thing, too.

  • Bambus—Bamboo.  An adjective meaning cool.  One wonders why the German language needs a word for "cool", when it has already borrowed the English word cool.  But with the world dreaming up so many cool things every day, no language can have too many words for coolness. 

  • Rumoxidieren—To hang around, rusting.  A verb that means to chill out.  Another odd one, since fashionable German already adopted the verb chillen to mean the same thing. Are German youth trying to de-Anglicise their slang? (A move I would support, by the way)  

    Or are too-clever Langenscheidt linguists digging shit up from their Latin dictionaries?  Let's really get Latin: how about intoxidoxidieren, for chilling out over a few drinks?

    Hat tip to my pal at Berg ≠ Burg for deciphering that one.
     
  • Bologna-Flüchtling—a student taking a break from studies.  Literally, a Bologna refugee, so named for the Bologna Process that unified higher education in the EU.  I had originally thought it might be named for the fashion of spending one's gap-year in Italy—which may still be the case.  For American readers, Bologna ≠ baloney, though in context, that might still make sense. 

  • Shippen—to be a couple.  A shortening of the English word relationship. E.g. Boris and Steffi are 'shipping.

  • Maulpesto—Snout Pesto.  This simply means bad breath.  At first, I thought it might refer to the distinctive fax-papery texture of your teeth when hung over.  Further, I thought that fax paper was a far better metaphor.

    Then I remembered this is a youth word.  No present-day youth were even alive at the time when faxes needed special paper, or indeed, when faxes were needed at all.  

    But that didn't seem to stop German youth from coining the word Arschfax, or ass-fax, to describe the practice of showing your fashion-brand underwear label above the belt of your low-rise jeans.  

    How did I get from bad breath to underwear in the space of a few sentences?  Hey, that's how we roll at Deutschland über Elvis.  

Cherry Picking

The Jugendwort never fails to attract controversy, and in 2015 the press is running hot with outrage. Langenscheidt plucked the word Alpha-Kevin from contention, in favour of kirscheln. 

Kirscheln is a lame choice—if it had a literal meaning, would mean to cherry. The term refers to lovers who make it a point to stand close, like two cherries joined at the top of the stem, so that they may cuddle on impulse, or in German, spontan kuscheln. Gag me with a spoon.  

OTOH*, the phrase Alpha-Kevin actually gets used.  In German, Kevin is a byword for a dumb guy, and an Alpha-Kevin is a guy who has reached the zenith of dumbness...or maybe that should be the nadir of dumbness.  The German language is often employed to complain about the stupidity of others, so new insults always prove useful. 

A Wide Longlist

The long-list of nominated words on the Jugendwort website offers greater insight into the brains of our youth than the official shortlist.  If he wants to tell you he's hungry, a youth might remark "I'm a model".  In reply, you might suggest a visit to the Restaurant of the Golden Seagulls, or McDonald's.  A selfie-stick acts as an Idiotenzepter, or an idiot's sceptre.  A Twizzelditwazzelen means a long, satisfying draw on a cigarette; a word whose etymology, alas, defeats me.

Forever Jung

Why does Langenscheidt devote such attention to youthspeak?  The language spoken by the youngest among us surely gives us a clue to the future.  

And it's wicked fun to boot.  The Jugendwort mocks all those pompous language-purists, who figure large in chats held by the German chattering classes.

Munich has more than its fair share of blue-rinse pseuds, ready to tut-tut the way young people speak.  Bayerische Rundfunk, the Bavarian BBC, collected some senior citizens—combined age 238—to see if they could guess the meaning of the finalists.  

After breaking the Eis with a slug or two of Eierlikör, the trio were asked what they thought might be the Youth Word of the Year.  They agreed that it was likely to be an English word or phrase.  The youngest panelist, a mere slip of a lass at 74, guessed Fuck You.  

One of the first words to trip up the panel was Tinderella.  They imagined it must refer to a woman of incredible beauty, worthy to be a princess.  Or perhaps a modern day cosmetician, which stretches the meaning from Cinderella's original job as a cleaning lady.  As a sexually active speaker of any language in the 21st Century might guess, the word actually describes a woman who expects, naïvely, to find her Prince Charming online.  

(Its gay male equivalent, Grindrella, has a slightly different nuance.)

Smombie perplexed the trio; on first sight, it perplexed me, too.  Smombie mashes up smartphone and zombie.  It evokes a familiar scene; the wandering brain-dead, staring down at their iPhones, awaiting the next cat pic.  Though the elders couldn't guess the meaning, they responded warmly to the concept, and vowed to employ the word when next they sneered at kids nowadays.

So far, Null Punkten for the Bejahrter (literally, in German, the Enyeared).

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Erderotika, or Earth Porn

They didn't do much better with Earthporn, which describes a beautiful landscape.  The earth part posed no problem, since even wrinklies know about Google Earth.  But astonishingly, they couldn't decipher the term porn.

Even a cursory look at the internet auf Deutsch will reveal the term "porn" in common usage.  The panel may have had better luck if they checked the longlist, which contains the mildly more Germanly Erderotika.  Perhaps the elders were being coy. 

image from i.huffpost.com
Chancellor Merkel, in a rare display of emotion

Die Rätselhaftige Kanzlerin

Struck me as pretty rum that our group could not decipher the verb merkeln—to Merkel.

The panel worked out instantly that it referred to Chancellor Angela Merkel.  They imagined it might refer to a noble manner, dignified and respectable.  It surprised them to discover that it meant to do nothing, to say nothing, not to betray what you really think or feel—at least, not until you see the opinion polls.  e.g. When his girlfriend accused him of cheating, he Merkeled for several minutes. 

The rest of the world would not be so surprised.  The foreign press often describe Mrs. Merkel as inscrutable, an enigma, a sphinx.  It's her trademark. 

This New York Times op-ed by Anna Saubrey, opinion editor of Der Tagesspiegel, seeks to decode Merkel's quiet mystery. Alas, her account ends up just as inscrutable as its subject.  Perhaps those privy to the Chancellor's gehacktes Handy may know more of her inner thoughts, but the rest of us can only speculate.  

Merkeln, by the way, is winning. 

What word got my vote?

Since I can't vote for Alpha-Kevin, I threw my weight behind Hayat, a term of endearment.  Hayat comes from the Turkish word for life. E.g. I love you, you're life.  

Why?  Well, first of all, it's Turkish.  Outside of Berlin street argot—and fast food menus—surprisingly little Turkish has made its way into modern German.  

(By the way, German isn't the only language that puts up a fight. Think of how little Spanish has made its way into American English, with Spanish speakers a much bigger slice of the US population than Turks in Germany.)

Second, it's really nice.

Cynicism weaves through the Jugendwort list.  A good deal is just trash talk.  

Don't get me wrong, I like a good zinger as much as the next guy. But there's a time for optimism, too.

Hayat has echoes of l'chaim, the Hebrew toast to life.  Conflate the words love and life?  May we always find them in harmony.  

The photo of Mrs Merkel and her patriotic iPhone is embedded from the Huffington post, and the photo links to the source. 
All translations are my own, and thus subject to catastrophic mistakes.
*English Youth Word of the Year 1998


A Saturday Outing

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These several dozen dicks form a detail from a Keith Haring work, snapped at the Paris City Museum of Modern Art last July.  

I share it in honour of Coming Out Day 2014, which occurs every October 11.   Haring, as you may know, created the first Coming Out Day poster in the late eighties, and it remains an iconic work.

Coming out.  Is that still a thing?   Arguably, notwithstanding a rocky start, communities in the bourgeois West found diverse sexualities relatively easy to accept over the last half-century—easier, perhaps, than accepting the full implications of gender, race or economic equality.    

In our highly connected age, when we fight to keep the details of our private lives private, a public declaration of what gets our rocks off feels a little risky.  Maybe even déclassé.  

But we should ask ourselves if this reluctance is a matter of being discreet, or ashamed. Coming out day

Nice people don't talk about what goes on behind their bedroom doors.  So much of gay politics has concerned itself with making sure that bedroom door opens into a highly mortgaged house protected from estate duties through marriage.  Have we forgotten we have sex?

Over the last decades, coming out has focused on the social aspects of sexuality—marriage, money, personal safety, and community.  We want to weave our parners into the fabric of our economic and family life, whatever form that takes.  And for that to happen, revealing your orientation is a necessity.  Nobody knows it better than my husband and me. 

But coming out has a personal dimension.  Part of that personal dimension is erotic.  

When I came out, it meant more than just being able to bring a bloke to a dinner party.  Someone had given me a licence to find the world an erotically-charged place.  I ogled, I slobbered, I saw immense beauty in the men around me.  I found it easier to keep all this arousal respectful if I could actually talk about it, in a relaxed way, with anybody in earshot.  Still do. 

If you find talking about sex tacky, tough.  Jane Austen didn't write the queer script, pal. 

Revealing a sexless sexuality is pointless.  To stay schtum about the erotic side of our queerness doesn't make the world a freer, more open, more humane place.  It just announces that we're willing to conform to Puritan expectations.  It's just another closet.

All I can say is that coming out—even as late in life as me—did this bloke a power o' good.  Dammit, I could be horny anyplace I damn well pleased.  I loved talking about sex, and I loved hearing about sex.  My repartee began to sound like a gay Carry-On movie, if that's not a tautology.  The smutty banter was authentic.  All that applies today, too.  

To queers everywhere, enjoy mental health.  Coming out is a Mood Gym.

If you're in a safe place to do so, today is the day to tell the world where your libido points you. Lots of people, in many parts of the world, don't have that luxury.


Tattooed on the Memory

Where is he gay today? Edinburgh
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Thirty years ago, I found myself wishing bagpipes had a snooze button. 

Those sleepy mornings—over two dozen of them—took place in Edinburgh in the summer of 1985.  Seeking cheap digs, my pals and I bunked out at the Leith Nautical College, on the Firth of Forth.  A visiting pipe band from Canada, in town for Royal Tattoo, had the same idea.  They used the sports field outside the window to rehearse their drill.  Every morning, promptly at six forty-five.  

We spoke to management.  We explained that we were a comedy troupe from Australia, playing the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  Jet lag was eating our brains.  Lights went up for our show at midnight.  And we drank a lot after the curtain fell—in Scotland, we reasoned, such an argument held sway.  Could the Canadians please keep the noise down until lunchtime?  

The administrator replied in soft tones reminiscent of Gordon Jackson in Upstairs Downstairs.  "Now, you do realise you are in Scotland?"

Yes, we said.

"And you know that this college is an arm of the Royal Navy, and as such, is a military institution?"

Yes, we said.

"And you imagine that militia, in Scotland, might march to tunes played on a bagpipe?"

Um, yes, we said.

"Well..." he concluded, with a phrase that betrayed a schooling in classics not uncommon among east-coast Scots, "caveat emptor."

*     *     *     *     *   

Leith Nautical College closed its doors in 1987.  One of my fellow troupers quipped that had he known, he would have delayed his visit two years.  

But bagpipes before breakfast were a small price to pay for an extraordinary several weeks.  

Our band of undergrad comics regularly played the fringes of the festival in our native Adelaide, and sought to open our gills in a bigger pond.   We came as rubes from halfway across the world, and left as actual, minor-league almost-professionals.  (Up to a point. Only one of our troupe went on to earn a crust in showbiz.)  At the Fringe, both competition and opportunity ran hot.

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The Royal Mile.  As ever, packed with patrons of the arts

By the late seventies, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe had become the largest arts festival in the world, dwarfing the festival proper.  Every church, school, gym, pub, spare room and coat closet morphed into a theatre—though in 1985, we were still half a decade away from using the word morph.

Postcard_1985Millions crowded into a city which, under normal circumstances, held barely 350,000.  To squeeze the maximum number of butts on seats, most performances ran less than an hour.  Audiences sprinted from show to show, through as many as eight or nine in a day.  As you dashed to make the next curtain, performers plied their witty ways to get a playbill in your hand—a practice known as flyering.  It was chaos.  Energetic, inventive, brilliant chaos.

Billing ourselves haughtily as the Australian Comedic Revue, we touted that we were a hometown hit on the Adelaide Fringe—an exaggeration: we were less a hit, and more a mild slap.  

Several of us threw together a show called Wagga Wagga High High.  From memory, the blurb went something like the tale of a school so evil that it can turn children into accountants.  I played a character called Zeldor Fitzgerald, Teen from Another Planet. The costume included my own high school uniform, into which I still fitted. Yes, 1985 was a simpler time. 

We gave an even milder slap to the Edinburgh Fringe, but felt we acquitted ourselves well enough.  Thanks to a not-unkind review in The Scotsman, we sold out our season.  Russell Harty wanted to interview us, too.  But that fell through, because his phone at the BBC didn't allow Subscriber Trunk Dialling, or something.  

Edfringe 2014 logo
Edinburgh has since grown to half a milllion souls, but can still barely contain the beast.  In the first three weeks of August 2014, the Fringe sold 2,183,591 tickets to 49,497 performances of 3,193 shows in 299 venues.  

If you divide the number of tickets into the number of performances, one gets an average audience size of a little over forty.  Few impresarios count this as a real figure.  In 1985, rumour put the median audience size at twelve.  This year, word on the street tipped nine. 

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Better Together

In the decades since, I'd wanted to return, simply as an audience member. This year, encouraged by friends who now live in Edinburgh, we did.  The promise of some fine travelling companions clinched the deal.  

When I told people in Edinburgh that I'd performed on the Fringe thirty years ago, they grew curious.  It must have been very different back then, surely.

I shocked them with my reply.  No.

In my observation, here's what's changed.  

  • Lager drinkers can choose from a wide array of bottled craft beers.
  • American university students majoring in theatrical administration or arts publicity often work on the Fringe as a course requirement.  We met several flyering. 
  • Edinburgh's quality broadsheet, The Scotsman, once provided the most authoritative critiques. The paper remains an authority, but nowadays a mammoth website called Broadway Baby overshadows it.  Curious, since the Fringe is about as un-Broadway as you can get.

That's about it.  Here's what hasn't changed since 1985. 

  • Busking bagpipers on the Royal Mile love the theme from Star Wars.  
  • Tickets are pretty cheap, but dedicated cheapskates pick up bargains at the half-price box office.
  • Snooty, sensitive, arty types hate the atmosphere.  Australian acts thrive.  American and Japanese artists enjoy the looser rules.  
  • An act lives or dies by its reviews—if you get a decent review, you put it on your flyers and flog the hell out of it.  
  • Modern times have seen the rise of the professional publicist.  But still, the best way to get an audience is for an artist to wear out some shoe leather, press some flesh, and perform on the street.  
  • Never sit in the front row for a stand-up comic. When he asks "And where are you from?"—and he will—whatever your answer, he will mock you mercilessly.  He will mock you mercilessly, too, if you decline to answer at all. Too often, the where-are-you-froms displace actual jokes.  It's heckling in reverse.  Hey, buddy, I'm your audience, not your material.  Lookin' at you, Fred McAulay and Scott Capurro.  I repeat, never sit in the front row for a stand-up comic, unless you crave attention.
  • You can take your drinks into the theatre, or indeed, anywhere.  Restaurants in most parts of the world will bundle leftover food in a doggie bag; in Edinburgh, pubs decant leftover drink into a Starbucks-style doggie cup.  Have you ever sipped beer through a straw?  Not my preferred means of suckage.
  • Scots like to vomit.  Billy Connolly's most famous routine even jokes about it.  Drinking Scots should be required to carry airsickness bags, in the same way dog-owners must carry plastic bags as a measure against their pets fouling the pavement. 
  • The Fringe organisation does an awesome job of managing the herd of over 20,000 temperamental performers. Nowadays, it provides a cool mobile app that lets you squeeze more theatre into a given day than you thought humanly possible.  Their website pulls together a programme, ticketing system, reviews and social media seamlessly.  But the telephone-book sized Fringe programme remains the most popular means for visitors, literally, to get their acts together.
  • With 20,000 performers in a city the size of Edinburgh, the Fringe thrusts artists and audience together in ways you simply don't find elsewhere.  Many performers mingle before and after the show—given the set-up of most venues, it's unavoidable.  If you want to talk to your comedy heroes face-to-face, go to an Edinburgh pub. 

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Umbilical Brother Dave Collins clowns with the public in the foyer after his show
—which was superb, by the way.

I've changed.  But the Fringe hasn't.  Every year, it finds new sources of energy, originality, and outrage.  Perhaps I shouldn't leave thirty years between visits.  Nowadays, I can afford a quieter place to sleep. 


English on the March: Push-Up

Push-Up Bra
Over recent months, this subway ad has tittilated many a Munich gentleman—and not a few ladies, for that matter. 

Immune to feminine charm as I am, one might think this fine display would hold scant interest.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It wasn't the breasts that caught my attention. 

Don't get me wrong, I like breasts well enough, for a piece of anatomy. The breast ranks between the earlobe and the frenulum as an interesting bodily quirk.  What's more, you can pierce any of those three for added entertainment value. 

No, the fascination lies in the language.  A scant two words of copy—five if you count their component parts—ply some remarkable English. 

Pecta super protrudo

First, let's not count the word super as English.  You bookish types know that super is Latin for above.   Likely it came into English through Norman French, and into German through French French. 

Super makes itself equally at home in both languages.  And a good thing, too.  It's easy to invent new words to say how awful things can get—in German, these expressions contain the word scheiß as a grammatical requirement.  But to find a new word to say something good...well, our languages have to work at it.  

According to LEO, that fast source for all things deutschsprachig, most of the synonyms for super have to do with being on top or sticking out.  For example, spitze (peak), prima, or the futzy hervoraggend  (literally, protrude forth).  Other expressions refer, disquietingly, to annihilation; todschick (deathly chic) or bombig (bomby). 

English synonyms for super tend to be a bit more abstract (excellent, awsome, or phat—for pretty hot and tempting).  Slang often employs irony (bad, wicked)*.  Failing that, we opt for the more literally violent—smashing, belting, kick-ass—rather than the deadly.  It feels less über.

To see super in a German language ad raises scarcely an English-speaking eyebrow.  Not so push-up bra.

Brassiere Sincere

Hang on a minute.  Alert readers will have noticed the absence of the word bra.  That part is in German.  The letters BH stand for Büstenhalter, or breast-holder.  

Many authoritative sources, such as the makers of Trivial Pursuit, hold German count Otto von Titzling responsible for the first modern bra.  Bollocks.  That's an urban legend.  Everyone knows that the brassiere was invented in 1862 by British aristocrat Lord Booby for his amply-endowed Argentine mistress, Countess Gazonga, during a tryst in Bristol.  

(By the way, as I was googling researching this post, I discovered the German word for a nursing bra is a Still-BH, or distillation bra.  How splendid to live in a nation of scientists!)

A Word Under Pressure

The real curiosity on this poster is the word push-up

The Honourable Husband's First Rule of Odd Foreign English is that no language borrows an English word just to sound cool—the language has to need it. 

Why would German need a word so basic as push-up?  Surely there is a simple German equivalent for the phrase. 

I tried to think of it.

Aufdruck, the literal translation, means engraved printing.  Hochdruck ("high push") means high pressure, especially blood pressure.  Oberdruck would mean to print a second time on top if the first printing. An Ausdruck is a print-out—and ausdrücken can also mean to express yourself.  The literal word for above, oben, is seldom used as an adjective: we usually usually hear nach oben, or "toward above". 

Dammit.  Everything's taken.

The humble German pushdrücken—works awfully hard.   In English, we use a set of several words for related concepts—press, print, push, pressure.  In German, one word does the lot.  We see it everywhere.

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Drücken used as "push", on the doors of a Frikadellensemmelkönig

Your computer printer is a drucker.  If your boss hassles you about a deadline, you're unter druck.  To give someone a hug is to drücken them.  To beat someone down, or oppress them, is to drücken them.  In a game of dodge-ball, one would drücken the Kugel.  We drücken our toothpaste onto a brush.  The German expression for let 'er rip is to drücken it out the tube.  No wonder a modern German speaker is loathe to burden poor druck any further.  

Here's an example how to tiptoe around druck.  The word for push-up, when it refers to an exercise, can take two forms.  The first is der Liegenstütz, which kinda sorta hints at being horizontal and supporting yourself.  The other is der Einstichboden, which subliminally tells us that one should be stinging, or puncturing, the floor.  Thus, we deftly avoid yet another stretch of the druck

Der Volkische Push-Up BH

The need to borrow the word push-up for a bra becomes becomes clearer when one looks at German—and especially Bavarian—folk costume.  Women in Germany have pushed-up their assets for centuries.  But they did it with dresses, rather than undergarments. 

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A bit of German stereotyping, found at a Russian bus stop.

Why do you need a silly old bra to überboob yourself, when the DIY solution has worked since forever?  A push-up bra feels like a foreign affectation.  Better to use a foreign name for it.

_______________________________

* "Slang often employs irony."  Hey, have I turned into a pompous ass, or what?


The Angel of Piste

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The Angel of Peace.  Her golden wings have flapped ineffectively since 1899, when the Munich city fathers screwed her to a column in the überspiessig suburb of Bogenhausen.  That makes the Angel of Peace—in German, der Friedensengel—a neighbour of ours.

Her day job doesn't tax her very much.   She reminds us of a warless quarter-century after the Franco-Prussian war.  German kingdoms fought shoulder-to-shoulder, and repelled the armies of Napoleon III in a spat over who would be the King of Spain. 

The creation of a strong, united Germany out of many disparate monarchies changed the political landscape forever.   A strong, united Germany would ensure peace for generations.  Wouldn't it?

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In truth, the now-beloved Angel was a bit of PR window dressing.   Coming together as a nation put Bavarian troops under Prussian orders for the first time.  This humiliated the Bavarians, and reminded them that their king, the notorious Ludwig II, was unfit to command.  The Angel  told Müncheners that they should view this new state of affairs as just peachy. 

Nowadays, we've forgotten all that.  Müncheners love the Angel for her beauty, and who can argue with the message?  "Her angel wings seem to reflect the golden light of an early morning sunrise.  Poised in grace and tranquility, [the Angel] can serve as a reminder to seek peace and calm."  So says Horst Kohl in his authoritative Bismarck and the Creation of the Second Reich the blurb for the Angel of Peace Barbie® .

The good burghers of Munich, after a schnapps or three, sometimes take the piss out of our poor angel.  Especially around Karneval time, or as we say in Bavaria, Fasching

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Last year, a few tipsy sculptors made a Schneeengel tribute on the plaza before her.  It proved such a hit, that they came back in 2013.  This time, they made the tribute grander. 

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Look at the size of that gal!  The Tagezeitung wonders if this is not the work of American snow-artist Ignacio Marc Aspera, since his technique allows for exceptionally high snow-sculpture.  They dismiss this speculation in short order.  Frankly, neither the art or the engineering is up to scratch. 

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The lady's weak engineering begins to show.  How un-German!

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But let's celebrate her strengths rather than criticize her weaknesses.  Some rascals added amusing details.  The original bears a rose in her right hand, and it looks like the snowy tribute as dropped it.  Or simply a Valentine's gift scorned?

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As warmer weather approaches, her days are numbered.  Already, the snowplows circle ominously.

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The sun may soon do the snowplow's job.  A sign on her back urges caution in the face of collapse (literally, the signwriter warns us of avalanche).  But until then, she remains another of Munich's curious popular tributes, which take over public spaces

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UPDATE

On the last day of Benedict's Papacy, dammit if someone didn't turn our angel into the Pope. 

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The sculptor remains anonymous, but he's now left a clue.  His Snowliness wears a mitre fashioned from a cardboard box.  That cardboard box once contained a Liebherr 2321-23 model upright freezer

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Liebherr, by the way, means beloved lord in German.  So to out the artist, we need to look for a devout Catholic who likes ice cream.   In Bavaria, that should narrow it doen to about nine million or so

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Better in Boarisch

Boarisch cash machine

Christmas season is almost upon us.  In Munich, that means Oktoberfest season is finally off our backs.

Oktoberfest brings the same cheese-level as Christmas, but with a different subject matter.  Bavarian cheer becomes almost as unavoidable as Christmas cheer.   Everybody dons lederhosen, sings corny songs, eats wild game until he grows antlers, and drinks super-proof beer brewed to make you extra gemütlich.

The local dialect gets laid on thick, too—it calls itself Boarisch, though standard German would call it Bayerisch.  You hear Yaw instead of JaNayn instead of neinHod instead of hat.  And a simple d' instead of the more precise der, die or das.  I still have trouble with the last of those, even after all these years, so the season is a godsend. 

Stadtsparkasse (city savings banks) around Bavaria allowed you to conduct your ATM transaction in Boarisch, as you can see from the screen above.  I tried it, and liked it.  Boarisch grammar is much more devil-may-care than standard German, which sounds a bit prissy by comparison.

The producers of the summer-comedy Ted even released a special version of the movie to coincide with Oktoberfest.  (For those of you who don't know, it's a movie about a boy's teddy bear which gains the gift of speech. As his owner grows, the two pick up some bad-boy habits, until true love puts a stop to it.)  The movie would be released with the bear speaking Bavarian, instead of Hochdeutsch.  Here's a scene of the stars bloking out on the couch; I cannot understand a word of what the bear is saying, but I guess that's the point. 



In German culture, Boarisch is a byword for unintelligible.  When translators faced the testy problem of dubbing the jive scene in the Zucker Brothers movie Airplane!, they chose to make the two jive-speakers speak Boarisch, with German subtitles.


(The jive scene wasn't the only challenge the translators faced—as I've written before.) 

One can also find a version of Ted in Berlin yoof slang—or as they say, the bear Berliniert.  (Those who would like to compare the two, can do so here). 

I would call the Berlin version krasser (groovier), but that wouldn't be very toll (groovy) of me.

 

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The Jackson Feen

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Munich's Promenadeplatz reeks of refinement.  Galleries, private banks and the nearby Funf Höfe arcade cater to the well-heeled. 

Some of those heels walked backward.  Michael Jackson often stayed on the north side of the Promenade, in the plush Bayerischer Hof.  If fans were persistent, he'd appear at the window of his suite and wave.  (Note, this was not the German hotel where he dangled his infant son before the crowd; that was the Hotel Adlon in Berlin.)

When Jackson died, his Munich fans gathered in the Promenadeplatz to console each other.  Near the spot where they often gathered to wait for him, sits a plinth bearing the statue of Flemish composer Orlande di Lassus, who did rather well for himself in the 1500s as the court composer for Albrecht V, the Duke of Bavaria.  It seemed like a good place to leave cards and flowers, and light candles. 

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Other places across Germany welcomed Jackson's grieving fans in that summer of 2009.  Jackson had befriended a family from suburban Hamburg, and fans paid respect outside their home.  In Berlin, fans gathered not at the Adlon, but rather the wax museum across the street, which had moved Jackson's likeness to the front foyer.   Some have commented on how much Jackson felt at home in Germany—and how much the nation took him to heart.  (Did both feel unduly persecuted for past misdeeds?)

In Munich, though, the flowers and candles kept coming.  Nobody saw a need to stop them.  The statue of di Lassus was inconspicuous, in contrast to the square outside the Adlon, which faced the Brandenburg Gate.  The City of Munich adopted a benign stance, since the shrine appeared to be meticulously well-tended. 

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Who tends these delicate mementoes and knick knacks?  Michael Jackson fans, devoted and well organised.  These (mainly) women are known as the Denkmalfeen, or Memorial Fairies.

Chief fairy is Sandra Mazur.   She and her fellow fans established a foundation for the care and upkeep of the memorial; fresh flowers, laminated photos, plastic covers, candles and the like.  Named the Heal the Children Foundation, funds over and above those needed go Doctors without Borders, to support kids in Somalia.   These fairies are mercurial souls, who tend not to attract much attention, though Bayerische Rundfunk caught a few in action on the third anniversary of Jackson's death in June this year.

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Tending, alas, is necessary.  Many a Denkmal objector has tried to sabotage or disgrace the memorial.  One particularly inventive cab driver, I understand, took to scattering birdseed amongst the memorabilia, to attract pigeons who would defile the site with droppings.. 

Understandably, the fairies soon sought to create a pigeon- and cabbie-proof permanent memorial; a bronze statue similar to the other bits of street-jewellery nearby.

The City of Munich felt a lot less benign about that idea.  They squashed it.

A wet spokesblanket for the Council declared that Munich is suffering from Memorialitis, y'know like it was different from every other fucking city in Europe.  The letter of rejection from mayor Christian Ude says that there was "insufficient connection" between the city and the King of Pop.  The fairies beg to differ.

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The fairies were in action as I drove past on Friday, so I stopped for a chat.  They were preparing the memorial for Jackson's 54th birthday, which would have been today.    It surprised me to find that these women are, like me, in their fifties, since one always thinks of fans as teenyboppers, right?  But our salad days came in the eighties, and youthful infatuations die hard. 

It also surprised me, briefly, that quite a number hailed from the former East Germany.  We forget how Communist authorities distrusted western pop as a subversive influence, and with good reason.  Artists like Jackson, Sting and Genesis played within earshot of eastern crowds, and their music spoke of freedom, rather than the lightweight diversions a western audience would read into them. (Well, maybe not Genesis.  Had I to endure Phil Collins drumming for a three-night season, I would have soundproofed the wall rather than tearing it down.)

The Stasi even had a file on Jackson, since the star apparently visited Checkpoint Charlie and peeked across No Man's Land from the observation platform.   This was revealed to be a hoax, using a Jackson double—only discovered because the TV station that arranged it nearly punked itself decades later.

Like many Müncheners, I would chuckle as I passed this obsessive, mildly-bizarre homage to a disturbed superstar.  But after talking to the people who tend it, for whom it is a symbol of more than I imagined, I shall think twice before I snicker.


Is Hitler Funny?

An arcade game at the Munich City Museum

An arcade game on display at the Munich City Museum

Hippies would set my father off.  He couldn't fault their principles—hippies had impeccable morals, you may recall.  So he went ballistic on their hair.   Filthy.  Bedraggled. Disgusting.  No wonder they can't get a damn job.
 
Once, as he sat at the kitchen table reading the paper, he stumbled onto an interview.  Perhaps a student protester, or a sitter-in of some kind.  Don't fault long hair, argued the spokeshippie, because Jesus had long hair, too.
 
To my father, this proved they were not just miscreants, but morons.  Even the biggest dunce knows that barbers didn't exist in those days, he would shout. This snippet stood as a centrepiece in his tirade repertoire for years. 
 
One day, when I was a senior (matriculant) in high school, I ventured a comment on what I'd been reading in class.  The Roman historian Plutarch wrote that people knew Cicero was in a bad way, because he walked through the forum unshaven, and hadn't been to the barber.  So they must have known how to cut hair in Jesus' time.
 
It seems my father had discovered another moron, in the form of his own flesh and blood.  Christ didn't live in Rome, he sneered. 
 
I pointed out calmly that Palestine was a Roman colony.  Christ could have found a barber if he wanted.  But most religious statues show Christ with long hair—statues endorsed by the church, on display in a consecrated space.  Maybe the Son of God thought long hair wasn't such a big deal.
 
He stayed silent for a moment, thinking about what he'd just heard.
 
Besides, I added, how many ancient statues have you seen with long hair?

The stream of abuse nearly drowned me.  Ungrateful, insolent, evil, immoral, that was me.  How dare you.  One more remark like that and you'll be thrown out on the street.  See how you like that, smartass.
 
I just stood there and took it.  Someone had bolted my feet to the floor.  I wanted to vomit.
 
When I could get a word in, I bleated hastily that I didn't mean anything by my remarks.  This had no effect whatsoever.  For ten minutes, the mudslide of bile never let up.   Only when my father was spent, physically, could I get away. 
 
Fascism, Dad-style

I recalled my father during that famous scene from Der Untergang (Downfall).

51CWF3Z4R9L._SL500_AA240_Downfall takes us into the Führerbunker, in the last days of the War.  An aide has just told Hitler that General Steiner couldn't carry out an attack, as ordered.  He simply had too few men.

Hitler loses it.  The army disobeyed an order.  The Prussian generals betrayed him.  All they learned at the military academy was how to use a knife and fork.  He should have shot them all, like Stalin did.  The soldiers were weaklings. Cowards.

One of Hitler's deputies stands his ground, meekly.  He rebuts the accusation as ungeheuerlich; "monstrous" or "outrageous".  Kafka uses the same word to shock us in the first sentence of Metamorphosis; he applies it to the giant vermin once called Grigor Samsa.

Does Hitler hear this?  Not at all.  The tirade goes on unabated, with no-one listening.  The Führer is the Führer's only audience. 

 

Nowadays, this behaviour has a clinical name: Narcissistic Rage.  It's often triggered by an insult, or a simple statement of uncomfortable facts.  In therapy, one treats the narcissist by revisiting the abuse which made him mentally ill.  But what's the right response for a casual victim, caught in the crossfire between a madman and his ego?

Mocking the Monster

Unless your tormentor holds a gun to your head, the wrong response is to stand there and take it.  You cede power to him.

The right reponse, I feel, is to smile.

An old adage tells us to laugh in the bully's face.  It takes his power away.    When the pompous ass gets a pie in the gob, his anger makes him look weaker, not stronger. I should have told my father dude, even fucking Fred Flinstone gets a haircut.

People with skills and lack of anything better to do, often spoof this scene in Downfall by way of subtitles.  Probably, that's how you first came across it.   Parodies became so numerous, that Constantin Film asked YouTube to take them down—illegally, as it happens.

The pizza guy is late, and Hitler goes berserk.  The cast of Friends won't come to his birthday party, and Hitler goes berserk.  He is banned from X-Box Live, and Hitler goes berserk. Gran Turismo 5 changes its release date, and Hitler goes berserk—"as usual", the underscreed reminds us.  It took exactly 36 hours for Hitler to go berserk about Tom Cruise's divorce.

And you know what?  A lot of them are quite funny. 

Oliver Hirschbiegel, the director of Downfall, agrees.  Friends in the online world send him these parodies, at which he laughs heartily.   "The point of the film was to kick these terrible people off the throne that made them demons," he says. 

Do the parodies actually amplify the message of the original work?  When it comes to giving demons the shove, a belly laugh packs plenty of kick.  Think about political cartoons.  Think about animated cartoons, for that matter.  

DduckmeinkampfIn World War Two, animation powerhouses like Disney and Warner Brothers produced propaganda films.  In fact, Disney's State Department contract is credited with keeping the company afloat after Fantasia tanked at the box office in 1940.

In Der Fuehrer's Face,  Donald Duck dreams he is a Nazi and finds life rather unpleasant.  The theme song, recorded by the über-silly Spike Jones, became a hit in 1942, and the film itself won an Oscar in 1943.  (You can watch it here. And read a discussion here.)

But Disney's biggest war film is grim, overbearing and utterly unfunny.  Education for Death cracks a few limp jokes, but spends most of its ten excruciating minutes aping Leni Riefenstahl with ink-and-paint.  (Take a look at it here.)  Shadows, silhouettes and low, wide angles abound—a bit like a modern-day political attack ad.  Oscar bait, it ain't.

Slide1Education for Death evokes a visceral response.  The audience feels confusion, fear, and need to escape.  If that was the goal, it worked.  Fight or flee?  It was flee for me.

The enfants terrible of Warner Brothers took a different tack.  They made the enemy stupid, rather than evil.  Much easier to understand, and ultimately, to act upon.

Take the 1944 cartoon Russian Rhapsody.  (You can watch it here.)

Soon after the film starts, we catch Hitler in a fit of narcissistic rage, of the kind which defines him in our cultural memory.   He spits a torrent of nonsense at an unseen audience; the writers and animators used many of their own names to construct a German-sounding rant, since many had fled Germany a decade before.  After half a minute of hysterical shouting, the cartoon lands a devastating punch.  A hand holds a camera card before us.  It reads: Silly, isn't he?

Slide1Let's assume that these cartoons were an early example of the Family Guy school of animation.  That is, a cartoon aimed at adults, but which uses the conventions of the medium to reduce adult concerns to child-like simplicity.  Cartoons are crude by nature; they can turn superego concepts into big, loud, colourful creatures of the id.  

In World War II, Disney and Warners scratched two different spots on the American emotional underbelly.  Which approach proved more effective? 

Disney scares me.  This is useful in wartime, of course.   But the Warner approach succeeds on a different level.   

Warners mocked the enemy.  If someone had pointed out, in 1923, that Hitler was clearly and self-evidently a Froot Loop, maybe nobody would need to fight him in 1939.  

Columbia Studios actually did point out that Hitler was a Froot Loop, some time before the US entered the war and propaganda became official.  They harnessed another id-liberating force: The Three Stooges.  In You Natzy Spy, Moe Howard became the first American comedian to play Hitler on film, predating Charlie Chaplin by nine months.  Both Curly and Moe considered it their finest film.  For my taste, any Three Stooges short that didn't sock Hitler with a cream pie on the schnozzola, missed the opportunity of the century.

Ve Have Vays

The Nazis knew the subversive power of mockery only too well.  That's why they tried to stamp it out. 

Rudolph Herzog, son of the famous Werner, was cleaning out a great-aunt's apartment after she moved.  He made a rather curious discovery; several pages of jokes from the early forties, making fun of the government.  He set out to discover if these japes betrayed a sly resistance by rank-and-file Germans, or simply allowed a nation under pressure to blow off steam.

It led him to make a documentary film and write a book about humour under the Nazis.  The book is pubished in English as Dead Funny, and in the original German as Heil Hitler, das Schwein ist Tot!, or Heil Hitler, the Pig is Dead!  The accompanying documentary film bears the unfortunate title Ve Have Vays of Making You Laugh.

The Pig is Dead refers to the punchline of the all-time most famous anti-Hitler joke.  I shall not tell it here. It is no more than mildly funny, and further, it's one of those jokes that regularly get applied to almost any political leader.   

Among its 256 pages, Herzog's book contains about 100 jokes.  Most of them are simple ad hominem insults—few deal with the substance of Nazi ideology.  The Guardian review describes those jokes as "feeble".   And even for these, the tellers faced death.

The Nazis ruthlessly persecuted anyone who took to humour for a sense of perspective.  They wiped out a vibrant political cabaret scene, focussed on Berlin.  At its peak, the notorious People's Court  executed 2000 people a year for "defeatist humour".  Those who escaped the death penalty, might be harassed or imprisoned.  When the Nazis murdered comedian Robert Dorsay, they went so far as to announce it on billboards.  Be warned: that's what comes of a wisecracker. 

From a dozen years of history, in a nation which documented itself meticulously, we find a total of eight dozen political jokes.  And lame ones at that—of all the jokes Herzog documents, the most biting and inventive come from inmates of the concentration camps, often about themselves

It's a ghastly thought, but inescapable.  Jews, gypsies, jazz musicians, homosexuals, students and intellectuals—groups the Nazis most hated—held shrewd, distinctive senses of humour.   In his extraordinary paper on humour in the Holocaust, John Morreall reminds us of the Talmud.  According to the ancient Rabbis, those who make others laugh earn a place in Heaven. 

Under National Socialism, it might earn a Jew his place rather quickly.  Welsh journalist Gareth Jones wrote from Berlin in 1933:

Even Jewish jokes are regarded by many Nazis as part of the subtle scheme of world domination by the Jews. Hitler suggests that the Jews try to depict themselves in comic newspapers as a harmless, humorous people in order to mislead public opinion into thinking that they are no danger.

Any sensible person should have found this laughable.   Jones goes on to describe an encounter he had with the German Students Union.  Jews were constant liars, they maintained.  Since the language of the Jew is Hebrew, you see, anything he speaks in German must perforce be a lie.

How can one respond?   One could engage reason against this claim—does the same logic apply to translations of the Bible into German, for example?  But frankly, arguing with a madman agrees to the madman's terms.  A better response is are you fucking crazy

Crazy, they were. They were so fucking crazy, they couldn't see jokes cracked under their very noses. 

Morreall tells the tale of Freud's flight from occupied Austria.  The Reich agreed to let him emigrate, as long as he signed a letter stating he hadn't been mistreated.  Here's what he wrote:

To Whom It May Concern:
I can heartily recommend the Gestapo to anyone.
Sigmund Freud

In a common cabaret schtick, artists would wear gags in their mouths, and sit silent onstage for several minutes.  When they left, the MC would announce that concludes the political part of our programme.   The sketch passed muster, it seems.

The Fish Laughs from the Head

Nazi discomfort with humour went all the way to the top, to the Führer himself.  In 1943, the US Office of Strategic Services (predecessor to the CIA) circulated a psychoanalytic profile of Hitler.  They, too, thought he was fucking crazy. 

Like so much early work in the field, it falls victim to psychobabble and speculation.

The authors spout conventional wisdom of the time, like homosexuality being a perversion and women being weak or submissive.  With Freud still avant-garde, they looked for daddy issues under every rock.  And the OSS let a few howlers slip through; Hitler's godfather, they maintain, was Jewish, which must have made for a perplexing baptism. 

Nonetheless, the report shows a good deal of corroborated evidence that Hitler despised even affectionate jests made at his expense—thousands were condemned after naming their dogs or horses "Adolph", for example.  

Hypocritical, since Hitler was a gifted mimic, who lampooned friends and associates mercilessly.   The report notes that he is "afraid of logic".  Since humour delights in following logic to extremes, it's no wonder he hated a joke.

The Nazis fractured a nation's funny bone, and for a dozen or more years, it joked with a limp.    How could they wipe out an entire culture's sense of humour, and get everyone to think it's a good idea?  How could they make humour a sign of decadence?   How could they make it politically incorrect to laugh?  How could they get away with it?

At this point, it would be easy to wheel out the old trope about humourless Germans.  Not only does it derail the discussion, but it simply isn't true.  There may be much to say about cultural differences among nations, and the distinctive ways they laugh about the world, but this tired stereotype shouldn't be included in it.  

Rather, let's get back to where we started.  Why did narcissistic rage earn respect it didn't deserve, when a laugh could deflate it? 

Righteous Anger. 

Many have written how they felt mesmerised—indeed hypnotised—by Hitler's public appearances.   He aimed to enchant as well as persuade; the music, the pomp, the surroundings, and even the (literal) armies of attractive men and women.  Hitler's speeches beguiled them so thoroughly that few found the power to resist.

His oratorical technique hardly broke new ground, though.  A memorable setting, repetition, pauses, sensing the emotional temperature of an audience, building to a climax—they are the foundations on which the great speeches of history get built. 

Read the words Shakespeare puts into Marc Antony's mouth at Caesar's funeral.  Notice how he starts casually and low key (Friends...lend me your ears...).   Look at how often he repeats words for rhetorical effect, like honourable and ambitious.  He saves the clincher for the end, where he subtly slams Caesar's opponents as "brutish beasts" who have "lost their reason".

Watch I Have a Dream, to see the same devices in action—which shows one can use rhetorical technique for good, as well as ill.  

 

What made Hitler different, and uniquely persuasive to his fellow Germans of the time?  Looking at his speeches today, the element that makes them distinctive is the sheer volume of  Narcissistic Rage.  He starts slow, sometimes almost benign, but whips himself into a torrent of anger.  Even the most fiery orators seldom reach the fury of Hitler in full flight.   Where else can we find the seductive certainty of Narcissistic Rage at work?

Look to the pulpit.  I recall the same tone of indignant anger at the conservative Catholic church of my childhood.  The priests spat contempt; for sin, for sinners, for the congregation itself (especially when the parish was short of cash).  And for the most part, the laity not only sucked it up, but did as told.

The most spellbinding holy rage, of course, comes from fundies.  They resist mockery because they are virtual parodies of themselves.  The late American comedian Sam Kinison, who specialised in the comedy of anger, actually started out as a fundamentalist preacher.  

Yet congregants take them seriously.   Believers are schooled to believe such anger is righteous and good.   No wonder.  For many years, such speech was legally protected from even the gentlest ribbing.  Remember blasphemy laws?   They prove stubborn to undo, even in the most liberal of jurisdictions.  While enforcement has relaxed, the social norms they fostered have not.   For many ardent believers, a mere chuckle at the word of god is tantamount to the most appalling violence.

And in Bavaria, where we endure a Catholic Church of the most bitter and toxic sort, should we be surprised that other bitter and toxic ideologies once earned a place at the table?

Anger Unlaughed At

In modern Germany, have we developed a healthier perspective on anger?    The ever-present threat of a public scolding by strangers, Wutbürger outrage, or even ex-President Wulff's voicemail messages, give me pause. 

One thing is for sure.  We have not re-learned how to make fun of fascists yet.

One of the reasons we don't make fun of fascists very well, is because you can't talk about them openly.  The government proscribes the manner in which Nazism may be depicted.  No Nazi symbols in public—though theatre, film, television and books may use such symbols as long as they do not advocate in favour.   When it comes to National Socialism, the German authorities really do have no sense of humour.

Still, as the events of the 1930s and 40s fade from living memory, German satirists have begun to experiment.  The results, so far, are grim. 

Take the 2007 film Mein Führer—Die wirklich wahrste Wahrheit über Adolf Hitler, or Mein Führer—The Really True, Totally Trudeldee-do Truest Truth About Adolph Hitler. (That's my own translation, which evokes the full cringe of Fremdschämen one feels when one hears the original).   It is considered a blot on he career of anyone associated with it.  Plug the Amazon reviews into Google Translate to get a sense of how badly audiences received the piece. 

Most object to the film on the same grounds as Downfall.  Talking about Hitler as a clown or weakling humanises him, and earns our sympathy.  This strikes me as a poor understanding of the mechanics of ridicule.

So the duty to humiliate last image from http://featherfiles.aviary.com/2012-08-22/f77694d11/3ae3168fc0d441a9b97995ceec46245a_hires.pngcentury's greatest tyrant falls to media from abroad.  And they earn mixed reviews here in Germany. 

Chaplin's The Great Dictator was released in the West in 1958, and in the East in 1980.  It gets a warm reception, perhaps warmer than in English-speaking countries. 

That's understandable, since the film is politically correct in a mainstream European way, and it ends with the hero making an angry public speech, in the finest German oratorical tradition. 

Even so, many approach it with caution.  Online comments in the German-speaking world always begin with the disclaimer we really shouldn't laugh at Hitler, but...  One Amazon reviewer suggests, kindly, that viewers need to be prepared to make an "emotional and intellectual investment" in a film such as this—presumably, without encouragement, they might be reluctant to do so. 

The German-language production of Mel Brooks' The Producers, if you'll pardon the expression, bombed.  (For the plot of The Producers, click its Wikipedia page here

The press and theatre cognoscenti gave it a thumbs up,—could they do anything else, lest they be painted as humourless German stereotypes?  The Berlin production won an honorary Ernst Lubitsch Prize, usually awarded for a comic performance in German language film.  A spokesperson for the Admiralspalast Theatre spoke of the honour: "The story of two Jewish crooks fits to Berlin like no other, reflecting the great tradition of Jewish humour."  (My emphasis) 

I see.  It's Jewish humour, not humour per se

After an inital flourish of enthusiasm in both Vienna and Berlin, audiences stayed away.  Promoters blamed poor marketing 

Let's conduct a brief thought experiment.  Imagine Atlanta in the late 1920s.  A theatrical impressario wants to mount the latest Broadway success, a story of two scamming theatrical producers who need to find a guaranteed flop.  The protagonists stumble upon a play called Springtime for Ol' Massa, with a centrepiece that features a chorus of Antebellum gentry singing about all the human beings they might chain up and whip. Its plot turns on how the play-within-a-play is mistaken for satire, and becomes a surprise hit. 

Our impressario might blame his failure on poor marketing, too. 

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At ten Euros, a German-dubbed version of the original Producers commands
almost twice the price of a DVD of Mein Führer—the Truest Truth
Season One of Hogan's Heroes costs over thirty Euros, by the way.

On the other hand, we can point to a real-life Nazi-themed surprise hit: Ein Käfig voller Helden, better known as Hogan's Heroes.   The show, dubbed into German, enjoys a solid cult following, and is a staple of DVD racks across Germany.  Now there's something to make a cultural anthropologist's head explode. 

(Recently, my language skills have progressed from atrocious to merely awful.  I've set myself the task of watching Hogan's Heroes and The Great Dictator in German.  The Vienna cast album of The Producers sits in the car CD player.   Lemme get back to you after I've digested them all.)

Practical Mockery

Not long after I arrived in Munich, I stumbled onto a demonstration at the Isartor.  A neo-Nazi group had organised a march, and it earned a huge police presence.  Officers lined the streets, formed human barriers around public buildings, and filmed the event so troublemakers could be recognised later. 

Caught in the crowd, I had missed an important fact.  When I got home and read the press reports, I learned that the police spent most of their energy on the angry counter-protestors.   The evening paper told us how the police kept Nazi opponents kettled-in, as we say in German.   The placard in the photo reads Fascism is not an opinion, but a crime.

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Tempers flared.  The neo-Nazis, relatively few in number, actually had the upper hand from a political and PR point of view.  Police needed to keep cool heads, since the encounter easily might have turned into a conflagration. 

Did anger work?  What might have worked better? 

To answer that question, please click on this link.  It shows a parade float from Karneval 2007 in Düsseldorf, via the Petaflop Design Group's coverage.  The float consists of a giant papier-mache figure of Hitler in uniform (minus the swastikas, of course, since that would be illegal to show in public).  A large turd hangs out of his ass.  The turd is labelled "NPD" for the National Democratic Party of Germany, widely regarded as a neo-Nazi group

Why didn't the protestors just borrow the parade float, park it along the route, and repair to the pub?  Much better plan.

Of course, it was important to view the neo-Nazis as a serious threat.  Their ideas and twisted morals pose such a danger to humanity, we must stop them at every turn, and by every means.  Thoughtful men and women must be roused to action.

But it doesn't hurt to make fun of their goddamn stupid shoes, either.

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The Brown Danger.  So Dangerous are Bavaria's Neo-Nazis

Responsible Comedy.

Laughter has magic to it. Those who employ humour to mock an undeserving subject, generally come undone.  Those who make a sense of humour their constant companion, hold up a shield against hypocrisy and inhumanity.  Morreall reminds us that laughter is our most powerful weapon against indoctrination.

But should we, like Lear, make the jester our conscience?   Are comedians becoming our moral voice?  Arguably, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert act as the moral voice of America, since America's traditional moral voices spout the devil's words. 

That brings with it a responsibility.  Bill Maher is one of the new breed of moralist comedians; he cautions the angry comics of this world to remember their power.  The have a choice to use that power for active good, not just to skewer an easy target.  

Prince Harry goes regimentalNot every joke about Hitler serves a noble purpose. And just calling your opponent a Nazi hardly amounts to a winning argument

As Charlie Chaplin began to shoot The Great Dictator, he reflected on the project.  Both he and Hitler were born in April of 1889, were of the same height, and even had the same moustache.   Chaplin observed that the Führer "is the madman and I'm the comedian...but it could have just as easily be reversed."

Laughter helps us remember who's who.

Must his madness drive us?

I don't think about my late father very much.  When I do, my jaw clenches, and my blood pressure rises.  He failed the benefit of the doubt I gave him so often, and so consistently, that I mentally look the other way when he pops into my head.   If anger seeks to breed, then mission accomplished.

He was very much the family rogue.  His several siblings, along with their spouses and children, tiptoe around my father's memory.   Just like I do. 

At a recent family gathering, we chatted about how my aunts and uncles enjoyed such close and devoted relationships.  Marriages of forty and fifty years are the norm; divorce in our family is practically unheard of.

Except for my father, of course.  When he died, he was engaged to his third fiance.

The exception had to be acknowledged—especially since his son was part of the conversation—but the family did its best to politely sidestep the topic.  I felt I should say something.

"Well, you know Mike. He was a randy old billy goat."

A cousin spurted her drink out of her nose.  Another replied, quietly, "Yup."   Everybody laughed. 

I felt better.  We all felt better.  We could move on, to talk about important things; which granchild was graduating from where, what the latest baby had been named, who was on vacation, what flavour doughnut one should choose at the coffee shop, and the price of gas these days.

We could move on.

So, my German friends and neighbours, feel better.  Laugh at Hitler heartily.  When you hesitate to do so, you cede him (and his contemporary followers) more power than they deserve. 

Is Hitler funny?  The answer is yes. Moreover, he's laughable.  And long may he stay that way.

Hipsterhitler
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