Have felt a bit out of sorts lately, and then the weekend comes around and I don’t get nearly enough done on my writing projects. I’m juggling this and that, and seemingly without warning Sunday evening sneaks up on me.
What on earth have I been doing since Friday night when the vast expanse of the weekend was laid out before me?
Well, a lot of living got done between then and now, but I find myself asking what I’d most like to do with the few hours left. Why not read the newspaper?
‘What madness is this?’ you ask. Well, this used to be part of any decent leisurely Sunday.
Actually, only a few generations ago people read the evening paper regularly upon returning from a long day’s work. I’m old, but I’m not that old. Evening papers had gone the way of the dinosaurs by the time I became an obsessive media consumer.
Wait, you know what I’d forgotten while writing the above? My adopted hometown of Munich happens to still have one of those paper that comes out as the sun goes down. It’s got an incredibly inventive name, even. It’s the Abendzeitung, which conveniently means ‘evening newspaper‘.
I’ve heard people rag on it as long as I’ve lived here, but the Arts and Culture section isn’t bad and I actually learned a lot of German while reading it in my early days here in the Bavarian capital.
The photo up above is actually of the much more serious paper up the road in Frankfurt, which I won’t mention by name. The local papers don’t have a Sunday edition, so I end up slogging through this one when I get a hankering for old fashioned print.
‘You do know that you can get all of your news digitally, right?’
Yep, it’s just not the same. Back to my paper…enjoy the rest of your weekend.
We have entered what the Germans call the Sommerloch, which is yet another example of a German word for a situation that we did not even know was needed. Directly translated, this is the ‘summer hole‘, but for some it is more colloquially referred to as the media’s ‘silly season‘.
To fully understand this phenomenon, one first has to understand that many Europeans are on holiday for the entire month of August. Small shops are closed and getting a craftsman to do even the smallest job is inconceivable. Politicians are far away from their constituents, and as a result, there is little traditional news to report . Because these newsmakers are absent, journalists are left to write about topics that would not normally make it into the news.
Several years ago, a lot of both real and virtual ink was spilled to describe Yvonne the wild cow which had miraculously escaped from a slaughterhouse in Upper Bavaria. A few years previously, there was an octopus who could accurately predict World Cup game winners.
One of the most recent examples of such stories we read only last week on the German news site Focus Online. We were alerted to the plans that some Swiss had to annex regions of Southern Germany; culturally and philosophically, the southerners are far more aligned with the Swiss than with Northern Germany, after all.
These feel-good stories would perhaps otherwise be mentioned in the local section of a regional paper, but for a few weeks in the summer they receive unexpected national and even international exposure. Whether this is proper news is debatable at best – and certainly laughable.
In English, we might say that we are having a slow news day. In this case, we have an entire season of it. In Germany, we are right in the middle of the Sommerloch.
People hear again and again that print journalism is dead, but when it comes right down to it, some people just want to hold the paper in their hands.
You’d think that being a journalist opened doors for you, but often the worst thing you can do is say, ‘I write for a newspaper.‘ (I knew this one already, because I’ve been working for my wife’s journalist office for a decade now…however, I’ve seen it repeatedly while researching my own stories in the last six months – no one wants to talk to a journo. Unless they’re in PR and in that case they have nothing I really want to hear.)
Being a professional journalist sounds impressive, but it isn’t. Writing for The Guardian means something in my book. Having been published by some two bit publication? Not so much. Over the last half year, I’ve heard repeatedly, ‘He’s a professional journalist.‘ You know what that means? He says he’s a professional journalist. Nothing more. It’s a real profession, but very few people are making a living at it. Very. Very. Few.
Some say the future of news journalism is at the hands of bloggers. I certainly hope not. Don’t get me wrong. I love reading blogs and write a few myself, but do I really want Lucy’s Football giving me analysis on the European Debt Crisis? She can’t handle her debt crisis.
The Münchner Merkur isn’t a bad paper. I had no idea how well written it was and have used it as a gold mine to find ideas for stories. I’m still a snob about reading the Süddeutsche, but my horizons have expanded to include news source at which I’d previously scoffed.
The last week has been mostly about the Oktoberfest here in Munich on the old Miscellaneous Blog de Lahikmajoe. I’ll be getting back to that soon enough.
Realised this week that I joined my paper (then The Munich Times, whose name I preferred, and later The Munich Eye) exactly six months ago. What a way to celebrate the half anniversary, right? With an assessment of what I’ve learned.
Here’s to another six months of sometimes quality writing and covering the news and events going on in Bavaria’s capital. Hope you’ll be along for the ride.
I was frustrated last month at how little time my new job was allowing me for blogging. Ridiculous, eh? Here I have this great opportunity to help start an English-language weekly newspaper in Munich, and I’m worried about my little, personal site.
Here’s the thing, though. It needn’t be either/or. I could focus all of my energy on the paper, like I did for most of July and the beginning of August, or I could keep working diligently for The Munich Eye and mine that site for topics to be used over here.
That was how I originally envisioned it, after all. When I first talked to William Smyth, the editor of The Munich Eye (formerly The Munich Times), I thought I’d be doing a bit of writing for this fledgling startup. What a thought. For years, I’d been selling articles here and there. An article about tea on one website. A list about Die 10 einflussreichsten Songwriter, die kaum jemand kennt (The ten most influential songwriters you’ve probably never heard of was my original English title) on another one.
Yet, here was a chance to write regularly for a publication nearby. I wasn’t going to miss out on this opportunity. Little did I know what was in store for me. Nearly five months later, I still have no idea how good this thing could become.
Starting in early July, we went into print and each week we attracted more attention. Writers and photographers came out of the woodwork. People we didn’t even know existed were here under our noses all along. Well, not literally. It’s not very safe under our noses. Allergies and all.
There was an intriguing article in the local paper last weekend, and I’m only just now getting round to talking about it. Sometimes I need a few days to decide if it’s even worth bothering you with.
Not every idea is a gem. Aren’t there things you’ve done that, in retrospect, you probably would’ve reconsidered?
Well, I have an entire rucksack of those, but my suspicion is that you didn’t come here for my reject rucksack. That’ll have to wait for a slow day. These are anything but slow days. Quite the opposite, in fact.
For example, a week from Thursday the first print edition of The Munich Times is coming out. That means no matter how calm and collected I might appear here, I’m running ragged in my daily life. I have the same clients I normally do, and Ella and Louis, my sister and brother pair of Vizslas, need their daily trudgein the park. In addition to that, there’s the organising and cajoling I’m doing.
With whom am I doing all of that? With my colleagues at the paper.
That’s right: We’re starting a newspaper. In print. While everyone else is going digital, we’re betting that there’re still people that want to hold newsprint in their grubby little hands. I’ve heard all the arguments that we’re mad, and I’ve even strongly considered some of them. However, my heart is in this. Fully.
You want a taste of the sort of writing we offer? Well, here you go:
For the rest of you, the thrust of the article is that the citizens of Munich aren’t necessarily interested in progress for the mere sake of it. We’re a city that almost says, ‘We don’t need all of those newfangled things.‘ Not mindlessly, we don’t. Not at all costs. No thank you.
Can you see where this is going?
What a perfect fit. A newspaper for a city that appreciates the traditional.
I’ve heard a statistic that a quarter of the Bavarian capital is foreign. That can’t be possible, can it? Not so traditional in that respect.
Yet in a way that plays to The Munich Times strengths even more so. It might not be the reader’s first language, but it’s very possible that English is more easily understood than German. That’s certainly a part of who we’re aiming for.
We shall know soon enough. No need to fear: I’m taking you with me on this one. Something only a Bon Vivant would do. As is my wont.
This is going to be a post that really breaks from the tenor of my regular offerings. It sort of has to. See, I normally avoid religion and politics. It’s just not my thing. I certainly have opinions on these topics, but most of the time I’d rather be writing to a general audience.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned my grandfather and his stance on this. He often said something to the effect of, ‘Only fools and morons talk about religion and politics in polite company.‘ I can’t even begin to imagine what he’d think about this blogging lark. It’d probably take me a while to explain to him exactly what was going on here, and even then I’m not entirely confident that I could convince him.
Günter Grass, who is a Nobel Prize winner in literature, has caused an international incident by writing a poem that’s appeared in several major European newspapers. What could possibly be the subject that’s caused all this controversy? Well, Israel of course.
I don’t know if you know one of the unwritten rules of international politics, but quite simply Germans don’t publicly criticise Israel. It’s just not done. There’s this little matter of the Holocaust, which for obvious reasons makes any relations between modern Israel and Germany rife with tension. Actually, the German government deals with this by publicly supporting Israel on nearly everything.
You could look at an incident such as this public poem as Germany really growing out of its postwar paralysis, when it comes to the world stage – that same way many people including me saw it when Joschka Fischerconfronted Donald Rumsfeld and insisted that he wasn’t convinced by the evidence leading to the invasion of Iraq.I assure you that it’s not the way the Israeli government (or many of its citizens) sees Günter Grass and his outspoken opinions. This German intellectual‘s position is not welcomed and his reputation is purportedly tarnished.
Here, the writer is quoted by Der Spiegel (an influential German news magazine):
‘The overall tenor is to not engage in the content of the poem, but instead to wage a campaign against me and to claim that my reputation is damaged forever,’ Grass said in an interview with a German public broadcaster on Thursday.
So without further ado, here’s the poem in the original German:
Was gesagt werden muss Von Günter Grass
‘Warum schweige ich, verschweige zu lange, was offensichtlich ist und in Planspielen geübt wurde, an deren Ende als Überlebende wir allenfalls Fußnoten sind.
Es ist das behauptete Recht auf den Erstschlag, der das von einem Maulhelden unterjochte und zum organisierten Jubel gelenkte iranische Volk auslöschen könnte, weil in dessen Machtbereich der Bau einer Atombombe vermutet wird.
Doch warum untersage ich mir, jenes andere Land beim Namen zu nennen, in dem seit Jahren – wenn auch geheimgehalten – ein wachsend nukleares Potential verfügbar aber außer Kontrolle, weil keiner Prüfung zugänglich ist?
Das allgemeine Verschweigen dieses Tatbestandes, dem sich mein Schweigen untergeordnet hat, empfinde ich als belastende Lüge und Zwang, der Strafe in Aussicht stellt, sobald er mißachtet wird; das Verdikt “Antisemitismus” ist geläufig.
Jetzt aber, weil aus meinem Land, das von ureigenen Verbrechen, die ohne Vergleich sind, Mal um Mal eingeholt und zur Rede gestellt wird, wiederum und rein geschäftsmäßig, wenn auch mit flinker Lippe als Wiedergutmachung deklariert, ein weiteres U-Boot nach Israel geliefert werden soll, dessen Spezialität darin besteht, allesvernichtende Sprengköpfe dorthin lenken zu können, wo die Existenz einer einzigen Atombombe unbewiesen ist, doch als Befürchtung von Beweiskraft sein will, sage ich, was gesagt werden muß.
Warum aber schwieg ich bislang? Weil ich meinte, meine Herkunft, die von nie zu tilgendem Makel behaftet ist, verbiete, diese Tatsache als ausgesprochene Wahrheit dem Land Israel, dem ich verbunden bin und bleiben will, zuzumuten.
Warum sage ich jetzt erst, gealtert und mit letzter Tinte: Die Atommacht Israel gefährdet den ohnehin brüchigen Weltfrieden? Weil gesagt werden muß, was schon morgen zu spät sein könnte; auch weil wir – als Deutsche belastet genug – Zulieferer eines Verbrechens werden könnten, das voraussehbar ist, weshalb unsere Mitschuld durch keine der üblichen Ausreden zu tilgen wäre.
Und zugegeben: ich schweige nicht mehr, weil ich der Heuchelei des Westens überdrüssig bin; zudem ist zu hoffen, es mögen sich viele vom Schweigen befreien, den Verursacher der erkennbaren Gefahr zum Verzicht auf Gewalt auffordern und gleichfalls darauf bestehen, daß eine unbehinderte und permanente Kontrolle des israelischen atomaren Potentials und der iranischen Atomanlagen durch eine internationale Instanz von den Regierungen beider Länder zugelassen wird.
Nur so ist allen, den Israelis und Palästinensern, mehr noch, allen Menschen, die in dieser vom Wahn okkupierten Region dicht bei dicht verfeindet leben und letztlich auch uns zu helfen.’
I could spend my time translating the poem, but instead I’ll update this when a decent English version is released. Instead, I’ll just say that I’m very conflicted on all of this. Generally, I’m very sympathetic to Israel. I have a lot of Jewish friends, and I cannot begin to fathom what it’s like to live in a country where all of your neighbours want your nation destroyed.
Anyone who says this issue is black and white is either lying to themselves or to you. Or even more probably, they’re lying to both.
Someone who understands rhetoric knows that it’s more effective to show both sides with equal respect. I’ve said nice things about Jewish people and Israel’s predicament, and now you’re waiting for me to offer you the other side. Well before I do that, I just want to say that those aren’t empty thoughts. I’m not desperately waiting to get around to supporting the other side.
As a matter of fact I’m not even going to talk about the Palestinians other than to quickly mention them. It’s not that I don’t also sympathise with their plight. In fact, I do. But there’s no way I can begin to address that in the limited time I have. That’s too big an issue and would distract me from what I feel needs to be said. Or as the poet’s title says, ‘What has to be said.’
So what is it? What exactly is the What that has to be said?
Grass goes on in Der Spiegel article:
‘It has occurred to me that in a democratic country in which freedom of the press prevails, there is a certain forced conformity which stands in the foreground along with a refusal to even consider the content and the questions that I cite.’
One of his main points is that the German government should no longer be selling Israel submarines that could or would be used in an attack on Iran. The response from the Israeli government was covered in the same Der Spiegel article:
‘Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the poem with particularly harsh words. “Günter Grass‘ shameful moral equivalence between Israel and Iran, a regime that denies the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate Israel, says little about Israel and much about Mr. Grass,” a statement released by Netanyahu’s office read. “For six decades, Mr. Grass hid the fact that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS. So for him to cast the one and only Jewish state as the greatest threat to world peace and to oppose giving Israel the means to defend itself is perhaps not surprising.’
But the thing is that the writer didn’t make any moral equivalence between the nations of Israel and Iran. That was neither what he said nor what he implied. It’s true that the Nobel Laureate was in the Waffen-SS when he was a teenager, and he only admitted it after including it in his 2006 book Peeling the Onion.
Does that mean he can no longer speak his mind about his country’s military involvement? Because of Germany’s deplorable atrocities in the mid Twentieth Century, have its government and its citizens been stripped of the right to speak out on matters of international importance?
(update: here’s The Guardian‘s translation of the poem -it’s not the whole thing…I’ll be watching for more of it to be translated)
What Must Be Said by Günter Grass
But why have I kept silent till now?
Because I thought my own origins,
Tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,
meant I could not expect Israel, a land
to which I am, and always will be, attached,
to accept this open declaration of the truth.
Why only now, grown old,
and with what ink remains, do I say:
Israel’s atomic power endangers
an already fragile world peace?
Because what must be said
may be too late tomorrow;
and because – burdened enough as Germans –
we may be providing material for a crime
that is foreseeable, so that our complicity
wil not be expunged by any
of the usual excuses.
And granted: I’ve broken my silence
because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy;
and I hope too that many may be freed
from their silence, may demand
that those responsible for the open danger we face renounce the use of force,
may insist that the governments of
both Iran and Israel allow an international authority
free and open inspection of
the nuclear potential and capability of both.
update: There’s been plenty in the German press, as well as the international media, about the response to this story about Günter Grass and his poem. I thought I’d include something from the often satirical left-leaning Berlin newspaper die tageszeitung. Although this paper dealt with the topic seriously and critically, they saved a bit of space on their last page to poke a stick in Grass’s eye. To put this in context, Good Friday (the last Friday before Easter) is a national holiday and there are no newspapers sold that day.
The short article is called an ‘Open Letter to Günter Grass‘, and it’s written in an overly polite tone. Here’s how it looks in German:
‘Sehr geehrter Günter Grass. Sie haben gestern ein politisches Gedicht veröffentlicht, das in den Medien wie eine Atombombe eingeschlagen ist. Es dauerte auch nicht lange, bis wir von ganz oben dazu aufgefordert wurden, uns etwas dazu zu überlegen: “Das ist doch eine Steilvorlage für Satiriker! Das könnt ihr euch nicht entgehen lassen!” Uns gar nicht dazu zu äußern, kam also nicht in Frage. Wir überlegten darum hin und her und her und hin, was wir von dieser verschnarchten Altherrenpoesie denn nun halten sollten. Bereits durch die flüchtige Lektüre des lyrisch-rheumatischen Mahnmals um etwa drei Jahrzehnte gealtert, kamen wir schließlich zu folgendem Ergebnis: Herr Grass, hätten Sie dieses Scheißgedicht nicht erst einen Tag später veröffentlichen können? Dann hätten wir nämlich frei gehabt. Auch das musste einmal gesagt werden.’
Essentially, it says: You released an atomic bomb in the media, and of course the powers-that-be here at the paper insisted that we satirical writers couldn’t let an opportunity like this pass us by. So, we kicked the idea back and forth of what satirical thing we could say. Something appropriate to respond to this snore-fest of an old man’s poetry. We’ve aged as a result of having to read the volatile teachings of this lyrical and rheumatic monument of a writer, so here’s what we decided to say to him: Hey Mr Grass! Couldn’t you have waited just one more day to release this crap poem? Then we writers could’ve actually had the day off. That had to be said, as well.