I am sadened to hear the reports on yesterday's terrorist attack on the Christmas Market in Strasbourg which left 3 dead and 12 injured. I was there myself on Saturday, like all others enjoying the beautiful city, the market and the peaceful Christmas time. On entrance to the city center, bags were checked on the bridges. But to my surprise, we could just go in by tramway without being checked at all. I even made a bad joke on the "Frenchness" of the security concept. Now I regret, that I only made a joke and did not act on this by reporting it to the officer in charge to close such a loophole. I hope those hurt, of which 8 are in a critical condition, recover soon and get well again, and those who lost their lives, rest in peace.
The Old Opera House in Frankfurt is one of the landmark buildings. In 1987 the Opera caught fire and it took 3 years and 200 Million EUR to rebuild it from the ashes of what became the largest such disaster since World War II. The fire was set by a homeless who broke into the building through a side window. Frustrated that he did not find food, he gathered some newspapers and burned down the building. Now, what looks old from outside, is just the plain opposite when you enter. It's more modern than the New Opera of town, with excellent seating and acoustics.
Last Monday, I was in the 4.th Museum Concert directed by Tung-Chieh Chuang with the Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester (Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra) and Kian Soltani cello. It was Georges Bizet Symphony in C Major, Camille Saint-Saëns Cello concerto Nr. 1 in a minor op. 33 and after the break Igor Strawinsky Petruschka (in the 1947 edition). It was nice and I really enjoyed the evening. Such concerts are more "meditative" than opera and a good start into the week.
The Unconditional Minumum Income is a concept widely discussed. It is the idea that everybody should receive a minimum salary, no matter whether the person works or not. I have followed the results of such an experiment in Tilburg (Netherlands) with great interest in recent years. I found it not very encouraging. Recently, I have been in Stuttgart a few times and found that here they use just the opposite approach: the Unconditional Maximum Income. This means, no matter whether you work or not, you will be overpaid. This is a radical approach to overcome the challenges ahead and close the income gap. The experiment here is funded largely by the private sector. By contrast to the Unconditional Minimum Income (where people can choose to work more to earn more), the Unconditional Maximum Income provides no economic benefits to those who actually work. I did a quick literature search and found no published research on Unconditional Maximum Income in the Social Science Domain. That means, Stuttgart is at the cutting edge. Congratulations.
Asshole Management is an art form by which subjects are neutralized effectively, while resources employed in this process are kept minimal. Here “a person counts as an asshole when, and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people” (James, Aaron. Assholes: A Theory (pp. 4-5). Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Kindle Edition).
From this, we can already conclude that assholes cannot be ignored, because then they expand. They further cannot be educated, as they do not follow logic or moral arguments. Should an asshole recognize you as somebody who can provide any kind of advantages to him, you can also not walk away, as the asshole will follow. Assholes need to be dealt with.
There are a few ways to deal with them effectively. Counterintuitively, it needs to encourage them to become even bigger assholes. You can achieve that, by giving them the sense that they are actually entitled to even more. Then let him engage with a second asshole, who objects to that entitlement. We call this, the anti-asshole. If managed well, the two assholes will engage in a personal war. The energy released in such asshole-anti-asshole reaction may be quite high so that it is recommended to contain it in a confined physical and social space. In the end, it is a process of asshole fusion and is better kept in a safe reactor. Make sure all resources assholes need, are available in the reactor. But the reaction should also not be too efficient, because we need both of them to melt down in the process. Residual assholes, which did not burn down completely, will have to be treated as toxic waste.
If you run short of anti-assholes in your environment, there is a second strategy: catalyze the asshole’s energy towards self-destruction. Again this needs encouragement and making the asshole believe, he is capable to perform things which he truly is not. An asshole which really believes he is above the law, biology, and physics is a quite vulnerable creature. The asshole will self accelerate fueled by arrogance, greed, adrenalin, and testosterone. But if it bounces randomly against close obstacles, it may not reach fatal speed. It needs undisturbed egocentricity to maximize the speed before a clearly defined impact. You need to pave the runway to hell. Again, the energy released when assholes hit the target zone, may be quite high and should be evacuated.
There are different kinds of assholes, which need slightly adjusted management. But there is one asshole sub-species, which is extremely hard to deal with. It’s the “victim asshole” (VA), which pretends to be disadvantaged to achieve advantages. The first problem here is, to discriminate between people who really need our help and VAs. I have been thinking about VA quick tests, but none of them had significant results. More research is needed here.
It was only a short week in Malta and I was lucky that I could catch up with some friends. Though I regret that I could not see everybody I wanted. It was just a short stopover and there is more time "on the rock" to come. Ample rain of the last weeks, turned the open lands of the little mediterranen country into a green and lush scenery. Again my personal autumn was prolonged for another week by this trip. When I arrive in Germany in a few hours, it will be winter-ish. For those, I missed this time, see you in December and keep well until then.
The term "creativity" seems to be used like what we call "innovation". It's more about churning out new products and creating markets than working on substantial breakthroughs. And that's understandable, when you consider the economic pressures most artists are under. I am thinking a lot about crossfertilization between arts, science and engineering. But it would have to be on a more fundamental level to be fruitful.
Once you have a phobia in your mind, it's really hard to get over it. Recently, I returned my food in a restaurant, because the waiter was tattooed. I just could not eat it anymore. Then last weekend in Munich, a tattooed guest entered the hotel's breakfast room, which made me feel so noxious, that I turned away - just to see another one who had human corps parts, like skulls and bones, impregnated on his arms. I know, I have to overcome this one day, but eating and tattoos just don't work together for me. Don't get me wrong, people can of course decorate their bodies as they wish. It's up to me finding a way, not to feel disturbed by it anymore.
Somehow, in my mind it has solidified that non-tribal tattoos are related to gang membership, prostitution, drugs and inmates. In the best case, they maybe English servicemen or other kinds of hooligans. That's why I understand, that in Japan non concealed tattoos are banned in many public baths and gyms. People are just scared of them, and definitely don't want to share the water with somebody who they think maybe infected with all kinds of bugs. It's perceived as dangerous, dirty and filthy.
Even I catch myself, that if I spot a person with a tattoo, I may watch every move more carefully, like it would be a roaming Pitbull Terrier on a children's playground. It's just hard wired by now. Of course, not all Pitbulls are vicious, and neither are all tattooed people. It's nonsense, I know. I am also not a wussy, as I have worked with people suffering leprosy and others terribly disfigured and sick. We even shared the canteen and it made me no trouble at all. Perhaps it's the environment which makes the difference. I heard that you can overcome phobias by confronting them. Should I go to a tattoo shop one day and try and eat something in there? For sure, if I manage that, I can overcome anything.
I had some maintenance and admin work to do and then strolled over to the other side of the Grand Harbour to meet friends. The sky cleared up over night accompanied by strong winds and brought forward its full Mediterranean. Very nice sitting outside at mild 26 Celsius.
The question is common: how in childhood 6 weeks summer holidays are feeling like they last eternity, while for an adult the same feel like it's gone in no time? There are a few contemporary non fiction books on the subject, which are not really worth mentioning. Then there is a novel by Matt Haig with the title, which I enjoyed reading. I found it entertaining, looking at life and lives from the perspective of somebody who suffers he anomaly of living for centuries. Even the concept is not new, and reaches from Greek Mythology through the Ghost of Centerville, the Flying Dutchman into modernity, I found this book telling another nice story. And it may even help a bit to answer we the question in poses in he title.
When I started thinking about the question casually, a few years ago, I was wondering why the ratio of some change divided by time "consumed", also referred to as "speed", became an equivalent for performance. Even some common measures of intelligence are using the ability of solving mental tasks in a given short time frame. Obviously, his is good for some purposes and completely useless for others. But then you find, that people with high IQ sometimes also tend to have high creative abilities. Well, obviously it is an advantage, when you can do both: thinking fast and slow. And yes, for those who did no do it yet, let me say that Daniel Kahneman's book, should go on the reading list. I assume, a high common IQ is good to to process stuff, which otherwise clogs up valuable brainpower for higher tasks.
Speed is exciting, but lacks dignity and elegance, when things become hectic. Try to stand in the Hong Kong subway during rush hour, watching the commuters and not to think of ants or lemmings. Hectic is like switching from laminar to turbulent friction. A landing plane produces turbulence on purpose to reduce kinetic energy and slow down. Beyond hectic comes only panic. And beyond panic comes disaster.
Back to the point how to stop time, or at least slow it down. I tried for a while, not to carry a watch and not to have a calendar. In a world where you have to use time as a dimension of coordination with others, that's very unpractical and sooner or later something goes seriously wrong. So, that did not work. Then the solution came to me during this summer, which lasted "forever" (not just as an effect of global warming). It was a combination of absolute focus on enjoyable tasks and topics, together with taking up more (not less) responsibilities and doing is all very seriously. When I spent six weeks in Hong Kong, I was also reminded how important the environment is. Hong Kong is a hectic and noisy place with frightened and nervous people. After about a month I could not help, this started to have an effect on me, making me inefficient and tired. I have not looked into the slow city and slow food movement. But I am convinced that there are more conducive environments than others. Still, slowness itself can be also quite disturbing and does not really help slowing down the passing of time. There are things which have to be fast. It's all about staying in laminar flow, I guess.
I discontinued my travel blog a while ago. Not that I ever thought I would be writing significantly on travel, but I still enjoy reading the classical genre. So, I became interested in joining the travel writing forum “From here to there” at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, to find out where modern travel writing is going. It was a very shallow experience. Stephen Vines, a columnist at the South China Morning Post (SCMP), moderated a panel of three. Starting off by mistaking being unprepared for “humor”, I was looking forward to Geoff Dyer who at least knew what he was talking about. Geoff distanced himself immediately from being a “travel writer” to being a writer who travels. I did not understand why from the beginning. But then the two other “travel writer” panelists came into play and it became clear to me: Vicki Williams and Vivian Tang. Vicki and Vivian were of a different kind. Obviously you need no opinion or ability to articulate one to be an “opinion leader”. They were clearly not burdened by any kind of knowledge or education on the subject. When comparing the adventures of Victorian travelers with today, there came: “… sometimes I don’t even know what I will have for dinner on my plate”. This was the moment I busted laughing and decided to take the event as a bad stand-up comedy. Vivian embraces local knowledge by traveling with local guides and enjoys luxury yachts. She also found a beach in Hong Kong which had no geotag for Instagram. Isn’t that funny? Luckily, I have also been in a very interesting session before with the author Dung Kai-Cheung. Otherwise, I would have suggested to rename the festival into “Hong Kong Literacy Festival”, to celebrate what‘s left of it. If this was really the future of travel writing on display, then I guess Tripadvisor is up for a Nobel Prize.
My Nokia phone broke down about a month ago, after great lifetime. So, I went to one of the many electronics shops in Hong Kong and opted to replace it with a HUAWEI P20 Pro. It has rather high specs and is marketed by having a co-designed camera with Leica. Quickly I figured that this phone is not a phone. It is more of a pocket computer with a quite good camera, which can also to phone calls. I always thought that taking photos with a phone is more of Lomographie than photography. But have a look yourself below: these photos are all unedited, like they came out.
It is the end of August and I am thinking what to pack for Tilburg, where I am going to spend a month at the University. It is that time of the year, and I am looking forward to it. I have a good memory of what I packed up for last September, and it included a jacket and some wollen pullovers. Over the last 4 years, it has been this time in Tilburg, in which I witnessed the beginning of autumn.
But this year, it appears all differently. Today, in Frankfurt (Main), the forecast is a maximum temperature 33°C. That's more than 10°C above the long term average maximum temperature in August. In terms of rainfall during the core vegetation period, we have not been that dry since over 50 years, Just a few days ago the government decided to compensate partially losses in agriculture. It is for sure, the prices for many basic food items will rise soon. On top of that, there are response measures taken by the EU in response to the agressive US protectionism. This includes some food categories. I am generally not in favour of having long supply chains for food, and for sure many US products are of inferior quality anyways. But no doubt, it will add pressure on food prices.
Today, I went to the Niddapark, behind the house. That's my running trail, from spring time. Also spring this year was warmer than average: both April and May about plus 3°C. But it was still a healthy landscape. Now, the grass is yellow, trees show severe signs of drought stress, and my plan to get some wild Sambucus to make a syrup and jam, ended with looking at the dried berries. Also for yesterday night's picknick at the Main river bank, it was not easy to find a green spot of grass to sit on. Luckily some gardener of an office block decided not to care about the municipal request to cease watering decorative plants, and there was a patch. These are the joys of a financial industry which does not care. Actually, nobody does. I remember, when I studied Geophysics in the late 80s, there were already numerical models showing the direction and the energetic effects of composition changes of the atmosphere were available - even the full complexity was not really understood. Desertification, water scarcity, loss of arable land and it's effects on food supply, living conditions and even resulting migration were already back then quite seriously researched and discussed. I remember very well, a project with Münchner Rückversicherung, doing number crunching to adjust their loss models for future natural disasters. That's why I am a bit puzzled why people are surprised now.
Now I am hoping for an "Indian Summer", which we call "Goldener Herbst". I would not be too surprised though, that while the sun's Zenit moves further South and the Westerly winds kick in at such temperature deltas over the North Atlantic, there will be a bit of wind ahead and winter won't come easy. It was a long summer. The only memory I have of such a year, was the summer drought of 1976. I was just aged 10 back then, and time was endless anyway. Now, this is special.
Strasbourg is famous for many things: for example the Christmas Market, the European Parliament and the pleasures coming with Vin D'Alsace. It is a very pleasant visit in this endless summer, and no surprise many Germans from close by cities hop over on the weekend. It reminded me seriously to polish up my French, as it got rusty over the years. The first days are always the hardest to get a language back on the tongue. Specially now, that English has degenerated at such a pace into a "smallest common denominator" (at best), it is good to have the whole language portfolio again and keep it active. This means for me, also a recap Chinese course in fall is on the list. And then, of course I have to kick start Russian and find a good way and the right moment. I did a Russian course as a student at the University more than 30 years ago. But that's really all gone. For French, it would be easiest to move there for some significant time. And that sounds, for many reasons, like a good plan in the years to come.
I find it appalling that in the 21st century some governments outlaw certain kinds of apparel, namely types of Muslim women’s clothes. Even the argument that it would be a symbol of oppression, I can only partly follow. At least, the veiled Muslim women I know: should it be oppression, they would be the first ones taking it off. Some do, some don’t. The other argument is, that disguise threatens public security. The late Peter Scholl-Latour, the Middle East Expert, even said that Burkas should be banned, because even a man could hide in them. I am not sure what made men in women’s clothes more dangerous to Peter, but I am sure he spoke from rich experience. It may have caused him surprises at some point. And then there is Boris Johnson, recently appealing to his ale drinking electoral base, making jokes that such women look like letter boxes. It’s too easy to counter that by making jokes about Neanderthals, Boris. Looked into a mirror recently? Hahaha! How I love this British humour.
Unfortunately, it’s not just men with homophobia and dumb humour, but today I also had to witness some English women making depreciating comments on Muslim women’s looks who were wearing Hijabs. Given that they were clearly sitting in the glasshouse throwing stones, when it comes to beauty and style, I could not help seeking clarification.
It went about like this:
“Sorry, but from the Muslim ladies I know, they are not just well dressed, elegant, graceful and take good care of details; but they are also educated, interested, speak 5 languages and play chess. By contrary, from the English women I know, there are some but not many who have these qualities combined. So, ‘be the change you want to see’ – and sorry, for quoting Gandhi to educate English people. This may hurt your superiority feelings."
… (some vulgar response) ...
You remember who Gandhi was, right?
… (some incorrect response, followed by the attempt to be funny) ...
No, he was not a naked man with diapers and a turban … Why don’t you have look in the Encyclopedia Britannica?
…. (confused attempt to change the subject) ...
"Oh, you are from Manchester? Then look him up on YouTube. Gandhi not Gandy … ah, enjoy your holidays … good luck, ladies!”
When I visited the city last year in spring, I already stated that Moscow is the new London. Now, I went again and I can truly say that Moscow is one of my favorite European capital cities. The FIFA Worldcup, was the latest opportunity to tidy up and internationalise. Even I am not a soccer enthusiast, I appreciate it as another piece in brining the city again steps forward. What I really like about Moscow is the rich cultural life. We strolled through museums and watched La Boheme in the Bolshoi. This opera is for me like the "Pizza Margarita of performances" - in the sense that you can use it very well to compare performance quality across geographies. The Bolshoi was outstanding and far ahead of the Opèra Garnier (and most others). This did not surprise me, but I enjoy it when institutions live up to their reputation. But also just walking in the streets in inner Moscow is a real pleasure. People are very friendly and polite, and you find quite a number of outstanding characters. I also had the chance to see the amazing campus of Moscow School of Management Skolkovo. Really impressive, but I could not help estimating payback periods for this investment with a smile.
Summer in Frankfurt is coming to a climax with 37 degrees Celsius. During this time, when theatres are in their Summer break, Der Palmengarten (Frankfurt's botanical garden) offers a series of open air concerts and events. Yesterday, is was Reut Regev's R*Time initiated by the Jazz-Initiative-Frankfurt. I really liked it. First of all the music and show itself, and secondly the atmosphere and the great spirit of the audience. How better can you spend a mid summer evening, than sitting in a palm garden (on the grass) with great music and a glas of wine? What did surprise me though, was the age distribution of the visitors. I clearly was at the lower bracket. Well, this concert was really cool, with complex music and great fun. And it is even more strange, because Bockenheim is the University area of Frankfurt am Main, and still no young people around. Perhaps they did not find it, because there was no "app"? Perhaps it was too expensive? I don't think so: at a reduced rate applicable to students the ticket was EUR 6.00 (US$ 6.98). Perhaps I should go to some of "their events" to find out. Let me download an app first.
The days in the North are long and this summer seems endless. Time is really passing more slowly recently. Hard to say why, but this is worth researching. This is why I decided to resume writing my diary again, and activity I paused about a year ago. One aspect clearly is, that here in Germany, so many things can be done in a day with ease, while in Malta the most simple things become a daily project due to the general shortage of infrastructure and reliability. But now there is always so much ahead after the early sunrise. Based in Frankfurt (Main), I went to Bonn and Stuttgart. I really liked Kirchner's unknown collection, exhibited in the Staatsgallerie Stuttgart, and also the other museums I visited.
It took me 52 years to come here, even though since 1989 it would have been logistically an easy trip. I followed the track from my mother's birth place along the paths of the refugees, seeing it all - also the German Concentration Camp Stutthof. I spare you the cruelty, violence and the stories of the collapse of humanity. I deeply regret them, but it would not help to add more "awareness porn" to the online world. We all know our responsibility. And if you feel in doubt, just visit a war cemetary. Here you will meet moments of deep silence and then wonderful people living here cheering you up. And in the end they were the main victims of German invasion and tyranny, before the Nazi agression bounced back. Not even to talk about Russia, and the holocaust. And another thing to remember, when standing where they crossed the ice under heavy civilian losses in 1945: protecting refugees from today's war zones is not charity, but it's our duty.
Wójtowo (Voigtsdorf) is located between Lutry (Lautern) and Reszel (Rösel) in the Polish part of former East Prussia (Ostpreussen). A few plots of land in this small agricultural settlement was enough to be relatively wealthy. And it was not too much to be executed on the spot as land owner when the Red Army moved in, back in 1945. Who knows the truth after all these years only captured by oral history? I was there today for the first time, to see my mother's birthplace. I took many photos that may trigger her memories: the buildings, school, garden and just the fields across the road. She never came back. I also talked to people. There are stories of violence, betrayal, and death, but also those of bravery and humanity. I decided not to write in public about what I heard. It's too easily misunderstood in the rough world of social media and there are radical views on this chapter of history. And honestly, I can't even talk about it without loosing my voice.
All that counts for me today is that I am happy to see my mother's birthplace. Now a wonderful Polish family is living in the house. It is still as a farm. I even saw some Trakehner horses. They maintain it by the means they can earn from the land. That's not easy. It never was.
In the late winter of 1945, the ice on the "Frisches Haff" at the Baltic Sea was not thick enough anymore to carry all carriages and horses. My mother and her family left Eastern Prussia under the pressure of the incoming Russian Army. What happened then, was a story that shaped us for generations. Some went on land Westward, others crossed the thin ice. Too slow to make it off there before sunrise, they became easy targets for the Russian Air Force pilots. Nowhere to hide, they pretended to be dead, lying still on the ice until sunset, watching their neighbours sink and die randomly. They were running from an Army which was seeking to defeat the country which invaded it brutally and merciless before. For those who survived then came hunger, typhoid, the search for their relatives and children, homeless years, hope and despair - and for some the madness never left them. Some families were reunited in the 50s with the return of surviving prisoners of war from Siberia. Others in 1989 when the German wall fell. Many did never see each other again.
Tomorrow I still have a project presentation, and then I am on my way to Gdańsk (Danzig), with an old bilingual map, a field GPS and the few photos, articles, and extracts from birth registers. From there, I will head South-East to a village which has was called Voigtsdorf, close to Rösel. I am looking for the place abandoned by Anton Siegmund and Maria née Gabriel and their children in that late winter of 1945, in Poland and their favorite Café and chocolate maker in Königsberg / Kaliningrad (Russia).