Interpreting the Polish “Holocaust Law”

By Katharina Geiselmann

The Polish Sejm has passed a Law at the beginning of this year, which makes it illegal to blame Poles for any crime committed during the Nazi occupation. Even though it also covers crimes committed during the Communist era (and war crimes by Ukrainian nationalists), it came to be known as “The Holocaust Law” in the debate that it sparked all around the world. This shows not only the sensitivity of the topic of the Holocaust, but also that 73 years after the victory over the Nazis, it seems the different Holocaust narratives are rather dividing than uniting Europe. Can, and should a consensus be reached when it comes to Holocaust memory? Or is the motto united in diversity a legitimate solution for the European memory? Especially the latest EU-enlargement challenges the concept of a common European memory, as the Western countries have agreed on their memory more or less, while new members have not been included yet, and bring other, fresher memories to the table: the communist past. Considering that the Holocaust, however, is said to be part of the European memory as negative founding myth[1], in cooperating Eastern narratives and agreeing on what and how the Holocaust is to be remembered is an integral part of the integration process. Continue reading “Interpreting the Polish “Holocaust Law””

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The Who’s Who of Europe: The Powerful Personalities in the EU

Eleanor Brooks

The American Foreign Secretary Henry Kissinger famously once asked “Who do I call when I want to call Europe?” The modern day version coming from Rex Tillerson might be, “Who do I call, email, text, tweet…”, but the premise remains the same – who does one call to get the lowdown on Europe? With certain leadership figures rising above the crowd, the current U.S. Secretary has some pretty good options available.

Emmanuel Macron – The ambitious new kid on the bloc

The poster boy of French politics, Mr Emmanuel Macron has recently joined the ranks of rosy-cheeked nation state leaders on the world stage. After founding his own party En Marche! in early 2016 (a keen observer will note it shares the same initials as his own name), he led his party to victory less than a year later in the French parliamentary elections. His triumph was unprecedented and audacious; the presidential election was his first time running for public office and he won it with apparent ease. Such a rapid rise power is rarely achieved in politics by democratic means, although comparison could be made to a certain head of state across the Atlantic Ocean who also circumvented the typical route in his bid for Presidential office. Continue reading “The Who’s Who of Europe: The Powerful Personalities in the EU”

German Elections Explained – Inside the politics of the 2017 campaign

Wong Tsz 

Germany has just experienced one of the most turbulent general elections in recent history. Merkel has gained another 4-year term; for the first time since WWII, a far-right party, the AfD, has made its way into the German parliament; and a three-party coalition seems inevitable. But what else can we tell from this election?

Winners and losers:

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Official election figures. (Source)

Coalition

A record six parties have entered the Bundestag. They are: The centre-right CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union), SPD (Social Democratic Party), The Left (Die Linke), The Greens (Die Grünen), the FDP (Free Democratic Party), and the AfD (Alternative for Germany).

As it stands, no party wishes to cooperate with the AfD, and die Linke is a traditionally difficult ally due to its uneasy past regarding the East German Stasi (Staatssicherheitsdienst, SSD). Since the SPD vows to withdraw from the grand coalition that it has formed with the CDU since 2013, the only feasible possibility is the CDU-Greens-FDP coalition – also known as the ‘Jamaica’ coalition, named after the three colours. Although coalition government is not something new for the German politics, a three-party coalition is still not commonly seen in the German parliament. Continue reading “German Elections Explained – Inside the politics of the 2017 campaign”

The Pulse of Europe is beating: How pro-Europeans are taking the stage

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Pulse of Europe-event in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. By Raimond Spekking.

By Sabine Volk

Around 150 students are holding up sheets of paper in blue, white, and red. Rester avec nous, they shout, stay with us. In the moment the camera clicks to shoot the French flag formed out of sheets of paper, the sun breaks through the clouds again. A good sign for Europe? Maybe. What is sure, is that the pulse of Europe now also beats in Groningen.

On a Sunday afternoon, on the second of April, 2017, the first Pulse of Europe event was held in Groningen. Pulse of Europe is a pro-European movement that has emerged in Frankfurt, Germany, around the end of last year. Against the backdrop of the Brexit referendum, the election of President Trump, and the rise of nationalist sentiments all across Europe, the initiators aim at raising awareness about the many advantages European integration has brought to European citizens. They have been organizing weekly events on Sunday afternoons, first only in Frankfurt, then in an increasing number of cities in Germany, now all over Europe. (see http://pulseofeurope.eu)

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Pulse of Europe in Groningen. By PoE Groningen.

The first Pulse of Europe event in Groningen took place on the square in between the University of Groningen’s main building, and the University library. Blue and yellow balloons distinguish the pro-European character of the event. An estimated 150 people gather around the stand that offers free lemonade, and on the stairs of the Academiegebouw, the main building of the University of Groningen. Most of them are students, and they seem to be mainly internationals. The German percentage remains unspecified, but might rise up to 70 percent according to the author’s educated guess. Possibly unsurprising: several generations of Euroculturers are seen amongst the supporters as well.

The event starts off with the European anthem, Freude schöner Götterfunken. As expected, nobody knows the lyrics. But this is no problem, because of Jeremy’s enthusiasm. Jeremy, who is the organizer of this first Pulse of Europe event in Groningen, is genuinely happy about the number of people that have showed up. After only eight days of organization, the turnout is a remarkable success. Jeremy invites us all to hold short, three-minute-long speeches about our opinions and attitudes towards the EU. Although the open microphone had been announced beforehand, students are reluctant to take stage. Nevertheless, many important topics are brought up by the students daring to speak to the crowd: Europe as a peace project, borderless Europe, the EU as a refuge in times of globalization, Europe as a space for diversity and exchange rather than close-minded nationalism. A lot of praise for the EU indeed, but students are, after all, those who benefit most from European integration.

After a couple of speeches, the organizers hand out the sheets of paper in white, red and blue. The reference is clear: the flag serves as an appeal to the French citizens to make a clear statement for Europe, diversity, and collaboration, and not for Marine Le Pen’s chauvinistic nationalism, in the upcoming Presidential elections. The next Pulse of Europe Groningen-event is scheduled, of course, for April 23rd: the day of the French election. That time the event will take place on the Grote Markt, the central square in the Groningen city center. Can more people be attracted than only the students who directly benefit from the EU and its Erasmus program, or who are regular international students? Let’s hope so. After all, rester avec nous should nowadays be pronounced in all European languages.

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Nationalism in Europe: Where did it come from, and what does it mean?

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Olga Starikova

At the end of the 20th century, it seemed barely possible that nationalism would come back to the West. The international community was supposed to learn the harsh lessons of the past and reach the important conclusions. Terms like globalization, multiculturalism and internationalism were no longer just a part of political discourse, but also entered the language and the reality of common people. Being cosmopolitan became trendy – especially to younger generations in the West. The fifteen years following the 1993 Maastricht Treaty became a sort of Golden Era for the European Union. The integration process seemed unstoppable – three enlargements of the EU took place, including the biggest in the history of the Union in 2004. The common currency was established in 2002, replacing the national currencies of twelve member states within the Eurozone, which also kept on growing. Nationalism in Europe was close to dying out in the new millennium.

However, reality has collided with this optimistic picture, and despite the common trends of globalization and integration, the right wing started gaining popularity. Nationalism has changed its look, and has probably become more moderate and polished, but it did come back.  This turn in the development of Europe is not illogical: the economic crisis, the so-called Islamization of Europe, and financial inequality of member states have all contributed. The recent European migrant crisis tops the cake.

Yet, what’s really striking is how fast something that was commonly seen as intolerant, odd or just shameful can get significant support in Western society. In this regard, the only thing more impressive than this phenomenon itself is the speed of its evolution. Right-wing politicians and public figures that were formerly treated with disdain suddenly achieved high-profile positions.

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French National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

The French National Front, with its charismatic leader Marine Le Pen, serves as a shining example. Even though the ultra-right populist party experienced a decline in the first decade of the 21st century, it’s managed to rise from the ashes like a phoenix in this one; seeing success first at municipal elections, and then in 2014 winning 24 of France’s 74 seats in European Parliament – an unprecedented number for the National Front. Now, the scariest thing for liberals is Le Pen’s presidential campaign this year. Considering the events of the past five years, her candidacy should not be underestimated.

Similar things are happening in Germany, where luckily they have not yet reached that extent. The right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland is represented in the majority of German states, despite the fact that the party is fairly young and was only founded in 2013. In the European elections of 2014 AfD gained 7%, significantly less than the National Front’s 24.9% in France. Nevertheless, this number is very impressive for Germany, where the Nazi past makes the population less likely to support ultra-right political parties and the state was paying attention to the issue. Somehow, AfD leader Frauke Petry managed to successfully apply the bottom-up approach and gain the support of some people, often with low income and lower levels of education.

 

Those were the founders and the main political powers in the European Union. However, the “right turn” is typical for other countries as well, including Austria, Switzerland, and those in Southern and Eastern Europe. While nationalism has traditionally been rather strong in Eastern states like Poland and Hungary, the “right voice” in Scandinavia – considered to be incredibly tolerant – is much newer. In May 2016, the BBC published a brief Guide to Nationalist Parties Challenging Europe. The article is well-structured, and worth reading for those seeking basic information on the phenomenon.

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AfD leader Frauke Petry. Photo by Michael Lucan.

From 2014 to today, the trend has become too obvious to ignore, and naturally begged the question: “Why?” As mentioned before, normally financial crisis and refugee issues are named as main factors. The ideals of the European Union did not equate to those of certain cohorts of people. The establishment, in turn, did not always react appropriately, failing to suggest working solutions to current problems, and people started to look for alternatives.

Having faced multiple problems, the European Union as a huge bureaucratic machine appeared to be slow and inefficient. Unfortunately, it turned to be fertile ground for populist parties that often suggest rather extreme solutions. The European idea has definitely known better times, yet despite Brexit, it is too soon to speak of the decline of the European Union and the concept of supranational government. The EU’s history is rather short to make conclusions, as it was started in 1952 as the European Coal and Steel Community.

It is more a speculation, but maybe, using the terms of Samuel P. Huntington, there are certain waves of democratization; in this case waves of nationalism. Or, to be more precise, they are not simply waves but spiral bends, if one can see the process as a spiral rather than a sine curve. If so, the phase is temporary – the only question is its intensity. It does not help that nowadays the “right turn” does not seem to be unique to Europe, as evidenced by the recent US elections. On the bright side, European integration has gone so far and economic binds are so tight that cutting ties often means losing profit – which should make the politicians think twice. The most challenging aspect for the establishment is getting closer to common people, a skill that has been mastered by right-wing populists. So far, we have not passed the point of no return, and this “wave” is a good lesson for the EU to learn from its mistakes. To cite a famous saying: history repeats itself until the lesson is learned.

Olga studied Political Science in Russia and the USA, finished her M.A. Euroculture studies in Germany, and currently lives and works in Moscow.

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The Elections that will shape Europe #1: The Netherlands

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Geert Wilders. Photo by Peter van der Sluijs

Arne Van Lienden

This is the first in a series where The Euroculturer dives into the upcoming elections in The Netherlands, France, and Germany. In this first article, Arne van Lienden explains the stakes in the Dutch elections.

It is safe to say that 2017 will be a decisive year for the future of the European Union. Not only will the EU have to negotiate the exit of the UK from the Union, following the Brexit referendum, but it will also have to contend with uncertain elections in three founding Member States. Among these three are Germany and France, who, especially after the UK’s departure, are the most financially and politically powerful members of the Union. With populism on the rise and anti-EU sentiment becoming more widespread, it is needless to say that these elections will be vital for the survival of the EU, at least in its current form. With the French elections in April and the German elections in September, it might be easy to overlook the Dutch elections this month. Although The Netherlands is significantly smaller and less powerful in the European arena than France and Germany, the elections on the 15th of March will serve as a lipid test for how the electorates of the so-called ‘core’ countries of the EU will respond to the Brexit referendum, austerity measures and budget cuts, as well as the influx of refugees. It is the first round in a series of fights that will decide Europe’s future.

The surge and decline of Geert Wilders

In order to form an executive government in the Netherlands, a party needs a majority of the seats in the Tweede Kamer (Parliament). This comes down to 76 seats out of the 150 available. In contrast to, for instance, the UK, a Dutch party has never managed to win 76 seats outright. Therefore, the Dutch government is always a coalition of different parties, often with strikingly different political ideologies. Especially in today’s fragmented political climate, polls show that the biggest party will probably get no more than 25 seats in this election. This will mean that there is most likely going to be a broad coalition government, which sometimes can consist of four or five parties. The coalition system ensures that governmental policies are always the result of a consensus between different, often opposing, parties, making it impossible for radical policies to get passed. However, a common criticism is that practically nothing ever gets done due to this balancing act.

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Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Photo by Minister-president

It is important to understand the coalition system to understand why, in the last months before the election, far-right Eurosceptic Geert Wilders is dropping several points in the polls per week. Of all the 28 (!) parties that are participating in the elections, only a few have not ruled out Geert Wilders’ PVV as a coalition partner. PVV’s stance on Islam and immigration were a deal breaker for parties on both the left and right. For current Prime Minister and leader of the right-leaning VVD Mark Rutte, there is also a personal factor that rules Wilders out as a coalition partner. Rutte’s first government fell after Wilders withdrew his support, something that Rutte has never forgiven. The slim chances of actually ending up in government made the PVV lose many voters – voters who rather strategically support a party that will be able to form a coalition. Nonetheless, recent polls still show that the PVV will end up as one of the biggest parties – if not the biggest – in the Netherlands, and for that reason it will be an important voice in the opposition of the future government. Some people also fear that promises of moderates to not work with the PVV will be forgotten once the votes are cast. Mark Rutte’s VVD in particular is seen as a party that could pragmatically change its tune after the elections.

Puzzling for a coalition

With new polls coming out every other day, Dutch politicians and citizens are puzzling to find a workable coalition that has 76 or more seats in Parliament. The VVD and PVV seem to be leading in the polls, but few other parties want to work in a coalition with these two parties. A more likely option is a center-left government, including Christian-Democrats, socialists, environmentalists, and classical liberals. A loud proponent of a possible center-left coalition is the young Jesse Klaver, leader of GroenLinks (GreenLeft). Often compared to Justin Trudeau for his appearance and political style, Klaver’s GroenLinks is expected to go from four seats to 18 or more. Klaver’s political star is rising and this is frightening the VVD and PVV, who both chose to resign from a televised debate after they heard that Klaver was invited behind their backs. Right-wing tabloid De Telegraaf started the offensive against Klaver and was surprisingly joined by other leftist parties that were aiming to win back voters that have been lured over to GroenLinks. Lodewijk Asscher, the new leader of PvdA (Labor), attacked Klaver for allowing prices to rise due to higher taxes on driving cars and more subsidies for green energy.

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Jesse Klaver. Photo by BuelensLeon

Nothing is settled yet, and the coalition negotiations after the coming elections will be fierce and difficult. Although Klaver has repeatedly reached out to the Christian-Democrats as a possible coalition partner, these parties might very well choose to join Mark Rutte’s VVD. The VVD is still rising in the polls, but with a strikingly smaller margin than in 2012. Austerity measures and integrity scandals have made trust in Rutte and the VVD decline significantly, and the campaign by the VVD revolves completely around regaining lost trust, combined with a more right-wing tone to siphon votes from the PVV.

The Netherlands in Europe

What does the current political climate say about the role of the Netherlands in Europe? It is clear that the Netherlands is heavily divided over issues of integration, finance, and Europe. Like many European countries where populism is on the rise, the political debate has become more complicated. With Wilders trying to delegitimize the media and Rutte refusing televised debates, it seems that democracy has already become a clear loser in the upcoming elections. The role of the Dutch in Europe is contested, but except for the PVV and some marginal right-wing parties, it is a political consensus that the Netherlands needs the EU more than that it suffers from the EU.

However, even though the PVV is unlikely to form a part of the government, it has succeeded in hardening the tone of the Dutch political debate and making anti-EU rhetoric more acceptable. To be pro-European is often frowned upon, and needs more explaining than to say one is against the European project. Although the Dutch elections precede the French and German ones, government policy will, for a great part, rely on how the new German and French governments will deal with the EU. The Netherlands is too small to unilaterally turn its back on Europe or to single-handedly speed up the integration processes. It relies on the policies set in the European powerhouses. The normalization of anti-EU rhetoric in the political arena of a founding EU Member State is a frightening development that promises nothing good for the future of Europe. On the other hand, a pro-European center-left coalition  could serve as an example to other European countries that, even in a time of populism and the alt-right, progressive policies still stand a chance.

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Germany’s Steinmeier: A New Direction for the Presidency

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President-elect Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Photo by Arne List

Lauren Rogers

On the morning of 12 February of this year, 1260 members of the German Federal Assembly, which includes Bundestag members and state electors, voted to choose the 12th President of the Federal Republic of Germany. Garnering over 900 votes, the clear winner was the Grand Coalition candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who served twice as foreign minister and ran for chancellor under the SPD banner in 2008. He has held public office for over 20 years.

On paper, Steinmeier has all the makings of a tame president; he is well-liked and respected in the international community and within the German government. According to Bild, Steinmeier even has the dubious honor of using the German informal “you” with more members of the Cabinet than any other – high praise for those in the German-speaking world.

However, appearances can be deceiving, and surely the Steinmeier presidency will not be without a backbone. During the last year of his term as foreign minister, Steinmeier spoke out strongly against Russian aggression, the inaction of the international community in the Syrian crisis, and the shortsightedness of the Brexit decision. Most notably, he is a decisive critic of US President Donald Trump and of the nationalist movements taking hold around the world.

From Freedom to Courage

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President Joachim Gauck. Photo by ACBahn

Germany’s current president, Joachim Gauck, has spent most of his term promoting freedom. Gauck, who was an East German resistance leader before the fall of the Berlin Wall, has repeatedly stressed reconciliation and social justice in his speeches. His term has not been without crisis – the floundering euro, Brexit, and the refugee influx, just to name a few – but he has continued to call for openness, tolerance, and a need to cherish the freedoms that are easy to take for granted. Gauck embraced the “Refugees Welcome” movement more than any other German politician and at times was harsh in his criticism of those who were steadfastly anti-refugee.

Steinmeier promises to be a different kind of president. After nearly three decades in the spotlight, he is politically savvy and will likely be less concerned with visiting children’s shelters and more concerned with asserting Germany’s role in the world. If “Freedom” was the motto of the Gauck presidency, it is safe to say that “Courage” will be the that of Steinmeier’s. In his acceptance speech following his election, Steinmeier spoke of two kinds of courage: the courage that Germany can give to others, and the courage that Germans must display in the face of rising unrest in Europe and beyond.

Steinmeier recounted a story of a young Tunisian activist telling him that Germany gave her courage. Germany, which not so very long ago represented the opposite of freedom and justice, now has a place as one of the pillars of modern democracy in the West. Germany gives courage, said Steinmeier, because it is proof that peace comes after war, that reconciliation can follow division. In this sense, Germany must continue to be a symbol of courage for countries in crisis.

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Frauke Petry. Photo by Michael Lucan

But Steinmeier also meant courage in another sense. Three important European elections – France, Germany and the Netherlands – are coming up this year, each with its own populist candidate. In the face of Marine Le Pen, Frauke Petry, and Geert Wilders, respectively the leaders of the nationalist waves in these countries, Steinmeier preached patience, tolerance, and above all, a commitment to the core values of Europe.

 

The “Anti-Trump” President?

Following his election, the German daily Berliner Morgenpost dubbed Steinmeier the “Anti-Trump President” – a title that has since been reprinted everywhere from The Independent to Bloomberg. Whether or not he enjoys the moniker, Steinmeier has certainly been among the strongest critics of the US President, referring to him at one point as a “hate-preacher.” After Trump’s election, Steinemeier issued the following statement as foreign minister: “I think we will have to get used to the idea that US foreign policy will be less predictable for us and we will have to get used to the idea that the US will tend to make more decisions on its own.” He went on to say that working together with the US will be much harder over the next four years and that Europe must stay the course, despite the unsettling results.

In his speech on Sunday, Steinmeier issued a thinly veiled critique on Trump and his populist counterparts in Europe. He called on all Germans to fight against baseless accusations and fear-mongering. “We must have the courage to say what is and what isn’t,” he said, claiming a universal responsibility to differentiate facts from lies. This, too, will likely be a theme of the Steinmeier presidency. Shortly before his candidacy was announced in 2016, the President-elect decried the rise of right-wing parties in Europe and the US and accused Trump and others of “mak[ing] politics with fear.”

Or the “Pro-Russia” President?

Rather than the “Anti-Trump” President, some may dub Frank-Walter Steinmeier the “Pro-Russia” President.  As foreign minister, Steinmeier was regularly lampooned by his CDU colleagues for his mild stance toward Russia. He began his second term as foreign minister in late 2013, only a few months before Russia annexed Crimea. Following the annexation, Steinmeier joined his international colleagues in denouncing Russia and supported upping economic sanctions until the conflict was resolved.

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Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel. Photo by Kremlin.ru

However, Steinmeier has relaxed his stance since then and has insisted on a need to keep channels of communication open. Russia is an important actor in two of the most significant global crisis areas: Syria and the Ukraine. Continuing with heavy sanctions and isolation will do nothing to solve these issues, according to Steinmeier. Over the summer, he was also quick to criticize NATO for carrying out exercises in Eastern Europe. He accused the organization of “warmongering” and said, “Whoever believes that a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security is mistaken.”

Thus far, only Russian news outlets seem to believe that Steinmeier will be a friend to the east, but the differences between he and Gauck are undeniable. As a former citizen of East Germany, Gauck was understandably apprehensive about former KGB officer Vladimir Putin. Steinmeier, who has worked with the Russia on international issues since his time in the Schroeder administration, will be a welcome change for the Kremlin.

Emphasizing German Leadership

In an interview with television station ZDF following the election, Steinmeier indicated his intention to work closely with both Moscow and Washington. He was very clear that Germany is currently in the midst of a “reorganization of international relations” and that possible unpredictability in the East and the West will mean a greater need for a stable country.

Nevertheless, the role of the German president is not to negotiate with foreign leaders or herald in big changes. The German president is primarily a domestic role; he or she acts as a moral authority, but has very little political power. As the head of government, Steinmeier will be confined to ceremonial tasks like welcoming state visits and approving the Cabinet. The political might in Germany is held by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, and by the parliament, the Bundestag. Despite his limited power, Steinmeier is expected to set a tone for the coming years and it appears as though he will be just as active as his predecessor.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier will take office on 18 March 18 this year. On September 24, the country will vote for new Bundestag representation and a new government will take office.

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Between Trauma and New Visions: “Art in Europe 1945-1968” – a transnational exhibition in Karlsruhe

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Dana Ghafoor

It is a cold and grey Saturday afternoon, just one week before Christmas and I am rushing over the empty Platz der Menschenrechte, Human Rights Square, in front of the old German weapons and munitions production factory in Karlsruhe.  This huge building was constructed with German Pünktlichkeit during the First World War and managed to avoid demolition in the late 1970s after having been a reliable space for the preparation of violence and destruction. With sentiment echoing Adorno’s phrase, “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” the city of Karlsruhe in the post-war decades seemed paralyzed and helpless to interact with this huge memorial of violence production in its heart.

It wasn’t poetry that brought a spirit of hope into the massive walls in Lorenzstraße – at least not just that. In the 1980s, the artist group “99.9% leerer Raum” moved into the old factory, just before, in 1984, the first ever email was received just a few kilometres away at the Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe (KIT). At that time, enthusiasm for new and connective technology of communication had awoken to end the rather destructive technology of weapons, which had dominated the atmosphere of the massive building.  In 1987 the association for arts and media technology was founded, and eight years after the ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medien), the Centre for Art and Media, opened in the old German weapons and munitions production factory. Since then, the building has hosted exhibitions with a focus on media and communication technology. It is, however, an unusual exhibition for the ZKM, which I am visiting today. Usually, visitors come to stroll down memory lane between the antiquities and rarities of computer and video games, or to discover new developments occurring in the digital arts. Although this exhibition does not focus on technology and media art, it fits perfectly in this historic building.

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Builders (1956) by social realist painter Alexander Deineka (left) and Builders (1951) by expressionist Fernand Leger (right)

“Art in Europe 1945-1968” is the title of the exhibition, curated by Eckhart Gillen and Peter Weibel and their Russian colleagues Daria Mille and Daniel Bulatov. It is a cooperation between the Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and the State Museum Exhibition Centre ROSIZO in Moscow. The exhibition contains more than 500 diverse works of about 200 European artists. In Karlsruhe it has the significant subtitle, “The Continent that the EU does not know.” The curators aim to give a second perspective on the dominant narrative of post-war Europe. They present works by artists, who have responded to the breakup of a divided continent after a decade of destruction.

“Art in Europe 1945-1968” focuses on a central cultural space. One that was damaged and torn apart several times during the 20th century. The curators present artistic developments, stemming from the huge area that is geographical Europe. With artwork coming from anywhere between the Ural Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, the exhibition draws on many sources in its goal of opening up a new narrative with regards to a shared past. The curators claim that until today historiography looked at the arts of the 20th century as divided into two main streams. Firstly, there was abstract expressionism, which is seen as a symbol of freedom in the West. Then there is social realism which, according to these curators, has been seen as a conservative kind of art, an art bent to serve the communist political system in the East. This exhibition, however, is an effort to engage with the history of art in Europe in a less simplified manner. This exhibition explores these themes through comparison, by finding similarities, and understanding differences in a socio-political approach to interpretation.

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Stalingrad 1943-1944 by Hans Richter

While walking through this huge exhibition, taking up two floors with an immense amount of art work, I can sympathize with the curators and let myself get lost in the many pictures, sculptures, films and photographs. It is hopeless trying to discover everything: this exhibition is the product of more than twenty years, and 200 people, full of creativity and extreme emotions. It is by accident, that I find the small Picasso, “Pigeon, Blue Variation” from 1951, hidden on the back of one of the huge white walls. The difficulty of mapping this great quantity and variety of art in post-war Europe can also be seen through the different strategies of structuring the exhibition in the three hosting places in Brussels, Karlsruhe and Moscow. In Karlsruhe it is organized into the five chapters “Trauma and Remembrance,” “Cold War,” “New Realism,” “New Visions,” and “Utopia 1968”. While 1945 is interpreted as ‘hour zero’, 1968 is defined as the starting point for a new relationship between West and East. What might seem like a very linear and horizontal approach, is in fact an attempt to entangle spaces, to invite visitors to discover art works that have not shared the same space before. Curator Peter Weibel calls it an active plea for understanding Europe – a goal which is just as important today as it was in 1945.

The idea of “Art in Europe 1945-1968” was conceived already in 2012, and it was supposed to be shown in Russia first. However, after the crisis in Ukraine and the strained relationship between the EU and Russia, many important sponsors withdrew their financial support. It is in these grey and cold days, that it becomes more important than ever to take a break and discover new perspectives on what shapes Europe: memories and trauma, war, utopia, and new visions. Now, in times of a critical public discourse regarding Europe, and in times of planning the building of walls, it is maybe more appropriate than ever to consider the leading questions of “Art in Europe 1945-1968”: “what is Europe?”  

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ZKM exterior

What I take with me walking back from the ZKM, in the old German weapons and munitions production factory in Karlsruhe, over the Human Rights Square, is the idea to keep my eyes wide open and to search for hidden ideas. Ideas that are not omnipresent in the main discourse surrounding us today. There was a lot happening in the period between 1945 to 1968 in Europe. It seems like a period of conflict and inconsistency . There is also a lot going on in Europe today, and it is essential to reflect on the present patterns of perception and communication.  “Art in Europe 1945-1968” shows that it is worth challenging established constructs and opening a discussion about a common past and a common future. Despite or precisely because of its confusing multitude of pieces, visitors of “Art in Europe 1945-1968” can find a new way of looking at Europe in the past and in the present. I interpret this exhibition as a liquid reflection on arts and European society. It commutes between the East and West in Europe, and changes its setting in each location. It is not a fixed construct which needs to be consumed in a certain way, but one that underlines different perspectives.  An exhibition is more than its images or sculptures. It represents a reflection on the everyday reality of artists and curators, and it grows in the space where it is shown, and with each visitor approaching it. “Art in Europe 1945-1968” communicates with its surrounding and with its audience and it is worth, I believe, taking your time to look, listen, reflect and respond.

The exhibition “Art in Europe 1945-1968” can be visited in the ZKM until 29th of January 2017 and afterwards in Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.

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And Then There Was One: Angela Merkel and the 2017 German Elections

 

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Merkel. Photo by Kleinschmidt.

Lauren Rogers

At the German conservative party’s annual meeting in Essen on December 4, Chancellor Merkel was elected head of her party for the ninth consecutive time. The show of support comes only a few weeks after Merkel announcing her willingness to stand for reelection in 2017. For those fearing the populist wave in Europe, driven in Germany with the Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) party, Merkel’s candidature comes as a sigh of relief. However, her last term has not done her any favors on the left or the right and she was selected by only 89.5 percent of the 1,000 CDU delegates at the meeting. This marks her second worst result ever.

For the next ten months, Merkel will be forced to walk a fine line between hard-line anti-immigration policies proposed by her own party and taking care of the 1.1 million refugees that she herself welcomed in late 2015. After serving for over ten years, many question whether the Chancellor still understands the German electorate. Meanwhile, others are exalting her as the last stalwart of liberal democracy in the face of worrying populism.

Is she right for the job?

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Merkel’s famous stance. Photo by Armin Linnartz.

Were this a normal election cycle, pundits would be questioning whether Chancellor Merkel is good for Germany at all. After serving has the head of government for over a decade, Merkel has earned a reputation as the ultimate politician. Her speeches are measured, her policies are rarely radical, and her standard hand position, dubbed the Chancellor’s rhombus, has become iconic.

Nevertheless, Merkel’s third term has been wrought with crisis. After a narrow victory in the 2013 general election, Merkel’s CDU was forced to form a grand coalition – nicknamed the “GroKo” – with the SPD, Germany’s center-left party. Reaching consensus in a coalition government can be tricky in the best of times, but as crisis after crisis unfolded in Europe, consensus seemed impossible. Chancellor Merkel’s attempts to navigate smoothly through these crises, as she did during the eurocrisis of her second term, proved impossible.

Merkel’s migration policies in particular have drawn sharp criticism from all sides. In 2015, when the flood of refugees from the Middle East and Northern Africa hit its peak, Merkel famously touted Germany’s so-called “Willkommenskultur,” and insisted that Europe could manage the refugee crisis with compassion and solidarity. In a speech following an attack on a asylum center in Heidenau, Germany in 2015, Merkel stood by her decision, calling the attacks on refugees “shameful” and declaring, “I have to honestly say that if we now have to start apologizing for showing a friendly face in the presence of need, then this is not my country.”

While Merkel’s generosity was initially met with domestic and international support, the mood quickly soured as thousands more asylum-seekers poured into Germany. Many have commented that the Chancellor’s initial reaction, so unlike her usual measured decisions, marked a clear disconnect between the Chancellor and her constituents. In 2016, when Merkel’s party only managed a third place victory behind the populist AfD and the SPD in her own district, it became all the more clear how out of touch she has become.

Is she our only hope?

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Cameron, Obama, Merkel, Hollande and Renzi. Three resignations and one end of term later- Merkel is the last of the old guard.

Out of touch she may be, but with the threat of populist parties taking charge across Europe, Chancellor Merkel’s shortcomings become easier to swallow. The AfD, led by the startlingly Merkel-esque Frauke Petry, lists as its priorities curtailing further immigration; putting participation in the Euro up to a referendum; halting further negotiations on CETA and TTIP; and limiting Germany’s commitment to Europe with the motto “Germany first”. In other words, it is yet another iteration of the standard populist ticket seen around Europe and in the US in 2016.

Following the Brexit vote, which was driven by the populist UK Independent Party, and the US election of Donald J. Trump, the self-proclaimed “ultimate outsider,” moderates in Europe are understandably terrified. Less than a week ago, the Italian constitutional referendum prompted the resignation of Matteo Renzi. A week before that, French President François Hollande announced his intention to step down in 2017. Cameron, Renzi, Hollande, and Merkel – four of Europe’s most powerful leaders, and only one will remain in 2017.

To characterize Merkel as Europe’s “last hope” or as the “last defender” of liberal democracy, as some in the media have, seems a bit hyperbolic. The AfD did have a surprising turnout in 2016, but the likelihood that it will garner enough support to form – or even be a part of – the next coalition is slim. As of now, the party does not have any seats in the national parliament, though it does have 143 of the 1855 state parliamentary seats. Still, the rise in populism cannot be ignored and the CDU and other parties may have to cater to ideas that would have, in any other election year, seemed too far right. That was clear during the annual party meeting when delegates debated the merits of banning face veils for Muslim women and doing away with dual citizenship. The tone of the nation has shifted, and the Chancellor will have to consider this in order to run a successful campaign.

Can she win?

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Frauke Petry is seeking to upset the German establishment with the AfD. Will she succeed? Photo by Olaf Kosinsky

It may not be clear if she is the right person for the job, or if she has the full weight of the CDU behind her, but Chancellor Merkel has been in power for almost 12 years. For many Germans, she seems almost like a permanent fixture atop the governmental pyramid. Not the most effective leader, or the most likeable, but the best option for right now.

Still, Merkel’s approval ratings have seen constant fluctuation in the past year. Over the summer, she reached new lows – in an August 2016 poll published by Zeit Online, only 42% of Germans wanted to see her run again. However, immediately following the US election of Donald Trump, Merkel’s approval rating rebounded. According to a Stern Magazine poll, 59% of Germans signaled their wish for her to run again on Nov 9, perhaps a reactionary poll driven by a glimpse of real populism in the US. However, as the dust settles Merkel must find a way to make these ratings sustainable, otherwise she faces an uphill battle in September. ”You have to help me,” Chancellor Merkel told CDU members gathered in Essen last week. Someone has to.

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Local Customs: Rhineland Carnival – Warum ist es am Rhein so schön?

carnival
Photo by Häjk

Mona Moentmann

With the coming and going of 11/11 last Friday (which is the national Independence Day here in Poland) I realised once more, how strongly my own regional identity connects this day to a very different cultural event: the beginning of carnival. Growing up in the Rhineland, the local version of carnival feels very close to me. (The biggest events of the “Rheinische” carnival are in Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Mainz.) Please, be aware that due to my lack of personal experience I am not speaking about Fastnacht (That’s this other German version of carnival (called Swabian-Alemannic Fastnacht or Fasnacht mostly celebrated in Switzerland, southern Germany, Ellsaß and Voralberg. Characteristic of this festival are the wooden masks that are worn each year and depict demons, witches, fools, etc.).

So let me tell why it can be more than just half-assed costumes and drunken people.

But wait, isn’t carnival in February?

The main days to celebrate carnival are indeed (depending on the moon cycle) in February or March. From Altweiber or Weiberfastnacht (Fat Thursday), the main days of carnival last until Aschermittwoch (Ash Wednesday), the start of 40 days of fasting until Easter. Traditions of winter expulsion and feasts before the fasting are already found in mediaeval times. (According to Wikipedia, the earliest written record in Germany in 1296 in Speyer. However, the contemporary ‘fifth season’ starts already on the 11.11. at 11:11. A special tradition in Düsseldorf is that on the 11th it is the Day of Hoppeditz Awakes, who’s something like the patron of the ‘Narren’ or ‘Jecken’(fools). The people of Düsseldorf celebrate the start to the carnival season with ‘Narrenschelte’ (“Joker’s Scolding”) from Hoppeditz. Then, carnival (interpreted as a Western Christian festive season) is on pause during Christmas season, and continues on the 6th of January, the Three King’s Day. By the way, when carnival ends on Ash Wednesday, a doll of Hoppeditz will be burnt and buried under the moaning of the people. Every ‘Jeck’ (fool) wears black to show grief.

Why on 11/11?

Already in the 19th century there was a time of feasting before Christmas which started on the 11th, Saint Martin’s Day. (The first Carnival parade took place in Cologne in 1823)

Also, the number 11 (“Elf” in German) symbolises the foolish, clownish (‘närrisch’) character of the “fifth season”. On the one hand you find another reference to religion, where 11 is a number of excessiveness and sin, which kind of fits with festival with an exuberant atmosphere- rather than ‘Christian’ morals.

11 is also a ‘Schnapszahl’- which is a strange German way of saying ‘repdigit’ and shows a connection between math and drinking culture?

Furthermore, if you are talking about the contemporary version of carnival after 1823, the reference to Napoleon and the French occupation of the Rheinland could be a reason as well: the German word for 11 ELF, might be playing with the revolutionary terù: “Egalité, Liberté, Fraternité”.

Also it might symbolise the equality of people during this time. Wearing the fools hat (‘Narrenkappe’), makes everyone the same and abolishes hierarchies, so everyone is one next to one.

So, what do you do in this fifth season?

You dress up in great costumes (a new one every year, or you rotate between some of your favourites). Of course you have to be prepared for snow or storm, so it should be possible to wear warm stuff underneath. But also you’ll be in a bar, so it should also not be too warm or have layers you can take off. If you have a hat, it will be stolen or lost in the first day. In case of any escalation in the festivities and therefore destruction of your costume, have an emergency one ready!

Everyone wears masks and costumes allowing them to lose their everyday identity. It also makes hierarchies less obvious and allows a sense of social unity. Besides that, masks also protect from others potentially being offended by jokes and mockery.

In comparison with Halloween, we do see similar references to popular culture (mostly in TV), but apart from that there are some all-time classics like any animals, sailors and pirates, clowns, nuns and monks, doctors and nursed, pilots, angels and devils, cowboys and Indians, hippies, etc.

You listen to ‘shitty’ local songs, lots of brass bands, and you do this “dance” ‘Schunkeln’ –especially while sitting. That’s a very German way of showing you are enjoying the music without dancing too much. So you take the arm of you neighbour and move rhythmically (or not so rhythmically) from one side to the other (but mostly only the upper body). Advanced ‘Schunkeln’ works best on benches and goes back and forth instead of right-left.

You can give kisses to strangers. “Bützen” is a specific interpretation of a kiss (closed lips, on the cheek) during carnival. It is not expression of sexual intentions but of joy and cheerfulness. To give a “Bützje” is friendly, commits you to nothing at all, and will be given too many.

pic-carnoval

And maybe you go to a ‘Sitzung’, a more formal session organised by social carnival clubs, because of course we need some kind of institution and organisation ;). These sessions are more or less entertaining shows where club members or guests perform dances, comedy, songs, and speeches. The committee organising these events consists of a president and 10 junior members (1+10=?) and is called the “Council of Eleven” or Elferrat

Honestly, the majority of these sessions are mostly visited by older people and are not that funny, but maybe still interesting to experience and it’s a way to keep traditions and customs alive, which is not always bad.

During these events some things will happen:

1) Someone will hold a speech called ‘Büttenrede’. This speech mostly rhymes and is held from a special podium (‘Bütt’) in the local dialect. This podium is an essential part of the tradition, however it is not clear why. A ‘Bütt’ looks a bit like a barrel and might refer to an empty barrel of wine (which is the cause of bitterness of the speaker), maybe refers to Diogenes (the mocker of ancient Greece).It consists of some jokes but also ironic comments and mockery referring to local and global politics, scandals, society. This tradition originates in mediaeval times where things like caricature would usually face prosecutions. So here we have now an opportunity to criticise authorities (safely). In contemporary sessions however, it is still meant to provoke but the opinions are split about how harsh they actually are because more and more stand-up comedy is used.

2) Most likely there will be a visit of people wearing uniforms in red or blue, moving in with marching brass band music, singing, and dancing. These are called ‘Prinzengarde’ or if female ‘Funkemariechen.’ It’s a strong expression of tradition because these people are really passionate about carnival, train the whole year and have plenty of performances during the season. The typical costumes refer to uniforms of the 18th century that were designed in order to mock the Prussians who tried to oppress carnival.

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The ‘Prinzengarde’ is also escorting the ‘Dreigestirn’ (or the equivalent in Düsseldorf: ‘Prinzenpaar’ (Royal Couple)). These are the symbolic representatives who reign over the ‘Jecken’ or ‘Narren’ (fools; the people). The Dreigestirn is specific for Cologne and consists of 3 people (new ones every year) who get the honour to reign over the ‘fools’ and be entitled to be Jungfrau (virgin), Prinz (prince) and Bauer (farmer). Traditionally represented by man (yes, also the virgin), this is a role that requires not only passion but also time and money. The carnival prince is deemed to be the highest representative of the festivities, leading the main parades throughout the week. The trio of Cologne does up to 400 visits during the season.

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Photo by T-Online.

Originally with the revival of carnival in the 19th century, it introduces the component of critique on the (foreign) ruling class and royalty, but now more part of the conservative, traditional way of carnival it gets taken very seriously again. However, Cologne loves their ‘Dreigestirn’.

But the most fascinating part is when the whole city transforms in February.

What to be excited about for February?

In case you’ll have time, take your chance to visit Cologne or Düsseldorf next year at 23/02.-27/02/2017

As some of you might know, there is a local rivalry between these two cities, most visible when it comes to which beer you drink (‘Kölsch’ vs. ‘Altbier’), what you shout (‘Alaaf’ vs. ‘Helau’) and which city has the best Rose Monday parade.

I will try to not take sides, as I grew up with celebrating in Düsseldorf (and I still prefer the beer) but during my time in Bonn I learned to love the carnival in Cologne. In the end, it’s about the people you are celebrating with, and there are nice people in both cities :D.

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Photo by Focus Online.

The first day and crazy start of the main carnival festivities is at the “Old Women’s Day’ (‘Altweiber’ or ‘Weiberfastnacht’) on Thursday. In the morning you will see already many people going to work in their colourful costumes. At around 10.00 am, most of the offices, schools etc. will close and everyone goes on the streets. At 11.11 am (again) the carnival days will be officially opened. This day is especially for the women who take the power (symbolically and ‘just for fun’) from the mayor, so the ‘fools’ can reign over the cities until Ash Wednesday. This day commemorates an 1824 revolt by washer-women, a woman in black storms the city hall to get the “key” for the city-/town halls from its mayor. In many places ‘fools’ take over city halls or municipal governments and ‘wild’ women cut men’s ties wherever they get hold of them. Not only in the city centre but also in the different districts (‘Veedel’) there will be little stages with bands and dancers, you can get beer and food and just enjoy your time.

In the afternoon, the party will shift from the streets to the local bars and pubs where it will go on and on. If you want to try, learn some of the typical songs by heart as everyone will be singing along. In case you don’t like the traditional carnival music, bad news for people going to Cologne: it will be nearly impossible to find a place playing different music. In Düsseldorf, it’s more likely to be able to celebrate in costumes still and having the carnival feeling but without these silly songs.

Friday has some masked balls and parties in the evening (during the day not so much is happening). Saturday is one of the days when you can do ‘frühschoppen’ if you want, which is an occasion where it is socially acceptable to meet in the morning to get drunk. The city will be flooded by ‘Jecken’ (fools) pretty soon. There are many parties across the city. Sunday is traditionally a day for the school children who have their own parade. In Niederkassel, a part of Düsseldorf, there will also be the traditional ‘Tonnenrennen’;  a Barrel Race where competitors run down the street with massive barrels.

Rose Monday is the peak of events (so make sure you don’t overdo it before, so you can still see the parade). From around 10 am onwards, the city centre will get filled with people. If you want a nice spot where you can see a lot, come early and bring some bags for the candy. During the parade, candy (‘Kamelle’) and flowers (‘Strüßjer’) (and sometimes random stuff like balls, sponges, condoms, little toys etc.) will be thrown into the crowds. Wave you hands in the air (like you don’t care) and scream ‘Alaaf’ or ‘Helau’ (depending where you are. IMPORTANT: do not mix this up. I repeat: do not mix it up!), you will be rewarded with candy! (Protect your drinks!) By the way, in case you want to bring beer or other alcoholic drinks with you, put them in plastic bottles, as glass is prohibited in the city centres. Also, remember to bring some food and warm clothing as it will last around two hours (or longer if you want ;).

During the parade you will see walking groups, brass bands, the ‘Funkemariechen’ will be dancing again, and the ‘Dreigestirn’ or ‘Prinzenpaar’ and groups will be on colourful wagons, all throwing candies. Besides that you will see so called ‘Mottowagen’ which are some kind of rolling caricature about political events of the last year. They are meant to be provocative, they sometimes even get international attention, and after Charlie Hebdo they actually started a debate about if they are putting the parades under risks for potential attacks.

Again, the celebrations will continue in halls, bars, homes, wherever.

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Photo by RP Online.

On Tuesday, if you still want more, there are again local parades around midday in the suburbs of Cologne, the parties go on until midnight, when under weeping and whaling they will burn ‘Nubbel’, the equivalent to Hoppeditz.

When you’re Catholic, you can go to Church and get an Ash Cross on your forehead to symbolise your sins and start fasting and wait for the next year of carnival.

Want to feel more local? Learn some ‘Kölsch’!

Et Rheinisch Jrundjesetz (the rheinish constitutional law)

Artikel 1: Et es wie et es.(„Es ist, wie es ist.“) = It is, how it is.

Means: Face the facts, you cannot change them. Take things as they come.

Artikel 2: Et kütt wie et kütt. („Es kommt, wie es kommt.“) = It comes, how it comes.

Means: You cannot change the course of events, so face them with humour.

Artikel 3: Et hätt noch emmer joot jejange.(„Es ist bisher noch immer gut gegangen.“) =It has so far always gone good

Means: Things have always worked out so far.

Artikel 4: Wat fott es, es fott.(„Was fort ist, ist fort.“)= What is gone, is gone

Means: Don’t cry over spilt milk (also in the context of food: used to say go ahead and take the last piece, what is gone can’t turn bad and who might have wanted something cannot change that anymore, has to deal with it)

Artikel 5: Et bliev nix wie et wor.(„Es bleibt nichts wie es war.“)= Nothing stays how it was

Means: Change is the only constancy

Artikel 6: Kenne mer nit, bruche mer nit, fott domet.(„Kennen wir nicht, brauchen wir nicht, fort damit.“)= we don’t know it, we don’t need it, dump it.

Means: Describes the critical state of mind of the people of Cologne towards the new which doesn’t seem to be of use.

Artikel 7: Wat wells de maache?(„Was willst du machen?“)= What do you want to do?Means: Comply to your fate/destiny

Artikel 8: Maach et joot, ävver nit zo off.(„Mach es gut, aber nicht zu oft.“) Do it well, but not too often

Means: As the phrase is a word play, it is not possible to translate it one by one. In Kölsch, „Maach et joot“ (German: Mach es gut)  is a farewell-phrase. Another sense of the phrase is „Do it well“. The second part of the phrase refers to this sense and adds “But not too often” – one wishes farewell and tells the person to not do it too often.

Artikel 9: Wat soll dä Kwatsch?(„Was soll das sinnlose Gerede?“) What’s the point of that nonsense

Means: always ask the universal/fundamental question Also, don’t worry about nonsense, let it pass.

Artikel 10: Drinks de ejne met?(„Trinkst du einen mit?“)= Do you drink one with us?

Means: show some hospitality, you should have a drink with us

Artikel 11: Do laachs de disch kapott.(„Da lachst du dich kaputt.“)= there you laugh yourself broken

Means: keep a healthy attitude towards humour.

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