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Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Monday, January 30, 2012

Der Judenstaat

Theodor Herzls Der Judenstaat ist wohl einer der großen Klassiker der Ideengeschichte, einer der ideellen Gründungstexte des Zionismus. Es ist auch ein sehr kurzes und überraschend konkretes Büchleich, was sich schnell und leicht lesen lässt. 

Herzl legt darin aus warum er für die Gründung eines Judenstaates plädiert. Einersteis weil Antisemitismus letztlich unüberwindbar ist und dann weiterhin aus jüdisch-nationalistischen Gründen, er greift in seiner Argumentation so gut wie gar nicht auf Religion zurück. Diese Religionsferne bedingt auch, dass er als potentielles Zielland für seinen Judenstaat nicht nur Palästina sonder auch Argentinien in Betracht zieht. Auch wenn ich Shlomo Sand immer noch nicht gelesen habe, bezweifele ich ja persönlich die Existenz eines jüdischen Volkes aber Herzl hat hier eine letztlich schwer zu widerlegende Antwort darauf: Wir sind ein Volk - der Freind macht uns ohne unseren Willen dazu.

Herzl entwickelt eine ziemlich positiv anmutende Utopie eines sprachlich föderalen Staates (Wir können doch nicht Hebräisch miteinander reden. Wer von uns weiß genug Hebräisch, um in dieser Sprache ein Bahnbillet zu verlangen.), welcher durch harte Arbeit und Investitionen den Antisemitismus nicht nur in diesem zu schaffenden Land, sondern auch in den Herkunftsländern, abschaffen würde. Wie Utopien es so an sich haben ist seine Sichtweise letzten Endes leicht naiv. Der Antisemitismus des frühen 21. Jahrhundert ist sicherlich - in Europa - schwächer entwickelt als sein Äquivalent zu Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts, es gibt ihn aber nicht nur immer noch, er wurde in anderen Weltregionen (die arabische Welt!) sogar noch um einiges verstärkt und zwar genau wegen der Schaffung dieses Staates, Israel, und der Entwurzelung bzw Vertreibung der vorherigen, muslimischen, Bewohner des Gebietes. Letztlich hat sich Israel ironischerweise - gerade in den letzten Jahren - von der säkularen, nationalistischen Utopie Herzls zu einer viel stärker religiös ausgerichteten Gesellschaft entwickelt.

Abschließend bleibt nur meiner Verwunderung über Herzls unglaublich detailliertes kapitalistisches Modell der Entstehung dieses Staates auszudrücken, auf der Gründung einer Firma, welche die Reichtümer der emigrierenden Juden verwaltet und in neue Länder bzw Häuser im gelobten Land anlegt, aufbauend. In gewisser Weise eine seltsame Kombination kommunistischer und kapitalistischer Prinzipien.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Taxi de Khaled Al Khamissi (خالد الخميسي) est un des rares livres arabes d'avoir eu succès sur un niveau international - l'autre que je connais est Der Jakubijân Bau. Il a été traduit en plusieurs langues et est considéré comme prévoyant en ce qui concerne la révolution égyptienne de 2011 (ayant été publié en 2007). De plus il est un des rares livres - il paraît, j'en sais rien évidemment - d'avoir été écrit en égyptienne et pas en Arabe classique, ce qui n'est pas seulement intéressant comme soit et dans son parallélisme avec des écrivains comme Twain qui se rapproprié la langue parlé en dépit d'un anglais plus soutenu mais aussi une indication contradictoire aux gens qui font l'argument que la vague du printemps arabe serait un signe d'un pan-arabisme fort.

Je trouvais largement exagéré l'aspect de prévision dans Taxi, il y a effectivement des scènes où des protagonistes se demandent pourquoi il n'y avait plus des - comme dans les années 80 - manifestations et le livre est bondé de blagues sur Mubarak, mais ce n'est pas une prévision très précise voire complète. Il est quand même très bien à lire il faut dire sans être de la grande littérature. L'auteur décrit ses rencontrés avec des taxis dans 58 courtes anecdotes ce qui fait la lecture affilé un peu difficile mais il réussit d'offrir un tableau complet d'Egypt. Sans y avoir jamais mis pied j'ai maintenant l'impression de le connaître un peu. Et quoi d'autre pourrait un auteur réclamé comme but finalement - hors un lecteur content et qui se considère comme plus renseigné?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

You Can't Go Home Again

Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again is a big tome of almost 700 pages that I had initially only picked up because of its descriptions of Berlin  in 1936. That part - even though a highlight for me - only makes up the last fifth of the book though, most of the rest deals with the self-styled protagonist's relationship with his - Southern - town of origin, then his life in New York as as an emerging famous writer and then in a self-induced exile in Brooklyn. 

Wolfe is a strong writer capable of portraying the society around him and especially his protagonist's unease with it in a powerful manner.
He wanted to see the town as he remembered it. Evidently he would find it considerably changed. But what was this that was happening to it? He couldn't make it out. It disturbed him, vaguely, as one is always disturbed and shaken by the sudden realization of time's changes in something that one has know all one's life.
He never had the sense of home so much as when he felt that he was going there. It was only when he got there that his homelessness began.
Yet, I felt that his novel got out of hand at times, losing itself in the details and minutiae of a party or the antics of the young writer's editor. More importantly maybe, I was deceived by the latter part of the book consecrated to Berlin and Germany. To start out, the protagonist - in a friendly manner - mocks his German friends accents in English when they are taking him to the train station, even while it becomes obvious quickly that he - as far too many Anglo-Saxons I fear - has at most a basic understanding of the language himself. In turn, how am I to take his assessment of anything going on in Germany at face value if his primary mode of communication in the country is a language other than the native one?

Still, his description provides a powerful imagery of the Olympic Games in Nazi Berlin:

And there were great displays of marching men, sometimes ungunned but rhythmic as regiments of brown shirts went swinging through the streets. By noon each day all the main approaches to the games, the embannered streets and avenues of the route which the Leader would take to the stadium, miles away, were walled in by the troops. They stood at ease, young men, laughing and talking with each other - the Leader's body-guards, the Schutz Staffel units, the Storm Troopers, all the ranks and divisions in their different uniforms - and they stretched in two unbroken lines from the Wilhelm-strasse up the arches of the Brandenburger Tor. Then, suddenly, the sharp command, and instantly there would be the solid smack of ten thousand leather boots as they came together with the sound of war.
It seemed as if everything had been planned for this moment, shaped to this triumphant purpose. But the people - they had not been planned. Day after day, behind the unbroken wall of soldiers, they stood and waited in a dense and patient throng. These were the masses o the nation, the poor ones of the earth, the humble ones of life, the workers and the wives, the mothers and the children - and day after day they came and stood and waited. They were there because they did not have money enough to buy the little cardboard squares that would given them places within the magic ring. From noon till night they waited for just two brief and golden moments of the day: the moment when the Leader went out to the stadium, and the moment when he returned.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Educated Migrants and Self-Exclusion

Gran Tourismo Travels posted an interesting interview with Paul Sullivan who runs Slow Travel Berlin. I appreciate the underlying concept and idea laid out in the interview as well as - to some extent - both websites. According to Paul slow travel were to mean
Taking your time around a city, not rushing, resisting the urge to follow itineraries, and interacting with local people and local culture, using local businesses, and using public transport and bicycles. Dropping in to a place and just doing your own thing, or knowing the ‘rules’ and breaking them.
I have never really traveled any other way, so I am not certain how much of a novel concept this is and whether it requires its own moniker. Whatever though, I adhere to most of the ideas and Paul's website seems well done/researched and I probably should recommend him for his initiative trying to - at the margins - change mass tourism.

Yet, what struck me in the aforementioned interview is a topic I have blogged about before and that I do not seem to be able to shake, namely Berlin and its recent influx of white liberal Europeans (and Americans) who stay ignorant of the city they choose to live in to an extent that I find simply astonishing.

According to Paul 'there’s a resistance to capitalism [in Berlin], a leftover of the legacy of communism perhaps.' You have never heard of Kreuzberg pre-reunification I assume? The squats of the 80s, the Wehrpflichtflüchtigen, the riots around May 1st? Even in the early part of the 20th century Berlin was redder than the rest of the country. That's just slight historical ignorance though, let's ignore it in turn.

More importantly Paul believes that 'many [...] Berliners [...] work in the international creative industries and are used to speaking English and are open to foreigners.' Well, yeah, actually, you know what? No! Most Berliners live in parts of the city most young, educated migrants to Berlin - whether German or foreign - never go to. Spandau, Reinickendorf, Hohenschönhausen, Marzahn, the whole South West, the list goes on. These people might speak English to some extent or another but they most definitely do not work in 'international creative industries' or are 'used to speaking English.' Arguably most of them aren't even 'open to foreigners' even when they might themselves be of Polish, Turkish, Vietnamese or Yugoslav origin. They are also not the 'handful of anarchists who hate tourists' by the way.

Really what this - and soyons honnête - most of the Slow Travel website hints at is the self-exclusion and incestuous nature of most expats living in Berlin (or really anywhere else). Let's face it, if you come to Berlin without knowing German, you will gain nothing but an extremely fleeting, superficial comprehension of the city - no matter how slow you travel. Hanging out with other expats and tourists in English-language bookshops in Kreuzberg will not give you a proper understanding of Berlin either.

Point being? I am not sure. I really like the website actually. There is good research in a piece on the Pfaueninsel and a literary take on the Kudamm. Yet, I am repeatedly irked by the all too common perception of Berlin as the party town consisting essentially of the inner-city areas populated by cool people. I lived close to Barbès in Paris, I currently live near Bab Souika in Tunis, here are two women describing their quartier in Lichterfelde, I sympathize with the goals set out by the slow travel movement, in fact I try to live it on a daily basis. Paul's comments cited above make me think of my well-educated, bourgeois Tunisian acquaintances who were absolutely shocked at seeing the Ennahda, the Islamist party, handily win elections here. You need to leave your bubble if you want to know what's going on. Ironically, Paul's website tries do that even while he fails at it in his interview.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Ich hab mit den schönsten Mädchen getanzt

Dagoberto Gilb gehört zu den interessanten neueren südstaaten und süd-westlichen Autoren, welche ich über meinen Vater entdeckt. Gilb selber ist ein hispanic Texan, der heute in Austin wohnt. Er ist einer der eher selten working class Schriftsteller, war selber jahrelang als Schreiner tätig. Seine Geschichten sind dementsprechend durch dieses Milieu geprägt. Arme, hauptsächlich hispanische Arbeiter, welche am Existenzminimum leben, oft viel trinken und sich in ihren sozialen Kontakten desöfteren suboptimal verhalten.

Gilb schafft es diesen Leuten eine Stimme zu geben, sie in ihren Dilemma, in ihrem täglichen Leben und Schwierigkeiten darzustellen. Dies ist keine große Literatur - was auch immer das genau heißen mag - aber gute Lektüre, welche einem vor allem eine Welt öffnet, die sonst verschlossen scheint.