Showing posts from 2007

Mele Kalikimaka

Here's wishing all of you a warm and wonderful Christmas holiday season and a great New Year that brings all the success and happiness you wish and need -

Mele Kalikimaka and Aloha, Eric

New Website with Quiz! Auf Deutsch!

Meine neue Website zum Buch "Deutschland-Quiz" ist nun online: verbindet eine Reihe von Podcasts, die Wolfgang Tischer von über das Buch aufgenommen hat, mit Blogeinträgen auf Deutsch von mir.

Besuchen Sie die Site!

The new book is out now!

My new book is out (in German only!): "Deutschland-Quiz: Alles, was Sie über dieses Land wissen sollten, aber nie zu fragen wagten."

Ist ein Gummibärchen koscher? Was muss ein Abgeordneter alles tun, um aus dem Bundestag rausgeschmissen zu werden? Gibt es eine geheime deutsche Weltverschörung? Hätte Hitler mit Hilfe der Juden den Krieg gewonnen? Warum wollen Deutsche lieber Indianer sein? Die Antworten zu diesen Fragen und mehr finden Sie in "Deutschland-Quiz"





Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh No!

Want to know why Europe has such a hard time getting up off its ass and doing something? I call Angst Non-Fiction. Europeans and especially Germans love to face the future shaking in their boots about all the horrible things that could happen, and they spend a lot of money and time on experts who specialize in thinking up new ways to confirm their fears. Angst Non-Fiction writers are like doomsayers, with the difference that while doomsayers in America traditionally stand on the street corner and bother you though you never asked them too, Angst Non-Fiction writers are well-paid, privileged, respected and sought out. More like soothsayers, they set up their shop with a crystal ball and people pay to come in and be told how horrible life is going to work out.

One of Germany's most successful writers of Angst Non-Fiction is Frank Schirrmacher, an editor for the leading German newsdaily FAZ. A couple of years ago, Schirrmacher landed two bestsellers, one after the other, predicting t…

My Father Has a Nursery in Salem, Oregon


Way to Go, Holiday Inn

The Holiday Inn in Dresden sent this letter to two members of the NPD, the neo-Nazi party that holds seats in the regional government of Saxony (of which Dresden is the capitol):

NPD Fraktion in Saxony Diet
H. Apfel and A. Delle
Bernhard-von-Lindenau-Platz 1
01067 Dresden Dresden, 18th October 2007
Re: Your room reservation in Holiday Inn Dresden

Dear Herr Apfel,
dear Herr Delle,

today we received your reservation for the 7th of November 2007 made via and were surprised that you should have chosen to stay in an American hotel enterprise with a foreign-sounding name.

As you are not welcome in our house and because I cannot ask my employees to greet and serve you, we have asked to cancel your reservation.

In the case that this not be possible for contractual reasons, I would like to point out to you that all proceeds taken in by our house through your custom will be donated immediately to the…

Brilliant New Book by Erica Fischer

Himmelstrasse - "Heaven Street", a street in Vienna - by Erica Fischer, who wrote "Aimee and Jaguar". I love this book for more than one reason, including that it is a perfect example of non-fiction using methods of narrative fiction - sharp, precise, honest, convincing,and it doesn't dip into the kind of self-justification or self-heroisation that books like James Frey's Thousand Little Pieces does. It's about two generations of family living under the shadow of the Holocaust - and how they fell apart for no reason that anyone can explain, but which, with the Holocaust in the background, almost makes sense. It has only appeared in German so far, so here are my comments in German:

Ich liebe dieses Buch - Erica Fischers "Himmelstrasse" (Fischer hat auch Aimee und Jaguar geschrieben). Es ist ein perfektes Beispiel fuer ein Sachbuch mit den Mitteln eines Romans.

Die deutsche Literatur erlebt derzeit ein kleines Hoch, angetrieben von Werken, die gl…

Dear Titta!

A reader named Titta left a long comment in my German blog and on my guest book about American attitudes toward socialism, socialized medicine and, more interestingly, about the protestant-American belief that "Life is and must always be a struggle." Comments like that always bring out the worst in me: wordiness.

So here is Titta's original comment plus my response - in German.

Lieber Eric,

Die Regierung sorgt doch nicht dafür, daß ich überlebe, sondern die Gemeinschaft der steuerzahlenden Versicherten. Was mir auffällt: den Staat setzt du (als Amerikaner) vor allem gleich mit einer Institution, die dich in deinen Freiheiten beschränkt und behindert. Für mich (als Deutsche) ist der Staat daneben vor allem eine Solidargemeinschaft. 80 Mill. Deutsche zahlen (und wer sich davor drückt, ist unsozial) in einen Pott, der mich im Zweifelsfalle eben auch absichert. Das beruhigt doch ungemein und mildert die sozialdarwinistischen Tendenzen in einer Gesellschaft.

Du schreibst, daß d…

The Art of the (German) Gang bang

There's an old saying: Nothing draws a community closer together than a good gang bang.

That is certainly true in Germany, where an idea – sometimes smart, often stupid, almost always in some way threatening to Germans – can become a kind of national hysteria overnight. The media concentrate all their efforts on it – the subject pops up endlessly in the news, in the talk shows, in the headlines. You can hear the idea in every party, in every bar, in every family, often repeated with a rush of anger and indignation:

The French are destroying our beloved culture (19th century)! The Jews are taking over (20th century)! The Americans are taking over (20th/21st centuries)! Bush is the devil (21st century)!

When that happens, it's amazing how little dissent there is. Everyone jumps on the bandwagon, making the idea seem so clearly correct that no one bothers to question it anymore, and it becomes a national obsession. It's amazing how universal the consensus becomes. In America,…

Arrogance Can Be Art, Too

On my flight back from the US I read – in one swoop Cormac McCarthy's "The Road."

I loved it, I ate it up, it's page-turner, it's relevant to our post-9/11 times, it is a book that understands life – the despair, yet, at the end of it, the tendency of human life to somehow go in, not necessarily to conquer evil in a utopian sense of banishing it from our souls, but in the sense that the good, though it sometimes seems to be banished, is only hibernating, and always returns.

Then I thought twice about it. That's when a bad aftertaste manifested itself on my tongue.

McCarthy's book, as is most his writing, is most notable for its outright literariness. He doesn't put dialogue in quotation marks. He leaves out apostrophes. He creates new nouns by combining adjectives with nouns. At times he remains very abstract, not even giving his main characters names, then he turns around and explains mechanical processes, like lighting a kerosene light, savoring li…


If you want to know just how conformist, submissive, rule-servile, uninventive and downright boring we have become, read the following two books at the same time: "Absurdistan" and "Schelmuffsky."

Absurdistan is a current bestselling comic novel about a fat (they're always fat) Jewish Russian and his misadventures in Russia and the US. It has "creative writing course" stamped all over it. It's in the sentences: author Gary Shteyngart positively strains to turn out well-formed sentences, like Michael Chabon and like most American writers writing today. They are grammatically correct, touched with a tinge of irreverence of the kind that might send an appealing tingle of shock through the fragile spines of upper middle class women at reading groups. Then he goes on and on about it. Scenes don't end. Over-ambitious similes take over.

"Rain fell like pin-pricks on his cheek." Do we need a sentence like that in a comic novel? Do we need a …

The Historia of Faustus Chapter 5


Doktor Faust's Third Disputation and Pact made with the Spirit, Who was called Mephostophiles

As for the devilish pact, it came about in this way:

Doktor Faustus required the spirit to appear before him on the next morning, commanding him to come, whenever he was called, in the guise of a Franciscan Monk and always with a little bell so that by the sound of the bell it might be known when he was approaching. Then Faust asked the spirit his name, and the spirit answered:

In that hour, the godless man, seduced by pride, arrogance and transgression, cut himself off wholly from God and the Creator to become a liegeman of the abominable Devil.

Then, in order that these two wicked parties might contract one with another, Doktor Faust took a penknife, pricked open a vein in his left hand in order to make a contract with the evil spirit in his own blood. Even then in the last moments of hope for his Christian soul did God send him a wa…

How Not to Be Successful in America

If there's one thing that is and will always remain a constant in America's international relationships, it's the much-loved habit of other countries to underestimate the USA.

The Korean film industry has been booming for some time and now it has made its first major sally into the American market with "Dragon Wars", a big special effects movie based on a Korean legend. It has just opened to horrible reviews.

I wish the film and the Koreans in general success – not only would success inject the Korean entertainment industry with a dose of fresh adrenalin, Hollywood and America in general have always profited from outside influences.

But I was skeptical in advance, when I read a statement from the producer on the formula for movie success in America. He said: “The secret is to move beyond the melodrama that characterizes so many Korean films. They don’t understand that to be commercial in the U.S., you need great action and effects.”

Ah, but that's not the secr…

Farewell, Mirek Nahacz

I've been trying for a while now to find out for sure how Mirek Nahacz died, why, and whether his fourth book is being published. But the Polish media seem to have dropped the story after the initial reports in July that is was suicide and besides, I can't read Polish, so the end of his story will remain closed to me as if it had happened on another planet, just as I will never know his books, which were never translated into English.

In the last days of July, they found his body in his apartment in Warsaw. Though I waited a while to find out more details and asked a Polish-speaking friend to comb the papers for additional news, all I could out was that the police believe it was suicide. I will probably never know more. The language barrier is complete. I will never know what happened; I will never know what happened to his girlfriend or speak to her; I will never know if his fourth book was published or will be published or if it worked out to be the masterpiece he wanted it…

New Book and Aloha till August

Some idiot politician wants to ban Germany's top rap artist. German pop star Herbert Grönemeyer goes to court to stop the freedom of the press and wins. Germany thinks of itself as a socialistically progressive country but still it doesn't have a minimum wage. Plenty to blog about, but no time: I am sitting on the final draft of my new book, "Deutschland-Quiz", due out in November (Amazon site here), and I probably won't have time to return to bogging till August. Aloha till then, people.

Is War Good For You?

Here's a strange-but-true comment on the human condition.

In an article about researching moral behavior in chimps (did you know a chimp will drown trying to save another chimp from drowning?), the primatologist Frans de Waal is quoted as noting that morality may have its evolutionary roots in the tribe closing together to fend off another tribe. I.e., we only realized we needed each other – and needed to watch over one another – when we began noticing that members of other groups were picking us off.

De Waalis is quoted as writing, "The profound irony is that our noblest achievement — morality — has evolutionary ties to our basest behavior — warfare. The sense of community required by the former was provided by the latter."
So the question is: Is warfare necessary to our character? Are warmongers, by throwing us into hellish destruction at regular interval, doing us all a favor in evolutionary terms?
What happens if mankind really does, some day, succeed in ending warfar…

Is Reality Stranger Than Fiction?

Now that the German version of American Idol (Deutschland sucht den Superstar) is over, I have to say, I'm more impressed than I ever thought I would be. It proves that reality TV can be great art. Even better: i proves that reality can be great art, and here are my two reasons: Dieter Bohlen and Dog.

In Germany we don't get many American reality shows, so I can’t judge whether Brigitte Nielsen or others are as good as "Dog", the cool white trash bounty hunter who runs around Hawaii with a holster by his side full of pepper spray. But he's good.

Germany has a similarly brilliant reality-TV star. His name is Dieter Bohlen. He is a former pop star, a multi-millionaire record producer and such a superficial, egomanical, stupid and conceited and nasty-minded creep that all of Germany hates him. And as a character, he could not have been written better by Shakespeare himself. Bohlen rules the jury of "Deutschland sucht das Superstar" (the German edition of &…

Ah, the Silence, the Silence!

If there is one constant in the German character, it is the complete lack of constancy. Or, to be more exact: Once the Germans have taken up a position, opinion or project, you can count on them, after only a short time, to rush frantically from it to the exact opposite and, after another short period, back again, and to always swear total conviction and confidence in the absolute truth, reality and necessity of each opposite side of anything for the time they spend there.

Goethe said "Two souls live in my breast". One could also say: In like a lion, out like a lamb." (Didn't Thomas Mann say something to that effect after Germany started portraying itself as a victim following WWII?) It's always either top of the world or bottom of it with these guys.

Only about a year ago, leading German politicians were out trying to get votes based on complaining about international investors (often the notorious hedge funds) coming into little helpless Germany, buying up the…

Greatest City in the World

The votes are in and it's true: Berlin is the greatest city in the world.

I've lived here so long that it's hard for me to judge anymore, but last night I sat down with a newly immigrated English mother of two by the name of Sarah (well, she's been here a couple of years) and was surprised at the sheer unequivocal-ness of her endorsement. "I can honestly say I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else", she said. "If it were up to me, I would live here all my life."

Her points:

- It's a great place to raise children. Germans themselves will never tell you this, they think all Germans and Germany in general is anti-children, but it's not true. The subways have elevators, the buses have steps that tip down. Other cities don’t have all that. Go to New York or London or Paris. Berlin is an extremely modern city. There are still parts that could be cleaned up a little, but most likely that is only a matter of time.

- Cheap. It's true of course: Be…

Underestimating America

Underestimating America has a long tradition in Germany (and in Europe in general). There is a general pooh-poohing, patronizing attitude that inspires Germans to assume that America could never do – nor would be interested in getting involved in – all the wonderful things Europe does. Germany underestimated America in World War I and, despite warnings from WWI veterans, did it again in WWII. We Americans on the other hand come across as uncultivated and disinterested in the world and people easily forget that once we decide to do something, we do it.

Is it happening again, right now?

Just as Europeans have a kind of privileged, entitled attitude toward culture and world politics that harks back to an earlier age that is long gone, Germans especially also have a natural superiority complex when it comes to the environment. Partly, it is justified. By some accounts, Germans are already now world leaders in the alternative energy markets, which arguably will become very important and v…

I'm Wearing My Aloha Shirt Today for Don Ho

Hawaii's last icon is dead.

Don Ho was an interesting phenomenon. In the 50's he was Hawaii's Frank Sinatra, he even had a little Hawaiian Rat Pack. Then in the seventies he was the embodiment of kitsch. He should have disappeared, like a one-hit wonder, but he didn't - he was and remained a Waikiki Hotel Staple. His sheer staying-power convinced everyone to love him. Soon even the scoffers and detractors loved him. When he underwent a major operation a few years ago and returned to the stage afterwards, everyone came out of the woodwork to play with him and praise him. He was a Hawaiian boy, a local, but at the same time he was the Icon That Didn't Go Away. You have to admire a guy like that, and everyone did. (Read stories in the Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser; photo above courtesy of New York Times.)

Now he's gone, and Hawaii has no more icons. There was Duke Kahanamoku the surfer, then Don Ho the Tiny Bubbles man, then Hawaii 5-0 and Magnum, and that …

A Grave Misunderstanding of Elfriede Jelinek and of Germanoculture

Nobel Prize-winning Austrian novelist Elfriede Jelinek's novel "Greed" has been translated into English and was promptly ripped to shreds by the New York Times.

The reviewer, Joel Agee, found no redeeming value in the book, no sense of humanity or story, no humor, certainly no warmth, no artistry, only a dour, depressing hatred of self and of the world in general.

I say: That's all true, but what's wrong with it? To call all that stuff bad is to basically misunderstand Jelinek. That is her art. She's not a novelist or an artist in the Anglo-American sense, she's a very specifically Germanic kind of artist, which is to say, she's a complainer. In the German-speaking world, complaint is an art. She is the natural successor to that all-time great (and, once you wrap your mind around the idea of complaining as art) opinion very funny Austrian complainer-novelist-playwright Thomas Bernhard (who actually deserved the Nobel). Her Nobel Prize was not really …