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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Germany, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Ashes by Kathryn Lasky

Life is pretty comfortable for Gabriella Schramm, 13, called Gaby by friends and family.  Living in 1932 Berlin, her upper middle class family is better off than most Germans at the time.  Her father is a renowned scientist, teaching astronomy at the University, and is friends with Albert Einstein.  Her mother, an former pianist who gives lessons at home now, hob nobs with Baba, a well-respected Jewish society columnist for the only newspaper in Berlin that isn't pro-Nazi.  Gaby's older sister, Ulla, is scheduled to begin studying at a conservatory in Vienna next year.  And Gaby, who loves to read anything she can get her hands on, including Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Mark Twain and my personal favorites Rainer Maria Remarque and Erich Kästner, is looking forward to reading Heinrich Heine's poetry in Gymnasium after summer vacation.

But things are beginning to change, both within Gaby's family and all over Germany.  First, Ulla insists on remaining in Berlin for the summer instead of going to the family's lakeside vacation home, claiming she has a bookkeeping job at the cabaret where her boyfriend Karl, an engineering student, works.  But when Karl and Ulla come to visit, Gaby begins to suspect that Karl is a Nazi supporter.  She had already suspected the same thing of the family housekeeper, Hertha and the man who maintains their Berlin apartment building.  In fact, Gaby has noticed a significant increase in the number of Brown Shirts (SA) and Black Shirts (SS) all over Berlin despite the ban on them.

Back in school after vacation, Gaby and her best friend Rosa are overjoyed to begin studying literature with the very beautiful, kind, well-dressed Frau Hofstadt, who is picked up everyday by a mysterious limousine.  But, at home, the talk is more and more about the political situation, which in 1932 is all over the place, though everyone is relieved when the Nazis loose seats in the Reichstag (Parliament), hoping that that will be an end to Hitler and his Nazi party.

But that's not what happens at all and through all kinds of twists and turns, Hitler is named Chancellor by President Hindenburg at the end of January 1933.  And with amazing speed, Gaby watches her previously safe, happy world fall completely to pieces.

The period 1919-1933 was such a complicated time in German history and politics.  The Nazis referred to it as the Kampfzeit, the time of struggle to gain acceptance and power for their radical policies.  Lasky covers only 1932-1933 in Ashes and kudos to her for successfully tackling it in a novel for young readers.  There is lots of talk about events that actually happened, and Lasky provides enough information to understand it without overwhelming or boring the reader.

Ashes is a well-written novel, and although it is a little slow in places, given the time and place of the action, it is indeed a worthwhile read.   I particularly loved that each chapter begins with a quote from a book Gaby loves and which foreshadows what happens in that chapter.  And since Gaby witnesses the Nazi book burning on May 10, 1933, it is all the more poignant a reminder of some of what was lost in that tragic event.

The novel is told from Gaby's point of view, which gives us her very subjective, but very astute observation, not only of what is happening around her, but how she thinks and feels about it all,  A fine example of that is when she witnesses her former math teacher, Herr Berg, being removed from her school by the Nazis for being Jewish, and disappears.  The reader feels her shock, disgust, sadness and  despair all at the same time.

Some of the scenes may feel a little cliche and I am not the first person to realize that Karl resembles Lisle's Hitler Youth boyfriend from The Sound of Music, and that there is a scene similar to one in Cabaret, in which everyone in an outdoor Biergarten joins a Hitler Youth in singing a Nazi song.  But, these scenes also make a necessary point (and people have traditionally joined in singing in Biergartens in Germany, it wasn't just a Nazi thing to show support).

Ashes is a nice contribution to the body of Holocaust and World War II literature and on its own, a very interesting book about a very complex time made accessible by good research and skillful writing.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was purchased for my personal library

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2. CBTV: ‘Final Serving’ by Florian Maubach

Surrounded by nothingness, a knight lives with his wife in a small house. Every day he must defend their home against attacks of other knights. What he gets as reward is love and a satisfying meal.

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3. Dispatches from the Front: German Feldpostkarten in World War I

In the first autumn of World War I, a German infantryman from the 25th Reserve Division sent this pithy greeting to his children in Schwarzenberg, Saxony.

11 November 1914
My dear little children!
How are you doing? Listen to your mother and grandmother and mind your manners.
Heartfelt greetings to all of you!
Your loving Papa

He scrawled the message in looping script on the back of a Feldpostkarte, or field postcard, one that had been designed for the Bahlsen cookie company by the German artist and illustrator Änne Koken. On the front side of the postcard, four smiling German soldiers share a box of Leibniz butter cookies as they stand on a grassy, sun-stippled outpost. The warm yellow pigment of the rectangular sweets seems to emanate from the opened care package, flushing the cheeks of the assembled soldiers with a rosy tint.

Änne Koken, color lithographic postcard (Feldpostkarte) designed for the H. Bahlsen Keksfabrik, Hannover, ca. November 1914. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Änne Koken, color lithographic postcard (Feldpostkarte) designed for the H. Bahlsen Keksfabrik, Hannover, ca. November 1914. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

German citizens posted an average of nearly 10 million pieces of mail to the front during each day of World War I, and German service members sent over 6 million pieces in return; postcards comprised well over half of these items of correspondence. For active duty soldiers, postage was free of charge. Postcards thus formed a central and a portable component of wartime visual culture, a network of images in which patriotic, sentimental, and nationalistic postcards formed the dominant narrative — with key moments of resistance dispatched from artists and amateurs serving at the front.

The first postcards were permitted by the Austrian postal service in 1869 and in Germany one year later. (The Post Office Act of 1870 allowed for the first postcards to be sold in Great Britain; the United States followed suit in 1873.) Over the next four decades, Germany emerged as a leader in the design and printing of colorful picture postcards, which ranged from picturesque landscapes to tinted photographs of famous monuments and landmarks. Many of the earliest propaganda postcards, at the turn of the twentieth century, reproduced cartoons and caricatures from popular German humor magazines such as Simplicissimus, a politically progressive journal that moved toward an increasingly reactionary position during and after World War I. Indeed, the majority of postcards produced and exchanged between 1914 and 1918 adopted a sentimental style that matched the so-called “hurrah kitsch” of German official propaganda.

Walter Georgi, Engineers Building a Bridge, 1915. Color lithographic postcard (Feldpostkarte) designed for the H. Bahlsen Keksfabrik, Hannover. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Walter Georgi, Engineers Building a Bridge, 1915. Color lithographic postcard (Feldpostkarte) designed for the H. Bahlsen Keksfabrik, Hannover. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Beginning in 1914, the German artist and Karlsruhe Academy professor Walter Georgi produced 24 patriotic Feldpostkarten for the Bahlsen cookie company in Hannover. In a postcard titled Engineers Building a Bridge (1915), a pair of strong-armed sappers set to work on a wooden trestle while a packet of Leibniz butter cookies dangle conspicuously alongside their work boots.

These engineering troops prepared the German military for the more static form of combat that followed the “Race to the Sea” in the fall of 1914; they dug and fortified trenches and bunkers, built bridges, and developed and tested new weapons — from mines and hand grenades to flamethrowers and, eventually, poison gas.

Georgi’s postcard designs for the Bahlsen company deploy the elegant color lithography he had practiced as a frequent contributor to the Munich Art Nouveau journal Jugend (see Die Scholle).In another Bahlsen postcard titled “Hold Out in the Roaring Storm” (1914), Georgi depicted a group of soldiers wearing the distinctive spiked helmets of the Prussian Army. Their leader calls out to his comrades with an open mouth, a rifle slung over his shoulder, and a square package of Leibniz Keks looped through his pinkie finger. In a curious touch that is typical of First World War German patriotic postcards, both the long-barreled rifles and the soldier’s helmets are festooned with puffy pink and carmine flowers.

These lavishly illustrated field postcards, designed by artists and produced for private industry, could be purchased throughout Germany and mailed, traded, or collected in albums to express solidarity with loved ones in active duty. The German government also issued non-pictorial Feldpostkarten to its soldiers as an alternate and officially sanctioned means of communication. For artists serving at the front, these 4” x 6” blank cards provided a cheap and ready testing ground at a time when sketchbooks and other materials were in short supply. The German painter Otto Schubert dispatched scores of elegant watercolor sketches from sites along the Western Front; Otto Dix, likewise, sent hundreds of illustrated field postcards to Helene Jakob, the Dresden telephone operator he referred to as his “like-minded companion,” between June 1915 and September 1918. These sketches (see Rüdiger, Ulrike, ed. Grüsse aus dem Krieg: die Feldpostkarten der Otto-Dix-Sammlung in der Kunstgalerie Gera, Kunstgalerie Gera 1991) convey details both minute and panoramic, from the crowded trenches to the ruined fields and landmarks of France and Belgium. Often, their flip sides contain short greetings or cryptic lines of poetry written in both German and Esperanto.

Dix enlisted for service in 1914 and saw front line action during the Battle of the Somme, in August 1916, one of the largest and costliest offensives of World War I that spanned nearly five months and resulted in casualties numbering more than one million. By September of 1918, the artist had been promoted to staff sergeant and was recovering from injuries at a field hospital near the Western Front. He sent one of his final postcard greetings to Helene Jakob on the reverse side of a self-portrait photograph, in which he stands with visibly bandaged legs and one hand resting on his hip. Dix begins the greeting in Esperanto, but quickly shifts to German to report on his condition: “I’ve been released from the hospital but remain here until the 28th on a course of duty. I’m sending you a photograph, though not an especially good one. Heartfelt greetings, your Dix.” Just two months later, the First World War ended in German defeat.

The post Dispatches from the Front: German Feldpostkarten in World War I appeared first on OUPblog.

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4. Death by Dessert, or How to Watch the World Cup On the Border


We became pretty solid soccer fans while living in Germany, especially around World Cup time, so on our recent return trip, we were psyched to watch games with our German friends.

For the U.S. v. Germany game, though, we were on our own in France. We planned the whole evening around the game, which aired at 6 p.m. in that time zone.

It was also the only night we could eat at the local Michelin-starred restaurant—and the night they serve a very reasonable prix-fixe menu. So we made a late reservation to fit in both, planning to watch the game at our B & B.

Gourmet Salad

We’d biked 15 miles that day (a lot for us), and I planned to take a shower during half time.

One big problem. After the pre-game commentator chatter, the screen went blank with a message that said something like: “This game is not authorized to be shown in this region.” We flipped around, hoping another station would carry it, but the only game on was the other World Cup match happening at the same time.

Luckily, we were staying right near the German border, so I took a 3 minute shower, hopped into a dress, and we loaded up and drove to the ferry to cross the Rhine. On the other side, my husband knocked on restaurant doors until we found one with public viewing in its little bar area.

The one long table was full of retiree-aged tennis table club members, and the only free seats were at the front with a mustachioed man who’d already had a few too many beers.

He was friendly, though, and when he found out we were American, he told us over and over how much he loved Americans and how the best possible outcome for the game would be a 1-1 tie. He reminded us many times (a few too many) that the German coach and the American team coach (also German) were best friends and how they would both want this.

If you were watching, too, you know the Americans actually lost 0-1. We were disappointed, but after the game, everyone (except the kids) was treated to house-made pear Schnapps while the table tennis team sang the German victory song (is there a name for this?). Everyone was very friendly, and when it was over, we thanked our hosts and dashed back across the river to make our 8:30 reservation.

The restaurant was lovely, with a view to a garden and a stream. The noise level was nearly silent, but our kids were completely awesome and went with the flow.

We opted for the prix-fixe menu and added on the “Festival of Desserts,” which sounded perfect. We envisioned a dessert sampler.

First course (salad above) was great, second course (some kind of meat pie) was amazing. Meanwhile the service was first-rate. Our hostess made sure to graciously inform us when we were missing something, i.e. “You can actually eat those flowers,” and, “Those table decorations are actually pretzels” (in the first photo, the rock-looking things behind the ceramic elves).

Here’s the cheese table, from which we could choose what we liked.

Cheese Course

And then the desserts started. First, a platter of teeny tiny cookies of many kinds. Then, a pastry with gelato. Another pastry with gelato. Another….we were losing count.

French dessert

Surely the cookies had counted as dessert #1. There were supposed to be five desserts in total. Surely the gelato counted for one and the pastry counted for another, right? Wrong. The desserts kept coming, and we slowed down so much that we started getting two at once. The cookies hadn’t even counted as part of the five.

Gourmet dessert

Not only that, but the kids had gotten (included) a dessert of their own, so they couldn’t help us out so much. Still, we were determined to do our duty and eat every bite. On top of the five desserts + cookies + cheese course, there was a tiny truffle course where we could choose our own adventure. How could we say no?

At one point I said, “If they bring another dessert, I’m going to cry,” and we all started laughing, on the verge of breaking the Code of Near-Silence.

Finally we ate our way through the last plate, now having finished enough dessert for about ten people. The last plate was probably my favorite, some kind of cherry cake (pictured above). We rolled out, giggling to ourselves.

My son said the other day, “Let’s never take the circus of desserts next time.” Amen. Maybe just 1/10 of it.

Below is a picture of one of the children’s desserts.

Ice Cream Rabbit

And in case you’re wondering yes, I threw the whole gluten-free eating thing out the window that week. I paid for it the next week, but it was well worth it!



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5. Countries of the World Cup: Germany

Today is the conclusion of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and our highlights about the final four competing nations with information pulled right from the pages of the latest edition of Oxford’s Atlas of the World. The final two teams, Germany and Argentina, go head-to-head on Sunday, 13 July to determine the champion.

Like many of its European neighbors, Germany is a country that loves football, and is one of the most competitive football-playing nations in the world. Attesting to that is their success in the semi-finals in this year’s Cup.  Here are eight interesting facts you might not have known about the country that bruised Brazil’s ego.


  1. Like FIFA host country Brazil, Germany also elected its first female leader in recent years when Angela Merkel became Chancellor in 2005.
  2. In addition to bringing mankind the likes of Albert Einstein and Johan Gutenberg, inventor of the first printing press in Europe, Germany provides 20.6% of the world’s motor vehicles and 17% of our pharmaceuticals.
  3. Uranium was first discovered by a German chemist, Markin Klaproth, in 1789 and boasts the fourth largest industrial output (from mining, manufacturing, construction, and energy) in the world.
  4. Germany had a rough go of things for a while after World War II with its division into East and West factions, as well as the Cold War. The two were reunited on 3 October 1990 and adopted West Germany’s official name, the Federal Republic of Germany.
  5. Deutschland is a leading member of the European Union as well as the 17-member Eurozone, the economic and monetary union of nations that utilize the Euro as their sole form of currency.
  6. In terms of religion, Germany is mostly a Protestant and Roman Catholic country with a representation of 34% of the population.
  7. Although a leading producer of nuclear power (Germany ranks sixth in the world for 4.1% of global production), following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the country has begun phasing out its nuclear power production.
  8. Germany is a primary refugee destination, ranking first in Europe and fourth in the world after Pakistan, Iran, and Syria.

Oxford’s Atlas of the World — the only world atlas updated annually, guaranteeing that users will find the most current geographic information — is the most authoritative resource on the market. The milestone Twentieth Edition is full of crisp, clear cartography of urban areas and virtually uninhabited landscapes around the globe, maps of cities and regions at carefully selected scales that give a striking view of the Earth’s surface, and the most up-to-date census information. The acclaimed resource is not only the best-selling volume of its size and price, but also the benchmark by which all other atlases are measured.

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Image credit: Flag of Germany. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Countries of the World Cup: Germany appeared first on OUPblog.

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6. Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Ever since the 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch in which her father sacrificed his life to save Adolf Hitler from the bullet meant to kill him, Gretchen Müller and her family have enjoyed a special place in Hitler's world.  But now, in 1931, Gretchen, 17, has had the seeds of doubt about her father's sacrifice planted in her mind by none other than a Jewish reporter for the Munich Post, Daniel Cohen.  Handsome and not much older that Gretchen, Daniel claims that Herr Müller's death was intentional and not only that, but was done by a fellow Nazi Party member.

And it looks like Daniel Cohen may be right - the powder burns and bullet hole on the back of her father's shirt certainly seem to support the idea that Herr Müller was shot in the back.  But who and why would someone do such a thing to a man who was always so loyal to Hitler?

That's the mystery that Gretchen needs to solve and the only one who can help her is Daniel Cohen. Now Gretchen must overcome her ingrained aversion to Jews.  She had always believed Hitler when he said that Jews were subhuman, but Daniel seems to be anything but.

Solving the mystery of her father's death won't be easy for Gretchen.  First, there is her older brother Reinhard, a psychopath who has found an outlet for his sadistic behavior as one of Hitler's Brownshirts.   Reinhard loves nothing more than going out "Jew hunting" and delights in torturing his sister.  When Reinhard makes her pay for snooping in his room, Gretchen soon discovers that she has no one she can turn to.  Her mother is terrified of Reinhard, yet lives in a state of denial about what he is.  Then there are Gretchen's best friends, Eva Braun and Hitler's half niece Geli (Angela) Raubel,  both appearing to be as loyal to Hitler as everyone else that surrounds him and neither willing to interfere on Gretchen's behalf.  When even Uncle Dolf, as she has always called Hitler, also turns his back on her, Gretchen begins to question everything she has always believed.

As Gretchen comes to rely on and trust Daniel Cohen, and as Daniel begins to see the real young woman behind the Nazi facade that Gretchen must wear in public, they find themselves attracted more and more to each other.   But Gretchen and Daniel also discover just how ruthless Hitler's quest for power is and why solving the mystery of Herr Müller's death may become a question of life or death for  both of them.

I have been of two minds about Prisoner of Night and Fog ever since I finished it.  It is a tension filled novel, that at times had my heart pounding.  The last days of the Weimar Republic were filled with hunger, inflation, unemployment, and political violence as communists and SA clashes increased.  Anne Blankman spares not punches when it comes to describing this aspect of in the book.  Reinhard and the other Brownshirts who appear in this story are probably the most true to life characters in term of their actions and Blankman even throws in the real-life figure of Ernst Röhm, leader of the SA, and every bit as zealous in going after Hitler's enemies as Reinhard.  But…

I found the plot to be weak and unfocused at times, and too often I felt like I was reading a history book instead of a novel.  It was slow going a lot, followed by what should have been nail-biting tension if only I had cared more about Gretchen.

Gretchen has everything going for her as a character.  She is a strong young woman, somewhat independent, or as much as one could be as part of Hitler's inner circle of admirers, and open to changing her ideas about things even if reluctantly at times, but somehow she just is cut it.

So, maybe I didn't care about her or anyone else in the book because I felt the characters didn't have much dimension.  It was like I was told admirable or deplorable things about the characters, but I just never felt them to really be there.  Even Hitler spoke more in slogans that dialogue.  It was like a cardboard cutout was substituted for the real character.  Even that fact that he also came across as lusting for Gretchen, Eva Braun and Geli Raubel didn't feel real.  Maybe because most scholars believe he was asexual.  Reinhard was a good picture of a Brownshirts, but also completely lacks depth and personality.

Blankman introduces us to something called Cell G, a kind of early Nazi death squad.  I have never heard of Cell G before, but it was apparently the subject of an exposé that appeared in the real Munich Post in April 1932.  In fact, she seems to have relied heavily on a book by Ron Rosenbaum called Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil published in 1998, especially for information about Cell G.  In her Author's Note, Blankman refers her readers to this book, and even includes a pretty good bibliography.

But the thing that really annoyed me was the term night and fog.'  On pages 175-181, it seems to be equated with the idea of Jewish extermination.  But the term has nothing to do with the fate of German Jews and I thought this too misleading to ignore.  It came into use in 1941 with the passage of the Night and Fog Decree.  Its purpose was the disappearance without a trace of any resisters or saboteurs in the occupied countries.  Blankman is, however, correct in associating the term night and fog with the poem "Der Erlkönig" by Goethe.

Deapite all this, at the end of the day, I would still recommend this book to anyone who really likes historical fiction, if for no other reason than because there are not many books written about these last days of what was called the Kampfzeit, or the Nazi time of struggle to gain power.  You do get a sense of what it was like in 1931 and Blankman includes a number of figures like Rudolf Hess and Ernst Hanfstaengl who really were part of the Hitler entourage.  Nazi headquarters really was in the Braunes Haus, where Gretchen worked for Hanfstaengle.

Braunes Haus
This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was borrowed from a friend

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7. ‘Echo’ by Merlin Flügel

The sunken homeland and the certainty that we are not alone. ECHO is about how childhood reverberates; about complicated relationships, and a departure to pastures new.

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8. ‘House Wanders, Bird Water Full’ by Veronika Samartseva

Veronika Samartseva is an animation director from Germany, who specializes in analog animation techniques. Her award-winning films have been shown at international festivals worldwide. After her graduation from HFF Konrad Wolf Babelsberg, Veronika joined the Berlin-based animation collective Talking Animals. Recently she started teaching animation at the BTK University of Design.

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9. ‘Birds’ by Zeitguised

A lighthearted essay on contextualized characters. Reconstruction follows deconstruction.

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10. Sketchbook people live in a cafe this month

Some of my sketchbook characters decided to spend the month in a wonderful cafe called "Ninas Café Klatsch" here in Hamm, Germany. I took them there last night so they can watch Ninas guests having delicious cupcakes and soups for the next 4 weeks.

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11. Timo Meyer

Timo Meyer via grainedit.com

Solid and consistent work from Timo Meyer, a designer and illustrator based in Bonn, Germany.

Timo Meyer via grainedit.com

Timo Meyer via grainedit.com

Timo Meyer via grainedit.com


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12. Til Hafenbrak

Till Hafenbrak via grainedit.com

Bold and playful work from Till Hafenbrak, an illustrator living and working in Berlin.



Till Hafenbrak via grainedit.com

Till Hafenbrak via grainedit.com

Till Hafenbrak via grainedit.com


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13. Spies and the burning Reichstag

By Benjamin Carter Hett

It is well known that someone set fire to the Reichstag in Berlin on the evening of 27 February 1933 – eighty-one years ago. It is also well known that Hitler’s new government took this opportunity to pass the Reichstag Fire Decree, gutting the Weimar constitution and effectively initiating a 12-year dictatorship. Many readers will know that ever since 1933 controversy has raged about who actually set fire to the Reichstag: was it the first step in a Communist coup, was it a Nazi conspiracy to supply a justification for their Decree, or was the rather confused young Dutch stonemason Marinus van der Lubbe telling the truth when he claimed he had set the fire himself?


Firemen work on the burning Reichstag, February 1933. Item from Record Group 208: Records of the Office of War Information, 1926 – 1951. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

One matter that is less well known, however, is just how much, and for how long, various intelligence services have taken an interest in these questions.

Spies were a part of the story from the beginning. In March 1933, a senior officer of Britain’s MI5 named Guy Liddell traveled to Germany to make contact with the newly reorganized German Secret Police (soon to be christened the Gestapo) and its leader, the brilliant but sinister Rudolf Diels. At the time, one of the main tasks facing Diels and his officers was the investigation of the Reichstag fire. Liddell wrote a long report on his experiences in Germany, noting among other things that the weakness of the police evidence against Marinus van der Lubbe led him to the view that “previous con­clusions that this incident was a piece of Nazi provocation to provide a pretext for the wholesale suppression of the German Communist Party were amply confirmed.”

After the Second World War, Rudolf Diels and the small group of his former Gestapo subordinates who had investigated the fire in 1933 faced a difficult legal situation. To varying degrees they had been involved in Nazi crimes (including the thoroughly corrupt fire investigation itself) and they had to navigate the tricky waters of war crimes and “denazification” investigations and prosecutions. One of their real advantages, however, was their intelligence experience – coupled with their undeniable anti-Communism. This made them attractive to the Western Allies’ intelligence services. Rudolf Diels was, for many years, a key paid source on politics in Germany for the American CIC (military counter intelligence). His payment, as recorded in a written contract from 1948, was 12 cartons of cigarettes per month, supplemented now and then by ration cards and cans of Crisco – the real sources of value in Germany at the time. A few years later one of the leading figures in the West German Federal Criminal Police (BKA) complained to American intelligence officers that overly-zealous prosecutions of ex-Nazi police officers were a Cold War danger. They were weakening the BKA to the point that West Germany itself would become “a push-over for Eastern intelligence services” and thus “a weak link and danger point in the whole Western defense system.” The CIA officer who recorded these comments noted that they were “worth attention.”

One of the things that Diels and his former subordinates had to worry about was the testimony and the book of a man named Hans Bernd Gisevius, who accused them of covering up Nazi guilt for the Reichstag fire as well as involvement in a number of murders. Gisevius had himself been a Gestapo officer in 1933; from there he went on to serve in Germany’s military intelligence service, the Abwehr, during the war – and became active in the resistance that led to the famous Valkyrie plot. Diels and Gisevius hated each other. Around 1950 many well-informed people – no doubt including Diels and Gisevius – thought these men were both candidates to head the newly created West German domestic intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. When Diels and Gisevius argued about who set the Reichstag fire – which they did both publicly and vitriolically – it is hard to overlook the fact that they were competing for jobs and influence in the emerging West German intelligence sector.

The Cold War also explained why the infamous East German Stasi spent many years and considerable effort doing its own discreet research into the Reichstag fire and the people who had been involved in it. Above all the Stasi hoped to find information that would discredit prominent East German dissidents, along with ex-Nazi police and intelligence officials in West Germany. The Stasi also tried to recruit at least one well-known western Reichstag fire researcher to be, in Stasi-speak, an “unofficial employee.”

But the most important link between intelligence services and the Reichstag fire came in the form of a man named Fritz Tobias, who from the 1950s to the 1970s was a senior official of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in the West German federal state of Lower Saxony. Earlier, in the 1940s – by his own account at least – he had served as a “scout” for the British Secret Intelligence Service. This meant that, while working on a “denazification” tribunal, he was supposed to keep his eyes open for former Nazis who might be useful to the British.

In 1951 Tobias started devoting his spare time – by his account, only his spare time – to research on the Reichstag fire. By the late 1950s his work was already becoming known, and, to some German officials, somewhat troubling. Tobias could and did use the powers of his office to get information. He was able to get access to classified documents that were closed to the public, and on at least one occasion he brought a prosecutor along with him to question a retired judge who had evidence to give about the fire. Was this all really just a spare time project? In the early 1960s, when Tobias’s lengthy book on the Reichstag fire was published (lengthy in German anyway – the English translation cut it by about half), Tobias used agents from the Office for Constitutional Protection to threaten academic historians who disagreed with his arguments, and blackmailed the director of a prestigious institute with classified documents revealing that director’s Nazi past. There seems at least a possibility that Tobias’s work was really an official commission. When asked about this while testifying in court in 1961, Tobias declined to answer because of his duty to maintain official secrets.

Why would German security services in the 1960s care about who had burned the Reichstag? There are several possibilities, admittedly only speculative. Tobias’s book, like Rudolf Diels’s before him, was to a considerable extent an attack on Hans Bernd Gisevius. Gisevius had made himself very unpopular with the West German government through his advocacy of a policy of neutrality in the Cold War and his friendship with gadflies like Martin Niemöller. There are materials in the FBI’s file on Gisevius (and yes, the bureau had one) that seem likely to have come from a German security service. There is also the issue that all the state and the Federal West German governments were very much on the defensive in the early 1960s about the number of senior officials they employed who had bad records from the Nazi era. Tobias’s own state of Lower Saxony was one of the worst offenders in this regard. Tobias’s book was very much a defense, indeed a glorification, of those former Gestapo officers who had worked with Rudolf Diels – one of whom, Walter Zirpins, had an office just down the hall from Fritz Tobias at the Lower Saxon Interior Ministry.

These spies and their various schemes make up a fascinating, if murky, part of this murky historical mystery.

Benjamin Carter Hett, a former trial lawyer and professor of history at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, is the author of Burning the Reichstag, Death in the Tiergarten and Crossing Hitler, winner of the Fraenkel Prize.

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14. Maggie Welcomes Thousands of Visitors Worldwide

Maggie Steele, the storybook heroine who vaults over the moon, has been attracting thousands of visitors from around the world. So many visitors, in fact, that she’s using a time zone map to keep track of them all.* People are … Continue reading

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15. Ariane Spanier

Ariane Spanier

Ariane Spanier Design is a Berlin-based studio founded in 2005 focused on print work for architects, galleries and publishers. Often playing with the perception of depth they create typographic landscapes that bend and fold revealing rich layers of color and texture.

Ariane Spanier

Ariane Spanier

Ariane Spanier


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Heartwork 2011
Jason Munn Interview
Jessica Hische Studio Visit

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16. Books for Children of the World: The Story of Jella Lepman by Sydelle Pearl, illustrated by Danlyn Iantorno

Imagine you are a German Jew who managed to escape Hitler's Germany during the war.  Now, the war is over, but you have been asked to return to Germany by the United States Army to assess what the German children living in that now decimated country need to live a better life.   After all that happened to Jews in Germany, could you have done it?  It would indeed take a strong, caring, forgiving person to embark on such a task, but that is exactly what Jella Lepmaan did.

As Jella traveled through Germany in an army jeep, she saw that the children needed so much - clothing, food, homes, warmth.  But they also wanted books.  She spoke to the General at army headquarters where she was stationed about an exhibition of children's books from around the world.  The General agreed this was a good idea and, night after night, Jella wrote to publishers to ask for books donations for the exhibition.  She called her letters doves of peace.  And, amazingly, even after what Hitler had done to the world, publishers around the world did respond.

The books were great, but were for an exhibition, not for the children who wanted them.  So, Jella decided to translate The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf into German.  Then she had it printed - 30,000 copies on newsprint and a few days before Christmas, they were handed out to Germany's children.

That was just the beginning.  By 1949, Jella's first children's book exhibition had grown into the International Youth Library in Munich.  This research library still exists today and still collects children's books from around the world.

Sydelle Pearl's Books for Children of the World: The Story of Jella Lepman is a beautifully written homage to a very courageous woman and the library she founded.  Lepman believed that just as her letters were doves of peace, books were messengers of peace and the idea of peace is a clear message in her work.  Pearl is herself a librarian and it is easy to see that she believes in the power of books.

Giving out newsprint copies of The Story of
Ferdinand to children in Germany 
Illustrations add so much to a book and those of Danlyn Iantorno are no exception.  These bold, colorful realistic illustrations, which appear to have been rendered in oil paint, capture both the bold spirit of Jella Lepman and the varied emotions of the children.  I also thought that the tones of the colors used reminded of picture books and readers from the late 1940s and 1950s reflecting the Zeitgeist of that particular time.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the end of the book for more information about Jella Lepman and the International Youth Library.  There is list of selected sources as well, should you be inclined to explore Lepman and the library further.

Bear in mind that this is a historical biography and not really a picture for young readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was provided to me by the publisher.

There is a wonderfully informative lesson plan based on Books for Children of the World: The Story of Jella Lepman which, though produced in 2011, is nevertheless still very useful and  can be found here.

Nonfiction Monday is hosted this week by Wendie at Wendie's Wanderings

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17. The Franco-German connection and the future of Europe

By Ulrich Krotz and Joachim Schild

Ten years ago, at the Elysée Treaty’s 40th anniversary, Alain Juppé characterized France and Germany as the “privileged guardians of the European cohesion.” As the European Union’s key countries celebrated the 50th anniversary of their bilateral Treaty, Europe traverses a whole set of crises making the Franco-German “entente élémentaire” (Willy Brandt) appear as ever more important for providing or preserving European crisis management, decision-making, and, in whatever exact form: cohesion.

The endurance and the adaptability of the bilateral Franco-German connection—in spite of frequently dramatic domestic political changes (say changes of governments, parties in power, key personnel, economic rises, social upheavals, among others), regional European transformations (including widening and deepening European integration, the fall of the Iron Curtain, German unification), and wider international rupture or dynamism (such as the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, or burgeoning globalization)—is a remarkable feature of European politics of the past half-century. Different combinations of a variety of factors have nurtured both resilience and adaptability of this bilateral link over time, political domains, and specific issues:

  • complementary (more often than identical) strategic and economic interests;
  • an extraordinarily tight fabric of bilateral institutions and norms to lubricate intergovernmental cooperation;
  • parapublic and transnational interconnections between the two countries civil societies to undergird public intergovernmental links;
  • the basic strategic choice on both sides generally to handle bilateral differences with delicacy, circumspection, and patience to arrive at compromises in bilateral and European matters whenever possible;
  • and, finally, what Stanley Hoffmann once called an “equilibrium of disequilibria”: an overall by and large balanced bilateral relationship that enabled France and Germany to exercise joint European leadership on a footing of relative equality.

In 1963, the Elysée Treaty crowned the period of Franco-German friendship following World War II. At the same time, the Treaty offered a frame for an emergent and lasting “special” bilateral relationship between France and Germany, and inserted the Franco-German connection at the very core of the evolving institutions and decision-making processes of the European Union and its various predecessors.

The signing of the treaty on 22nd January 1963. In the picture (sat at the table, left to right): Dr. Gerhard Schröder (Minister of Foreign Affairs), Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, President Charles de Gaulle, Prime Minister Georges Pompidou, and Maurice Couve de Murville (French Foreign Minister). Source: This image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv) as part of a cooperation project.

And very much in the spirit of its godfathers and signatories Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, the Elysée Treaty helped to base this novel sort of Franco-German relationship not only on an unusual set of bilateral intergovernmental institutionalization, but also on linkages and interchange among the French and Germans beyond and below the intergovernmental level. Most notably, the past 50 years have seen the emergence and flourishing of a massive set of publicly funded or organizationally supported “parapublic” institutions and institutionalization, such as the Franco-German Youth Office (with some 8 million participants in exchange programs since its foundation); some 2200 “twinnings” (jumelages, Partnerschaften) between French and German towns or regional entities; connections between high schools and universities; and, later, the creation of the Franco-German TV channel ARTE, and the framework of the Franco-German University.

To be sure, the Franco-German connection of the past five decades has experienced numerous disagreements, crises, or even phases of protracted tensions. In retrospect, the Gaullist period, with fundamental and seemingly insurmountable divergence in French and German strategic orientations, might appear as the most trying. And yet, neither this phase, nor various enduring differences in political or economic inclinations, nor a motley crew of disagreements, have either broken the bilateral connection or led it to degenerate into marginal relevance.

At the celebrations of the Elysée Treaty’s 50th anniversary, and the beginning of what France and Germany have baptized “the Franco-German year,” two developments threaten the continued endurance and political relevance of this bilateral relationship in Europe: on the one hand, the seemingly deep disparities across major policy fields during this period of severe crises; on the other, an apparently increasing gap in economic performance and competitiveness.

As for the former, most visibly perhaps, France and Germany have so far not succeeded in developing bilateral compromises so as to decisively help manage or overcome the Eurozone crisis. Or, for that matter, even to define a coherent approach in dealing with this crisis and its possible implications for the future of European governance in the monetary realm or beyond. In the policy fields of foreign, security, and defense—equally of supreme importance—France’s and Germany’s disparate strategic cultures persist, and their visions of the EU’s role in international politics and security continue to diverge, most strikingly perhaps when it comes to the use of military force. Some of the key questions in these domains—how to position oneself and to act in an often dangerous and violent world in which the most comfortable and comforting answers do not always suffice—continue especially to plague German elites.

Plaque commemorating the restoration of relations between Germany and France, showing Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle. Photo by Adam Carr, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

However, it is the seemingly ever worsening loss of economic performance and competitiveness on France’s side, the erosion of the domestic economic bases of France’s bilateral and European standing, and the growing bilateral asymmetry in power and influence between the two countries, that pose the greatest challenge for the future of the Franco-German connection and for the survival of the Eurozone. While it is hardly conceivable that the Franco-German relationship could be based on a France lastingly in the role of the junior partner, the European Union more than ever requires strong leadership in order to navigate through its arguably deepest set of crises since its emergence from the treaties of Paris and Rome. Neither German hegemony, nor frequently weakened or inchoate supranational European institutions, nor another bilateralism or minilateral grouping is available to act as a replacement for the joint Franco-German role at the core of Europe.

The ability of France to face the realities of decline, and the courage and political will of its leaders to comprehensively reform the social and economic model—no matter how painful or divisive domestically—are indispensable conditions for that the tremendous success story of the Franco-German connection in Europe to continue and blossom beyond the celebrations of the Elysée Treaty’s anniversary and the Franco-German year.

Ulrich Krotz and Joachim Schild are the authors of Shaping Europe: France, Germany, and Embedded Bilateralism from the Elysée Treaty to Twenty-First Century Politics. Ulrich Krotz is Professor at the European University Institute, where he holds the Chair in International Relations in the Political Science Department and the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies. Joachim Schild is Professor of Political Science at the University of Trier.

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18. Weekend Groove: Music Videos from Australia, Germany, Belgium and France

We’re going to start featuring the most interesting, creative and original animated music videos every weekend in a new section we call the Weekend Groove. Submit you vidoes HERE.

“Gangsta Riddim” directed by about:blank (Belgium)

Audio excerpt of “Gangsta Riddim” remix by Roel Funcken. Gangsta Riddim (Original) by SCANONE.

“Over You” directed by Drushba Pankow (Germany)

“Over You” is a music video clip originally made for the song “Nobody’s Fool” by Parov Stelar. The Berlin-based musician Michal Krajczok wrote and produced his song “Over You” especially for this video, featuring the voice of Larissa Blau. The video is directed, designed and animated by Drushba Pankow (Alexandra Kardinar and Volker Schlecht), with additional animation by Maxim Vassiliev.

“A Very Unusual Map” directed by Loup Blaster (France)

A music video for Hibou Blaster

“Teapot” directed by Clem Stamation (Australia)

Cantaloupe are a synth-guitar/bass-drums trio from Nottingham, UK, formed in January 2011. Drawing influences from Afro-pop to Krautrock to the avant garde, who aim to make infectuous and thoroughly pleasing instrumental pop music.

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19. Stones in Water by Donna Jo Napoli

I picked up this book in a library book sale because it was about another one of those little known events that occurred during World War II: the snatching of Italian boys by Nazis and used as forced labor.  And also because the setting, at least in the beginning, was in Venice, Italy in the early 1940s, an unusual setting for most MG or YA novels.  The story centers on the friendship between 12 year old Roberto, a Catholic, and Samuele, a Jew.  It begins with the lure of seeing an American western film at the local movie theater proving to be too great for young Roberto to pass up.  Before long, however, not only is Roberto sneaking off to see the movie, but he is joined by his older brother Sergio, and friends Memo and Samuele.

The movie hasn't even begun when German soldiers swoop into the theater and round up all the boys.  Before they know what is happening, they are sorted by age so that Sergio and Roberto are separated from each other.  The boys are then put on trains heading north.  All through Italy, the trains picks up more and more boys.  Gradually, the trains head east to the Ukraine.  The whole operation appears to be such a perfectly planned operation.  A Western movie would and did draw only boys from the area, and no girls.  Non of the boys in any of the groups speak the same dialect, so there is little communication among them.  Soon, though, the boys realize the danger for Samuele, who is circumcised, so they change his name to Enzo and Roberto gives him his St. Christoper medal to wear.

Eventually, Roberto and Enzo end up in a labor camp, where all the boys are forced to build an airstrip for supply planes to land.  The work is hard and there is little food, and as winter comes the boys must find whatever rags they can use to try to keep from freezing, usually striping what they can off dead bodies - dead soldiers and prisoners alike were fair game.  At night, Enzo entertains Roberto with stories, most from the Old Testament, to keep his morale up.  The friends continue to support each other, so when another boy discovers that Enzo is Jewish and demands he give him most of his food ration, Robert shares his ration with his friend.

Throughout their captivity, Roberto worries about his parents and about getting home, but there seems to be no end in sight for the boys.  And to make matters worse, Enzo begins to weaken from the lack of food.  And to top it all off, with winter's snows, survival becomes more and more difficult for the boys.

Will they ever see home again?

This was the kind of coming of age story that really makes you realize what the concept 'coming of age' really means.  As you read Roberto's story, you can watch as he is transformed from a boy who had romanticized war to a thinking, feeling young man who realizes and appreciates the horrors of war without ever having been on a battlefield.  Yet, right from the beginning, Roberto and Samuele witness shocking Nazi brutality whenever boys tried to run away or when they fainted while working.  These were sobering lessons, and both boys heeded them in order to stay alive.

Stones in Water is a fast read, and for the most part it was excellent.  Some readers seem to feel that the end of the book didn't have a satisfactory conclusion, but I liked it.  Hinting at a sequel, I felt that Roberto has more in store for him than just going home.  And indeed, a sequel was written, Fire in the Hills, continuing Roberto's story.


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20. TRAILER: “The Cold Heart” By Hannes Rall

German animation director Hannes Rall, who has previously adapted Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Erlking to animation, is wrapping up another hand-drawn animated adaptation of classic literature. This time, he’s tackling the work of German writer Wilhelm Hauff and his fairy tale The Cold Heart.

The short is set in Germany’s Black Forest during the 19th century: “Peter Munk is a poor but goodhearted young man, desperately wishing to be rich. Tempted by the evil ghost of the woods, he trades his warm heart for a heart of stone. He becomes rich but turns into a merciless and cruel man. Is there still hope for him?”

The 29-minute short channels classic German art influences including the distorted human figures of Expressionist woodcuts and the silhouette animation design of Lotte Reiniger. The film also boasts the color design of animation veteran Hans Bacher, who was the production designer of Disney’s Mulan, among an extensive list of Disney animation credits. Both Rall and Bacher teach at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, where they connected for this project.

The short received German production funding from MFG Baden-Wuerttemberg. It will premiere later this year. Rall shared with Cartoon Brew some of Hans Bacher’s color scripts for the film:

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21. Hitler's Angel by William Osborne

Hitler's Angel is the story of two refugees who have managed to get to England and safety.   The girl, about 14, had come with her family, Jews from Vienna, able to escape Hitler's clutches when the Nazis entered Austria in 1938.  The boy, 15, escaped by getting a ride on one of the small ships carrying out the rescue mission at Dunkirk in 1940

Now it is 1941 and they have been asked by Admiral MacPherson of the *London Controlling Section, with Prime Minister Churchill's approval,  if they would be willing to go back to Germany and rescue a young girl who has the ability to bring down Hitler.  This mission has come about after Rudolf Hess, the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany, had parachuted into Scotland and was immediately arrested by the British.  The implication is that Hess gave information about this young girl.

The boy and girl, code named Otto and Leni, accept the mission and after two weeks of intense training, they parachute into Germany and begin their quest to find this mysterious child.  The girl is being help in a convent on an island in the Chiemsee in Bavaria.

Otto and Leni's trip from their landing to the island is not uneventful, but they nevertheless make it and find the girl, a nine year old named Angelika.  They even manage to escape almost undetected, because although they have followed what they were trained to do, they still left a trail of clues that become clear after the girl disappearance has been discovered.

Now, Hitler sets Reinhard Heydrich on their trail.  Heydrich was one of the cruelest, most ruthless men in the Third Reich, a Lieutenant General in the SS.  Heydrich pursues Otto, Leni and Angelika with a vengeance, eliminating anyone who gets in his way, with the help of Ludwig Straniak, a mystic and map dowsing specialist, sent personally by Hitler.

The pursuit of the three youngsters across Bavaria is an exciting, if sometime violent, adventure.  But who is Angelika and why is keeping her a secret so important to the Nazis?  And will Otto and Leni get Angelika into Britain and safety?  Is any place safe for this girl?

I came across Hitler's Angel in a review over at We Sat Down and was so intrigued by it, I immediately got a copy.  This debut novel by former Hollywood screenwriter William Osborne is action packed with thrilling nail-biting drama.  Sound like a movie - it perhaps could be one day.

Which doesn't mean this isn't a read-worthy novel.  Osborne has taken actual people and events and woven a sometimes feasible, sometimes not sp feasible story around them.  The story chapters alternate between Leni and Otto, Hitler, MacPherson and Heydrich, so the reader is privileged to all perspectives and there is never a dull moment.

I thought the characterization of Otto and Leni was excellent, that as inexperienced agents they would naturally makes mistakes, and they did.  And they are still idealistic, despite everything.  Both decide that it is wrong to let Angelika become a bargaining chip of war by the British, and agree to throw away the cyanide capsule MacPherson give them to give to Angelika to insure that she didn't end up back with the Nazis.  I did find that the implication of why Angelika was powerful enough to bring down Hitler was a bit slippery.  I would think of it and lose it immediately.  Perhaps because it was only speculative.

There is quite a bit of violence, some only to demonstrate the level of cruelty Heydrich is capable of, some as a result of being at war.  Hitler's Angel  has been compared to Robert Muchamore's Henderson's Boys series, which also has some rather violent parts to them, but my feeling is there is a level of depth lacking by comparison, perhaps making it feel too screenplayish.  But still definitely worth reading for those who like action and thrills.

Oh, yes, and there is bit of a romantic hint between Leni and Otto, which was rather nice.

Included at the end is a Historical Note detailing who was a fictional character and who came from real life.  And what is map dowsing, you might ask?  Simple if you have the gift all you do is how a pendulum over a map to locate what you are looking for.  And yes, the Nazis really did believe in things mystical and set up the Institute for Occult Warfare, headed by Straniak.

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was purchased for my personal library.

This map of Bavaria, found at the beginning of Hitler's Angel, follows the routes Leni and Otto took for their mission.  All the Bavarian places named in the novel actually exist.

*I have never heard of the London Controlling Section before, but it was a secret department created in 1941 to coordinate military deception.  See a fuller description of the London Controlling Section on Wikipedia

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22. T4 by Ann Clare LaZotte

Paula Becker is 13, deaf and living in a small village in German when the Nazis pass Aktion 4 allowing them to do the unthinkable - "euthanize"disabled persons like Paula in their quest to become a master race and to eliminate the cost of caring for them.

T4 is a short novel in free verse told throughout in Paula's voice:

Hear the voice of the poet!
I see the past, future, and present.
I am deaf, but I have heard 
The beauty of song
And I wish to share it with 
Young readers...
 ...In T4, the facts
About history are true, and
My characters tell the story. 

At first, Paula writes, the Nazis target only people living in institutions and she is left alone.  But in March 1940, the family's  priest comes to the house in the middle of a snow storm to tell them that it is now necessary to get Paula out of the house and into hiding.

The priest takes her to a woman named Stephanie Holderlin, where it is believed that Paula can remain safely hidden.  There, she is able to learn  the official sign language of the deaf.  But early one morning, the Gestapo knock on the door.   They had been informed that a disabled person was living there.  They search the house, but do not find Paula.  Stephanie finally manages to get rid of them, but Paula must be moved to another safe place immediately.

This time, she is taken to a homeless shelter run by a Lutheran priest.  There, she meets Homeless Kurt.  Gradually, he and Paula become friends and after a while, they decide to travel to Berlin together.  On the way, they discover seven people living in the woods, Jews who are hiding from the Nazis.  Realizing they cannot really make it to Berlin without being caught, they return to the shelter.

In 1941, the killings under T4 'offically' ended but it still wasn't safe for people like Paula and Kurt until the end of the war.  Unofficially, Paula writes, the killings continued.

When the war was finally over, the people responsible for T4 were tried at the Nuremberg Trials, with the exception of Dr. Philipp Bouhler, who was the head of the program and who committed suicide.

In its simplicity, LaZotte's story poem manages to convey some of the horror that Nazi Germany held for some people, but also some of the kindness that could still be found there among the people, reminding us again that not everyone was a Nazi and many didn't support their policies, like T4.

The author, Ann Clare LaZotte can well understand what it would be like to be in Paula's shoes, since she herself is also deaf.  She clearly feels very strongly about T4 and it shows throughout in her poetry. And she also knows more than a little something about German poetry: Stephanie Holderlin was named for Frederich Holderlin, a German lyric poet and two of the Jewish children that Paula and Homeless Kurt meet int he woods  are named for Nelly Sachs and Paul Celan, two of the greatest poets of the Holocaust and whose works I would definitely recommend reading some of when you have finished reading T4.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library.

More information on Hitler's T4 Program can be found here.

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23. “Snail Trail” by Philipp Artus

Today is bittersweet because we are presenting the final film in our 2012 Cartoon Brew Student Animation Festival. But we are delighted that this film is an extraordinarily unique achievement in computer animation.

Snail Trail comes to us from Germany, where it was made by Philipp Artus at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. The film draws an ingenious link between two disparate things: the spiral of a snail shell and the concept of exponential acceleration (don’t worry, we had to look up the latter one too).

Mere description fails to do this film justice though. Snail Trail is an intensely visceral experience. Excitement and surprise abound in every frame, even as the film celebrates the mathematical order of the universe. The snail’s dynamic evolution in mobililty is eloquently expressed through a luminescent line that curls and stretches across the screen. Artus achieved the fading trail of images by projecting his computer animation with lasers onto a phosphorescent material.

The totality of Artus’s vision is startlingly beautiful. Snail Trail, quite simply, uses computer animation in ways that we have not seen before, and the results are astounding.

Click HERE to read an interview with the filmmaker Philipp Artus.

The Cartoon Brew Student Animation Festival is made possible by the generosity of our presenting sponsor JibJab.

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24. CBTV STUDENT FEST: “Snail Trail” by Philipp Artus

Today is bittersweet because we are presenting the final film in our 2012 Cartoon Brew Student Animation Festival. But we are delighted that this film is an extraordinarily unique achievement in computer animation.

Snail Trail comes to us from Germany, where it was made by Philipp Artus at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. The film draws an ingenious link between two disparate things: the spiral of a snail shell and the concept of exponential acceleration (don’t worry, we had to look up the latter one too).

Mere description fails to do this film justice though. Snail Trail is an intensely visceral experience. Excitement and surprise abound in every frame, even as the film celebrates the mathematical order of the universe. The snail’s dynamic evolution in mobililty is eloquently expressed through a luminescent line that curls and stretches across the screen. Artus achieved the fading trail of images by projecting his computer animation with lasers onto a phosphorescent material.

The totality of Artus’s vision is startlingly beautiful. Snail Trail, quite simply, uses computer animation in ways that we have not seen before, and the results are astounding.

Continue reading for comments from the filmmaker Philipp Artus:

In the animation a snail invents the wheel and goes through a cultural evolution to finally get back to its origin. The basic idea of the work is inspired by processes of exponential acceleration, which can be observed at different levels. Thus, the evolution of life proceeds at an extremely slow pace for more than 3 billion years, until it suddenly seems to explode in the Cambrian period. The tools of human beings progress relatively little during the Stone Age until there comes a rapid cultural development during the Holocene. Nowadays, a similar acceleration process is generated by the exchange of information through the Internet. From this perspective, the exponential spiral on a snail shell may almost appear like a miraculous wink of nature.

I rigged and animated the character in 3ds Max. Then I projected the animation with a laser on a phosphorescent material and recorded it frame by frame with Dragon Stop Motion. Finally, I did the post production with After Effects. It was a very time consuming process, but I like the unique style that it creates. It looks somehow digital but has also the feeling of a hand-drawn animation.

The animation is based on a laser sculpture, which has a somehow purer and darker feeling than the film. For me the challenge was to find the right tone for the film, to make it into something else than a mere copy of the laser installation. It took me some time to realize that I had to free my mind from the original character and to give space to an evolution. Finally, the film turned out much brighter and more colorful than I had imagined in the beginning.

In the animation the snail goes through various metamorphoses. Working on the project was quite a similar experience: in the beginning I just wanted to do a normal animation with a snail. Through experimentation I then discovered the phosphorescent light trails, which add a unique sense of time to the animation. Later I had the idea to project the laser onto a 360° cylinder, so that the audience would have to walk around to follow the course of the snail. Finally, I created the film version, which again turned into something completely different from what I had originally in mind. Thus, the snail taught me the lesson to be fluid, to leave space for the evolution of your creations. Or as Bruce Lee puts it: “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless – like water…”

My inspirations come from being in nature, observing animals and the way they move. The drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, Alberto Giacometti and M. C. Escher have also inspired me. As a kid I played video games a lot, which probably had an unconscious influence. I also used to do a lot of skateboarding and I love surfing – which might be an inspiration for the motion. The sound was influenced by various musicians, ranging from classical ambient drones to electronic post-dubstep beats. Aditionally, I had a very creative collaboration with the Portuguese musician Madalena Graça. Finally, the Vimeo community and the rapid change of our world through the digital era have also inspired my work.

Philipp Artus’s website

The Cartoon Brew Student Animation Festival is made possible by the generosity of our presenting sponsor JibJab.

0 Comments on CBTV STUDENT FEST: “Snail Trail” by Philipp Artus as of 9/19/2012 6:30:00 AM
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25. Itty Bitty Stick People and Furniture


I scooped up these beauties at the last Waldorf craft basar we attended in Germany. I got them as much for myself as for the kids.

Carved Doll Stove

Don’t the stove and tiny pot, just like, kill you? I realize it’s hard to tell the scale here, but the pot has about the same circumference as an acorn top. I’m powerless before this kind of stuff. Makes me want to take up whittling, because, you know, I totally need another creative hobby.

Hand Carved Toys

Acorn dishes!

DSC_1030A teensy Fair Isle cape!

I think one of the things I like best about these is the bark. For some reason it never occurs to me to make things out of actual sticks from trees.

Hope you had a good weekend. I’m pressing forward on my novel revisions, though I had a reminder this morning of just how slow I am when I looked at where I was last year this same week. Yipes!

Are you in a reflective mood about what you’ve done over the past year? Celebrating goals met? Making new ones?

2 Comments on Itty Bitty Stick People and Furniture, last added: 1/15/2013
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