What is JacketFlap

  • JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans.
    Join now (it's free).

Sort Blog Posts

Sort Posts by:

  • in

Suggest a Blog

Enter a Blog's Feed URL below and click Submit:

Most Commented Posts

In the past 7 days

Recent Comments

JacketFlap Sponsors

Spread the word about books.
Put this Widget on your blog!
  • Powered by JacketFlap.com

Are you a book Publisher?
Learn about Widgets now!

Advertise on JacketFlap

MyJacketFlap Blogs

  • Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.

Blog Posts by Date

Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
new posts in all blogs
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: germany, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 167
1. Review: The House By The Lake by Thomas Harding

This is history writing at it’s finest. Taking a small microcosm to tell the story of a country over the last 100 years. On a trip to Berlin in 2013 author Thomas Harding visited the summer lake house his great-grandfather built. Upon discovering the house in disrepair and scheduled for demolition Harding began researching the […]

Add a Comment
2. #774 – World War I: Why They Fought by Rebecca Rissman

Today is Veteran’s Day, the perfect day to remember not only the brave men and women who fought for this country’s safety and freedom, but also a war that stunned many—the first World War. November 11th, 2015 marks the 96th anniversary of Armistice Day, the date Germany and the Allies signed an agreement to stop …

Add a Comment
3. The Other Side of the Wall - a review

The Other Side of the Wall by Simon Schwartz

Translated from German by Laura Watkinson
Published by Graphic Universe, 2015
112 pages, best for grades 6 and up

Simon Schwartz was born in East Berlin in the 1980s.The Other Side of the Wall is his graphic memoir of growing up in the divided city, of his parent's three-year struggle to obtain an exit permit to leave East Berlin, and of his later forays between the two Berlins.

His parents met in college. His father came from a family of staunch Communist Party members.  His mother's family was secretly more liberal, though any deviation from expected Party behavior was cause for examination and surveillance by the Stasi, or secret German police.  It was dangerous to stray from party orthodoxy, particularly if you were a teacher, as Simon's father was. His parents became disillusioned with life in the restrictive East German city.

The Soviet Union had recently invaded Afghanistan. My dad worked on his speech, night after night.
     "God, how can you describe a war as just?  They want me to use fancy words to justify this invasion."
     "Just write something you can square with your own conscience -- at least in part."
     "I don't know if I can do that."

When his parents requested exit permits, their lives became fraught with poverty,ostracism, and physical danger.

The book's layout is as structured as Communist life - with few exceptions, four blocks per page - each bordered in black. The artwork is monochromatic, fitting for the stark reality of life behind the Wall. The story is told  in speech bubbles, text blocks that set the scene or relay back story, and the occasional footnote explaining terms that may not be familiar to readers (well-known  politicians or artists of the time, and uniquely German or Communist terms). Several panels are wordless - vague remembrances of the young Schwarz.

Back matter includes a glossary, a timeline of the Berlin Wall, and maps of Germany and Berlin 1961-1989.

I recently reviewed the historical fiction novel, A Night Divided, that describes life in East Berlin in the immediate aftermath of the Berlin Wall's construction.The Other Side of the Wall is a perfect companion book - a nonfiction, graphic novel account of the Wall's waning days.  For younger readers not familiar with day-to-day life in the Cold War Era, this is a chilling introduction.

0 Comments on The Other Side of the Wall - a review as of 11/2/2015 8:50:00 AM
Add a Comment
4. Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman

Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke is the sequel to a book I read and reviewed last year called Prisoner of Night and Fog.  I wasn't too crazy about that book, but I am pleased to say that I liked the sequel much more.

Prisoner of Night and Fog takes place in 1931 Munich, Germany.  Gretchen Müller, part to the inner circle of young girls in the Hitler entourage, has discovered that her father, a strong Hitler supporter, had been deliberately killed in the 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch by a fellow Nazi.  Gretchen is determined to solve mystery of who would have done such a thing with the help of Daniel Cohen, handsome reporter for the Munich Post.  It also didn't take long for Aryan Gretchen and Jewish Daniel to find they were very attracted to each other despite their differences. And yes, they solve they mystery together.

Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke picks up their story in 1933 England.  Forced to flee Germany after solving her father's murder, Gretchen is living in London with a loving family and going to school, and Daniel is working for the Oxford Mail, writing the society column.  But when Daniel receives a telegram that his cousin Aaron has been attacked by Nazis and is in critical condition, he immediately returns to Germany to get justice to his cousin.

On January 30, 1933 Hitler is named Chancellor by President Hindenburg.  One month later, February 27, there is a fire in the Reichstag, the seat of government.  Hitler blames the Communists for it, even though it has most likely been done by the Nazis for the purpose giving Hitler a strong reason for forcing the passage of the Enabling Act, a piece of legislation that would give him complete power, turning Germany into a Nazi dictatorship.

Then, when Gretchen receives a mysterious telegram telling her that Daniel is in trouble, that he is wanted for murder, and possibly dead, she decides to risk capture by the Nazis and returns to Germany to find him.  There, an old newspaper friend of Daniel's tells Gretchen that the Nazis claim Daniel has killed a young women named Monika Junge and that he had also been beaten and robbed of his money and false identity papers a few days ago, but no one has seen Daniel since.  Next, she calls her old friend Eva Braun and asks her to find out if Daniel has been arrested. Eva tells her no, but that Gretchen must get out of Munich, Hitler is still after her for what she uncovered about him while trying to find out who murdered her father.  Ironically, the murder of Monika Junge leads Gretchen and Daniel right back to the Reichstag fire in an unexpected way.

Gretchen gets on a train to Berlin, and (perhaps a little too conveniently) runs into Daniel.  The two travel together to Berlin and what follows in a exciting journey through Berlin's underbelly and her higher echelons of government as Gretchen and Daniel try to clear his name of the murder charge the Nazis have leveled against him before the passage of the Enabling Act.  Once the Enabling Act is passed, it will be impossible to solve the mystery surrounding Monika Junge's murder because anyone who could help would immediately be arrested (the Enabling Act passed on March 23, 1933).

Blankman used the Reichstag fire and the Enabling Act to create a real nail-biting story.  She also effectively mixes real people from that time with her fictional characters, though there is a fine line between what really may be and what she includes, case in point: what Monika Junge knows and why it is dangerous for a certain important Nazi is pure fabrication.  But she does do a great job of showing why the events she includes are so important in understanding Germany at that time.

But as much as this is an historical fiction mystery utilizing time, place, people and events quite well , it is also a romance novel.  Gretchen and Daniel are very much in love, and that's great.  It doesn't overwhelm the overall story too much, but I have to be honest and say that this romance has gone on since 1931, Gretchen and Daniel have found themselves sleeping together many times when their lives have been in danger and nothing intimate has happened.  It's even mentioned in Chapter 16.  I had to ask myself if this is realistic and I don't think it is, not even for those times.

Blankman also brings in another interesting element of reality to the story - he organized crime syndicate, the Ringvereine, which is something you don't hear about very often.  I've heard of it, but don't know that much about it, only that they did exist and were very protective of their own - and Monika Junge was one of their own.

My only objection to the novel was the end, but I don't want to resort to spoilers, especially not at the end of a story, so you'll just have to read it know what I mean.

Do read the Author's Note at the end to fully appreciate all the history incorporated into this novel, and Blankman's Selected Bibliography for further information.

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

0 Comments on Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman as of 10/30/2015 2:13:00 PM
Add a Comment
5. A Night Divided

As a child, I remember the Olympics mainly as an opportunity to root against the Eastern Bloc countries.  That may seem petty, but my family has/had relatives in the former Czechoslovakia, and that's what we did.  In our family, a loss by an Eastern Bloc country was a win for democracy - as if beating East Germany in pole vaulting could somehow make things better.  In reality, for the people of the Eastern Bloc, losing likely made their miserable lives worse - if they even knew about it at all.

There are many historical fiction books about wartime Germany.  A Night Divided deposits the reader in post-WWII Germany — in Berlin, on the wrong side of the wall.

A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
(Scholastic, 2015)

In A Night Divided, 12-year-old Gerta, narrates the dangerously oppressive lifestyle into which she was unwilling thrust,

It was Sunday, August 13, 1961, a day I would remember for the rest of my life.  When a prison had been built around us as we slept.

Erected without warning, the fence (and later, the wall) that separated East Germany from West Germany sprang up overnight - a night when Gerta's father and brother had been visiting the West.  Gerta is trapped in the East with her resigned mother, and her rebellious older brother, Fritz.  Rebellion in East Germany is costly, and the price can be your life.

     "We will never be able to leave," Mama said. "The sooner you both accept that, the happier you will be."
     I nodded back at her. But I new I could never again be happy here. And I refused to accept my life inside a prison."
This is a deeply affecting novel that does not gloss over the reality of living under the constant watchful eyes of the police, the Grentztruppen or border police, and the brutal secret police, the Stasi.  In 1960s, East Germany, even a casual comment to a neighbor can be life-threatening.

Each chapter is introduced with a quote or German proverb that sets up the rationale for Gerta's continued, secretive resistance. "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. — Albert Camus, French novelist"

Gerta Lowe is a character that the reader will cheer and remember.  A Night Divided is a chilling and riveting book, balanced by the hope of one family's love and courage.

0 Comments on A Night Divided as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
6. How much do you know about Hannah Arendt? [quiz]

This September, the OUP Philosophy team have chosen Hannah Arendt as their Philosopher of the Month. Hannah Arendt was a German political theorist and philosopher best known for coining the term “the banality of evil.” She was also the author of various influential political philosophy books.

The post How much do you know about Hannah Arendt? [quiz] appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on How much do you know about Hannah Arendt? [quiz] as of 9/27/2015 4:30:00 AM
Add a Comment
7. The Christmas truce: A sentimental dream

By December 1914 the Great War had been raging for nearly five months. If anyone had really believed that it would be ‘all over by Christmas’ then it was clear that they had been cruelly mistaken. Soldiers in the trenches had gained a grudging respect for their opposite numbers. After all, they had managed to fight each other to a standstill.

On Christmas Eve there was a severe frost. From the perspective of the freezing-cold trenches the idea of the season of peace and goodwill seemed surrealistic. Yet parcels and Christmas gifts began to arrive in the trenches and there was a strange atmosphere in the air. Private William Quinton was watching:

We could see what looked like very small coloured lights. What was this? Was it some prearranged signal and the forerunner of an attack? We were very suspicious, when some­thing even stranger happened. The Germans were actually singing! Not very loud, but there was no mistaking it. Suddenly, across the snow-clad No Man’s Land, a strong clear voice rang out, singing the opening lines of “Annie Laurie“. It was sung in perfect English and we were spellbound. To us it seemed that the war had suddenly stopped! Stopped to listen to this song from one of the enemy.

“We tied an empty sandbag up with its string and kicked it about on top – just to keep warm of course. We did not intermingle.”

On Christmas Day itself, in some sectors of the line, there was no doubting the underlying friendly intent. Yet the men that took the initiative in initiating a truce were brave – or foolish – as was witnessed by Sergeant Frederick Brown:

Sergeant Collins stood waist high above the trench waving a box of Woodbines above his head. German soldiers beckoned him over, and Collins got out and walked halfway towards them, in turn beckoning someone to come and take the gift. However, they called out, “Prisoner!” A shot rang out, and he staggered back, shot through the chest. I can still hear his cries, “Oh my God, they have shot me!”

This was not a unique incident. Yet, despite the obvious risks, men were still tempted. Individuals would get off the trench, then dive back in, gradually becoming bolder as Private George Ashurst recalled:

It was grand, you could stretch your legs and run about on the hard surface. We tied an empty sandbag up with its string and kicked it about on top – just to keep warm of course. We did not intermingle. Part way through we were all playing football. It was so pleasant to get out of that trench from between them two walls of clay and walk and run about – it was heaven.

The idea that football matches were played between the British and Germans in No Man’s Land has taken a grip, but the evidence is intangible.

“Officers and men of 26th Divisional Ammunition Train playing football in Salonika, Greece on Christmas day 1915.” (1915) by Varges Ariel, Ministry of Information. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The truce was not planned or controlled – it just happened. Even senior officers recognised that there was little that could be done in this strange state of affairs. Brigadier General Lord Edward Gleichen accepted the truce as a fait accompli, but was keen to ensure that the Germans did not get too close to the ramshackle British trenches:

They came out of their trenches and walked across unarmed, with boxes of cigars and seasonable remarks. What were our men to do? Shoot? You could not shoot unarmed men. Let them come? You could not let them come into your trenches; so the only thing feasible was done – and our men met them half-way and began talking to them. Meanwhile our officers got excellent close views of the German trenches.

Another practical reason for embracing the truce was the opportunity it presented for burying the dead that littered No Man’s Land. Private Henry Williamson was assigned to a burial party:

The Germans started burying their dead which had frozen hard. Little crosses of ration box wood nailed together and marked in indelible pencil. They were putting in German, ‘For Fatherland and Freedom!’ I said to a German, “Excuse me, but how can you be fighting for freedom? You started the war, and we are fighting for freedom!” He said, “Excuse me English comrade, but we are fighting for freedom for our country!”

It should be noted that the truce was by no means universal, particularly where the British were facing Prussian units.

For the vast majority of the participants, the truce was a matter of convenience and maudlin sentiment. It did not mark some deep flowering of the human spirit, or signify political anti-war emotions taking root amongst the ranks. The truce simply enabled them to celebrate Christmas in a freer, more jovial, and, above all, safer environment, while satisfying their rampant curiosity about their enemies.

The truce could not last: it was a break from reality, not the dawn of a peaceful world. The gradual end mirrored the start, for any misunderstandings could cost lives amongst the unwary. For Captain Charles Stockwell it was handled with a consummate courtesy:

At 8.30am I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with ‘Merry Christmas!’ on it, and I climbed on the parapet. He put up a sheet with, ‘Thank you’ on it, and the German captain appeared on the parapet. We both bowed and saluted and got down into our respective trenches – he fired two shots in the air and the war was on again!

In other sectors, the artillery behind the lines opened up and the bursting shells soon shattered the truce.

War regained its grip on the whole of the British sector. When it came to it, the troops went back to war willingly enough. Many would indeed have rejoiced at the end of the war, but they were still willing to accept orders, still willing to kill Germans. Nothing had changed.

The post The Christmas truce: A sentimental dream appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on The Christmas truce: A sentimental dream as of 12/17/2014 5:44:00 AM
Add a Comment
8. Just One Apple

Just One Apple by Janosch

by Janosch (NorthSouth, 2014; originally published 1965 in Switzerland as Das Apfelmänchenn.)

I love a good pen name, and Janosch has one. His real name is Horst Eckert, and he is one of Germany’s most beloved children’s book authors and illustrators. He was new to me until NorthSouth revived this classic in late 2014. I’m so glad they did.

This is Walter’s story. He was the poorest man in the entire kingdom and he only had one single apple tree. A strong and beautiful tree, a nice home for a solitary cardinal. But no fruit. No blossoms. No bending branches.

Walter wishes for an apple. Just one. And when you wish with all your might, things change.

And his wishes came true, as wishes sometimes do.

Just One Apple by Janosch

(click to enlarge)

The art is loose and fiery. Full of motion and an eery calm.

But I love how this book breathes.

A page of art, a page of text. A page of text, a page of art. The contrast between Walter’s colorful (and worrisome) world and the spare white space of the words sets a comforting rhythm to a familiar story.

And the apple grows. So Walter goes to the market.

Just One Apple by Janosch

(click to enlarge)

The very worst feeling in the whole world is when other people don’t believe in your wishes.

Walter loses interest in his apple and in his wishes and in his life.

Until the dragon comes to town.

Just One Apple by Janosch

(click to enlarge)

Here’s where the breathing hitches and the white space/art space tempo gives way to one glorious spread of Walter’s wish saving the kingdom. It’s startling and ridiculous and wonderful.

And after that, Walter was careful what he wished for.


Add a Comment
9. Fighting the threat within

The recent attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the siege in Sydney, and the Canadian parliament attack have heightened fears of the type of home-grown security threats that had been realised earlier in the July 2005 London bombings. Looking to the future, security agencies and governments have warned grimly of battle hardened jihadists returning home from Middle Eastern and North African theatres of war. For better or worse, robust internal security, heightened surveillance, and preventative law enforcement targeting suspect individuals and communities have been presented as unavoidably necessary for democratic states the world over. But in searching for security, these liberal democracies are now confronted with difficult questions about how to provide public safety and state security within the framework of the rule of law. If there are enemies within, how can they be dealt with while still preserving the civil liberties and rights of all citizens? Can the state zero in on a particular segment of the population without actively and illegally discriminating against them? One particularly thorny issue is what to do about those returning from jihadist wars. Can they be stripped of their citizenship and barred from re-entering their old homeland? Is citizenship a privilege to be revoked at will, or does the state have a responsibility to all of its citizens, no matter how unsavoury? Do seemingly exceptional times permit legally exceptional measures?

While the reality of today’s terrorist violence has upped the stakes, these legal dilemmas are not new. Prior to World War I, European states also tussled with the dilemma of what to do with citizens they suspected of disloyal or treasonous intent. One of the central preoccupations of nineteenth century Germany, for example, was what to do with elements of the population viewed as internal enemies of the state, so-called Reichsfeinde. The communities coming under suspicion then might seem surprising today; Catholics, socialists, French, Danes, and Poles. Individuals from these groups who weren’t citizens were simply expelled from the country, but for those who had the rights of a citizen, the situation was far trickier. Germany prided itself on its reputation as a state governed by the rule of law, and the law explicitly forbade capricious measures like expelling citizens. How could a constitutional state find legal ways to put pressure on its internal enemies?

Otto Fürst von Bismarck by AD.BRAUN & Cie Dornach via Wikimedia Commons [public domain]
Otto Fürst von Bismarck by AD.BRAUN & Cie Dornach. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

To deal with these domestic threats, German authorities had to be far more inventive, using a host of strictly speaking legal but nonetheless punitive measures to harass suspect populations. Irredentists Danes in the North with German citizenship were targeted for economic ruination; French-speaking Germans were shifted out of their jobs in the militarily sensitive railways of Alsace-Lorraine; Protestant German colonists were sent to dilute the Polish complexion of the east; Jesuits were banned from the Catholic Ruhr; and socialists were pushed out of Berlin, Hamburg, and Leipzig into the countryside. New laws were passed and existing laws were reinterpreted to allow for new repressive uses. The custodians of the German Rechtsstaat sought safety not by side-stepping the law, but by passing and enforcing coercive laws that affected broad segments of the population, in the hope that the actual targets of the laws would be amongst the number affected.

Did these rather blunt internal security measures work? No. In fact, all of this was highly counterproductive. The attitude of Germany’s Danes, Poles, and French towards the German state hardened after being targeted by these legal forms of oppression, while both the socialist and Catholic political milieux went from strength to strength as a result of the experience of being suppressed. Frustrated in particular by his lack of success against the socialists, Bismarck even sought to have their citizenship revoked in the hope of forcing a definitive reckoning with those he saw as dangerous revolutionaries. But this didn’t lead to the destruction of German socialism, but to Bismarck’s own political downfall. The German constitutional state, flexible enough to offer its own forms of legally sanctioned persecution, always baulked at attempts to use unlawful or exceptional measures, despite the air of crisis that surrounded them. Even the measures they did take did little except alienate the broader population.

In their willingness to use violence to pursue their political goals, the jihadists of today are unlike the perceived threats of nineteenth-century Germany. Yet the response of constitutional states bears a remarkable resemblance to these earlier measures. No rolling state of exception or martial law has been declared. Instead, new laws are passed and old ones have been retooled to deal with newly arising threats. Now, as then, the constitutional state, governed by law, has found its own ways to apply pressure to its domestic enemies. Bespoke law, some of it good, some of it horrifying, has stretched but has not severed the commitment to legal and constitutional limits. Warts and all, the liberal constitutional state has shown itself capable of mounting its own stiff defence.

Headline image credit: Security fence by cobalt123. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr

The post Fighting the threat within appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Fighting the threat within as of 2/8/2015 6:30:00 AM
Add a Comment
10. Erik Larson: The Powells.com Interview

I've been a fan of Erik Larson's riveting brand of narrative history for years, and his latest book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, is his finest work yet. Suspenseful and expertly researched, Dead Wake transports the reader to the Atlantic theatre of WWI, where the luxury passenger liner Lusitania and a German [...]

0 Comments on Erik Larson: The Powells.com Interview as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
11. 24 Hours of International Comics: Germany

[When visiting the German-language sites below, I suggest using Google Chrome, or another web browser which allows for easy translation of German.  And if you read only one thing from this post, it should be this.]

Guten Tag!

Germany… it’s a bit of a conundrum in Continental comics.

Smack dab in the middle of Europe, it gets a lot of comics imported from other countries, mostly from neighboring Belgium and France.  It has a bit of a comics tradition, especially with “Sarkasmus”. Satirical and social commentary, usually featuring tricksters, has been a literary tradition of Germany since at least Til Eulenspiegel, and even the official comics museum in Hannover, Deutsches Museum für Karikatur und Zeichenkunst Wilhelm Busch, features as much emphasis on caricature and editorial cartoons as it does on comics.

Yet, with numerous outlets for comics for both children and adults (Micky Maus Magazin sold over a million copies weekly at its peak, and there are numerous comics aimed at adults), there haven’t been many notable comics produced until recently.  However, with the rise of the Internet and the worldwide popularity of manga, coupled with American publishers acquiring titles which are then licensed worldwide, there is a vibrant comics scene in Germany, and many titles worthy of export.An interesting ripple…  A lot of Germans speak and read English, as the two languages are closely related linguistically, and many students learn it early in school.  It is not uncommon to walk into a German comics shop and see a wall full of the latest Wednesday comics imported from the U.S. (actually Diamond UK).  Fans, regardless of nationality, hate to wait for the translation, and will read the comics in the original American.  Does this impact the circulation of the licensed translations?  Probably not…  as with America, there seems to be two markets: comics shops aimed at collectors, newsstands aimed at the general reader.  Generally, with the superhero soap opera comics, the German publisher will collect multiple issues into an omnibus-style magazine, either as a thick digest, or a slimmer square-bound magazine.  (Click the Panini link below for examples.)

So, here’s a brief introduction, with a few suggestions for further exploration if you’re curious.

In English:

The Goethe Institute has a great introductory website for German comics!  (It also includes links to various sites and publishers.)

  • An independent cultural organization funded in part by the German government.
  • 160 locations in 94 countries worldwide.  In the U.S.: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, DC, New York City, Boston.  Each location has a library.
  • And an online library catalog!  (76 “comics” titles at NYC!  564 worldwide!)

[Anyone have a list of German comics translated into English?]

Wer ist wem? (Who’s who)max moritz preis

Rupolphe Töpffer, from Geneva, Switzerland, is one of the forefathers of comics, creative during the first half of the Nineteenth Century.  Writing originally in French, his influence spread to Germany and the United States.  (The University Press of Mississippi has published two massive volumes on his work.)

Wilhelm Busch is the godfather of German comics.  An illustrator and writer, he is best known for “Max und Moritz”, a cautionary tale of two scamps.  (You can read an old English translation here.)  His satirical poetry caused many an uproar, and he was censored for satirizing the hypocrisy of the Catholic church.

Dr. Erika Fuchs is the second-most influential person in German comics.  From 1951 until retiring in 1988, she was the chief editor and translator of Disney comics in Germany.  Her high standards and references to classical German texts gained her renown among Disney fans.  Her use of verbs as onomatopoeia and soundless events (such as “shiver” or “gulp”) has influenced Internet chat dialogue in Germany, where the use of such terms (such as *runs away*) is known as Erikativ.  (A detailed explanation for grammaticists, linguists, and Donaldists can be found here, with animated comparisons between the original English comics and German translations.  Please note that Disney comics no longer use machine lettering.)

Where should you go?

Here’s a “Comics Messe” list of conventions in German-speaking Europe.

The biggest comics show in Germany is held in northern Bavaria: the International Comics Salon Erlangen.  A biennial comics art festival, it is the German equivalent of Angoulême, although not yet as crowded.  (2014 attendance: 25,000)  They award the Max und Moritz Preis via a jury, with one audience-voted prize.  The titles are international in scope, honoring both local cartoonists as well as translated works.  (Read my recap of the 2012 show.)

lageplan_aum_de 2012

Those are BUILDINGS. There are 11 total. And, no, it’s not the biggest in Germany.

The other big show?  The Frankurt Book Fair.  A massive publishing trade show, they allow the public in on the weekend.  Since comics have always been popular, publishers and organizers know to schedule events to entice fans.  They even host the German Cosplay championship!  Of course, there’s also an award: the annual Deutsche Cartoonpreis.

DeutscherCartoonpreis_2014Since 2006, the Frankfurt Book Fair and Carlsen Verlag have awarded the German Cartoon Prize for new talent”.  Since 2012 the German Cartoon Prize” in categories A and B have been awarded.
“A” stands for cartoonists who have not yet published a book. “B” is for cartoonists who have already published at least one book.

You can buy the anthology book here.  Here are the winners from last year:

Cartoonprize Category A: Hannes Richert, Category B: Rattelschneck first prize, Oli Hilbring second prize. Third prize: Dorthe Landschulz.

Cartoonprize Category A: Hannes Richert (far left), Category B: Rattelschneck, first prize (far right); Oli Hilbring, second prize (second from right). Third prize: Dorthe Landschulz.

A museum:

Wilhelm Busch – Deutsches Museum für Karikatur und Zeichenkunst

In addition to the greater part of Wilhelm Busch’s complete artistic oeuvre, the German Museum for Caricature and Graphic Art in the George Garden in Hannover is home to a collection of more than 35.000 works by internationally celebrated representatives of the art of pictorial satire.

Among those represented are such great names from the past as Hogarth, Daumier, Grandville and Goya, as well as popular “modern classics” of the world of humour such as Ungerer, Sempé and Loriot. And of course, Wilhelm Busch simply can’t be left out.

Want to follow what’s going on NOW in German comics?

An online retailer.


(Yeah, Amazon also has a German branch…)

Free Comic Book Day in Germany!

34 titles!  (Wow!  That French “Beauty and the Beast” comic looks amazing!)

Newspapers and news sites covering comics!

 A brief listing of German publishers:

Carlsen Verlag, strong in German manga, but also strong in licensed and original work

Ehapa, owned by powerhouse Egmont.   As with other Egmont houses throughout Europe, they publish, almost exclusively, licensed titles aimed at kids.  That means Disney, Asterix, Lucky Luke, as well as other imports.  (Jaw dropping fact: Micky Maus Magazin has a weekly circulation of 125,000, and a weekly readership of 623,000!  10.7% of kids ages 6-13!  Of course, adults read it too!  To put that into perspective… there are some 54 million kids age 5-17 in the U.S.!  Imagine five million kids reading a comic book each week….)

Panini Comics Deutschland  Once owned by Marvel in the 1990s, Panini is best known in the U.S. for their sticker albums.  In Germany, they license just about every American comics title available.

Reprodukt is a publisher of literary graphic novels.  If you flip through their catalogs, you’ll see the usual suspects.  A very good list!

Avant Verlag is a general publisher, but has a very strong catalog of original German graphic novels, as well as imports.

Tokyopop  [No!  Really!]  Apparently, Kodansha and Viz haven’t figured out the German market yet, so Tokyopop has the German licenses for Deathnote, Bleach, Hetalia…  as well as publishing local talent.

And some recommendations:

Comics in German have now made it into the mainstream of society. For this reason, more and more publishers are now showing an interest in the new forms of storytelling that are unique to this illustrated genre. Our selection demonstrates this with a wealth of new names, who represent a broad spectrum of both subject matter and graphical techniques. It was the term “graphic novel” that first broke the ice. Booksellers and readers alike expect that the comics listed under this heading will offer meaningful content as well as a wide diversity of styles. For instance, it is now just as common to see journalism in comic form as it is to find experimental design work in terms of page architecture or picture structure.
At the same time, an intriguing development can be seen with the rapid growth in the number of literary adaptations. This means comics are tapping into entirely new strata of readership.
They are now gaining some cachet among the sort of booklovers who would, until now, have been sceptical of the quality of their subject matter.
From fairy tales to novellas and novels, every literary genre now seems to provide a suitable challenge for the comics illustrator. Publishers such as Suhrkamp and Edition Büchergilde have even launched their own special comics series for adaptations of famous works.
German-language comics have therefore broken into a field that was hitherto covered only by foreign language publications. And new opportunities are emerging for illustrators, who for years have complained about the dearth of good stories. The enthusiastic reactions of readers and critics alike to the new works make it clear that the comic has now arrived in the German book market

[Heilig Bimbam!  Emil and the Detectives!?!]
If you have any more recommendations (either websites or graphic novels to read) please list them below!

0 Comments on 24 Hours of International Comics: Germany as of 4/3/2015 7:34:00 AM
Add a Comment
12. schwupp und weg: reeve & mcintyre hit frankfurt

Look! Seawigs have reached Germany! Here are some young rambling isles who we met last week at the European School in Bad Villbel, near Frankfurt.

Dressler, our German publisher, had asked us to go and visit some international schools to spread the word about Oliver and the Seawigs, or Schwupp und Weg as it’s known in those parts.

Our main host was Stephanie von Selchow who is the librarian at the European School in Frankfurt.

She’d arranged for us to do two sessions there, for her own students, and a visiting class from Textorschule, Sachsenhausen. A lot of the kids had already read Oliver and the Seawigs, so after we’d talked a bit about it we went on to Cakes in Space, which has just been published in Germany as Kekse im Kosmos. Most of the audience spoke good English, and it seemed to go down well... of course, some of the show needs no translation; the bit where I hit Philip over the head with a mandolin case goes down well in any language.

That afternoon we had a quick wander around Frankfurt, and tried to draw some of the odd but attractive nobbly linden trees which line the riverside.

They're quite tricky trees to draw, and I'd love to have another try at them. One of the school kids had a picture of this kind of tree in his Oliver and the Seawigs artwork and he got the funny shape of it just right.

Then it was off to the Literaturhaus restaurant, where we had dinner with Stephanie and some of her colleagues from ESF and other schools.

As you can see, it was very grand, and the food and company were first-rate.

The next morning we were picked up by Manuela Rossi, who whirled us down the Autobahn to Bad Villbel, where we talked Seawigs and Cakes to some of the students of the European School Rhine Main.

Utte, the librarian there, showed us some of the great artwork the children had produced, including this fantastic tower of houses. It looks a bit like a Traction City out of Philip’s Mortal Engines books.

Most amusing question of the day: Where did you get those GIGANTIC SHOES?

Then it was back on the Autobahn to yet another international school, Accadis in Bad Homburg.

We’d met Samantha Malmberg and Caitlin Wetsch from the school at the previous night’s dinner, so it was good to see them in their natural surroundings, and meet their students, who were VERY EXCITED TO SEE US.
Some of the classes had done whole whole projects on Oliver the Seawigs, complete with some great drawings.

And after that we had a little bit more time to mooch around Frankfurt...

...in the guise of Mitteleuropean crime-fighting duo Peek & Cloppenburg.

Strange things were going on in Frankfurt city centre. Nobody seemed to be bothered by the fact that the shopping mall was being devoured by a wormhole…

But we discovered a natty German-style TARDIS and were able to save the day.

And we both found excellent covers for our pop albums, should we ever find time to write and record them. Here’s Philip, waiting for the Trans-Europe Express…

Heaven knows what mine is going to sound like.

But whatever it is, it will be lovely: some things are Better Than Perfection.

Thanks to Stephanie, Utte, Sam and all the staff and volunteers who helped to make our visit to Frankfurt so enjoyable. We were very sad to leave!

Add a Comment
13. You Won’t Believe What’s Happening in Munich This Week!

Munich CC 2015 posterEvery other year, Munich hosts the Munich Comic Festival (Comicfestival München), which, like other continental comics festivals, offers a diverse international guest list while still celebrating the local talent!

For those who kann nicht Deustsch sprechen, here’s the official greeting:

The Munich Comic Festival is the second largest comic event of its kind in Germany and is alternating every other year with the Comic Salon in Erlangen. In 2015 it takes place from June 4 to June 7 with some of the exhibitions starting earlier and continuing after the festival. From Mai 7 to June 9 the exhibition “The Beatles in Comics” will be shown in the Valentin-Karlstadt-Musäum. Other exhibitions to be shown deal with Will Eisner at the Jewish Museum, Paco Roca and Jordi Lafebre will present their artwork in person at the Instituto Cervantes, Tom Bunk, who will be get our Peng! Award for his life’s work , will show his artwork in the Amerikahaus. And finally, the quaint Beer and Octoberfest Museum in the oldest private house of Munich will be in on the Festival.

Main location of the Festival from June 4 to 7 is the Alte Kongresshalle (Old Congress Hall) neighboring on the Oktoberfest site. Here, among other things, one can find the book fair of all the comic publishers under one roof. Also there will be drawing workshops and prominent comic artist will be available for autographs. There will also be various presentations and lectures as well as exhibits, e.g. the exhibit of artwork from our guest country Great Britain. There will also be a cosplay contest. Many prominent artists like Don Rosa, Dave McKean, Posy Simmonds, Jock, François Walthéry, Bryan Talbot, Vicki Scott, Goran Sudžuka, Rufus Dayglo or Denis Kitchen will once again be guests of the Festival.

In 2013 the Munich Comic Festival had some 12,000 visitors, not counting the many people who visited exhibits that were shown at various locations for free.

Let’s condense that: the second largest comics festival in Germany, in Munich next to the Oktoberfest grounds. (BAR-CON!) The German equivalent of Angoulême. Lots of British cartoonists. Rosa, McKean, Kitchen.

So, what’s going on?  Well…  Click on the blue headlines below for more information!

First, here’s the venue, built in the early 1950s:

Ground Floor

Munich CC 2015Upper Floor

(Yes, that is a bar. I suspect the pretzels are much better than those found in San Diego, especially if served with mustard!)

Munich cc 2015 2Panel rooms (and map key) (accessible to the left of the autographing stage)

Munich CC 2015 panel rooms


Kids under 10 are free, teens 11-18 €15 for four days, adults €20 for four days! Thursday through Sunday.



Yes, actual installations!  Beatles! The Spirit!  Uncle Scrooge!  Tom Bunk at the Amerika Haus!

Here’s a local map!
Munich CC 2015 exhibitions


(Or you can download the guidebook!) (It’s got a welcome message from the Lord Mayor of Munich! Which makes sense, since funding comes from local cultural agencies.)

Okay… this one gets highlighted!


Yup, that’s the German.  And it pretty much describes what it is…  Here’s the Google translation:

Together with the Palatinate cartoonist Dennis Hauck the Munich songwriter Alex Sebastian took the complete works of Sting before: The two sat among others lyrics hits like “King of Pain” or “Message in a Bottle” in amusing comic stories about, but also made ​​before more obscure Album titles not just what can happen when it is cloudy, but do not want to rain? Why not move the better combating rivals from one day to the other? Why takes the Queen even a taxi to the train station? How do you make a woman’s right?

The result is a unique live show with comic projections that applies not only to die-hard fans Sting, but for every music and comic lovers a must. After several previews the official premiere will now take place as part of the Comic Festival.



(Which might also mean sketching!)  Wow! Don Rosa will be autographing for 14 hours over 4 days, including one 4-hour block! Get there early!


Categories: Best German-Language Comic, Best European Comic, Best North American Comic, Best Comics Reporting, Best Books about Comics, Best Reprint, Best Film Adapation, Best Webcomic, Best Asian Manga, Best German Manga!

Dealers Room!

(FREE! But offsite. Saturday only.)


The MVG (the Munich transit agency) is sponsoring a comics competition.  Just go to the show, and draw a comic under the theme “Simply Mobile”.  The winner gets €200 and publication in MVGinfo, a magazine of 150,000 circulation.


This is kinda cool… each attendee gets a ticket, and uses that to vote for their favorite cosplayer! The ballots will then be used in a raffle! Oh, and if you come in costume on Saturday, your admission is half off!

Munich CC 2015 cosplay

0 Comments on You Won’t Believe What’s Happening in Munich This Week! as of 6/3/2015 4:47:00 PM
Add a Comment
14. Harald Siepermann’s Final Project ‘The Seventh Dwarf’ Will Receive U.S. Release

The fairytale mashup will be distributed by Shout! Factory .

0 Comments on Harald Siepermann’s Final Project ‘The Seventh Dwarf’ Will Receive U.S. Release as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
15. Award Winning Comics Announced at the Munich Comics Festival!

The Comicfestival München (Munich Comics Festival) was held last weekend, and numerous comics and graphic novels were honored with the Peng! Award, and the ICOM Independent Comics Award.

Tagesspiegel reports on the winners of the Peng!, and has incredible photos!

The nominees and winners (💬):


Das-UpGrade00000000Gung HoIrmina
GHETTO BROTHER: EINE GESCHICHTE AUS DER BRONX von Julian Voloj & Claudia Ahlering (avant)
GUNG HO von Benjamin von Eckartsberg & Thomas von Kumman (Cross Cult)
💬 IRMINA von Barbara Yelin (Reprodukt)
DER TRAUM VON OLYMPIA von Reinhard Kleist (Carlsen)
DAS UPGRADE von Ulf S. Graupner und Sascha Wüstefeld (Cross Cult)



DER ARABER VON MORGEN von Riad Sattouf (Knaus)

DER ATTENTÄTER von Henrik Rehr (Jacoby & Steward)

AYA von Clément Oubrerie und Marguerite Abouet (Reprodukt)

BLACKSAD # 5: Amerillo von Juan Diaz Canales und Juanjo Guarnido (Carlsen)

💬DER SCHIELENDE HUND von Étienne Davodeau (Egmont)




LOCKE & KEY # 6: ALPHA & OMEGA von Joe Hill und Gabriel Rodriquez (Panini)

PEANUTS – AUF ZU DEN STERNEN, CHARLIE BROWN von Vicky Scott u. a. (Cross Cult)

RACHEL RISING von Terry Moore (Schreiber & Leser)

SANDMAN: OUVERTÜRE # 1 von Neil Gaiman und J. H. Williams III (Panini)

💬HIER von Richard McGuire (Dumont)




DER COMIC – GESCHICHTE, STILE, KÜNSTLER von Klaus Schikowski (Reclam)
DEUTSCHE COMICFORSCHUNG von Eckard Sackmann (auch Hg.)




💬FLIEGENPAPIER von Hans Hillmann (avant)

DIE HAIE VON LAGOS von Matthias Schultheiss (Splitter)


SPIROU-GESAMTAUSGABE von André Franquin (Carlsen)

TARZAN von Burne Hogarth (Bocola)


BESTE COMICVERFILMUNG [Best Film Adaptation from a comic]:









💬BEETLEBUM von Johannes Kretzschmar

A HOUSE DIVIDED von Haiko Hörnig und Marius Pawlitza

NiGuNeGu von Oliver Mielke und Hannes Radke

SCHISSLAWENG von Marvin Clifford

WORMWORLDSAGA von Daniel Lieske



BILLY BAT von Naoki Urasawa und Takashi Nagasaki (Carlsen)

💬DER GOURMET von Jiro Taniguchi (Carlsen)

GUTE NACHT, PUNPUN von Inio Asano (Tokyopop)

MAGICAL GIRL OF THE END von Kentaro Sato (Tokyopop)

DIE MONSTER MÄDCHEN von Okayado (kaze)



💬78 TAGE AUF DER STRASSE DES HASSES von David Füleki (Tokyopop)

KIMI HE: WORTE AN DICH von Christina Plaka (Carlsen)

LOST CTRL von Evelyne Park (Carlsen)

MARTILLO’S MYSTERIOUS BOOKS von Luisa Velontrova (Tokyopop)

TEMPEST CURSE von Martina Peters (Carlsen)

From Tom Bunk’s blog: http://bunkstuff.blogspot.com/

In addition, Tom Bunk received a Lifetime Achievement Award, and Eckart Schott of Salleck Publications was honored for special services for the Munich comics scene.

ICOM Urkunde_2015On the same day, ICOM (Interessenverband Comic e.V., The Comic, Cartoon, Illustration and Cartoons Interest Group) announced their awards spotlighting independent comics. The link to the award winners is here, along with an index of past German comics award winners.  (ICOM dates back to 1994.)

Bester Independent Comic [Best Independent Comic]

„Als ich mal auf hoher See verschollen war“ von Maximilian Hillerzeder (Edition Kwimbi)

Bester Kurzcomic [Best Short Comic]

„Insel Karkinos“ von Tim Gaedke

Herausragendes Szenario [Outstanding Scenario]

„The Right Here Right Now Thing“ von Paulina Stulin (Jaja Verlag)

Herausragendes Artwork [Outstanding Artwork]

„Die kleine blaue Melancholie“ von Yi „Yinfinity“ Luo

Sonderpreis der Jury für eine bemerkenswerte Comicpublikation

[Special Jury Prize for a remarkable comic publication]

„Ach so ist das?!“ von Martina Schradi (Zwerchfell Verlag)

Sonderpreis der Jury für eine besondere Leistung oder Publikation [Special Jury Prize for a special performance or publication]

Comic Solidarity (Eva Junker, Lukas Wilde, Sebastian Kempke)

Honorable Mentions

„Mister Origami“ von Bastian Baier und Robert Mühlich (Zwerchfell Verlag)

„Mondo 2“ Herausgeber: Tim Gaedke

„Oh 3“ (Zwerchfell Verlag)

„Penner“ von Christopher Burgholz (Jaja Verlag)

“Lebensfenster 2015″ Kurt-SchalkerPreis für graphisches Blogen [“Life Window (?!) 2015″ Kurt-Schalke Prize for graphical blogs AKA biocomics on the web]

Hillerkiller von Maximilian Hillerzeder


0 Comments on Award Winning Comics Announced at the Munich Comics Festival! as of 6/9/2015 10:02:00 AM
Add a Comment
16. Did the League of Nations ultimately fail?

The First World War threw the imperial order into crisis. New states emerged, while German and Ottoman territories fell to the allies who wanted to keep their acquisitions. In the following three videos Susan Pedersen, author of The Guardians, discusses the emegence of the League of Nations and its role in imperial politics.

The post Did the League of Nations ultimately fail? appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Did the League of Nations ultimately fail? as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
17. Illustrated map of Hamm, Germany

illustrated map
Illustrated map of a small part of Hamm, Germany.

0 Comments on Illustrated map of Hamm, Germany as of 7/28/2015 11:23:00 AM
Add a Comment
18. Philosopher of the month: Hannah Arendt

The OUP Philosophy team have selected Hannah Arendt (4 October 1906- 4 December 1975) as their September Philosopher of the Month. Born into a Jewish German family, Arendt was widely known for her contributions to the field of political theory, writing on the nature of totalitarian states, as well as the resulting byproducts of violence and revolution.

The post Philosopher of the month: Hannah Arendt appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Philosopher of the month: Hannah Arendt as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
19. 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

0 Comments on Ashes by Kathryn Lasky as of 10/24/2014 8:09:00 AM
Add a Comment
20. Gentlemen, Samurai, and Germans in China

One hundred years ago today, far from the erupting battlefields of Europe, a small German force in the city of Tsingtau (Qingdao), Germany’s most important possession in China, was preparing for an impending siege. The small fishing village of Qingdao and the surrounding area had been reluctantly leased to the German Empire by the Chinese government for 99 years in 1898, and German colonists soon set about transforming this minor outpost into a vibrant city boasting many of the comforts of home, including the forerunner of the now-famous Tsingtao Brewery. By 1914, Qingdao had over 50,000 residents and was the primary trading port in the region. Given its further role as the base for the Far East Fleet of the Imperial German Navy, however, Qingdao was unable to avoid becoming caught up in the faraway European war.

The forces that besieged Qingdao in the autumn of 1914 were composed of troops from Britain and Japan, the latter entering the war against Germany in accord with the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. The Alliance had been agreed in 1902 amid growing anxiety in Britain regarding its interests in East Asia, and rapidly modernizing Japan was seen as a useful ally in the region. For Japanese leaders, the signing of such an agreement with the most powerful empire of the day was seen as a major diplomatic accomplishment and an acknowledgement of Japan’s arrival as one of the world’s great powers. More immediately, the Alliance effectively guaranteed the neutrality of third parties in Japan’s looming war with Russia, and Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 sent shockwaves across the globe as the first defeat of a great European empire by a non-Western country in a conventional modern war.

Samurai!: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. Photo taken by Lorianne DiSabato available on Flickr (Creative Commons).
Samurai!: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. By Lorianne DiSabato. CC-BY-NC-ND-3.0 via Flickr.

In Britain, Japan’s victory was celebrated as a confirmation of the strength of its Asian ally, and represented the peak of a fascination with Japan in Britain that marked the first decade of the twentieth century. This culminated in the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition in London, which saw over eight million visitors pass through during its six-month tenure. In contrast, before the 1890s, Japan had been portrayed in Britain primarily as a relatively backward yet culturally interesting nation, with artists and intellectuals displaying considerable interest in Japanese art and literature. Japan’s importance as a military force was first recognized during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, and especially from the time of the Russo-Japanese War, Japan’s military prowess was popularly attributed to a supposedly ancient warrior spirit that was embodied in ‘bushido’, or the ‘way of the samurai’.

The ‘bushido’ ideal was popularized around the world especially through the prominent Japanese educator Nitobe Inazo’s (1862-1933) book Bushido: The Soul of Japan, which was originally published in English in 1900 and achieved global bestseller status around the time of the Russo-Japanese War (a Japanese translation first appeared in 1908). The British public took a positive view towards the ‘national spirit’ of its ally, and many saw Japan as a model for curing perceived social ills. Fabian Socialists such as Beatrice Webb (1858-1943) and Oliver Lodge (1851-1940) lauded the supposed collectivism of ‘bushido’, while Alfred Stead (1877-1933) and other promoters of the Efficiency Movement celebrated Japan’s rapid modernization. For his part, H.G. Wells 1905 novel A Modern Utopia included a ‘voluntary nobility’ called ‘samurai,’ who guided society from atop a governing structure that he compared to Plato’s ideal republic. At the same time, British writers lamented the supposed decline of European chivalry from an earlier ideal, contrasting it with the Japanese who had seemingly managed to turn their ‘knightly code’ into a national ethic followed by citizens of all social classes.

The ‘bushido boom’ in Britain was not mere Orientalization of a distant society, however, but was strongly influenced by contemporary Japanese discourse on the subject. The term ‘bushido’ only came into widespread use around 1900, and even a decade earlier most Japanese would have been bemused by the notion of a national ethic based on the former samurai class. Rather than being an ancient tradition, the modern ‘way of the samurai’ developed from a search for identity among Japanese intellectuals at the end of the nineteenth century. This process saw an increasing shift away from both Chinese and European thought towards supposedly native ideals, and the former samurai class provided a useful foundation. The construction of an ethic based on the ‘feudal’ samurai was given apparent legitimacy by the popularity of idealized chivalry and knighthood in nineteenth-century Europe, with the notion that English ‘gentlemanship’ was rooted in that nation’s ‘feudal knighthood’ proving especially influential. This early ‘bushido’ discourse profited from the nationalistic fervor following Japan’s victory over China in 1895, and the concept increasingly came to be portrayed as a unique and ancient martial ethic. At the same time, those theories that had drawn inspiration from European models came to be ignored, with one prominent Japanese promoter of ‘bushido’ deriding European chivalry as ‘mere woman-worship’.

In the first years of the twentieth century, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance contributed greatly to the positive reception in Britain of theories positing a Japanese ‘martial race’, and the fate of ‘bushido’ in the UK demonstrated the effect of geopolitics on theories of ‘national characteristics’. By 1914, British attitudes had begun to change amid increasing concern regarding Japan’s growing assertiveness. Even the Anglo-Japanese operation that finally captured Qingdao in November was marked by British distrust of Japanese aims in China, a sentiment that was strengthened by Japan’s excessive demands on China the following year. Following the war, Japan’s reluctance to return the captured territory to China caused British opposition to Japan’s China policy to increase, leading to the end of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1923. The two countries subsequently drifted even further apart, and by the 1930s, ‘bushido’ was popularly described in Britain as an ethic of treachery and cruelty, only regaining its positive status after 1945 through samurai films and other popular culture as Japan and Britain again became firm allies in the Cold War.

Headline image credit: Former German Governor’s Residence in Qingdao, by Brücke-Osteuropa. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Gentlemen, Samurai, and Germans in China appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Gentlemen, Samurai, and Germans in China as of 11/1/2014 5:05:00 AM
Add a Comment
21. The Road to Ypres

Time passes quickly. As we track the progression of events hundred years ago on the Western Front, the dramas flash by. In the time it takes to answer an e-mail the anniversary of another battle has come and gone.

We have celebrated the fumbling British skirmishes at Mons and Le Cateau in late August, but largely forgotten the French triumph at the Battle of the Marne which first stemmed and threw back the German wheeling attack through Belgium into Northern France under the Schlieffen Plan. We have already bypassed the spirited Franco-British attempts at the Battle of the Aisne in September to take the Chemin des Dames. The Race to the Sea was under way: the British and German Armies desperately trying to turn their enemy’s northern flank.

Throughout, the performance of the British Expeditionary Force has often been exaggerated. Imaginative accounts of Germans advancing in massed columns and being blown away by rapid rifle fire are common. A rather more realistic assessment is that the British infantry were steadfast enough in defence, but unable to function properly in coordination with their artillery or machine guns. The Germans seemed to have a far better grip of the manifold disciplines of modern warfare.

Yet everything changed in October. The Germans were scraping the barrel for manpower and decided to throw new reserve formations into the battle. Young men with the minimum of training, incapable of sophisticated battle tactics. They were marched forward in a last gambler’s throw of the dice to try and break through to the Channel Ports. To do that they needed first to capture the small Belgian city of Ypres.

One might have thought that Ypres was some fabled city, fought over to secure untold wealth or a commanding tactical position. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ypres was just an ordinary town, lying in the centre of the fertile Western Flanders plain. Yet the low ridges to the east represented one of the last feasible lines of defence. The British also saw the town, not as an end in itself, but as a stepping stone to more strategically important locations pushing eastwards, such as the rail centre at Roulers or the ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge. For both sides Ypres was on the road to somewhere.

The battle began in mid-October and soon began to boil up. Time and time the Germans hurled themselves forward, the grey-green hordes pressing forwards and being shot down in their hundreds. The British had learnt many lessons and this was where they finally proved themselves worthy adversaries for the German Army. On the evening of 23 October young Captain Harry Dillon was fighting for his life:

A great grey mass of humanity was charging, running for all God would let them, straight on to us not 50 yards off. Everybody’s nerves were pretty well on edge as I had warned them what to expect, and as I fired my rifle the rest all went off almost simultaneously. One saw the great mass of Germans quiver. In reality some fell, some fell over them, and others came on. I have never shot so much in such a short time, could not have been more than a few seconds and they were down. Suddenly one man – I expect an officer – jumped up and came on. I fired and missed, seized the next rifle and dropped him a few yards off. Then the whole lot came on again and it was the most critical moment of my life. Twenty yards more and they would have been over us in thousands, but our fire must have been fearful, and at the very last moment they did the most foolish thing they possibly could have done. Some of the leading people turned to the left for some reason, and they all followed like a great flock of sheep. We did not lose much time, I can give you my oath. My right hand is one huge bruise from banging the bolt up and down. I don’t think one could have missed at the distance and just for one short minute or two we poured the ammunition into them in boxfuls. My rifles were red hot at the finish. The firing died down and out of the darkness a great moan came. People with their arms and legs off trying to crawl away; others who could not move gasping out their last moments with the cold night wind biting into their broken bodies and the lurid red glare of a farm house showing up clumps of grey devils killed by the men on my left further down. A weird awful scene; some of them would raise themselves on one arm or crawl a little distance, silhouetted as black as ink against the red glow of the fire. [p. 287-288, Fire & Movement, by Peter Hart]

Some of the Germans had got within 25 yards of Dillon’s line. It had been a close run thing and after they had been relieved by the French later that night the French reported that some 740 German corpses littered the ground in front of his trenches. This was the real war: not a skirmishes like the earlier battles, this was the real thing.

Ypres at the close of World War I. In the center is the cathedral tower. At the right, the Cloth Hall. Collier's New Encyclopedia, v. 10, 1921, between pp. 468 and 469 (3rd plate). Via Wikimedia Commons.
Ypres at the close of World War I. In the center is the cathedral tower. At the right, the Cloth Hall. Source: Collier’s New Encyclopedia, v. 10, 1921, between pp. 468 and 469 (3rd plate). British Official Photo, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The German attacks continued, followed as day follows night, by French and British counter-attacks to restore the situation. The Germans nibbled at the Allied line but were unable to achieve anything of importance. Yet for all the sound and fury, over the next few days the front line stayed relatively static. The German troops were flagging in their efforts. After one last effort on 11 November the Germans threw in the towel. They would not break through the Allied lines in 1914. The British and French lines had held. Battered, bruised, but unbroken. The First Battle of Ypres had confirmed the strategic victory gained by the French at the Marne. The German advance in the west had been blocked, if they sought victory in 1915 they would have to look to the east and attack Russia.

The 1914 campaign would prove decisive to the war. The utter failure of the Schlieffen Plan, designed to secure the rapid defeat of France, meant that Germany would be condemned to ruinous hostilities on two fronts. This was the great turning-point of the whole war. The pre-war predictions from the German strategists that they could not prevail in a long-drawn out war against the combined forces of France and Russia proved accurate, especially when the British Empire and United States joined the fight. The German Army fought with a sustained skill and endurance, but after 1914, the odds really were stacked against them.

The post The Road to Ypres appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on The Road to Ypres as of 11/7/2014 7:27:00 PM
Add a Comment
22. The Berlin Wall: A Day that Changed the World

Back when Quercus books was starting out (even before they were called Quercus) I wrote a piece for them as proof of concept for a planned volume called Days that changed the World (to follow on from the successful Speeches that changed the World). In the end it became a book by Hywel Williams. I really liked my sample piece, mocked up for the Frankfurt bookfair, and now, on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I’d like other people to be able to read it.

Every wall will fall some day

“Every wall will fall some day”

It was 6.57 pm on Thursday 9 November 1989. In a press conference Günter Schabowski, head of the Berlin section of East Germany’s ruling party the SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany), was trying to answer a question put by an Italian journalist.

Earlier that day at the Politburo (Cabinet) meeting, the continued hemorrhaging of East German citizens to the West, through the increasingly open borders of its communist allies, had been discussed. It was decided that a system of permits would be introduced to allow travel into West Berlin. It was Günter Schabowski’s role to answer questions at the subsequent press conference, but he had only returned from holiday towards the end of the meeting and so missed much of the discussion. The question the journalist had asked was about this very issue of travel into West Berlin, so Schabowski was handed a piece of paper to help him give an answer. It was a press release intended for publication the following day. No one meant for him to read it out loud but that’s what he did. He was then asked when this would actually happen. Unaware of the proposed timetable he mistakenly announced to the surprised group of journalists before him that ‘this is immediate, without delay’.

 ‘As far as I know, this is immediate, without delay’ Günther Schabowski, Head of Berlin SED, 6:57pm

Within minutes the news wire services AP (Associated Press) and DPA (the German Press Agency) were reporting that East Germany had opened its borders to the West. The citizens of East Berlin flocked to the crossing points in the Wall hoping to gain access. Outnumbered and unprepared the border guards didn’t know what action to take. Telephone calls to their superiors apparently said ‘we’re flooding’ as they held back the ever-increasing crowds. Finally, around 10.30 pm at Bornholmer Strasse they bowed to the inevitable and opened the crossing. After 10,315 days stretching across 28 years the antifaschistischer Schutzwall (Anti-Fascist Protection Wall), the physical symbol of the Iron Curtain across Europe, had finally fallen.

‘I won’t believe it until I’m on the other side’ unknown East Berlin woman

‘We’re flooding’ East German border police

The 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall was the pivotal moment in a dramatic year across Europe. This followed in the wake of the new philosophies of Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (restructuring) coming from Mikhail Gorbachev in The Kremlin. The Poles with their powerful Solidarity trades union were impatient for reform and on 5 April the communist government there agreed to hold free elections. In May, Gorbachev came to West Germany to meet with Chancellor Kohl. He informed Kohl that the Brezhnev doctrine was over – that Russia was no longer prepared to use force to control the satellite states that comprised the Soviet Union. At once the government in Hungary announced its intention to begin the dismantling of the Iron Curtain along the border with Austria. The floodgates were open.

East Germans began pouring into Hungary en route to what they hoped was a new life in the West. The scale of the exodus was unprecedented. Some were allowed through into Austria while others who were turned back ended up camping in the grounds of the West German Embassy in Prague in Czechoslovakia.

A weekly peace vigil had begun on Mondays in the East German city of Leipzig. At first the numbers were small, but despite sometimes violent police action they grew. On 4 September there were a thousand demonstrators – by 16 October there were 120,000. Loudspeakers proclaimed their words of opposition throughout the city:

We, the people, demand:

  • the right to free access of information
  • the right to open political discussions
  • the freedom of thought and creativity
  • the right to maintain a plural ideology
  • the right to dissent
  • the right to travel freely
  • the right to exert influence over government authority
  • the right to re-examine our beliefs
  • the right to voice an opinion in the affairs of state

The Leipzig protests

Gorbachev had returned to Berlin as guest of honour for the 40th anniversary of the East German state on 7 October. In front of the Palace of the Republic the celebrations turned to protest as the crown cried out for Gorbachev to help them. The demonstration was broken up by the police with a thousand arrests. In a warning to the SED Gorbachev announced ‘Wer zu spät kommt, den bestraft das Leben’ (whoever comes too late is punished by life). In East Germany this was seen as a tacit acknowledgement that the old order was over. Following Gorbachev’s comments and the ever-increasing demonstrations against him, East German President Eric Honecker, who as late as June had claimed the Wall would last for another ‘50 or 100 years’, resigned on 18 October.

Honecker was the original builder of the Wall. More than two and a half million East Germans had escaped to West Germany between 1949 and 1961, an unsustainable drain on the communist state’s resources. Because of this the first East German President, Walter Ulbricht, had secretly decided a wall must be built. He sought the then Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s permission to make his plan a reality. At midnight on the morning of Sunday 13 August 1961, Honecker, responsible for security on the SED Central Committee and so the overseer of the construction of the Wall, sealed the border with West Berlin while the citizens in the east slept. In preparation for the day he had stored 25 miles (40 km) of barbed wire and thousands of fence posts in barracks around the city. This was brought out and the Wall was erected behind a line of 25,000 armed police, posted every six feet along the border.

The resignation of Honecker saw him replaced by another hardliner, Egon Krenz, but the exodus from East Germany continued apace. On Tuesday 7 November the government of East Germany resigned en masse appealing to the public that ‘in this serious situation, all energies be concentrated on keeping up all functions indispensable to the people, society and the economy.’ The plan was that the ministers would remain in office until a new government could be formed. The next day the entire Politburo also resigned. However, the Central Committee of the SED unanimously re-elected Egon Krenz as leader. That afternoon party members elected a new Politburo who would meet for the first time the following day under Krenz’s leadership. The rapid changes in the administration and personnel were perhaps the reason for Günter Schabowski’s confused announcement on the fateful evening.


As night fell on 9 November a street party spread all across West Berlin that lasted several days. As each East German Trabi drove across Checkpoint Charlie its driver honked its horn and was cheered by the masses. East German border guards joined the celebrations and were presented with flowers by delighted West Berliners. East Germans were pouring into West Berlin with no money, so it was quickly announced that possession of an East German passport would entitle the bearer to free public transport and museum admission across the city.

‘Berlin was out of control. There was no more government, neither in East nor in West. The police and the army were helpless. The soldiers themselves were overwhelmed by the event. They were part of the crowd. Their uniforms meant nothing. The Wall was down.’ From a personal account by Andreas Ramos, a Dane in Berlin

‘Soon after the announcement was made, my family and I went to the wall with hammers and chisels in order to help knock it down. There were hundreds of people there already. I was surprised at just how difficult it was to break a piece of wall off: it was made of such hard material. Looking at gaps which others before me had managed to create, I could see the thick iron wires which were between the concrete layers making up the wall. One thing I did notice about the wall was that the West side was covered in graffiti and the East was perfectly clean: the East Berliners were not allowed near the wall. I had fun knocking away at the wall, and did manage to break of small chunks, which I still have today.’ From a personal account by Louise Hopper, then a 14 year old English girl living in West Berlin

Tear down the wall

The next day, Friday, saw the announcement of free elections in East Germany to take place the following year. Then, on Sunday 12 November, the Wall was opened at the historic Potsdamer Platz (Potsdam Square) by the mayors from each half of the previously divided city. Walter Momper, Mayor of West Berlin proclaimed ‘Potsdam Square is the old heart of Berlin and it will beat again as it used to.’ Six weeks later the historic Brandenburg Gate, was also reopened in front of enormous crowds.

Systematic demolition of the Wall began on 13 June the following year and Germany was finally reunited on 3 October 1990. However, a watching world that had been caught in the grip of the Cold War for so long remembers 9 November 1989 as the day it ended – the day the Berlin Wall fell.

Add a Comment
23. The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

This novel opens on October 27, 1942.  Helmuth Hübener, 17, has been imprisoned on death row in Plotzensee Prison, Berlin, charged with high treason against the Third Reich.  He had hoped the court would show lenicency because of his age, but that hope was now gone.  Sentenced to death, Helmuth recalls, in a series of flashbacks, the events in his life that led him to this day.

As a young child living in Hamburg, Helmuth hears his grandparents talk about their dislike of the Nazis and their leader, Adolf Hitler and Opa's predictions that Hitler wants war.  But Helmuth likes playing with his toy soldiers and thinks maybe he will be a soldier when he is old enough to fight.

But when Hitler seizes power in 1933, Helmuth sees everything around him change.  Teachers and schoolmates show their support for the new chancellor and begin harassing the Jewish students, Germans are told to boycott Jewish stores, enforced by SS and SA destroying their businesses.  Un-German books and movies are forbidden, and Helmuth is afraid that means Karl May's beloved stories about America's wild west, until his brother Gerhard tells him they are Hitler's favorites, too.

In 1935, Helmuth's mother begins seeing a Nazi named Hugo Hübener.  Hugo changes everything in their home and after the two marry, moves the family away from Opa and Oma.

In 1938, at age 12, Helmuth begins a new school, where he is immediately labelled a troublemaker by his teacher, a Nazi.  He is punished by having to write an essay with the title "Adolf Hitler: Savior of the Fatherland."  Helmuth knows he must bite the bullet and write the essay his teacher expects and in the end, even his teacher has to admit that he is a talented writer.  Helmuth is also required to join the Jungvolk, the younger version of the Hitler Youth.

When his older brother Gerhard is inducted into the army in 1939, he is sent to Paris for training.  Once the war begins, Helmuth suspects that the Reich's radio is not giving the German people the truth about what is going on.  When Gerhard returns from France, he bring a new forbidden short wave radio back with him., but hides it and tells Helmuth to leave it alone.  At first, Helmuth resists the temptation to listen to it, but after a while he can't resist any longer and each night, sets up the radio to hear the BBC broadcasts done in German.  And just as he suspected, the German people are indeed being lied to about German successes in the war.

Helmuth, who is a devout Mormon and who practices his faith throughout, convinces his two best friends from church, Rudi Wobbe and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, to help him create leaflets transcribing the BBC broadcasts to be distributed all over Hamburg.

Helmuth, Rudi and Karl are turned into the Gestapo by a supposed friend, put on trial and sentenced. Helmuth is the only one sentenced to death for high treason.  He had promised Rudi and Karl he would  take full responsibility, so they were only sentenced to imprisonment for a few years (which were shortened more when Germany lost the war).

It is through the flashbacks, that Bartoletti skillfully shows us Helmuth's development from a child who enthusiastically  supports the Nazis to an adolescent who critically questions what he sees going on around him to a courageous young man willing to risk death in order to tell people the truth about Hitler and the Nazis.  It makes for a very powerful story.

The Boy Who Dared is historical fiction based on a true story and is one of the reasons why Helmuth's story is so compelling.  I think that it is important for today's readers to understand that not everyone in Germany supported Hitler and his politics, but so many chose to remain silence about their feelings, like Helmuth's mother who told him that silence is how people get on sometimes. (pg 95)  In fact, we never really know how Helmuth's mother really feels.  She married a Nazi, but her family was basically against Hitler.

At the back of the novel, there are photographs of Helmuth, his friends and family, as well as an extensive, not to be skipped over Author's Note explaining how Bartoletti researched the novel and the people she interviewed.

Helmuth was the youngest resister of the Third Reich to be executed.  His story really makes you stop
Helmuth, age 16
and think about whether or not you might have had the kind of courage of your convictions that Helmuth had.  Did his actions impact anyone who knew him or read the leaflets he wrote?  Except for his stepfather, Hugo, who did become a changed man after Helmuth's execution,we will never know, but hopefully Helmuth's story will inspire others to find courage within themselves to speak out against injustice and lies regardless.

If you are moved by The Boy Who Dared, and would like to know more about what life was like for young people like Helmeth during the Third Reich, then be sure to look at Susan Campbell Bartoletti's excellent nonfiction book Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow. 

Scholastic offers an extensive lesson plan/discussion guide for readers of The Boy Who Dared which you can find HERE 

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

0 Comments on The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti as of 11/18/2014 12:45:00 PM
Add a Comment
24. Fassbinder's Lili Marleen

I attended a screening of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1980 film Lili Marleen at the Fassbinder: Romantic Anarchist series at Lincoln Center last weekend, and it was an extraordinary experience. This is one of Fassbinder's weirdest and in some ways most problematic films, a movie for which he had a relatively giant budget and got lots of publicity, but which has since become among the most hard-to-find Fassbinder films (which is really saying something!). Despite a lot of searching, I didn't come upon a reasonably-priced copy of it until I recently discovered an Australian DVD (seemingly out of print now) that was a library discard.

The story of Lili Marleen is relatively simple, and is very loosely based on the wartime experiences of Lale Andersen, whose performance of the title song was immensely popular, and whose book Der Himmel hat viele Farben is credited in the film. A mildly talented Berlin cabaret singer named Willie (Hannah Schygulla) falls in love with a Jewish musician named Robert (Giancarlo Giannini), whose father (Mel Ferrer) is head of a powerful resistance organization based in Switzerland, and who does not approve of the love affair or Robert's proposal of marriage. A Nazi officer (Karl Heinz von Hassel) hears Willie perform one night, is captivated by her, and guides her into recording the song "Lili Marleen", which unexpectedly becomes a song beloved of all soldiers everywhere on Earth. Willie becomes a rich and famous star, summoned even by Hitler himself, while Robert continues to work for the resistance and ends up marrying someone else. By the end of the war, Robert is a great musician and conductor and Willie seems mostly forgotten, many of her friends dead or imprisoned, and Robert lost to her. She had no convictions aside from her love of Robert, but that love was not enough. (I should note here that there are interesting overlaps between the film and Kurt Vonnegut's great novel Mother Night. But that's a topic for another day...)

I was surprised to find that Lincoln Center was using the German dub of the film rather than the English-language original (it was a multinational production, so English was the lingua franca, and, given the dominance of English-language film, presumably made it easier to market). It was interesting to see Lili Marleen in German, but unfortunately the print did not come subtitled, and so Lincoln Center added subtitles by apparently having someone click on prepared blocks of text. The effect was bizarre: not only were the subtitles sometimes too light to read, but they were often off from what the actors were saying, and when the subtitler would get behind, they would simply click through whole paragraphs of text to catch up. My German's not great, but I was familiar with the film and can pick up enough German to know what was going on and where the subtitles belonged, but I missed plenty of details. The effect was to render the film more dreamlike and far less coherent in terms of plot and character relations than it actually is. Not a bad experience, though, as it heightened a lot of the effects Fassbinder seemed to be going for.

Afterward, I said to my companion, "That was like watching an anti-Nazi movie made in the style of Nazi movies." I'd vaguely had a similar feeling when I first watched the DVD, but it wasn't so vivid for me as when we watched the German version with terrible subtitling — my first experience of Nazi films was of unsubtitled 16mm prints and videotapes my WWII-obsessed father watched when I was a kid.

When I got home, I started looking through some of the critical writings on the film, and came across Laura J. Heins's contribution to A Companion to Rainer Werner Fassbinder: "Two Kinds of Excess: Fassbinder and Veit Harlan", which interestingly compares Lili Marleen to the aesthetics of one of the most prominent of Nazi filmmakers (and a relative-by-marriage of Stanley Kubrick).

Lili Marleen was controversial when it was released, not only because it is probably Fassbinder's most over-the-top melodrama, a film that defies both the expectations of good taste and of mainstream storytelling, but also because it arrived at a time when what Susan Sontag dubbed (in February 1975) "fascinating fascism" was on the wane (The Damned was 1969, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS was October 1975, as if to bring everything Sontag described to an absurd climax) while interest in earnest representations of the Nazis and the Holocaust was on the rise (Holocaust 1978, The Tin Drum 1979, The Last Metro 1980, Playing for Time 1980, Mephisto 1981, Sophie's Choice 1982, The Winds of War 1983, etc.). Lili Marleen is much closer to The Damned (a film Fassbinder loved) in its effect than to the films with similar subject matter released in the years around it, and so its contrast from the prevailing aesthetic regime was stark, leading to what seems to have been in some critics utter revulsion. It's notable that Mephisto, a film with very similar themes* and a significantly different aesthetic, could win an Oscar, but though Germany submitted Lili Marleen to the Academy, it was not nominated — and I'd bet few people were surprised it was not.

Even though it exudes the signs of a pop culture aesthetic, Lili Marleen can't actually be assimilated into the popular culture it was released into, partly because the aesthetic it's drawing from is passé and partly because it is deliberately at odds with conventional expectations. In a chapter on Lili Marleen in Fassbinder's Germany, Thomas Elsaesser writes that "coincidence and dramatic irony are presented as terrible anticlimaxes. With its asymmetries and non-equivalences, the film disturbs the formal closure of popular narrative, while still retaining all the elements of popular story-telling."

At the time of its release, there was much handwringing about the ability of works of art to create a desire or nostalgia for fascism in audiences, and Lili Marleen became Exhibit A. Heins quotes Brigitte Peucker: "One wonders whether, in Lili Marleen, Fassbinder’s parodistic style is not unrecognizable as parody to most spectators, and whether his central alienation effect, the song itself, does not instead run the danger of drawing us in." This is absurd. Fassbinder's style is parodistic, but it's also much more than that — it is multimodal in its excess — and I have about as much ability to imagine an audience member getting a good ol' nostalgic lump in the throat and tear in the eye while watching it as I have the ability to imagine someone watching Inglourious Bastards and mistaking it for Night and Fog.

Heins paraphrases Peucker as apparently thinking that "the often repeated title song may ultimately generate more sentimental affect than irritation". I can't believe that, either. For those of us who are not especially misty-eyed about the long lost days of the 1,000-year Reich, the song becomes as grating as it does for the character of Robert (Giancarlo Giannini), who gets locked in a cell with a couple lines of the song playing over and over and over again. What begins as sentimentality becomes, through repetition, torture.

The song is repeated so much that even if it doesn't irritate, it is stripped of meaning, and that's central to the point of the story, as Elsaesser describes:
When Willie says, "I only sing", she is not as politically naive or powerless as she may appear. Just as her love survives because she withdraws it from all possible objects and objectifications, so her song, through its very circularity, becomes impervious to the powers and structures in which it is implicated. Love and song are both, by the end of the film, empty signs. This is their strength, their saving grace, their redemptive innocence, allowing Fassbinder to acknowledge the degree to which his own film is inscribed within a system (of production, distribution and reception) already in place, waiting to be filled by an individual, who lends the enterprise the appearance of intentionality, design and desire for self-expression. 
One of the things I love about Lili Marleen is that its mode is utter and obvious kitsch, undeniable kitsch. It highlights the kitschiness not only of the Nazi aesthetic (which plenty of people have done, not least, though unintentionally, the Nazis themselves), but to some extent also of many movies about the Nazis. (I kept thinking of the awful TV mini-series Holocaust while watching it this time, and Elsaesser makes that connection as well.) We love to use the Nazis and the Holocaust for sentimental purposes, and representations of the Nazis and Holocaust often unintentionally veer off into poshlost. To intentionally do so is dangerous, even as critique, because it is too easy to fall into parody and render fascism as something absurd and ridiculous, but not insidious. The genius of Lili Marleen is that the insidiousness remains. It's what nags at us afterward, what lingers beneath the occasional laughter at the excess. There is a discomfort to this film, and it's not just the discomfort of undeniable parody — it is the discomfort of realizing how easily we can be drawn in to the structures being parodied: the suspense, the action, the breathless and improbable love story, the twists and turns, the pageantry, the displays of wealth and power. Our desires are easily teased, our expectations set like booby traps, and again and again those desires and expectations are frustrated and mercilessly mocked.

It's worth thinking about the place of anti-Semitism in Lili Marleen (and Fassbinder's work generally), because this was also part of the uproar over the film, an uproar that was really a continuity of the complaints about Fassbinder's extremely controversial play Garbage, the City, and Death. While not as brazenly playing with anti-Semitic imagery and language, Lili Marleen does give us a very powerful Jewish patriarch in Robert's father, played by Mel Ferrer, a character that can be seen in a variety of ways — certainly, he is an impediment to Robert and Willie's romance (clearly wanting his son to marry a nice Jewish girl), but I also think that Ferrer's performance gives him some warmth and grace that the Nazi characters lack. Nonetheless, while Lili Marleen is very obviously an anti-Nazi film, it's not so obviously an anti-anti-Semitic film (though there is a quick shot of a concentration camp, and Willie redeems herself by sneaking evidence of the camps out of Poland). Heins writes:
It cannot, of course, be concluded that the Absent One of all of Fassbinder’s films is The Jew, or that the sense of danger created by an unseen presence is racialized or nationalized, as it is in Harlan’s film [Jud Süss]. The malevolent other of Fassbinder’s films is more properly patriarchy and the police state, acting in the service of a repressive bourgeois order. In the case of Lili Marleen, however, we must conclude that Fassbinder did fail to effectively counteract the Harlanesque paranoid delusion of total Jewish power, if only because The Jew in this film is described as capitalist patriarchy’s main representative.
That point is astute, though for me it highlight the (sometimes dangerous) complexity of Lili Marleen: by employing certain features of Nazi storytelling, by putting clichés (aesthetic, narrative, political) at the center of his technique, and by seeking to wed this to the sort of anti-capitalist, anti-normative-family ideas common to his work from the beginning, Fassbinder ends up in a bind, one that forces him to trust that the various opposing forces render all the clichés hollow enough that performing and representing them does not give them new validity or justification — that the paranoia and delusion remain legible as paranoia and delusion. I think they do, but I feel less certain of that than the certainty I feel against the old accusations of glamourizing Nazism.

In addition to the title song, Lili Marleen includes an ostentatiously schmaltzy score by Fassbinder's frequent collaborator Peer Raben. It's schmaltzy, but also very sly — as Roger Hillman points out on the Australian DVD commentary, Raben includes brief homages to composers and works that the Nazis would not have looked fondly on, such as Saint-Saëns' Samson and Delilah. This technique is similar to the film's entire strategy: to booby-trap what on the surface is an overwrought deployment of old tropes.

Finally, a note on the acting: sticking with the concept of the film as a whole, the acting is generally a bit off: sometimes wooden, sometimes unconvincingly emotional. (It's acting a la Brecht via Sirk via Fassbinder.) The more I watch it, though, the more taken I am by Hannah Schygulla's performance. On the surface, it's an appropriately "bad" performance, one redolent of the acting style of melodramas in general and Nazi melodramas in particular. And yet Schygulla's great achievement is to find nuance within that — hers is not a parodic performance, though it easily could have veered into that. Instead, while abiding by the terms of melodramatic acting, it also gives us a transformation: Willie starts out awkward, not particularly talented, a sort of country bumpkin ... and she becomes a poised, distant, sculpted icon ... and then a refugee from all she has ever known and loved. There's still a sense of possibility at the end, though, and one Schygulla's performance is vital for: a sense that Willie may reinvent herself, may find, in this newly ruined world, a path toward new life.

Elsaesser suggests that Lili Marleen can be seen within the context of some of the other films Fassbinder made around it:
the three films of the BRD trilogy — shot out of sequence — are held together by the possibility that they form sequels. If we add the film that was made between Maria Braun and Lola, namely Lili Marleen which clearly has key themes in common with the trilogy, then Lili Marleen's status in the series might be that of a "prequel" chronologically: 1938-1946 Lili Marleen, 1945-1954 Maria Braun, 1956 Veronika Voss, 1957 Lola. Four women, four love stories, four ambiguous gestures of complicity and resistance.
It could be a tagline for so many of Fassbinder's films, not the least Lili Marleen: Ambiguous gestures of complicity and resistance. For a world entering the era of Thatcher, Kohl, and (especially) Reagan, Lili Marleen was a most appropriate foil.

*In one scene of Fassbinder's film, Willie looks through a magazine and we quickly glance a picture of Gustaf Gründgens as Mephistopheles.

0 Comments on Fassbinder's Lili Marleen as of 11/21/2014 1:12:00 PM
Add a Comment
25. The Tattered Prayer Book by Ellen Bari, illustrated by Avi Katz

When young Ruthie finds a tattered prayer book in a box of old photographs marked Germany in her grandmother's house, she gets quite a surprise.  The prayer book in written in Hebrew and German and had apparently been burned.  Even more surprising - her grandmother tells Ruthie that the book came from Germany and it belongs to her father.

When Ruthie asks her dad about it, he tells her that he was born and lived a happy life in Hamburg with his family, and with lots of cousins and friends.  But, when the Nazis took over the government in 1933, all that changed.  Soon, Jews weren't allowed in restaurants, movie theaters, libraries, schools.  Old friends became instant bullies.

Then, in November 1938, Nazis began a night of destruction, Kristallnacht, destroying Jewish business and synagogues, setting them on fire.  When Ruthie's dad saw what was left of his synagogue, he also saw burnt prayer books all over.  He reached for one and hid it in his coat - a reminder of the place where he had once been so happy.

One day, while he and his father were in a shop, Nazis came down the road probably to arrest the men.  Ruthie's Grandpa slipped out the back door, while her dad ran home to tell his mother what happened.  Days later, Grandpa came back home and told his family he had to leave, sailing for America with his son Fred.

Every night, her dad opened his burnt, tattered prayer book and prayed.  Finally, in June 1939, visas arrived for Ruthie's dad, mother and brother Sid.  Other friends and family members were leaving Germany, too, for Argentina and Israel.  Others, sadly, had to remain in Germany.

On board the ship, after the Sabbath candles were lit, Ruthie's dad showed the prayer book to his mother, expecting her to be angry, but she wanted it to be a reminder of the good life they had had in Germany and a source of strength for the future.

Recalling what happened so long ago in his life in Germany, after making such an effort to forget it all, Ruthie's father realizes how important that burnt, tattered prayer book had been to him and how much what it symbolized is an important part of himself.

The burnt prayer book is a symbol of both the happy, good life Ruthie's dad and his family shared before the Nazis came to power, and at the same time, the terrible years that followed.

Often, when we talk about the Holocaust, it is about the mass roundups of Jews, the death camps they were sent to, and the attempt to systematically destroy an entire race of people.  But nothing happens in a vacuum and neither did the Holocaust.  Between the years 1933 and 1938, Jews were subject to all kinds of degrading treatment by Hitler's henchman in the SA and the SS, and by ordinary citizens who turned their backs on friends overnight.

In The Tattered Prayer Book, Ellen Bari has written an informative, but gentle picture book for older readers (age 7+) about those deplorable years in a way that kids will definitely understand.  It is an ideal book for parents who wish to introduce their children about the Holocaust themselves before they learn about it in school.  Teachers, however, will also find it to be an excellent book for teaching the Holocaust, as well.

The illustrations by Avi Katz are done in sepia-tones that are reminiscent of old photographs and burnt paper, again reflecting that balance of good and bad times that the prayer book represents.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was sent to me by the publisher

0 Comments on The Tattered Prayer Book by Ellen Bari, illustrated by Avi Katz as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment

View Next 25 Posts