Watching the gold medal men’s ice hockey game of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games, I was disappointed to see that the two teams, Germany and Olympic Athletes from Russia, wore sweaters that read “Germany” and “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” Yes, I certainly appreciate that I can go just about anywhere and be able to speak English with someone. But if only for the sake of style points, why can’t the teams label themselves “Deutschland” and “олимпийские спортсмены из России”? And for the latter to render their names in Cyrillic on the backs of their sweaters? Have some self-respect!
One of the delights of traveling is seeing what foreign countries put on their currency (it’s even better when the exchange rate works in your favor). For no real reason, here are some shots of the leftover bills in my possession.
• It goes without saying that Kemal Atatürk should appear on the obverse of all Turkish bills (he’s on all the coins too).
Other people only appear on the back, like Aydın Sayılı, historian of science.
It’s nice how they vary the portraits of Atatürk, and how many of them have him smiling (unlike, say, those of Mussolini or Lenin).
On the reverse of the twenty lira note, a portrait of Ahmet Kemalettin, designated Mimar Kemalettin (“Kemalettin the Architect”), who was active in the late Ottoman and early Republican periods.
• Egyptian bills have two sides, which I would designate “tourist” and “local.” The tourist side features motifs from ancient Egypt, English writing, and western numerals.
The local side features Arabic writing, real Arabic numerals, and Muslim architecture, in this case the Al-Rifa’i Mosque in Cairo (which I saw; it is beautiful and actually houses the tomb of the last Shah of Iran).
The fifty pound note follows the same pattern: the tourist side has the Temple of Edfu…
…the local side has the Abu Huraiba Mosque (according to Wikipedia, anyway – I did not get to see it).
By the way, here is a clock face from the Cairo metro, showing the full range of Eastern Arabic numerals. Prior to this trip I had no idea there were such things, but they are widely used in Egypt, including on automobile license plates. Interestingly, you read them left to right, even though Arabic script itself goes right to left.
• I think Israel has the best designed bills. The most recent fifty New Shekel note features Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernichovsky.
It is nice of them to include Arabic and English on the reverse. (Actually, this trip revealed to me just how lucky we Anglophones are, that our language is the world’s lingua franca – perhaps I should say lingua anglica? An Egyptian man marries a Japanese woman, and they communicate in English. A Palestinian shopkeeper speaks to a Turkish customer – in English. An Egyptian tour guide leads a group including Chinese, Indonesians, Argentinians, and Brazilians – English is the language everyone knows. There was a time when French held this position, and indeed I got to speak some French with an Egyptian nun who had been educated in that language. On account of the American Empire, however, practically everyone is now obliged to learn this originally obscure German-French hybrid with three present tenses and a really bizarre spelling system. USA! USA! USA!)
• Finally, just for fun: I met a German couple in Istanbul who gave me this note. It is a real note, with a serial number and all the security features, it’s just worth zero Euros. Apparently the EU will allow the printing of them from time to time as souvenirs, to commemorate various things – in this case, the five hundredth anniversary of the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. The caption, “God’s mercy is free,” goes very well with the fact that the bill itself is “free.” Thank you, Bertold and Anne Stegemann!
The reverse includes the usual EU hodgepodge. I see Germany (Brandenburg Gate), Italy (the Coliseum), France (Eiffel Tower), Spain (Sagrada Família) and Belgium (Mannikin Pis) represented. I don’t know who belongs to the tower on the left.
From the National Post:
‘Blow the bloody place up’: Why, 70 years ago, Britain blew up an entire German island
In 1947, Britain had a problem. It had thousands of tonnes of explosives left over from the Second World War. And it also had a German island in the North Sea that it hated.
So, 70 years ago this week, the Royal Navy enacted an elegant solution: Use the explosives to blow the island to hell.
“Blow the bloody place up,” was reportedly the instructions given to F.T. Woosnam, the British naval engineer tasked with making the island of Heligoland disappear.
The preparation wasn’t overly technical.
For nearly a year, crews had simply stacked up more than 7,000 tonnes of old munitions and wired them together: Depth charges, old torpedoes, boxes of grenades and stacks of aerial bombs.
Photos from the era show crews nonchalantly kicking dismantled torpedoes into large heaps.
The resulting April 19 explosion, triggered with the push of a button by a sharply dressed naval commander, not only shattered every vestige of human habitation on the island — but permanently altered the topography of the place.
The United Kingdom had plenty of reasons to hate Heligoland. For starters, the island had once been part of the British Empire after it was captured during the Napoleonic Wars.
But finding no use for a windy outcrop filled with vacationers, in 1890 London handed it over to the newly formed German Empire in exchange for the African island of Zanzibar.
To the Brits’ chagrin, the Germans then proceeded to spend two world wars using Heligoland as a fortress from which to attack the U.K.
The island was the site of the first naval battle of the First World War, and the first major aerial battle of the Second World War. In both conflicts, it was a key forward base for submarines looking to starve the U.K. into submission.
After the first war in 1918, the victorious Allies had simply ordered the island to be demilitarized.
But when that clearly hadn’t worked, the victors of another war settled on a backup plan: Detonate the place so severely that it could never again be used for military purposes.
“A very reasonable way of celebrating Hitler’s birthday,” proclaimed the narrator of British newsreel documenting the destruction.
Then, just for good measure, the Royal Air Force spent the rest of the 1940s using Heligoland as a target site for their bombers.
Only in 1952 were Heligolanders allowed to move back.
Why the Brits didn’t just keep it I do not know. I seem to remember that the place played a role in the John Malkovich movie Shadow of the Vampire (2000). Click on the link to read more and to see newsreel footage of the explosion.
From the Washington Post, via the National Post:
Brunhilde Pomsel, Joseph Goebbels’ secretary and one of the last surviving top Nazi staffers, dead at 106
by Emily Langer
Brunhilde Pomsel, a secretary to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who late in life came forward to publicly reflect on, if perhaps not fully reckon with, questions of personal and collective guilt in the face of the Holocaust, died during the night of Jan. 27 at her home in Munich. She was 106.
Her death was confirmed by Roland Schrotthofer, a director of “A German Life,” a documentary drawn from dozens of hours of interviews conducted with Pomsel when she was 103. No other details were immediately available.
Pomsel was one of the last surviving members of the Nazi hierarchy’s most intimate staff, but she spent all but the final years of her life in obscurity. She became widely known only after the premiere of the documentary in Nyon, Switzerland, in 2016. The U.S. release is forthcoming.
The film, directed by Schrotthofer, Christian Krönes, Olaf S. Müller and Florian Weigensamer, presents an arresting portrait of an ordinary German swept into the Nazi apparatus in her youth, then left to reflect for more than seven decades on her complicity, if any, in its crimes.
Pomsel sparkled on camera in her lucidity. She confessed to harboring “a bit of a guilty conscience” but professed that she had known nothing of the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust — the “matter of the Jews,” as she termed it — until after the war was over.
More at the link.
Notice of a significant anniversary from the BBC:
Why was the Zimmermann Telegram so important?
By Gordon Corera
Tuesday marks the 100th anniversary of a remarkable success for British intelligence: but one that involved spying on the United States and then conspiring with its senior officials to manipulate public opinion in America.
On the morning of 17 January 1917, Nigel de Grey walked into his boss’s office in Room 40 of the Admiralty, home of British code-breakers.
It was obvious to Reginald “Blinker” Hall that his subordinate was excited.
“Do you want to bring America into the war?” de Grey asked.
The answer was obvious. Everyone knew that America entering World War One to fight the Germans would help break the stalemate.
“Yes, my boy. Why?” Hall answered.
“I’ve got something here which – well, it’s a rather astonishing message which might do the trick if we could use it,” de Grey said.
The previous day, the German foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann, had sent a message to the German ambassador to Washington.
The message used a code that had been largely cracked by British code-breakers, the forerunners of those who would later work at Bletchley Park.
Zimmermann had sent instructions to approach the Mexican government with what seems an extraordinary deal: if it was to join any war against America, it would be rewarded with the territories of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
“This may be a very big thing, possibly the biggest thing in the war. For the present, not a soul outside this room is to be told anything at all,” Hall said after reading it.
Part of the problem was how the message had been obtained.
German telegraph cables passing through the English Channel had been cut at the start of the War by a British ship.
So Germany often sent its messages in code via neutral countries.
Germany had convinced President Wilson in the US that keeping channels of communication open would help end the War, and so the US agreed to pass on German diplomatic messages from Berlin to its embassy in Washington.
The message – which would become known as the Zimmermann Telegram – had been handed, in code, to the American Embassy in Berlin at 15:00 on Tuesday 16 January.
The American ambassador had queried the content of such a long message and been reassured it related to peace proposals.
By that evening, it was passing through another European country and then London before being relayed to the State Department in Washington.
From there, it would eventually arrive at the German embassy on 19 January to be decoded and then recoded and sent on via a commercial Western Union telegraphic office to Mexico, arriving the same day.
Thanks to their interception capability process, Britain’s code-breakers were reading the message two days before the intended recipients (although they initially could not read all of it).
A coded message about attacking the US was actually passed along US diplomatic channels.
And Britain was spying on the US and its diplomatic traffic (something it would continue to do for another quarter of a century).
The cable was intelligence gold-dust and could be used to persuade America to join the War.
But how could Britain use it – when to do so would reveal both that they were breaking German codes and that they had obtained the message by spying on the very country it was hoping to become its ally?
Find out at the link.
From the Economist, via Tim Furnish:
How Martin Luther has shaped Germany for half a millennium
The 500th anniversary of the 95 theses finds a country as moralistic as ever
SET foot in Germany this year and you are likely to encounter the jowly, dour portrait of Martin Luther. With more than 1,000 events in 100 locations, the whole nation is celebrating the 500th anniversary of the monk issuing his 95 theses and (perhaps apocryphally) pinning them to the church door at Wittenberg. He set in motion a split in Christianity that would forever change not just Germany, but the world.
At home, Luther’s significance is no longer primarily theological. After generations of secularisation, not to mention decades of official atheism in the formerly communist east (which includes Wittenberg), Germans are not particularly religious. But the Reformation was not just about God. It shaped the German language, mentality and way of life. For centuries the country was riven by bloody confessional strife; today Protestants and Catholics are each about 30% of the population. But after German unification in the 19th century, Lutheranism won the culture wars. “Much of what used to be typically Protestant we today perceive as typically German,” says Christine Eichel, author of “Deutschland, Lutherland”, a book about Luther’s influence.
Click on the link to see if you agree.
This afternoon I enjoyed shopping at Junk Drunk Jones, a store in Canton run by my former student Stephanie McGuire Jones. Check out the store’s blog and Facebook page. Stephanie was one of Reinhardt’s Ten Under Ten honorees last year. From the linked article:
Canton native Stefanie Jones developed a love for travel and collecting vintage items from her parents at a very early age, which led to her hometown business, Junk Drunk Jones, in downtown Canton.
After graduating from Reinhardt in 2008, she began an on-the-road and online antique store which has steadily evolved ever since. She created Junk Drunk Jones LLC. In March 2015, she purchased a 100-year-old building in historic downtown Canton.
After two months of renovations, Jones celebrated the grand opening of her first store front. Junk Drunk Jones specializes in authentic vintage collectibles and superior quality reproductions.
It is definitely worth a stop if you’re in Canton. I did not get any pictures of the wide range dry goods for sale, but I am pleased to have acquired a postcard of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche as it appeared before 1943:
Here’s what it looks like today:
I.e. it was heavily damaged by the allied bombing of Berlin, and rather than restore it, architect Egon Eirmann kept it in its damaged state as a monument to the war, and constructed a separate modernist belfry (on the right on the photo) and nave (not shown), the main feature of which is a skin of blue stained glass. I remember discovering this by accident in Berlin once, and being impressed.
(The English equivalent of this, of course, is Coventry Cathedral.)
UPDATE: Here is a photo of the old belfry and the new nave, taken recently by my friend Michael Dorner:
An interesting article courtesy my friend Malcolm Mercer. The original is at Salon.fr. (I am curious to see that the Nazis frowned on stars atop Christmas trees. I understand that Jews, insofar as they put up Christmas trees at all, tend not to put stars on top of them, since stars are Messianic imagery, and they don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah.)
Check out this Nazi Advent calendar
In 1943, the Nazi created their own non-religious version of an Advent calendar, featuring tanks instead of the baby Jesus.
The Nazis were no fans of Christmas: after all, Jesus was Jewish, and they wanted to diminish the influence of Christianity in German society. To this end, the Nazi Ministry of Culture published several Christmas booklets and calendars, hoping to transform the holiday into a bellicose celebration of the motherland.
As reported on Vox.com, from 1943, German children in the Third Reich got a peculiar version of the traditional Advent calendar. According an online archive of Nazi propaganda, German mothers received a calendar featuring a patriotic and militaristic message for each day in December.
In the midst of a world war, the first page redefined the traditional festive spirit of Christmas:
German mother! Christmas has always been for children. War and destruction rage throughout the world, and all Germans, men or women, must steel themselves to keep fighting this battle to victory – but our children must be able to enjoy this holiday which is the most German of all.
No Stars on Trees
Among several winter scenes, numerous illustrations in the calendar are dedicated to celebrating war, showing tanks and submarines. There are also quite a few swastikas and examples of letters that a child can write to soldiers at the front.
The traditional history of Jesus and the three kings is replaced by a story of a lumberjack, a soldier and a king who encounter a mother and her infant son in a forest. The mother says to the soldier:
You and your comrades are the protectors of the motherland, and all mothers, fathers and children thank you, particularly those who gave their lives!
As reported at Fast Company, Christmas decorations were also changed during the Nazi era. The Christmas tree was considered acceptable, indeed very German, but certainly not the traditional star put on top, since it was too reminiscent of the Jewish star of David and the single star of Communism. The Nazis recommended that Germans crown their trees with a swastika, a sun disk (a symbol of the Aryan race) or the runic SS logo.
An interesting story in the Washington Post, illustrating that although Germany reunited 26 years ago, serious differences between the two halves remain.
July 1 marks the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the Anglo-French attempt at breaking through the German front during the Great War, near the River Somme in France. The offensive lasted until November of 1916, and made no appreciable gains in territory – at a cost of well over one million casualties.
Depicted is Edward Luytens’s Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, dedicated by the Prince of Wales in 1932.
MORE: From the Telegraph: “Somme ‘Iron Harvest’ will take 500 years to clear, say bomb disposal experts on centenary of bloody battle”