Monthly Archives: April 2009

The story of …. Tanz in den Mai


“Now that I start to pay attention, I realize that Germans find a lot of reasons to party”, I said when Francesca proposed to write  about Tanz in den Mai-Dance into 1st of May”. 

This night resembles those Christian churches you find all over Europe, which were erected on former pagan sacred sites. When I grew up, everybody in our village spent the afternoon of the 30th of April clearing the yard from anything moveable, because the night to come was  the night of practical jokes. In the dark, the male village youth  would gather and look for wheelbarrows, carts, or machinery left alone under  the open sky. The next morning, negligent owners would find their  possessions high up in a tree, fixed to a lamppost or heaved onto a roof.

My parents always where proud of securely  stowing away  everything. Nobody could get the better of them, nobody. Till one First of May, when my mother wanted to drive to a “Kaffee und Kuchen”  invitation. At three a clock, she went out to get her car she parked on the curb. “Call the police”, she cried when she rushed back in 30 seconds later. “My car is stolen”. My  father grabbed the phone. While he dialled, he looked out of the window. His eyes hit a red object sitting on the garage roof: my  mother’s tiny Fiat 126.


In my village, this night strictly was “boys only”. Later I learnt  that the 30th of April for centuries was the night out for the women.  In mediveal belief, at Walpurgisnacht, witches mounted their  sweeps and rode to the Brocken, a montain in the Harz, where they were  to meet their master, the Devil, to a wild orgiastic dance. Goethe wrote about this myth in his  “Faust”, the  most classical of German classics. A  he did it in part 2, which nobody ever reads, this Tanz in den Mai was forgotten for two centuries.

The feminist movement dug the legend out again, dusted it off,  and made the 3oth of April a night out for the girls. This time, strictly no men. In lila dungarees I danced to Patti Smith  or listened to Ina Deter wailing: Neue Maenner braucht das Landwhat we need are new men.


As the new man still were in the making and the old type of men struck back in the conservative 90ies,  the feminist movement lost power. The trade unions tried to pick up the newly neglected date and declared it the opening night of  First of May, workers day, a public holiday in Germany. Now I drank beer for a good cause and listened  to the Songs of International Solidarity.

As we got globalization and international recession instead, Tanz in den Mai was orphaned again. Today, the Club scene adopts the idea. As I walk through the streets, posters like this announce Tanz in den Mai in many of the many hip clubs in town.

Tanz in den Mai  Maybe I will try this one and listen to DJ Maxi. I don´t know his message, but at least this club admits people over 30, as Ü30 tells me. 

Those age-brackets  sprang up during the last few years. As nobody wants to get old but gets old anyway, the entertainment industry adapted to unchanged habits. Recently I even spotted a Ü40 sign, for all those who lived through the Ü30 parties of the last decade and still don´t want to give up on partying.

I´m one of them, though for a long time I didn´t go dancing because I wasn´t energetic enough any more to go out at 11 0´clock at night, dance till 2 0´clock in the morning, and then go to my office the next day – and even work there.

For people like me, the club owners invented the after-work party: it opens at 5 o´clock in the afternoon, dance starts at 8 o´clock. Thus, I can leave, pleasantly  exhausted by hard dancing, at 10 o´clock. Sometimes I even can kiss my son good night. 

Though I would prefer a Ü40 option here too. Last time I queued to get in the guard told me: “If you are here to get your son, maybe you would rather call him on his mobile.” 

But this is another story.








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Tanz in den Mai

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Know your Easter Egg

They have been around for months now and that is probably why, when Easter finally comes around, I am surprised.

I mean all the Easter chocolates in their various shapes and sizes, such as Easter Bunnies, Eggs or Chickens. I have whined about this before (it´s my blog and I whine if I want to, whine if I want, whiiine if I want to). As soon as one festivity is over the chocolates or other typical foods for the next one pop up in all the shops, even if the celebration is still months away. So there they were all these months and me ignoring them until the very week Easter is actually happening. And then I say “Already?”.

If my children were still in german pre-school I would have had some warning when the teachers ask  for empty eggshells to be provided for the ritual painting of the eggs. At home you can boil your white eggs with onion skin or paint them with special food colours, if you can stand eating eggs that when you peel them they might be blue.

I was amused when a german educator at an international school, complained that she could not get the parents to join in the fun and bring in empty eggshells for their children to paint. Of course I only stated to the Educator that most of her parents are not used to this tradition, while I thought to myself that those parents might object to the rather yucky part of emptying an egg for the purpose.

Another way of knowing it really is time is when garden trees suddenly grow the colourful egg fruit. Trees that just barely are showing the first signs of spring, get a little push of cheer. It is not as widespread as decorating for Christmas and I still remember when I saw my first “Eggtree” in a village in the Taunus. The eggs were beautiful handpainted affairs and a little message of good cheer was attached to the fence. Maybe it all started in that little garden.

I remember Easter Egg hunts in my childhood. It was exciting scrabbling through the bushes and looking behind trees to find the treasures. By and by colourful “real” eggs, where replaced by the chocolate variety. One Easter brought a surprise which cannot be beat to this day: the birth of my baby sister. The eggs I remember from that easter, where the ones my Dad tried to fry, while my Mother was in hospital, and which he burnt.

The TV would be on on those Easter Sunday mornings, while we waited for the blessings by the Pope to be shown. It was always amazing and moving to see the crowds in Rome, waving their little flags from all over the world. As my older sisters moved out, it became part of the tradition that they would invite everybody for Easter Breakfast. If Easter coincided with a sunnier spring season this was a great way to start the day and later enjoy a walk in the fields or woods, along with all the Germans who love walking or rambling.

I always  wondered why a Rabbit brought the eggs until I read that it wasn´t always a Rabbit. Other regions had other animals bringing the eggs. And Eggs are brought because they are symbols of the new life every spring brings, a symbol which was already celebrated in ancient times by Egyptians and Persians.

I wonder if the pre-school Educators of those times made a call for empty egg shells.

Happy Easter.



Filed under Germany

Easter is here – Frohe Ostern

“Don’t ask me about our traditions for Easter”, I grumbled when I met
Francesca. “I’m still angry”.

A few hours ago I had had the annual Easter-present discussion with
my son.
” As my Easter-present I want …” he started.

I intercepted immediately “We don’t do Easter-presents”.

“But …(fill in the name of his friend who gets one) always….”

My son has friends for all situations. The friend that goes to bed
late at night, the friend who gets icecream every day, the friend who
is allowed to play Nintendo ad libidum, the friend who doesn’t go to school when
Rhamadan ends. Why doesn’t he mention the friend who doesn’t get
sweets for six weeks during Lent. 

Traditionally, for my mother, Easter was the day summer started. Therefore, after Easter, we could get rid of the ugly, scratching handknitted woollen knickers we had to wear in winter. As a child, I never really understood the logics behind: sometimes Easter was early in March and our egg hunt took place in deep snow. Sometimes Easter was late in late April and we could have fried the eggs on the hot tarmac. Only as an adult, at last,  I came to understand what these

traditions are for: to reduce the amount of daily discussion on how things are done
from 100 to 10.

As I’m writing this I listen to the radio: “What do you eat on Good
Friday?” the reporter asks random people on the high street.
Rollbraten-rolled beef,” they say, or ” we barbecue”. My ex-catholic
soul is shocked. I can’t even remember what we ate on Good Friday,
probably nothing, as in catholic tradition, the last day of Lent should be the day of
strictest fasting. Instead, I went to church twice: to the catholic
mass with my father, to the protestant service with my mother. Both
were equally long and tedious. I accepted this as my part of the
seasonal suffering, and looked forward to  Easter Sunday.

This joyful day always started with two hardboiled, hand-dyed eggs and an Osterzopf, a sweet cake made of yeast dough. We
children got an Osternest, an Easter nest, filled with sugar-,
fondants- and chocolate eggs. Then we went to church – a pleasure this
time. The choir greeted us with a powerfull Christ ist erstanden,
the priest wore his golden cloth, the mass servants swang heavy
incense burners, and we children felt that we were once again allowed
to laugh and play.

Later, the egg hunt took place in my uncles´garden, where he had to hide 25 eggs
for the pack of kids in our extended family. During the search, he
always managed to let fall a few extra sugar eggs that sprinkled the
grass like the a Haensel-und-Gretel-trail.

In the evenings, we gathered in front of the TV to watch the “Passion
of Christ”, a three-evening-in-a-row miniseries. And on Easter Sunday, we equally fascinatedly watched the Pope saying “Urbi and Orbi”.

Today, roasted lamb for dinner has become part of the Easter
tradition. Way back in my childhood, sheep were extremely rare in Germany. They
existed only theoretically, as part of a going-to-sleep ritual:
Schäfchenzaehlen-counting imaginary sheep jumping over a fence – one,
two, three …

My first real sheep I saw when I was 21 and worked on a sheep farm in
New South Wales. The other farm hands soon learnt not to trust me with
the mustering: counting sheep after sheep jumping through the gate –
one, two, three….

But this is another story.



Filed under Germany, World

On America, Germany and the French Army

“What do you remember about the American army in Germany?” Francesca asked. “A lot, because I´m German“ , I said.

But when I searched my brain for memories, I found only black-and-white moving pictures: GIs jumping out of jeeps and giving chewing gum to gangs of children in rags. Blond girls with braids holding C.A.R.E-parcels and laughing. Relief bombers flying food to Berlin. John F. Kennedy saying “I´m a Berliner”.

I looked at Francesca, shocked, because for the first time I realized, that I didn´t have any first hand experience. “Your father is the first American associated to the army I ever spoke to.“ When I grew up in the 60ies, the only soldiers I knew were French and the only French I knew were soldiers. When, after World War 2, the USA, Great Britain, France and Russia divided Germany into four sectors, France got Baden and Baden got the French—again. The last time, Napoleon´s army stayed for seven years. It enriched the local dialects with French expressions and the local genepool with dark eyes.

This time, the occupation lasted 40 years. When the French left in the 1990ies, every village in Baden had a twin village in France, children at elementary shool learned French as second language and my taste in men was set.

When nuns founded the catholic all-girls convent school I went to, they didn´t suspect that two hundred years later, a French officers mass would be just one street away. There, behind closed yellow curtains, I found what I longed for to meet, but wasn´t supposed to: men. Sometimes, after school, l would sneak over with a friend and have a drink at the officers bar. There they were, in olive uniforms on oldfashioned sofas, their kepi, the typical round French army cap, beside them on the formica table, a jug of Pernod in front. Slender men, not much taller than I, with walnut eyes and olive skin. I would watch them pour the alcohol into a glass, add some water and see the liquid turn from clear to milky white. This seemed to be French magic, a symbol for wild adventures and secret lives. German Schnapps never changes. If they can do this, what else can they do? I would sip my drink and imagine myself as Simone de Beauvoir meeting Jean Paul Sartre in a clandestine Parisian bar during the war. At school I managed to read Voltaire in French, but when one of the men tried to talk to me, I just giggled and blushed. Later, at home, with my friend Elisabeth, I would practice saying “Voulez vous couchez avec moi?“ and discuss what we would do if we were asked in reality—which never happened.

The first time I realized that other armies existed beside the French, a tremendous noise shook the air. The next second a triangular plane vanished behind the mountains. A Starfighter had broken the sound barrier. My father told me the story of the two American pilots who ejected out of their crashing plane just above our remote valley and how he found one of them, caught in tree branches, badly burnt.

Apart from this story, there was no first hand experience with the American army in my family. After the war, my father grew up in the French occupation sector, my mother in the English, to where her family had fled from the Russian army. By general understanding, those living in the American sector were considered lucky and were envied by everybody. The Americans could afford to be generous. GIs gave chewing gums, coffee and cigarettes and their government the Marshall plan to rebuild the German industry.

Everybody loved the Americans, but nobody knew them. When I left home, I often lived in towns strongly connected to the American army. In Kaiserslautern, I passed an American army housing complex every time I went to town. In Stuttgart, it was the European Headquarters of the US Army I passed. In Frankfurt I listened to AFN radio from morning to night. But the Americans seemed to live in a different universe. I never met one in a bar, at the local swimming pool, in the cinema or at the supermarket.

Nevertheless, America never was far away. Since the late 60ies, when TV established itself once and for all in German living rooms, I lived immersed in American culture. One of my earliest memories is the funeral of Robert F. Kennedy. As a child, I adored Flipper, Black Beauty and Lassie. As a teenager, I watched Doris Day and Rock Hudson share pyjamas and crossed, in my dreams, the American southwest to the sound of „Born to be wild alive“. Dallas, Denver, Starsky & Hutch, Miami Vice, Colombo or Bonanza—you name them, I know them.

Even when I met my first real-life American as late as 1992, it felt more like a movie than real life.

But this is another story.



Filed under Germany

Anonymoose United

It had to happen one day and it happened today. We couldn´t agree. I wanted to write about one subject and TrueGerman suggested another. As this is a two-person democracy the decision was easy. We do both.

TrueG said I am being “Bierernst” today. That is as serious as beer and that is very serious for a German.

I have used pseudonyms on various occasions and on some occasions, when I did not, I wish I had. Based on these personal experiences I cannot do other than feel total empathy with the blogger whose anonymity recently was breached in Alaska.

In a perfect world we would need no dissent and even if we did disagree it would be possible to put our name to everything, from personal appearances, to journalistic pieces to blogging, without having to worry about repercussions as long we follow the rules of the perfect world. But this world is not perfect and even if you follow the rules of the hypothetical perfect world (because we can and do try), be they written or unwritten, of journalism or blogging, you might find yourself threatened once your personal information is exposed.

Here I have to pause. If nobody were anonymous, should a threat not be impossible? That at least is the theory in Germany. The experience of anonymous denunciation has been bitter and has influenced the rule of law today. Transparency yes, but does that mean I can`t draw a line, that I can´t make an exception, that I don`t still encounter circumstances when I need to suspend the rule of law because the rule of law does not protect me adequately even though I speak the truth?

There are many ways of making a bloggers life difficult. In Germany just the threat of possible legal repercussions, can silence the most ardent critique. Unless you have loads of money how can you support the legal battle? Should you win in the first instance, your opponent is sure to take it to the next level and to the next until you are left high and dry. Factually sound, but financially strapped. 

Or somebody you have criticized doesn`t want to get his or her own hands dirty so they whip up  their followers to persecute, maybe simply pester, threaten or even assault you. Enough said about that kind of follower.

Of course  I have come across a blog here and there which claimed to be researched, but with a little thinking and digging of my own, found it to be fundamentally lacking in the most basic principles of reporting. To my great dissappointment I have also encountered this kind of information in the news. What happens then? I don´t return to that blog and I stop visiting a news source. After all the blog is just that a blog, a place to let off steam. Sometimes for all the wrong reason, but what do I care? And a news source can be biased. All I have to do is think a little about it.

And because I think about it I can find blogs that I appreciate and that gain my trust. One that has is by the above mentioned blogger, alias AKM and do ask me why! While always reflecting a personal opinion it is well researched. Is that it, you ask. NO.

Instead of just repeating data we are given information. There is a huge difference! Reading the posts from AKM is watching a brilliant mind at work, analysing political happenings and connecting the dots. We Readers see those dots all over the place and AKM puts the finger right on that nagging feeling in the back of our challenged minds and puts into words what these connections might be. We, as Readers, can agree, speculate or disagree. Well is that it now? NO, I say.

The icing on the cake, the cream in the coffee, “das Tüpfelchen auf dem i” (the dot on the i) is that these posts or commentaries are so well written that thousands glue themselves to the screen daily to read any old post by AKM, be it about a moose called Brian or the latest shenanigans by any politician, that deserve some closer scrutiny.

This Blogger/Writer has been “accused” of influencing politics and by doing that having given up the right to anonymity. I have to think of the reactions of Jon Stewart, when he was “accused” of influencing the election of 2008 with his comedy program “The Daily Show”. He is a smart guy and he certainly would have been flattered by this compliment, if he were not a comedian and smart. The idea that it takes a comedy show to make people think and that they might base their decisions on his analysis, brilliant as may be, made him visibly squirm. And I think the same is true for AKM. This writer would be the first to say, what does it mean of our state of affairs if a blog can have so much influence? Maybe the Readers and Viewers have arrived at the Comedy Doors and Blog Entries because they were thinking in the first place?

And while a German might criticize the wish for anonymity, he will admit that during these last eight years when contacting American friends or travelling to the States, he was becoming increasingly wary of what he would say in open criticism of the Government on a phone conversation or in blog out of fear of the US Government. The renaming of “French Fries” to “Freedom Fries” seemed frivolous and laughable, yet it made everybody nervous and wary of greater implications. There was a shadow over the United States, a shadow which reminded Germans of their worst nightmare.

My advice to anybody that disagrees with a blogger? If you think the blogger is worth your time to worry about their identity, why not make the intelligent choice instead of creating an open and honest dialogue with that dissenter. Maybe the blogger would listen. Maybe it is time for you to listen.

I wonder if this is not really a conversation about truth.

From Dead Poets Society:

John Keating: Close your eyes, close your eyes! Close ’em! Now, describe what you see.
Todd Anderson: Uh, and this image floats beside me.
John Keating: A sweaty-toothed madman.
Todd Anderson: A sweaty-toothed madman with a stare that pounds my brain.
John Keating: Oh, that’s *excellent*! Now, give him action – make him do something!
Todd Anderson: H-His hands reach out and choke me.
John Keating: That’s it! Wonderful, wonderful!
Todd Anderson: And all the time he’s mumbling.
John Keating: What’s he mumbling?
Todd Anderson: Mumbling truth.
John Keating: Yeah, yes.
Todd Anderson: Truth like-like a blanket that always leaves your feet cold.
John Keating: [some of the class start to laugh] Forget them, forget them! Stay with the blanket. Tell me about that blanket!
Todd Anderson: Y-Y-You push it, stretch it, it’ll never be enough. You kick at it, beat it, it’ll never cover any of us. From the moment we enter crying t-to the moment we leave dying, it’ll just cover your face as you wail and cry and scream.
[long pause then class applauds]
John Keating: Don’t you forget this.


Is the blanket of truth too short?




Filed under Germany, World