(31 October 2017) 500 years ago today, Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, thus beginning the confrontation with Rome that would become the Reformation, giving us Henry VIII's divorces and European bloodshed, the Protestant work ethic and dour-faced rigour, and freedom, precious freedom from Catholic guilt.
On this anniversary, Guardian Cities sent me to Wittenberg - once an important centre of European learning and electing capital of the Holy Roman Empire, now a picturesque tourist town with a side-line in chemicals - as part of their "Spotlight" series. Read the results of my investigations here.
(11 September 2017) I didn't choose it, but in many ways, it's an apt date to publish a slightly tongue-in-cheek but nonetheless concerned look at what a worst-case-scenario Brexit could look like. Even if things go relatively well, I think there's a high chance that 30th March 2019 will lead to so many changes that it will acquire a sobriquet in the style of "9-11" - "30-3", perhaps?
While I'm not convinced that a bad Brexit will end in a military take-over (I made the events in the article get more and more far-fetched as it went along) - and certainly not on the timescale of a single week - I do think there is the potential for an unprecedented degree of civil unrest in the UK if Brexit happens the way May, Davis, Johnson et al. and a not inconsiderable percentage of the British public seem to think it should.
I hope I'm wrong on all counts. On every last one.
(15 June 2017) In Großbritannien wurde wieder einmal gewählt. Wie sich Premierministerin Theresa May um den Sieg – und den Verstand – brachte.
Im dieswöchigen Falter zu lesen: Mein Leitkommentar zum Ausgang der Wahl im Vereinigten Königreich, das nun politisch zunehmend einem aus Ozeanien und Nordkorea zusammengebasteltes Wunderland gleicht.
(12 June 2017) Both inside and outside of Britain, there has been no shortage of people citing “remainers’ revenge” as one of the reasons why Theresa May was unable to secure the large majority she only recently seemed so capable of achieving.
The rationale goes something like this: May was avowedly in favour of hard Brexit and because she lost, the British electorate has rejected a hard Brexit. Even a short analysis - such as mine in the International Politics and Society Journal - is enough to show, however, that Brexit had little-to-nothing to do with voters' behaviour at the ballot box in last week's UK general election.
Update: This article also appeared on the LSE Political Science blog and led to some interesting and enlightening below-the-line exchanges.
(15 March 2017) As of today, I will no longer be taking commissions from The Telegraph. I started writing for the paper's now-defunct Expat section in 2012 and have written sporadically for the Travel desk, too; as luck would have it, my most recent post here was about a piece I wrote for them at the end of last year (see below, dated 30th Jan.).
From day one, writing for The Telegraph was both an honour and an ordeal. On the one hand, the paper has a proud history and has broken important stories: when I started writing for it, it was two years in from the MPs' expense scandals. Moreover, the paper's written style and precision with facts was, in 2012, a mark of quality. The subs on the Expat desk were superb and made every single one of my articles better before publication.
On the other hand, in the partisan landscape of the British national press, The Telegraph has never been my political home, and this is something no-one who reads my work can be in any doubt about. Indeed, laudably, the paper saw no difficulty in commissioning me and publishing my work despite this; in return, I decided that there was no reason I should not commit to the paper and take the opportunity to reach its readers. This is the hallmark of a civilised political and media culture. It was an honour to be a (very small) part of it.
The ordeal came, at first, in the form of the online comments function, which demonstrated amply that many in The Telegraph's online audience did not share my view that tolerance of differing opinions and the cultivation of informed debate are key to the value of the media. Mercifully, the paper removed the comments function at some point in 2014/15 after Daily-Male-style trolls had scared off the last few participants with a genuine interest in discursive exchange.
Increasingly, however, the ordeal came from the people who make the paper itself. The Expat desk had its budget frozen and then unfrozen, the poor souls producing it were forced to rely on unpaid, unprofessional copy for months at a time, and then - oddly enough, a few weeks prior to the EU referendum - it was summarily shut. Meanwhile, signs that, beyond our relatively inconsequential area of it, the paper overall had renounced its commitment to impartial and investigative journalism were becoming ever more manifest: there was the HSBC gagging thing, the recurring rounds of redundancies, the fact that Peter Oborne left...
Looking back, Oborne leaving would have been a good moment to call it quits. Oborne is what I used to like and respect about The Telegraph: he's somebody with whom I can't help but fundamentally disagree on most issues, but whose research and knowledge are unquestionably sound and whose lines of argument are rigorous. Watch him talk to Owen Jones and you'll see what I mean.
Another good point to cut ties publically would have been the Referendum and the paper's overnight transmogrification into an organ of the 51% with increasing disregard for any vestiges of objectivity. Once again, I missed it, telling myself that, with the negligible amount of now wholly unpolitical writing I stood to do for the paper, there was no reason to overreact; and perhaps things would change - i.e. the usual things journalists say to themselves to quieten their queasiness about the people they write for (no-one likes to talk about that side of the job).
So, to my shame, it's taken an only-half-joking death threat to Nicola Sturgeon for calling for a second referendum on Scottish independence (hastily altered, as ever, after the damage has been done) to convince me that any ties to the paper are toxic and that, however infrequently I have written for it of late, I must now distance myself from it emphatically.
This is not an insult to everyone else working on or for The Telegraph. If anything, the tenacity of the sane voices there in the face of what they must recognise (more than any outside observer) as dangerous ideological zeal from on high is to be applauded; on the same day as Allison Pearson was calling for the decapitation of Nicola Sturgeon, Michael Deacon was masterfully calling out Theresa May on the glaring contradictions in her political positioning on the intertwining issues of Brexit and Scottish independence.
For me, though, the decision is final. One British politician has already lost her life in the last twelve months thanks in no small part to irresponsible rabble-rousing on the far right of the political spectrum. I will not be seen to be associated with a paper that tolerates, permits, or perhaps even actively furthers this kind of coarsening of the political debate.
I will be leaving the links to my past work for The Telegraph online on this website. As explained above, there was a time when I enjoyed writing for the paper and produced, I like to think, quality work for it. It would be Orwellian to try and redact the past; in fact, that the paper once published work like this should stand as a testament to how low it is now sinking in its dogmatic, doctrinaire approach.
(30 January 2017) If you're someone who tries to avoid flying like I do - or just someone who enjoys the ring of words like "buffet car" and "compartment" - then you'll be aware of how badly Europe's once thickly-woven network of night trains has suffered from cuts and closures in recent years.
But there is some good news. Find out about which sleepers have survived and about the prospects for new and better services in this article I wrote for the Telegraph.
(22 November 2016) Besides the (not always so) jokey post-Brexit suggestions that London should "go it alone" and cut loose from the UK, there have been quite serious demands for increased autonomy coming from City Hall in recent years. Mayor Kahn looks to be placing control over tax revenue and a range of other powers at the centre of his demands from Westminster.
In light of this, BBC London wanted to know if German city states - of which there are three - have anything to teach London. And what with Hamburg being the most successful (sorry Bremen and Berlin!), that brought them here. As well as talking to Mayor Scholz and employers in the city, they also sought my view as a Londoner living here and as a journalist and author who has written on, among many other things, German regional politics.
I'm always wary of making facile comparisons between countries, especially between a federal one like Germany and a semi-devolved mish-mash like the UK. But there certainly are lessons worth learning for London in Hamburg's experience as a city state which has the same political position and clout as many a larger region - and the same risk factors. Read, listen, and watch on the BBC website.
(01 October 2016) Im FALTER 39/16 wurde der Frage nachgegangen, warum die österreichische SPÖ gegen das CETA-Abkommen ist, die deutsche SPD aber dafür. Dazu gab es eine Reihe von Berichte über den Stand der CETA-Debatte aus anderen europäischen Ländern. Mir fiel die nur auf dem ersten Blick langweilige Aufgabe zu, zu erklären, warum CETA in Großbritannien überhaupt kein Thema ist...
(17 August 2016) "Prix Delluc": tout le monde en connaît le nom, mais très peu savent dire qui est-ce que c'était, ce Louis Delluc. D'abord critique - et inventeur du mot "cinéaste" en tant que tel - il est devenu auteur et réalisateur - donc cinéaste - lui-même. Après sa mort jeune en 1924, son oeuvre a vite été oubliée par le grand public, mais est restée courante parmis les cinéphiles.
J'ai eu le grand honneur d'écrire les sous-titres en anglais pour cette version intégrale de ses quatres films survivants : Le Chemin d'Ernoa, La Femme de nulle part, Fièvre, et L'Inondation. Disponible ici.
The Delluc film prize is one of France's most prestigious, and yet few French people can say with any certainty who Delluc was. Beginning as a film critic, Delluc eventually became a screenwriter and director. After his early death in 1924, his work was quickly forgotten by the public, yet remained well-known among those interested in film.
I had the considerable honour of producing the English-language subtitles for his four surviving films - which are now available here.
(1 July 2016) In view of the current political climate in the UK with regard to Europe, the question of British-German relations is as important as ever. As such, I'll be offering a talk in Hamburg at 6.30pm on 6th July entitled “Britain and Germany: A Special Relationship?” examining the long history of misunderstandings and reconciliations, conflict and cooperation between these two countries, quoting extensively from my anthology of English-language writing about Germany and using this historical perspective to examine the events around Brexit and prospects for an uncertain future.
The talk (in English) will run for 45 minutes and will be followed by questions. Get information about the location near U-Hallerstraße and register to attend here.
Vortrag (Englisch, 45 Min.), Fragestunde (Englisch, Fragen können auch auf Deutsch gestellt und beantwortet werden.)
(28 June 2016) Es sind traurige, aufreibende Tage für meine Heimatinsel. Aber wir wären nun wirklich nicht mehr dieselben Briten, wenn wir uns nicht auf Galgenhumor stützen könnten. Dazu hilft die tragi-komische Figur David Cameron, der Gerüchten zufolge einst im Rahmen einer Initiation im Oxforder Bullingdon Club, einer Schnösel-Studentenverbindung, ein totes Schwein oral penetrierte...
So hat Cameron mit seiner Wette, mittels Referendum die Euroskeptiker in seiner Partei zum Schweigen zu bringen, eben kein Schwein gehabt. Leider bleibt das Lachen insofern aus, als er sein Land - ebenfalls mein Land - auseinandergesprengt hat.
Cameron, Johnson, Europa, Schottland, Schweinsex: Alles zum Brexit von mir hier im Wiener Falter.
(14 June 2016) Im dieswöchigen Falter erscheint ein längerer Essay von mir auf Deutsch zur Brexit-Debatte. Tenor: Die Auseinandersetzung mit der Europa-Frage ist zu einer Art Enthemmungsserum geworden, unter dessen Einfluss die Briten nicht mehr zwischen Parodie und Ernst unterscheiden - und einst radikal fremdenfeindliche Positionen wieder durch die humoristische Hintertür wieder salonfähig gemacht werden. Dabei spielen Fakten lange keine Rolle mehr.
Eine ernüchterte - und ernüchternde - Betrachtung eines Landes, das einst für seinen feinsinnigen Humor und lässige Toleranz bewundert wurde.
(26 April 2016) Fed up of the whole Brexit debate already? Me too! In fact, I was fed up of it the minute I worked out a referendum was coming, which is why, last summer, I decided to take a step I'd been considering for some time and get German citizenship.
While I wouldn't have taken German nationality unless I were happy to anyway - and, given how great it is to live here, how much I know about the place, and how it has a genuine constitution and a strong democratic tradition, why wouldn't I be? - I won't deny that knowing, whatever happens, my legal status here is now sorted has allowed me to view the whole "Breferendum" palaver with a far clearer head (and a less agitated heart).
Here's my story for the Telegraph on getting British-German dual nationality and what it means for me.
(23 March 2016) Ever wondered if there's anything behind that stereotype about Germans' love of the word Scheiße and all things faecal? Well, there is - but it's more about health and hygiene than anything else.
Germany's most popular non-fiction book last year, for instance, was Darm mit Charme by Giulia Enders (now available in English as Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ), and it certainly taps into a fearless, interested attitude in the large intestine and its meaning for physical and even psychological wellbeing.
This focus on health goes some - but not all the way - to explaining the "Lay and display" model of toilet bowel, the fear of men pissing standing up, and the pathological phobia of mould. Not that I'm complaining: mould looks horrible and our landlord is about to shell out thousands to rid us of it...
Get the "lowdown" from me on Germans and their Khazis here.
(18 March 2016) Following the success of our #BERBritsBrexit event and a similar #MUCBritsBrexit event organised by Rob Harrison, Jon Worth and I will once again be sharing a platform to talk about what Brexit could mean for British people in Germany.
We're working with the eminently capable John Heaven to organise #HHBritsBrexit in Hamburg on 30th March 2015. Annette Dittert, former ARD correspondent in London and Louise Brown, British-born, German-based novelist will be joining us on stage at Haus73 from 7pm onwards. All welcome; €4 on the door.
So if you're British, living in Germany, and worried that, despite Mr. Cameron's "efforts" (or rather, in no small part due to them), the UK is on a course out of the EU, then come along to find out what the state of play is, what the effects of a Brexit could be for you - and how to apply for German citizenship.
(25 February 2016) The Gymnasium is Germany's answer to the old fashioned Grammar School: an academic hothouse for the top achievers aged 11. In some states, however, selection has been all but abolished, making the Gymnasien more or less into little more schools for children with ambitious parents.
Read my (I'd like to think, measured) rant here on why this is so pernicious.
(20 February 2016) If you're British, living in Germany, and worried that, despite Mr. Cameron's "efforts" (or rather, in no small part due to them), the UK is on a course out of the EU, then you may well be somewhat unsettled at the moment.
Although I can't put your mind at rest, I can offer information about getting German citizenship, and so will be contributing to Jon Worth's Berlin information evening (as will the venerable Philip Oltermann) on Wednesday 20th February about the current state of negotiations, the chances of a Brexit actually happening, and what it might mean for British people in Germany.
(05 February 2015) Being a tenant in Germany is, as I've described at length here, a pretty sweet deal. Which is why Stephen Jardine from BBC Radio Scotland wanted to find out about how Germans see renting as opposed to buying, and spoke to me this morning.
With fewer and fewer people ever expecting to 'get on the property ladder' in the UK, Scotland is bringing in new tenancy legislation aiming to beef up renters' rights and increase stability in the market. Yet I remain convinced that renting in the UK remains a mugs' game. Listen again here.
(26 January 2016) In two weeks, it's Shrove Tuesday. "Oh, great, pancakes with Jiff lemon..." I hear you say with a slight groan. Yes, Lenten week in the UK is pretty lame.
For the Rhineland and several other culturally Catholic areas of Germany, however, the lead-up to Lent is a big thing: with six weeks of fasting (or, nowadays, giving up chocolate/cigarettes/cask ale) looming ahead, every year, the inhabitants of Cologne, Bonn, and Düsseldorf enjoy one last week of madness from Shrovetide Thursday - "Wenches' Carnival" - through to Mardi Gras.
And, every year, I make a point of returning to Düsseldorf to enjoy it with them. Read my report for the Telegraph here.
(02 December 2015) It is my great pleasure to announce the official launch of the Oxbridge Society of Hamburg, a new alumni association which replaces the previous Oxbridge Dining Society (with which I was involved) and the now-disbanded Oxford University Society of Hamburg (with which I was not).
As of December 2015, the Oxbridge Society in Hamburg constitutes the official alumni representation for both the Universities and will be staging a programme of events in 2016. I will have the considerable pleasure of being part of the quartet of alumni leading the Society.
If you are an alumnus of either Oxford or Cambridge in Hamburg or northern Germany, please feel free to get in touch with us either via the website above or using my contact page.
(10 September 2015) Just 10 weeks after the slated release date, my cultural and historical guide to Frankfurt is now out and available in stores near you (i.e. on the Internet, courtesy of a certain Monopolist, I'm guessing...).
So what to expect? Signal Books has produced cultural travel guides about the history and culture of many major world cities over the years, and my work draws on the successful Innercities model, with twelve essay-like chapters on topics such as the historical development of Frankfurt, its importance as a financial and banking centre, and its role in the development of the written word and the academic discipline of critical theory.
If you're looking to a guide to Frankfurt - one of Europe's most important and yet most underrated cities - that is about more than just expensive restaurants and plush hotels, this is the one for you. Holy Roman Emperors, Bismarck, Theodor Adorno... the Frankfurt Innercities Cultural Guide has got it all!
(10 August 2015) Für die Rubrik "Streitfrage" in der TAZ am Wochenende wurde ich gebeten, ein paar Sätze zum Thema Landesverrat zu schreiben. Das habe ich auch gemacht - und einer davon ist hier erschienen. Allerdings unter einem bislang auch mir unbekannten literarischen Pseudonym.
(29 July 2015) As anyone who works (or just chats) with me on a regular basis will know, I do love a good Simpsons reference. So it was an obvious choice for me to begin writing about just how much better dental care is in Germany than in Britain by referring to the nightmarish "Big Book of British Smiles" shown to coerce a frightened Ralph Wiggum into telling the truth about his laziness when it comes to brushing his teeth...
(06 July 2015) To all of you out there who've pre-ordered my book about Frankfurt and are wondering when "25 June" is, it was two weeks back and I'm sorry that we didn't get it out on time.
However, the good news is that the book has gone to print and should be with people in the course of this month.
(03 June 2015) If there's one suggestively shaped thing all Germans love to eat, it's a... sausage? Wrong! Vegetarians wouldn't touch them, after all.
No, the giggle-inducing foodstuff that really unites the country is asparagus, consumed in a two-month marathon during its short growing season in a ritualised meal that - for reasons I explain for the Telegraph here - bears more than a passing resemblance to the Great British Roast Dinner, albeit with a Dionysian twist...
(26 May 2015) From Tuesday 2nd through to Saturday 20th June, the Royal Geographic Society will be showing an exhibition on the Saharan nomadic Kel Tamasheq - or Tuareg people.
It has been my honour, privilege, and occasional curse to translate texts and subtitle videos to accompany the fascinating photographs that will make up the centrepiece.
I hasten to add that I was not translating out of the Tuareg languages (Tamasheq), but out of French, as much of the territories inhabited by the Tuareg are in Francophone Africa.
(01 April 2015) Since 1st April is typically a day for pranks, I thought I'd proffer a text including a reference to one: bachelors turning 30 in Germany are by tradition required to sweep the steps of their local town hall wearing women's clothing.
I recently had my 30th birthday in Hamburg - but managed to avoid both the town hall and women's clothing. Read more about my lucky escape, and German birthday traditions generally, here.
(25 March 2015) Following the publication of my anthology of writing about Germany, in May 2013, Signal Books decided to keep me busy and sent me to Frankfurt to write a cultural and historical guide to this important-yet-under-rated city.
The result of several research trips, some enjoyable visits to friends, and a few failed attempts to grow accustomed to the local tipple (a particularly astringent cider) later, and I've handed in the manuscript.
So if you regularly frequent Frankfurt or otherwise have an interest in getting beyond standard guidebook fare, look out for the Signal Books Innercities biography of Frankfurt this June.
(24 February 2015) Am kommenden Donnerstag (26.02) im MakerHub, Große Bergstraße 160, moderiere ich eine Debatte zwischen zwei Journalisten zur folgenden These: Wir brauchen digitale Wälle, um Onlinejournalismus zu finanzieren.
Für diese Position spricht Lisa-Marie Eckardt (u. a. STERN); gegen sie tritt Mark Heywinkel (Vocer, Urban Journalism Salon) an. Da die Debatte in der Tradition des britischen Parlamentarismus abgehalten wird - also mit Pro und dann Contra, Erwiderungen, Einsprüchen, und Zusammenfassung - moderiert sie euer Lieblings-Brite-vom-Dienst.
Hier mehr Infos sowie Anmeldung. Hashtag wird sein: #SMWPAYWALL
(18 February 2015) Two things of interest to me happened on the Telegraph website today: first, there was a gallery of Famous British Brians (in which I was, inexplicably, not mentioned).
Secondly, and more promisingly, an article by me went live about renting in Germany and how much more secure tenancies are here as against in the UK. Read about the absurdly generous German agreements I've come across here.
(23 December 2014) It's that time of year again: Germans are stockpiling fireworks with enough explosive power to launch several missions to Mars and are generally preparing for a few weeks of exceptionally dangerous festivities: molten metal, dry wood, flaming rum (and that's just inside the home).
Good job that the country still has a strong force of professional chimney sweeps who keep an up-to-date list of all gas-burning stoves - and keep up the style and swagger of generations gone by. Unsurprisingly, these cheerful chappies are considered good luck for the new year.
(19 December 2014) Was haben Deutschlands bekannteste Hacker, Großbritanniens berühmtester politischer Blogger, und der Pfadfinderinnen-Verband der britischen Grafschaft Essex gemeinsam?
Hört sich zwar wie der Anfang eines schlechten Witzes an: Die Antwort ist aber alles andere als lustig: Alle drei waren in Großbritannien von Netzfiltern betroffen. Weiteres von mir aus der wahnsinnigen Welt der "Pornowall" auf ZDF Heute.de.
(07 November 2014) For approaching 15 years now, Germany has had a bottle deposit system. The aim is to motivate thrifty Teutons to return their bottles for recycling rather than just to chuck them, and it certainly achieves that.
There are, however, unintended consequences to turning bottles into what is essentially a low denomination form of tender. Read my sally into the mechanics of "professional bottle deposit collecting" in German cities for the Telegraph here.
(26 Septenber 2014) Greetings from a country with lots of castles, mountains, lochs, a strong independence movement and a love for national costume worn by men without underpants. Yes, that's right, it's... Bavaria.
Yes folks, Bavaria is Germany's Scotland: just replace lochs with lakes, kilts with lederhosen, and whisky with beer. Also, subtract a referendum and replace financially vulnerable with economically invincible...
(22 August 2014) Kraftwerk, that epitome of German techno, were sparing with words. One of their only refrains of any note, however, was "Wir fahr'n, fahr'n, fahr'n, auf der Autobahn". Reason enough to examine the role of these "auto tracks" on the national psychology of the world's greatest car-producing nation for the Telegraph Expat pages.
(19 August 2014) Eine brillant-benebelte Schnappsidee, wie sie allabendlich in Londoner Kneipen ausgeheckt werden - und die das Zeug hat, das Korkenknallen unter britischen Medienbaronen zum Erliegen zu bringen... 100 Million Pfund zusammenbekommen und Murdoch das Filetstück seines Medienimperiums abkaufen.
Tja, warum eigentlich nicht? Bei heute.de vom ZDF stelle ich die Macher hinter der Kampagne vor.
(04 August 2014) I've just returned from a nice long holiday back in Blighty featuring London, Bath, Bristol, and Cornwall. Since I travel by train, my journey there and back took me through Liège, where European leaders have gathered today to mark the start of the First World War - Liège being the first Belgian City to have been attacked by the advancing German armies.
I feel exceptionally lucky to be a British person living in Germany able to pass through Belgium without seeing so much as a handgun, let alone columns of artillery. As such, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to writing about how Germany is commemorating the start of the Great War here.
(14 July 2014) Bislang liegt der Fokus der öffentlichen Aufregung über Ausspähen unter Verbündeten auf die Aktivitäten der Amerikaner. Dabei ist das Vorgehen der britischen Geheimdienste nicht minder skandalös.
Die Datensammelwut des britischen GCHQ wird aber diese Woche in London vor dem Investigatory Powers Tribunal - einem Sondergericht für Schlapphüte - von international agierenden Kläger aus der Zivilgesellschaft in Frage gestellt. Dazu habe ich für den ZDF ein Gespräch mit Amnesty International geführt.
(01 July 2014) "Summer time, and ze living is easy!" There's nothing like a look at a German calendar stuffed full of public holidays to make your average British office worker (and all freelancers, like, anywhere...) jealous. Ascension Day, Whitsun, Corpus Christi, Assumption Day, Presumption Day: every obscure Catholic holy day is transubstantiated into a German holiday. Want to go green with envy? Read more here.
(17 June 2014) Ladies and gentlemen, we have the very great pleasure of inviting you to join us for daring maritime missions and amourous adventures in the desert. Mysterious military men, femmes fatales, masked terrorists: all this and more is to be found in these two forgotten films of the 1930s by French director Marcel L'Herbier, Veille d'Armes and La Route impériale (subtitled into English by yours truly).
Mesdames et messieurs, vous êtes invités à nous rejoindre pour de dangereuses missions maritimes et d'aventures amoureuses dans le désert : militaires mystérieux, femmes fatales, terroristes masquées - il y a de tout dans ces deux oeuvres oubliés de Marcel L'Herbier, datant des années 30s. Et si vous voulez bien pratiquer votre anglais, c'est moi qui a fait les sous-titres...
(28 May 2014) If you were one of those people who assumed that social networks were populated exclusively by the young and cosmopolitan, think again! Reactionary political groups are hugely active on the social internet, and to coincide with the European elections last week, the Bertelsmann Stiftung released a very interesting pan-continental study about just how networks of eurosceptic and right-wing nationalist groups coalesce and interact online.
This innovative and detailed study is available here. If it sparks your interest and you're in Berlin on the evening of Monday 2 June, then register for a panel discussion with yours truly, Benoît Thieulin (La Netscouade), Mayte Peters (Publixphere e. V.) and Benjamin Zeeb (Project for Democratic Union) about how populist politicians work online.
(26 May 2014) Gefühlt weit weg ist es her: Als ich neu in Deutschland war und versuchte, meine Eindrücke und Entdeckungen mittels wöchentlicher Videos und gelegentlicher Artikel unter dem Titel "Lost in Deutschland" einzuordnen.
2010 gipfelte dieses Projekt in Form eines Buchs mit dem PONS-Verlag. Da war ich schon fast drei Jahre im Lande und folglich bot es sich an, dieses Druckerzeugnis als krönenden Abschluss anzusehen und Neues zu wagen. Denn wirklich orientierungslos war ich nicht mehr.
Hin und wieder bin aber wieder so "lost" wie am Anfang. Als ich zum Beispiel vor einiger Zeit vom Bezirksamt einen "Freizügigkeitsschein" bekam und dachte zunächst, dies könnte etwas mit FKK zu tun haben. Da freut es mich natürlich zu sehen, dass "Lost in Deutschland: Ein Brite über Currywurst und Pünktlichkeit" - lange Zeit nach Abverkauf der ersten und einzigen Auflage nur aus zweiter Hand erhältlich - nun als Kindle-eBook zum Verkauf steht.
LiD stirbt nie.
(10 May 2014) Wer dachte, die Anhänger von
euroskeptischen Parteien vorwiegend älter und ländlicher und
deswegen weniger Internet-affin wäre, täuscht sich.
Vielleicht war das mal, aber heute bedienen sich antieuropäische Parteien wie die britische UKIP des Internets, um ihre Stammklientel bei der Stange zu halten - und um am Rand des rechten Sumpfs nach Wählern zu angeln.
Ein Ausflug von Hyperland aus ins ungemütliche Online-Territorium der UK Independence Party.
(25 March 2014) I once heard a story about a German man buying 50 kilos of minced meat and fashioning a sex doll out of it. While it may well be apocryphal, it strikes me as telling that this sort of urban myth gets coined and spread at all. All the more reason to examine the German love of all animal flesh chopped...
(20 February 2014) “An Englishman’s home is his castle.” Hat der Brite doch schon immer seinen Wohlstand in Form eines Eigenheims zur Schau gestellt. Wie praktisch, dass heute jeder über das Internet herausfinden kann, was die eigene Immobilie Wert ist (oder die des Nachbarn). Ein Besuch auf Zoopla schafft totale Transparenz. Mehr lesen auf ZDF Hyperland.
(30 January 2014) Der britische Mobilfunkanbieter The People's Operator bietet Telefonieren und Internet-Flat mit gutem Gewissen an, denn 10% der monatlichen Rechnungen dürfen Kunden an eine Organisation ihrer Wahl spenden: Jetzt will Wikipedia-Gründer Jimmy Wales den spendablen "Volkstelefonisten" in andere Länder bringen. Allerdings lässt sich das wohltätige "Fräulein vom Amt" in Großbritannien auf brisante parteipolitische Partnerschaften ein. Mehr von mir darüber im Hyperland von ZDF.
(16 December 2013) I was saddened to learn that the Paris-Madrid and Paris-Barcelona Talgo-Trenhotel night trains would be disappearing on Saturday 14th December and took this opportunity to take an overall look at the generally parlous state of international sleeper services in Europe for the Telegraph Travel pages. Read more about which services have disappeared - and which ones look most likely to hold out against the triple-whammy of high costs, competition from the air, and a non-functional European rail "market".
Ici mon article sur la disparition des trains de nuit Talgo-Trenhotel entre Paris-Austerlitz et Madrid/Barcelone (en anglais).
Aquí mi artículo sobre la desaparición de los trenes de noche Taglo-Trenhotel entre Madrid-Charmartin/Barcelona-França y París (en inglés).
(06 December 2013) There's a lot of talk in Germany at the moment about the lack of investment; even if the Grand Coalition agreement with its promises of infrastructure modernisation is accepted and implemented, it will be drop in the ocean (or "on a hot stone", as the German phrase goes). Which doesn't surprise me: there won't be any investment in Germany until the Government has the cash (and I mean that word quite literally) reserves to make it. Read my piece about the German love of cash and fear of credit for more on that.
(28 October 2013) On 18th October, I had the immeasurable privilege of returning to Merton College almost exactly 10 years after I went up as a student to give a talk as part of librarian Julia Walworth's admirable History of the Book initiative. My research on writing about Germany had turned up several incidences of publishing firsts, and I was delighted to be able to share these with scholars interested in written communication.
Julia keeps as many sessions as possible open to all, so if you are in Oxford and have an interest in anything and/or everything from old Shakespearean manuscripts through to digital word processing programmes such as TeX, do try and catch a History of the Book event.
(01 October 2013) This was my fifth year
at the Oktoberfest, and I thought it was time for an all-out
confession of my love for lederhosen. I never would have guessed
that I'd ever wear them for anything more than a dare or for work
purposes: yes, being a freelance video journalist in Germany
can lead has led to
conceivable situations in which it is a
professional necessity to wear lederhosen.
So get your Stanley Kubrick anoraks on and come join me for: The Oktoberfest - Or how I learned to stop worrying and love lederhosen.
Und wenn ihr keine Einführung auf Englisch in die wunderbare Welt der Wiesn, der Dirndl und der Lederhosen braucht, könnt ihr bei den Freunden styleranking.de zum Wiesn-Quiz 2013 vorbeischauen und sehen, ob ihr wirklich alles über das Oktoberfest wisst.
Eine Frage habe ich zwar dieses Jahr ausnahmsweise nicht gestellt, aber hier kriegt ihr die auch beantwortet.
(12 September 2013) When the SPD came up with their long-awaited new election slogan this Spring, I was momentarily disappointed: Das Wir entscheidet. In a way, it's clever, saying both that "we (as a collective) make decisions" and that "together, we hold the power to decide"; it made a nice change from the me-me-me tax-cutting rhetoric of the liberals or the "I'm voting for Merkel" propaganda produced by the parties in government.
Then I took another look at it and realised that it doesn't really mean anything; at the head of a manifesto filled with redistributive and socially-progressive policies, it might have done, but as essentially the only accompanying words for a political campaign, it's little more than a statement of fact: of course the collective decides everything - we are a democracy after all.
This slogan is half-baked at best, especially given that almost everyone who hears it unanimously mishears it as Das Bier entscheidet - the beer decides. All in all, the German electoral campaign is dull and unimaginative: which is a shame, because the stakes couldn't be higher. My rant on the matter is available here.
(24 June 2013) There's a great buzzfeed or Tumblr or similar going around at the moment called "British People Problems", and one of my British people problems is extreme embarrassment when it comes to paying in restaurants in Germany. Not only are tips accorded with a form of that preserve of the Burk in the Merc, "keep the change", but even good friends are unlikely to split a bill by the number of people at the table: cue toe-curling reconstructions of who had what and how much it costs...
Then again, as I realised while thinking more deeply about the reasons behind this seeming pedantry for the Telegraph's expat section, it has more upsides than down.
(30 May 2013) Voici un incontournable pour les adeptes du cinéma français classique (ou pour ceux qui - pour des raisons esthétiques - veulent le devenir). La Dame de pique de Léonard Keigel, filmé en 1965, basant sur une nouvelle de Pouchkine adapté par Julien Green, et inexplicablement négligé dornévant malgré ces grands noms - et sa qualité indubitable. Dès maintement à commander par la boutique des Documents Cinématographiques, société Parisienne qui l'a restauré. Et qui m'en ont confié le sous-titrage anglais.
Here's a must-have for all you classic French film buffs (or those of you who like the idea of being one and would like to start somewhere) - La Dame de pique, directed by Léonard Keigel in 1965 and based on an adaptation by Julien Green of Pushkin's short story The Queen of Spades. Despite the big names involved and its doubtless qualities, it had been rather inexplicably neglected: until now, restored by Paris' Les Document Cinématographiques, who are selling it online (and who got me to do the English subtitles).
(02 April 2013) After two years of hard, enjoyable work, Germany: Beyond the Enchanted Forest - A Literary Anthology is finally on its way to a bookstore or online monopolist near you.
That's more than enough reason to celebrate with a glass of sekt
or two, so a book launch event has been arranged on
April 23rd May at a lovely little location in W11.
If you would be interested in coming along and have something half-approaching a good reason to do so (you're a journalist interested in *maybe* reviewing the book; your dad's first cousin once removed was German - or, wait, was he Dutch? etc.), please use the contact function on this website to get in touch and have yourself put on the guest list. ("Mum, I've told you, I don't want you coming along and embarrassing me... No, not even if you use the contact form... Oh, alright...")
(04 March 2013) The last few months in Germany have seen a range of debates about the use of language in the public sphere. In late 2012, the minister for families and women Kristina Schröder set the ball rolling in an interview with Die Zeit by mentioning two areas in which she would like to see a more politically correct attitude to language.
Firstly, she complained that many classic children's books still contained outdated racist vocabulary which she would feel uncomfortable reading out loud to her own toddler. Secondly, she pointed out that, although German has grammatical gender, this should not be seen as an excuse for neglecting to speak and write in a manner inclusive of women: why, she asked rhetorically, couldn't people say "das Gott" rather than "der Gott"? After all, went her reasoning, "der" is masculine while "das" is neuter, and assuming God is male is something that even most theologians no longer do.
Schröder had, until that point, been accused by most commentators in Germany of being too conservative, too willing to pander to the hard-right of her CDU electorate. Suddenly, most were of the opinion that she was being too radical.
I found the debate very interesting - and most of the anti-progressive reactions slightly depressing. Die Zeit disappointed by accusing a publishing company which decided to re-issue a popular children's book without the word Neger in it of Orwellian censorship; others showed a complete lack of understanding by claiming that there is absolutely no link between grammatical and biological gender in German, and that grammatical gender cannot be changed (both arguments are absolute nonsense from a linguistic point of view).
Which is why I was delighted to see this protest from scholars receiving money from Die Zeit's charitable foundation. My contribution to the debate came in the form of a piece for the expat section of the Telegraph.co.uk: the viscious, usually personal tone of nearly all of the (at the time of writing, 101) mostly anonymous comments clearly show that not only Germany, but Britain too, still has some way to go in terms of a considerate use of language in the public realm.
Asides the from the slightly more odd-ball variants à la 'Germany is dominating the world economy because it is investing its energies in industry, not wasting them on debates about political correctness', the syllogistic structure of the arguments is always the same: I like to use language the way I already do; therefore, language cannot be changed; any attempt to ask me to use language in a way not hurtful to others in public is akin to censorship.
The most telling comment was "Call a spade a shovel if you like and be-damned to the trowel that complains." I do just wonder if the commenter by the name of "auntiepodes" would be happy to see the same principle applied at a school where her "nephewpodes" was being called names by bullies?
I was certainly amazed that by simply calling for the rough equivalent of good manners in language, so much by way of discourteous bile could be drawn. From reading the comments alone, you'd think I'd called for a 1984-style manipulation of linguistic history and chips being implanted in everyone's brains to make sure they're always on message, rather than simply drawing attention to hurtful or thoughtless patterns of speech that would best (and could easily) be avoided in the public sphere.
Im Zuge der von der (bis dahin eher als wertekonservativ aufgefallenen) Kristina Schröder im ZEIT-Gespräch angestoßenen Debatte über sprachliche Gerechtigkeit, habe ich meinen Beitrag zur Debatte auf Englisch für das Blog der Telegraph geleistet.
Auch ich bin der Meinung, das Wort Neger ist eindeutig Fehl am Platz in Kinderbüchern, die heutzutage gedruckt werden. Auch teile ich die Bereitschaft Schröders, über die Koppelung von grammatikalischer und biologischer Gattung zu sinnieren. Denn es ist mitnichten so, dass es keine Verbindung zwischen den beiden gibt, nur weil es 'das Mädchen' oder 'das Opfer' heißt: Im deutschen Sprachgebrauch wird in vielen Bereichen reflexhaft zum Männlichen gegriffen, wo das nicht grammatikalisch notwendig ist (siehe ihre Anmerkungen zur Variante "das Gott"). Hier plädiere ich auch für eine kreative Ausschöpfung des erheblichen Potenzials der deutschen Sprache, ohne diese in irgendeiner Weise zensieren oder zwangsumbauen zu wollen.
Deswegen bin ich darüber sehr erfreut, dass die reaktionäre Antwort der ZEIT auf diese Debatte auf etwas Widerstand gestoßen ist seitens der Stipendiatinnen und Stipendiaten der ZEIT-Stiftung. Denn ein ganzes redaktionelles Paket über den Gebrauch des Wortes Neger in die Welt zu setzen, ohne mal einen in Deutschland lebenden Menschen mit Migrationshintergrund (oder einfach nur einer dunkleren Hautfarbe) zu Wort kommen zu lassen, ist für meine Begriffe eben der Beweis dafür, dass sich etwas ändern muss.
Auch gehört in die Debatte eine schärfere Trennung zwischen der Bitte, im öffentlichen Raum auf diskriminierenden Sprachgebrauch zu verzichten, und dem Ruf nach Zensur. Keiner will jetzt durch die Bibliotheken und Bücherhallen des Landes gehen, um alte Druckwerken nachträglich zu säubern. Keiner will Mikros an jedem Stammtisch unterbringen, um die Ewiggestrigen aufzuspüren, die noch nicht von Schwarzen ohne das N-Wort reden können. Die Verweise auf Orwell und Heine, auf 1984 und "Wo man Bücher brennt..." sind völlig überzogen.
Ich bin stolz, zu denjenigen zu gehören, die sich Gedanken über die Gefühle anderer macht, wenn ich mich in der Öffentlichkeit zu Wort melde.
(04 February 2013) Ever fancied your prejudices confirmed for once? Well, look at German winter eating habits: cabbage, cabbage, and more cabbage, rounded off with pork, potatoes, beer and schnapps.
Also, if you want your prejudices about supposedly typical Telegraph readers and weird internet trolls confirmed, just scroll down to the comments box!
(01 January 2013) So I survived it! "It" being the (surprising) German propensity to celebrate the arrival of the New Year by making every conceivable effort to seriously injure oneself and bystanders. For details on the terrifying Teutonic traditions for the transition between the years, feel free to refer to my article for the Telegraph.
And, to add to that, here's a quick round-up of yesterday's hairiest experiences in Hamburg between 4.00pm on 31st and 4.00am on 1st:
- children throwing firecrackers at the wheels of my
- a friend's bottle-rocket firing straight at the building opposite his and exploding a matter of inches over the roof;
- said friend's second bottle-rocket failing to soar upwards and spinning under the chassis of a nearby BMW, where it exploded;
- a drunkard trying to light a Roman candle with a cigarette and then getting the fag and firework momentarily confused;
- said drunkard throwing the Roman candle at the closing doors of the underground carriage we were sat in.
Next New Year's, I'm so out of here!
(29 November 2012) It's odd to see my home country falling so deeply in love with German Christmas Markets just as Germans themselves are starting to get sick of them. Not that they're about to die out here or anything like that (and not that there aren't some great yuletide fests at say Nuremberg or Dresden), but the general opinion is that your average cluster of mulled wine stalls and crappy merchandise is overpriced and overrated.
Read more about why they're "Not magical, just naff" on the Telegraph's expat blog.
(28 September 2012) September just wouldn't be September without... well, the Oktoberfest! This year's started on 22nd September and goes through until 7th October and, as ever, I was there with my lederhosen and my favourite camera-lady to film the traditional mayhem for Styleranking.de. Try this if you want a quick introduction to the "Wiesn" in English.
Der September wäre ja irgendwie unvollständig ohne, äh, das Oktoberfest! Dieses Jahr ging der Wiesnspaß am 22. September los und geht bis zum 7. Oktober weiter. Wie immer war ich mit meiner Lieblingskamerakollegin unterwegs um für Styleranking.de den üblichen Wahnsinn in Bewegtbild festzuhalten. Die neuesten Beiträge: hier, und die Klassiker hier, hier, und hier.
(23 August 2012) It might seem a little odd to count an event that happened on 4th August as "news", but, hey, it was the "Slowlympics", a tongue-cheek counterpart to the London Olympics 2012. Where real athletes have "stronger, higher, faster", we - under the visionary guidance of the man behind the very excllent SlowTravelBerlin - used "weaker, lower, slower" as our motto. And what a lot of fun it was! Thanks to all the people who took part and all my fellow journalists who reprinted the DPA newswire piece erroneously titling me as the organiser without checking their sources.
Wer sich fragt, wieso ein Event vom 4. August noch unter "News" aufgeführt wird, der ist noch nicht mit dem Konzept der "Slowlympics" vertraut. Als ironischen Gegenpart zur Londoner Olympiade 2012 veranstalteten wir um den visionären Gründer von der wundervollen Website SlowTravelBerlin diese Spiele. Statt "stärker, höher, schneller" war alles bei uns "schwächer, niedriger, langsamer": Und was für ein herrlicher Spaß es war! Danke an alle Teilnehmer und an alle Kollegen, die die DPA-Meldung, in der ich fälschlicherweise als Organisator aufgeführt wurde, ohne Rückfragen übernahmen.
Si vous vous demandez pourquoi j'ai mis en "news" un évenement du 4 août, c'est que vous connaissez pas encore les "Slowlympics". Découvrez-les alors en français chez Ouest France!
(27 July 2012) After months of word lists, spider diagrams, association games and all sorts of other nonsense during my odd moments to spare, I have agreed with my publisher on a title for our collection of English-language writing about Germany. The book to look out for in early 2013 will be called Germany: Beyond the Forests - A travellers' anthology. More news on the authors included and the exact date of publication to follow.
(25 June 2012) After two exciting weeks, right between the twin madnesses of the Jubilee and the Olympics, my series of ten videos about typically British objects went live on ARTE.tv, accompanied by ten blog pieces about the idea of Britishness by a variety of gifted authors. If you missed it all, catch up here and here (German versions; also available on same site in French).
Über zwei spannende Wochen zwischen dem doppelten Wahnsinn des königlichen Dienstjubiläums und der Olympiade ging meine Serie Videos über typische britisch Gegenstände online auf ARTE.tv, begleitet von zehn genialen Autorenstücken zum Thema Britishness. Verpasst? Keine Sorge: alles steht noch hier und hier.
Pendant deux semaines chargées entre les folies de la jubilée royale et les jeux olympiques, a été mise en ligne sur ARTE.tv ma série de vidéos sur des objets typiquement british, accompagnée de dix textes sur le britishness par dix auteurs géniaux. Pour ceux qui l'ont raté, le conseil est simple : rendez-vous sur cette page-ci et cette page-là.
(01 June 2012) What will you be doing every day at precisely 16:00 from 9th to 20th June? That's right: enjoying a nice cup of tea and a sit down with me while I explain the fascination behind some of the most typically British objects there are. There's only one problem: I don't actually like tea that much, as you'll find out when you watch...
Was macht ihr jeden Tag um 16:00 zwischen vom 9. bis zum 20. Juni? Richtig: Schön eine Tasse Tee mit mir trinken, damit ich euch einige der am typischten britischen Gegenstände aller Zeiten erklären kann. Da gibt es nur einen kleinen Haken: Ich mag eigentlich keinen Tee, wie ihr beim Zuschauen erfahren werdet...
Et vous, qu'est-ce que vous avez de prévu à 16h chaque après-midi du 9 au 20 juin? C'est clair - vous buverez une tasse de thé avec moi pour que je vous explique quelques uns des objets les plus british du monde. Seul hic : je n'aime pas tellement le thé, comme vous allez voir dans les vidéos...
(27 April 2012) During the first two weeks of June, the Franco-German television channel ARTE will be featuring a range of programming about Britain. And every afternoon, Monday to Friday, ARTE.tv will be putting a web-video about Britain, produced by yours, truly online. Each of the ten videos will look at a traditionally British object and examine what it has to say about British society in a tongue-in-cheek yet informative way. All the videos will be available in English, German, and French.
Während der ersten zwei Juniwochen bietet der ARTE einen Sendeschwerpunkt zum Thema Großbritannien an. Und jeden Nachmittag in der Zeit montags bis freitags stellt ARTE.tv ein Webvideo über Großbritannien online - von meiner Wenigkeit produziert. Über zehn Beiträge knöpfe ich mir zehn typisch britische Gegenstände vor und prüfe augendzwinkernd aber informativ, was sie jeweils über mein Heimatland aussagen. Alle Videos werden in Deutsch, Französisch und Englisch angeboten.
Au cours des deux premières semaines de ce mois de juin, ARTE présente un programme sur la Grande-Bretagne. Ce qui sera complementé chaque après-midi, du lundi jusqu'au vendredi, par des vidéos mis en ligne sur ARTE.tv, produit par votre humble serviteur. Dans les dix vidéos je propose d'examiner dix objets typiquement british et de rentrer par ceux-là dans un analyse du mon pays d'origine - avec plein d'informations et un grand clin d'oeil. Tous les vidéos seront disponible en français, en allemand, et en anglais.
Covering 500 years of European history and over 80 different authors, this anthology will not only to show how the area now called Germany changed in that time, but also how the expectations and prejudices of people from the English-speaking world changed with it.
Most excitingly, it will also capture some of the same prejudices as they developed, providing answers to a question asked by one author featured: "When did these visions (of the typical German) reciting the Hymn of Hate among the sausages and the beer-mugs (...) replace the (...) stereotype of picturesque principalities exclusively populated (...) by philosophers and composers and bandsmen and peasants and students drinking and singing in harmony?"
And hopefully it will also capture the recent revival of more romantic, less jingoistic views about Germany, depicting relations between English speakers and Germans at their best for many a long year.