(23 April 2018) In Germany, barely a week goes by in which highly-explosive World War Two ordnance is not discovered underground in one of the country's major cities: even after 80 years, bombs which failed to go off remain live and dangerous.
The Guardian sent me to talk to the Hamburg bomb disposal squad to find out how they make sure the bombs found don't go off and to take a look at how the threat is dealt with in Germany generally.
(26 March 2018) It is 80 years this month since Hitler made the most historically important of his rare visits to his place of birth, Braunau, passing through as he annexed Austria in 1938. He didn’t stop: his family had moved away when he was three and, with the Anschluss to take care of, he headed straight to nearby Linz, the city he considered home...
Nevertheless, despite his lack of interest in Braunau, the city has remained tainted by Hitler. In this piece for Guardian Cities, I find out how the town copes with its heritage - and what else it has to offer.
(05 March 2018) Monatelang zeigte Twitter auf ihrer Homepage ein Deutschland, in dem die AfD 60% der Sitze im Bundestag und Erika Steinbach noch dem Bundestag angehört: Das ergab meine heute bei t3n erschienene Untersuchung der aktiven Homepage.
Nun wird dieser Auftritt in den kommenden Wochen zugunsten einer neutralen Startseite endgültig abgeschafft. Denn auch bei Twitter scheint sich die späte Erkenntnis verbreitet zu haben, dass soziale Netzwerke ihre Rolle im politischen Diskurs durchaus gestalten müssen, wenn sie sich nicht Vorwürfe gefallen lassen wollen, sie stärkten Populisten über Gebühr.
Ein schaler Beigeschmack bleibt.
(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 2015) 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.