Friday, December 24, 2010

More German Christmas Carols

Last year I introduced you to one of my favorite ("depressing") German Christmas Carols.  Here is another of my favorites, Oh Du Fröhliche, followed by church bells.

The German lyrics were published in 1816 as a hymn and then modified in 1829 into a Christmas carol.  The song is based on the Roman Catholic hymn O Sanctissima.  Here are the modern German lyrics:

O du fröhliche, o du selige,
gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit!
Welt ging verloren, Christ ist geboren:
Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!

O du fröhliche, o du selige,
gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit!
Christ ist erschienen, uns zu versühnen:
Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!

O du fröhliche, o du selige,
gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit!
Himmlische Heere jauchzen Dir Ehre:
Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!

Apparently, there also are English lyrics for the song such as these from Wikipedia:

O thou happy, O thou holy
Glorious peace bringing Christmas time
Angel throngs to meet thee
On Thy birth we greet Thee
Hail to Christ, the Son of God, our newborn king

The Church bells really add something to the German Christmas carol collections.  Most CDs start with bells and end with them.  Typically, the bells are from historic churches throughout Germany.  The Stadtgeläut -- the simultaneous ringing of a city's church bells -- on Christmas Eve is an integral part of the Christmas celebration in Frankfurt.  Frankfurt's Stadtgeläut is particularly impressive because of the concentration of churches near the old city.  A total of over 50 bells from 10 churches creates an impressive wall of sound at 5:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.  The bells ring for 30 minutes.  After that, people go to church and then hurry home to open presents.  Some folks still wait until this evening to decorate their trees, but many put their trees up earlier, just as we do.  Most serve a simple meal with traditional dishes that vary by region and family.  We're having beef sausages (Rindswurst) and potato salad, smoked fish, and a few other specialties about which I will report later.

Here's wishing you a Merry Christmas and all the best for the new year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

CYA the German Way

One of the biggest boondoggles of German city life is the winter snow service (Winterdienst). Every apartment house, co-op or office building in Frankfurt has one person or company that is responsible for making sure that the sidewalk in front of the building is clear of snow and ice. Allegedly -- I've never bothered to research this -- the city is not liable for damages caused to pedestrians who slip and fall on the sidewalks in front of private homes or buildings. A lot of money changes hands each year from building owners to providers of winter services. The payments are made in advance for the promise of diligent winter service. In reality, the house owners only purchase a deep pocket and, presumably, an insurance policy to sue in the event someone slips or falls and sues the owners. I've lost track of the number of times we've changed winter service. Some houses are lucky enough to have a Hausmeister, a custodian or caretaker responsible for cleaning and grooming the common areas, who often lives in or near the building, and who also clears the walkways of snow and ice. You can tell the lucky houses that still have a Hausmeister, because you actually can see the sidewalks after the Hausmeister has cleared the snow. The private winter service companies rarely do a good job. Sometimes they simply drop some granulate on the snow (Streuen). Sometimes they have motorized tractors of different sizes that run a rotating brush over the snow. This rarely clears the sidewalk. The tractors with blades also usually leave a fair bit of snow on the sidewalks. The sidewalks are made of bricks or setts, so I guess there is a risk of tearing them up if the blade is too low. In any event, the sidewalks in Frankfurt reveal that most houses use a winter service. The trusty Hausmeister has gone the way of the concierge, a luxury few can afford. Days after a major snow, many houses show no sign of loving winter care to their sidewalks. Even a hotel on our street, owned by an asian consortium, appears not to understand its duties to clear snow.

After no sight of our winter service provider for 48 hours, I finally called our property manager (Hausverwaltung) to complain. She mentioned that none of her houses in the neighborhood had been cleared, and she contacted our winter service provider to demand performance. Meanwhile, the winter service provider for the house next door -- a large firm that we had used the winter before but that also did not perform regularly and so was fired -- promptly cleared the sidewalk in front of our neighbor's house. That hurt.  The worker then used the tractor blade to create a hump of snow across the sidewalk along the boundary of our house. Was that payback for being fired last year? In any event, shortly after his visit, we watched in horror as a mother pushing a buggy almost dumped her child in the snow when she hit the bump. We called the property manager of the house next door (city survival demands that you learn such contact information) to complain about the hump, but nothing was ever done. At some point someone scattered a few handfuls of granulate (Splitt -- not a beach in Croatia) on our sidewalk but did nothing for the walkway leading up to our house entrance. Further complaints were lodged. Our property manager suggested that we keep a diary so that we could claim a refund against the service provider. After another bout of snow I was cleaning off our car in case we needed to go somewhere and noticed a worker diligently clearing snow from the sidewalk in front of the other next door neighbor's house.  He was using a snow shovel. A sidewalk cleared by hand glistened darkly all the way to the corner! I promptly asked him who he worked for.  He was a self-employed Hausmeister, and it turns out that he used to work for our house, too. We have an eccentric neighbor in the house who loves to complain about the custodians.  She must have caused him to be fired at some point years ago. It looks as if our property manager, pushed no doubt by the eccentric neighbor, has dug us into a hole and that no one is coming to dig us out. I can't bring myself to start a "snow diary". I see myself turning into one of those grumpy German men who have nothing better to do than spend all day complaining about the lack of order around them. I've already written to the city about the abominable parking system on our street.  Next thing you know I'll be shouting at little children to be quiet.  Of course, we have a snow shovel in the basement. I could simply go downstairs and clear things to my satisfaction. Aside from the issue of what unthinkable liability I might expose myself to, there also is the certain knowledge that all my neighbors would think me a fool. I mentioned the possibility of clearing the sidewalk myself to Frau Bloggerboy, and she suggested that I was crazy.  So, rather than sleeping soundly knowing that no one will slip on our sidewalk and sue us, I keep an eye out for the winter service and stew in my own discontent, wondering about exceptions to my insurance coverage.  "Dear snow diary ...".  Aaahhh, go ahead and sue me.

This contraption makes a helluva noise, the exhaust fumes
stink to high heaven, but you still can't see the sidewalk!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Palmengarten Winter Walk

It snowed much of the evening and well into the night Thursday. My worst deadline matters were finished, so Frau Bloggerboy and I decided to treat ourselves to a morning walk in the Palmengarten to enjoy the winter landscapes. The Palmengarten caretakers already had cleared the walkways by the time we arrived shortly after nine a.m., but the snow otherwise was fresh and undisturbed by visitors. The morning sun was just starting to break out above the building and tree tops, casting long shadows and reflecting from ice crystals.  Only a few students used the park as a short-cut across the Westend. Otherwise, we had the park to ourselves for the better part of an hour. The beauty of the winter landscapes and the complete quiet in the middle of the city was almost worth the price of our annual family pass. Afterwards, we had a leisurely breakfast at Café Siesmayer at a table right next to the large windows overlooking the Palmengarten's snowy fields.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cushioned Seats

Palmengarten 12/17/10 ca. 9:00 a.m.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

The Ska version of an oldie.  Having grown up in the South, I can relate to the "not like the ones I used to know" twist.  Ska is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s, and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae.   Ska combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. It is characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the upbeat. In the early 1960s, ska was the dominant music genre of Jamaica and was popular with British mods.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where We've Been and Where We're Headed

For anyone who has given up on the idea of progress, this video offers a refreshing perspective.

Even problem child Africa seems to be on the upswing.

Gee, maybe capitalism works.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What's So Funny About Peace, Love & Understanding?

b. 10/9/40, d. 12/8/80 

"I'm not claiming divinity. I've never claimed purity of soul. I've never claimed to have the answers to life. I only put out songs and answer questions as honestly as I can ... But I still believe in peace, love and understanding." -- December 1980.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Littlest Library

I don't know how many times I walked past the littlest library in Frankfurt without noticing it.  It is located at the Merianplatz in Bornheim and it's open 24/7/365.  The library was designed by architect Hans-Jürgen Greve.  The walls are made of steel.  A great place to pick up a free read or to drop off a book you'd like to pass along.  The next time I go to my favorite cafe, I'm going to stop here first.  Apparently, the first "open-air" bookshelves appeared in Cologne about five years ago.  I think this is a perfect complement to Book Crossing.  It is a safe place to drop off a used book in a way that increases its chances of being passed along to other interested readers.  I once tried donating a stack of books to the local library, but they were interested in only one or two out of about twenty.  The rest went into a flea market bin to be sold to raise funds for the library.  That's OK, I guess, but I like this concept better.

First Snow(s)

This is about as early as it has snowed (and stuck) since I've been living in Frankfurt.  I ran a few errands this morning and took my camera along.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Photography Exhibits at Frankfurt's MMK

I took the day off a couple of Saturdays ago and walked into town to see an amazing photography exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art ("MMK"). Actually, it was two exhibits. I first went upstairs to see the exhibit “Not in Fashion”. The emphasis of the exhibit is on the backstage and non-fashionable sides of fashion. Most of the photos are not glossy. Many of them have been printed on ink jet printers. The focus is on the fashion of the 90's, primarily in the UK. There are some early portraits and the first magazine covers of Kate Moss, who is emblematic of the period.  I really liked the pictures of British "street fashion".

I then went downstairs to see an impressive – and occasionally troubling – selection of the MMKs permanent collection “The Lucid Evidence”. A few weeks ago we were at a dinner party at friends of ours. One of their neighbors, also at the dinner, is a photography buff and someone who was “out in the streets” in the Sixties. Nevertheless, he was put off by some of the photographs on display, primarily the ones by Larry Clark, whose complete early works are on display. I don’t recall his reaction to the works on display by Jock Sturges, another photographer who has had troubles in the US with obscenity charges.  According to Wikipedia, directors such as Gus Van Sant and Martin Scorsese have stated that they were influenced by Clark's early photography.  Some of the more striking portraits of women were by Bettina Rheims, most famous for her series Chambre Close.  Large prints from that series also were on display.

I think the two exhibits combined are an important exhibit for anyone interested in photography. I took home a stack of info brochures about different photographers. There are a couple of photographs by Larry Clark on display that certainly go beyond the pale of what one might expect to see at an exhibit, but the general tenor of his early work is documentary, which somewhat lessens the impact of the most extreme pictures, which are set in the context of a drug culture. The remainder of Clark’s works on display fall more in the category of homoerotic art or, more neutrally, the male as object, and certainly are appropriate works for display in a museum. I did not have a problem with Jock Sturges’s nude portraits of pubescent girls that were taken at nude beaches in the US and France, but I can understand how some folks might find them erotic and, therefore, inappropriate. I’d recommend the exhibit because of the broad range of photos on display. From low-gloss, inkjet prints to high-gloss, oversized portraits, it’s all there. It also gives the viewer a chance to form his or her own opinions about artists such as Sturges and Clark. I have a strong libertarian streak and would be uncomfortable condemning even the most extreme works shown at this exhibit. Make up your own minds. Next year the MMK is putting on another display of the remaining parts of its large photography exhibit. Not in Fashion runs until September 1, 2011; the Lucid Evidence, until April 25, 2011.

The MMK in Frankfurt -- one of my favorite buildings, inside and out
Architect:  Hans Hollein, Vienna
(Pictures:  Wikimedia Commons)