Der Spiegel interviews, debates Iran’s president

A fascinating interview utterly unlike anything that would happen with a major U.S. publication. Der Spiegel talks at length to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (link is to English translation) about the Holocaust, Palestine, German responsibility to Jews, and about the current nuclear debates. Ahmadinejad accuses the interviewers of “fanatically” taking the side of European politicians, and indeed, the conversation often turns into a debate over Germany’s role in history, rather than a strict interview.

The interviewer harshly questions Ahmadinejad’s position on the Holocaust. There is no question that it happened, and that Germans — not just *Germany* — bear unfortunate collective responsibility for the tragedy, the reporter says. Ahmadinejad points to the jailing of an academic who questioned the Holocaust’s reality (although this was Austria, not Germany), and contends that “unbiased” research is not allowed to happen.

Here and elsewhere in the interview, he skillfully puts his fingers on precisely the weakest points in Western powers’ arguments, and those which are mostly likely to keep Middle Eastern (and others, such as Venezuelans and Bolivians) questioning American and European sincerity.

Of course there is no question about the Holocaust. But if researchers who deny its existance are jailed, there is not a wholly free marketplace of ideas on the subject, and the appearance of suppression of information arises. To the Palestinans, whose last 50 years has been dominated by events triggered in part by the Holocaust, this becomes suspicious.

This is a key difference between the U.S. and German cultural markets. The most radical, offensive Ku Kux Klan members are allowed to say what they want in America. Holocaust denial is illegal here in Germany. But history here is very different. Americans do not believe in their own collective guilt for anything, be it slavery, Vietnam, or the overthrow of governments in Iran and elsewhere. Lacking that sense of collective responsibility for the past, Americans have no visceral consciousness that they have the capacity to do great harm in the world. Not so here — and the restrictions on speech are meant as a safeguard against worse evils.

Ahmadinejad also asks why Western powers are entitled to reserve to themselves, who already have nuclear technology, the right to determine who now develops it further. Logically and morally it is a powerful question, and one which resonates across the Middle East. This is an issue of realpolitik, one in which stronger powers trust only themselves, and fear the catastrophic disruption of a delicate balance of power. Realpolitik does not play well as a message to the masses, however.

All Bud at the World Cup? No wonder people hate Americans

The World Cup. Big sports event. In Germany. Where they drink, and make, a lot of beer. But Anheuser-Busch spent northwards of $40 million to sponsor the World Cup, and so at all stadiums, all games, Budweiser will be nearly the only beer availible.

*Nearly* the only beer because of trademark issues, thankfully. First, they can’t use “Budweiser” in Germany, because of the actually good Czech beer of the same name, aka Budvar, aka Czechvar in the U.S. So it’ll be called “Bud.” Oh, yummy.

Secondly, “Bud” sounds too much like “Bit,” which is what Bitburger is called here. So apparently somebody somewhere gets to sell an undefined amount of Bit. They’d better bring a lot, is all I’m saying.

Naturally, the Germans are not amused.

Nass, which doesn’t mean nice, for Sleater-Kinney

It’s wet outside. Nass, a word which I have just learned. It’s also wet inside, on me and through me. My fingers are too cold to type really efficiently; but just wait, I tell myself, they have real winters here, its no use complaining about the spring.

We’ve just ridden back across town from the Sleater-Kinney show, who as usual tore the place down on a few songs, and just plain rocked on all the rest. This makes two Japanese bands, one American, one Canadian in the last week. It’s time to start discovering the German music scene, or making some myself.

Drinks beforehand with Kenji and Till, who just got a full scholarship at the University of Munich, which makes him something like a German rock star of political economy. They’re spending the weekend at a castle in northeastern germany to celebrate their anniversary.

Tonight, the sky is lit up over the center of the city by the searchlights at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, a monster of glass and arches that opened on Tuesday. In the low, drifting clouds (and inspired by the WWII reading I have done recently) the lights look eerily like anti-aircraft defenses.

Till tells two stories about this new ubertrain station, which was supposed to be the pride of the new Berlin. To save money, DB made it shorter and squatter than the original plans had called for. That means that some trains will stick out the back as passengers disembark, leaving some people to be drenched on rainy days like this one. Berliners were furious when they heard of the changes; but a city that is technically bankrupt can’t argue too strenuously for overspending.

And then: On Tuesday, the day of the opening, the officials in charge decided that it would be simply impossible to have trains stop there, because too many people would come and clog the system, making the trains late. Efficiency trumpts logic. So if you wanted to visit the new station for the opening party, you couldn’t take the train there. People who didn’t hear the message on the radio watched angrily out the windows, shouting, as the station rolled past and receded into the distance…

In any case, the cheap airfares here are quickly making trains as obsolete as in America. We can’t afford to take the train to Paris this summer. EasyJet, here we come.

Hammer from the sky. It’s Thor! Or the construction guys.

Every morning, at eight o’clock (weather permitting), the people turning our attic into a luxury penthouse begin hammering. There are no power tools in this job, except for the hoist they’re using to bring sheetrock and glass up the six stories. So we hear the bang through the walls. Bang. Bang. Bang. It’s better than an alarm.

Today he’s singing lustily, without words, his voice echoing across our courtyard as I make my coffee and spend a few minutes translating Emil und die Detective. Fa, La lo..

Last night we went to the Konzerthaus for the first time, to see a grab-bag of a peformance by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, a young and incredibly tight group playing with soprano Dawn Upshaw (she of the Gorecki 3rd that ballooned into the pop charts 15 years ago). They played short pieces by Part, Britten, Bartok, Toru Takemitsu, Bach and then followed with Schubert’s Death and the Maiden.

The group played standing up, led by the first violinist, and this I think contributed to their astonishing degree of communication. The leader, and the two lead viola players in particular, almost danced as they played, as a fiddle player might; this naturally helped keep the entire group playing as one. Their control over the subtleties of tone was remarkable, from the whispering of Part’s “Cantus in moemoriam Benjamin Britten” to the full-volume, full-speed Schubert runs in which every note from each of the 15 players remained individually audible.

The Schubert piece is still my favorite Beethoven piece that Beethoven never wrote. I don’t hold that against him at all.

Apfeltaschen, blue sky and Boredoms

For the last week, the same weather pattern: Stunning blue mornings, and then low white clouds drift over, almost apologetically at first, as though one or two had lost their way and might ask directions before strolling off to their real destination; but then they thicken, and the wind begins to bend the trees and rattle the tarps on our Dachegeschloss (top floor), where they’re turning an attic into a penthouse. Eventually the rain will come, in big drops that sound like hail against the window.

For now, I’m eating my apfeltasche (apple pocket), blowing powdered sugar onto my keyboard every time I breathe through my nose, looking out the window and procrastinating before starting work.

Last night the Boredoms, a 20-year-old Japanese noise group that has evolved from grating punk-ish noise to something like a rave drum circle. Minus their original guitarist, and various other noisemakers, they’re now led by founder Yamatsuka (or Yamantaka, or Yamataka) Eye, who sings/screams/plays various electronics while three drummers pound out trance-inducing rhythms around him.

I love them, but they belong now at an outdoor party, under the moon, with a bunch of crazy hippies doing crazy hippy things around them. They are trying to tap into a primal strain in music that sometimes verges dangerously close to the stoned drummers in Golden Gate park. They are saved by their own manic energy, and Eye’s samuri-prophet charisma.