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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The price of puritanism

“Hitler remained closely involved with the crusade against tobacco to the very end. He banned smoking at his Austrian base, the Wolf’s Lair, and in the Fuhrerbunker in Berlin. In 1942, he voiced regret that he had ever allowed his troops a tobacco ration; a ration he would soon be forced to increase to boost morale when the war went from bad to worse. In 1943 he made it illegal for persons under the age of 18 to smoke in public places. A year later, with the Third Reich crumbling around him, Hitler personally ordered smoking to be banned on city trains and to protect female staff from second-hand smoke.”

“Hitler committed suicide in April 1945 and, after burning his body, SS troops lit cigarettes in the Fuhrerbunker for the first time. Within weeks, cigarettes became the unofficial currency of Germany, with a value of fifty US cents each. Hitler ultimately, if inadvertently, succeeded in reducing smoking in Germany but only by bringing the country to its knees.”

Pages 76 to 76 of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: A History of Anti-Smoking, by Christopher Snowdon.

Among the ghosts of military times past

It has been good to get out of the UK this Christmas. As one or two Samizdata regulars will know, I had a crap December as my dear mother, at the relatively young age of 69, died of cancer on 9 Dec. I just needed to get away and decompress and gather my thoughts.

Fortunately, I have wonderful relations via my wife who work with the US military in Southeast Germany, about 20 km from the Czech border. They are a great group of folk who know how to put on a good Christmas. Bavaria has been spectacular due to all the heavy snowfall. It has seen temperatures as low as -18 Degrees.

One of the places I visited was a museum all about a huge US army base near the small German town of Grafenwoehr. The place dates back to the start of the 20th Century, when the then German government built it up and it remained in German hands until the Allied armies, with Patton’s 3rd Army to the fore, captured it at the end of WW2. During WW2, for example, the place was used by the various groups within Hitler’s armies for training purposes. Himmler gave a speech there. During WW1, it was used, among other things, as a PoW camp. Many soldiers are buried there. Later, during the Cold War, even the likes of a young Elvis Presley did some army training on the base.

Going on the base with a relation of mine, the place seems so pristine and businesslike with lots of US servicemen and women getting ready for deployments to the MidEast. I wonder what they think about the uses to which this huge training area has been put in the past. It is, so I am told, the biggest US army training facility outside of the US. Of course, a lot of bases have been closed down since the early 1990s, but the presence of NATO forces is still evident, judging by the various North American accents I hear in the local shops and restaurants.

I can strongly recommend this part of Southern Germany as a place to visit. The locals are very friendly and the economy is, judging by a massive shopping mall in Regensburg, buzzing. And the local beer is awesome. What more excuse do you need?

A collection of good reasons to visit Berlin

I have visited Germany several times – I lived there for about a month while a student (in the Moselle area) and briefly attended a Gymnasium school in the town of Ahrweiler, but have not yet been to Berlin, the capital. I have always had a good time in the country – the Rhineland is as impressive as the photos suggest – and this article by Tyler Cowen at his Marginal Revolution blog definitely makes me want to get on an aircraft and go there. I’d probably avoid it in the height of summer, though, not to mention the harsh Prussian winter.

Talking of Berlin, here is one of my favourite Michael Caine films. And of course David Bowie did a lot of his best work while living in the city.

Inevitably, when the name of Berlin comes up , it raises the issue of that palaver of 1939-45. Anthony Beevor’s book about the attack on Berlin in 1945 is a must-read. I remember there was an old guy who used to live in my parent’s village who was on pathfinders (Mosquitos) during WW2, and he played a part in the near-flattening of that city.

And of course, like many people of my generation, I vividly remember those scenes as beamed around the world of the Berlin Wall coming down, and imagining the joy of people in the East who were no longer treated like cattle in their own nation. I sometimes wish, naively, that there was more sense of shame among the hard left about its support for such a state of affairs. Let’s not forget that that overrated smart alec, JK Galbraith, made light of the wall and what it represented.

A question for the Germans

So the European Union and other Tranzi* institutions have decided to prop up the euro by another, monstrous bailout package, involving the purchase, by the European Central Bank, of billions of euros of bonds. In other words, the ECB, which for a while tried to act as “Son of the Bundesbank”, has given up on all that rigorous, Teutonic stuff and taken a leaf out of the Anatole Kaletsky let’s-print-till-we-drop playbook. Excellent. Holidays in Europe will be cheap as chips at least until inflation takes off.

What do readers think is the chance that Germany, say, will be back using the Deutschemark by the middle of this decade? I’d say it is low, but you have to wonder. Germany had for many years an enviable reputation for having a strong currency. They’ve thrown it away. I see that some of the natives are getting restless, although a news report here cites “dithering” over the bailout package as a cause of anger. I’d say it was hostility to the bailout per se.

Ironically, the strength of gold at the moment highlights the benefit of that Hayekian idea of “parallel”, competing currencies in the same jurisdiction. The way things are going, a lot of firms and individuals, given the freedom to do so, would rather be invoiced in gold or some other, relatively solid store of value (eg, Swiss francs, Australian dollars, and so on).

*A short term for Transnational Progressivism, a sort of political philosophy that puts stress on the need for big, cross-border institutions to run our lives at the expense of national, and usually more democratic ones. Examples: the UN, IMF, European Union, IPCC, etc.

Germany to Greece – we’re in charge, so shut up

A short item, which takes the breath way, on how the problems of countries like Greece has encouraged the German government to insist that unless these countries are as economically “fit” as Germany is or claims to be, they cannot participate in EU decisions.

Well, I guess such a comment makes it explicit that as far as Germany is concerned, the strong states rule, and the weaker ones should shut up and do as they are told. Sometimes, it really amazes me why anyone ever doubts that this is the consequence of the single currency project. The Greeks, and other such countries, have just had a lot of illusions broken up into atoms.

Update: well, I guess I should thank Glenn Reynolds for the “instalanche” of comments, some of which, I assume, are from the US. Let me consider a few of the points made. First of all, I am not – which seems to be the view of some – defending the Greek state, and by implication, some of their voters. To the Germans, or indeed other euro zone countries, it must indeed be an outrage that a country expects to be able to continue enjoying the luxuries of early retirement, generous welfare and short-work week. If the Germans are irritated about this, they are entitled to be. But you see, this is what happens in a currency union where one bit of it is subsidising another bit. In the US, where the poorer parts get subsidies from the richer or at least not bankrupt bits, the poorer bits are not then told, by their neighbours, to shut up. I am not aware, for example, of a rich state of the US demanding that poorer parts be banned from sending Congressmen or Senators to DC (if you have examples, please let me know). The Germans knew, when they choose to sacrifice a perfectly solid currency – the Deutschemark – in exchange for the euro, that there were risks. Some German politicians may have naively assumed that the less prosperous bits would raise their game, but given the cussedness of human nature, that was not a sure-fire bet. As Michael Jennings points out in the comment thread, Germany itself had the experience of reunification and the problems of integrating the post-communist East into the capitalist West. But at least it had a common sort of political identity. But it is a much more difficult thing for a German politician to demand that a member of a currency union should not be allowed to participate in discussions relating to that currency.

I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for the Greek government, but I don’t feel much sympathy for the Germans, either. They wanted this currency union, and arguably, imposed an unsustainable interest rate straitjacket onto the continent. Much of their political and media elite has invested a huge amount of emotional and political capital into this. They made their bed, now they must lie on it.

Is any comment necessary?


Bremen, Germany. November 2009

Screw the (German) state

Germany is particularly odious when it comes to censorship and allowing legal interference with freedom of expression, but his one takes the biscuit for sheer absurdity…

Some 19 years ago, a man in Germany, together with his half brother, reportedly murdered an actor named Walter Sedlmayr. The man was convicted and served 15 years in jail. Now he is free. And, according to Wired, he has exercised that freedom by instructing lawyers, the elegantly named firm of Stopp and Stopp, to sue Wikipedia.

The lawsuit claims that German privacy law, designed to help criminals re-integrate into society, prevents the man being named in association with Walter Sedlmayr’s murder. Wired quotes Jennifer Granick from the Electronic Frontier Foundation as saying that the lawyers are not only demanding that publications change whatever they write now, but that online archives must endure revision, too.

And just for the record, the people in question who were convicted of murdering Walter Sedlmayr are Wolfgang Wehrle and his half brother Manfred Lauber (just to add yet another place in the google cache where that information can sit). This is wacko enough on its own, but the linked article in turn links to geek.com, quoting the EFF, where they make the much broader point as to why this latest legal excess cannot be tolerated

As the EFF beautifully puts it: “At stake is the integrity of history itself. If all publications have to abide by the censorship laws of any and every jurisdiction just because they are accessible over the global internet, then we will not be able to believe what we read, whether about Falun Gong (censored by China), the Thai king (censored under lèse majesté) or German murders”.

As the world networks together, increasingly we cannot tolerate legal attacks anywhere because the repercussions will not stay neatly within national borders, so neither can our hostility to such assaults on our liberty… now let us also do something about Britain’s intolerable defamation laws.

A left wing martyrdom reconsidered

Deutsche Welle reports:

New information indicates that the killer in the controversial shooting of student protester Benno Ohnesorg in Berlin in 1967 was a West German policeman who was also working for the East German Stasi secret police.

Sifting through reams of old files from the communist state security apparatus in East Germany, two historians, Helmut Mueller-Enbergs and Cornelia Jabs, say they accidently uncovered information that the policeman, Karl-Heinz Kurras, was a so-called unofficial employee of the East German Ministry for State Security (MfS) and a member of the country’s Socialist Unity Party (SED).

According to Der Spiegel,

It was one of the most important events leading up to the wave of radical left-wing violence which washed over West Germany in the 1970s.

Deutsche Welle asks the obvious question:

What would have happened to the German student protest movement of the late 1960s had people known that Ohnesorg’s killer had been a spy for communist East Germany?

My question is, what happens to the group memory of the German Left now that people do know that one of its iconic moments was not all it seemed to be – was in fact the opposite of what it seemed to be?

Perhaps not much. Since the Stasi files were opened there have been plenty of revelations. But that works both ways: the steady drip, drip has worn away the stone of the German Left’s own perception of its history. This resonates with me despite the fact that I did not know who the unfortunate Benno Ohnesorg was. I may have been precocious as a young leftwinger in the 1970s but not even my precocity extended to knowing the names of demonstrators killed by West German police brutality (as it seemed) when I was three years old. But though I might not have known about him, I knew – or thought I knew – there were many like him, all over the world. I knew that those better informed than I, the sort of admirable people whose book-lined shelves showed as background to their talking heads on BBC2, they knew about all such victims. Only it turns out that in this case they did not know the whole story.

I wonder if this revelation will have a similar effect on Germans of a certain age and intellectual profile as the revelation that members of CND such as Vic Allen really were Soviet spies had on me?

(ADDED LATER) Forgive me for coming back to a post after pressing “publish”, but I realise the line above gives the wrong impression, and there is more I want to say. The effect of the revelation that what the right wing press had hinted about CND – that it had been infiltrated – was the truth did not astound me. I had already changed my allegiance. If anything, it made me laugh. Well waddya know: the very thing that I clearly remembered thinking was a smear so ridiculous that not even the Torygraph smearers could really believe it, turns out to be a fact. But that laugh was my last laugh against my old self. From then on I thought of my former self as having been not just misguided but fooled.

Germany to Gordon Brown: you are an idiot

Germany’s finance minister has gone on the record as saying that Britain’s rush into ever greater debt to try to halt a recession is foolish, even “depressing”.

Crikey. It makes me wonder whether Germany, mindful of what happened in the hyper-inflation of the 1920s, is worried that sooner or later, the vast amounts of money being hurled at the economies in the West, such as in Britain, will produce a sharp rise in inflation and that ever-higher borrowing will only prolong, but not halt, the current pain.

Anyway, this is bound to be seized upon by the Tories. It will be interesting to see if they do so.

A very relevant film about East Germany

The other night I rented out the DVD based on life in former East Germany, The Lives of Others. It is about what life in the former Communist state was like in the fag-end of the Cold War era. It portrays the extent to which people were spied on by the Stasi, and the brutal efficiency with which that organisation went about its job. It does not sound very promising material for an evening in front of the TV but the film is simply outstanding. I strongly recommend it.

Inevitably, given recent UK events and the government’s mania for CCTV, abuse of civil liberties and assault on the Common Law, the film has a certain poignance for a British viewer. It is also clearly apparent to me that once a critical number of people become involved in spying on others and earning a living from doing this, it is very hard to dislodge it but East Germany eventually crumbled along with the Berlin Wall. When, I wonder, will ZanuLabour have its 1989?

What is ‘fight the power’ in German?

There is a great little article in Slashdot about a well known German hacker group, Chaos Computer Club, publishing the fingerprints of German Secretary of the Interior as part of their protest against state use of biometric ID.

The club published 4,000 copies of their magazine Die Datenschleuder including a plastic foil reproducing the minister’s fingerprint – ready to glue to someone else’s finger to provide a false biometric reading. The CCC has a page on their site detailing how to make such a fake fingerprint

Sweet. I suppose that is a ‘hardware hack’ of sorts!

Motoring architecture

If you buy a new BMW car, you can make a trip to the place near where these fine German machines are built, in southern Germany. These photos of the building where many of the cars are kept for their owners are impressive. One thing that people who criticise some of the horrendous modern architecture used to house people en masse in the 1950s, 60s and 70s tend to forget is that when these buildings are done right and with the needs of clients in mind, they work superbly.

Of course, some stunning cars have been made in very ordinary-looking places indeed. Like Aston Martin.

Brian Micklethwait has dug out some superb pictures of modern buildings via this guy. Amazing stuff.