Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fiddling while Greece burns

Emblem of the city of Offenburg
I had a friend years ago whose family name was Reutlinger.  “What is a Reutlinger?  Somebody who reutlings?” I asked, thinking I was being cute.  I should have known it’s the German way of identifying somebody from Reutlingen, in Baden-Württemberg, the German state that snuggles up to France and Switzerland and has Stuttgart for a capital.  Maybe I should have asked what a reut is, since “ling” sounds like a diminutive.  You know as in “foundling” -  a little found thing.  Or as a duckling is to a duck or a gosling to a goose.  Sometimes used derogatively, as in “princeling” – some minor nobody in the royal family.  Fingerling potatoes, some of my favorite things.

Anyway, I suppose if you are a Baden-Württemberger – you know, as somebody (or something) from Hamburg is a Hamburger and somebody (or something) from Frankfurt is a Frankfurter – you will have to ask not only what a reut is.  You’ll have to ask what a bob, or an ess, a tutt, a ba or a vill is, as well, since there are lots of folks in Baden-Württemberg who are from Böbling, Esslingen, Tuttlingen, Balingen and Villingen.  Villingen-Schwenningen, actually, but I’m assuming that before there was a Villingen-Schwenningen, there were people who were Villingers and other people who were Schwenningers.  But I digress.  And if I’m going to digress, I’m going to have to ask why there are so many –ingens as well.  Lingens without the l – in Baden-Württemberg.  Like Tübingen, for example.  Or Sigmaringen.  That’s likely explained by the Germanic love of the –ng sound.  King and Kong, thing and thong, sing a song while you play ping-pong, and the like.

But back to Baden-Württemberg.  Why do they combine so much?  Baden-Baden, for example, which means something like “bath-bath.”  Not something like bath-bath, but bath-bath.  What’s that?  Besides being the setting for Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, I mean.  And the town where Queen Victoria, Berlioz, Brahms, Turgenev and Dostoevsky were known to “take the waters.”  Fans of Brahms can visit his house there to this day – he actually lived there permanently.  Thanks to Google, I just got an answer to my question.  There are lots of Badens, evidently, and this one is located in the state of Baden (think New York, New York).  So no mystery there, turns out, except that I guess that means Baden-Baden today is officially Baden-Baden, Baden-Württemberg.  Not to be confused with that place where the Canadians holed up during the Cold War, Baden-Söllingen, Baden-Württemberg. 

Baden-Württemberg has other mouthfuls.  Mouths full.  Imagine having to tell people you’re from Schwäbisch-Gmünd all the time.  Or having to live in Pfortzheim and work in Furtwangen and make sure you didn’t make all the kids laugh when you got them mixed up and called one of them Furzheim or Furzwangen – which would translate “fart home” or “fart cheeks.”

Leutkirch is kind of nice.  “People Church” has a nice ring to it.  As does Heilbronn – “healing well.”  Heilbronn, I understand, serves as the economic center for Ittlingen (what’s an itt?), by the way, as well as Massenbachhausen, Pfaffenhofen, and Untergruppenbach, just in case you were collecting home towns with five syllables or more.  OK, so Pfaffenhofen has only four.  It’s still funny.  Pfaffe (you know how High German pf , f and p are all related historically, and Apfel is apple, and the p of pater in the Romance languages comes out f as in father in the Germanic languages?  Well, Pfaffe apparently was once papa and Hof is “court,” so Pfaffenhofen was some sort of priestly court, except that Pfaffe today has lost its pizzazz and means something like “shifty vicar” or hypocritical Holy Joe.  Not that Pfaffenhofer think any less of themselves any more than people on Broadway think of their street as the street of the broads.

Just one of them nasty coincidences, I suppose.  Like Tauberbischofsheim in Northern Baden-Württemberg, which, to the uninformed, might suggest a home for deaf bishops (a deaf bishop = ein tauber Bischof).  Since Tauber are also male doves or pigeons, there are other possibilities, which I won’t go into.

I spent a little time in Freiburg im Breisgau (full name enables you to avoid confusion with other Freiburgs - just as the place where the Franks forded the Rhine is not the same place as where the Franks crossed the Oder (i.e., Frankfurt am Rhein is not Frankfurt an der Oder, which is a river, and not just the German word for "or"), a lovely little university town on the edge of the Black Forest.   The junior year program I was affiliated with had a branch in Munich, where I studied (sort of) and another in Freiburg, and we bounced back and forth because friend Dal (for Dallas), whose real name was Tom Sawyer, had been assigned, much to the chagrin of the other three of us in the foursome friendship, to Freiburg.   We adored him (well, I did, anyway) and missed him so much we borrowed Rudolf’s 1948 VW and smashed it up in Strassbourg one time while visiting.  Rudolf never forgave us, I think.  But I didn’t worry too much about that because when Rudolf was my roommate, instead of washing his socks, he would hang them on the windowsill to air, and I was not filled with a great sense of obligation. 

So much water under the bridge.         

My interest today in Baden-Württemberg comes from looking up the background of Angela Merkel’s Number Two Man in Germany – Wolfgang Schäuble.  He’s from Baden-Württemberg and, as Germany's Finance Minister, figures large in the story of Greece’s demise or rescue – the jury, as they say, is still out on that – and possibly the demise of the euro, if not the European Union.

Probably not.  That’s a highly pessimistic worst-case scenario.   In the meantime, I’ve been trying to learn all I can about the Grexit background, including this man Schäuble.  And his counterpart in Greece, Yanis Varoufakis.  This little clip helped.

But, as you may have noticed, I am easily distracted.


Emblem of the city of Offenburg, in Baden-Württemberg, which Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble represents in the German Parliament.  I'd use a prettier picture, except that they all seem to be copyrighted and I don't want to mess with any law-and-order people for the time being.  I understand use of this photo is acceptable as long as I'm not making any money from it. I assure you nobody sends me money for any blog entries - nobody ever has.  And I have nothing but good things to say about Offenburg or Baden-Württemberg.  Even if Gmünd is not a sound one should have to make in polite society.  The link is here.

1 comment:

Emil Ems said...

Great clip on Varoufakis, Alan. But I have to confess that I prefer more sedate versions of Greek, like, for instance, this young lady:

Yours sincerely