One Hundred Years Ago, Whites couldn’t bear Blacks being Successful – May 1921: Black Wall Street

Zur deutschen Fassung.

The average white family in the U.S. has a net worth of $ 171,000, while the average family of color has one of $ 17,150. That this tenfold wealth gap cannot be due to individual effort or laziness should be obvious to everyone.

It will come as no surprise to you that, as part of this little history series, I am arguing the daring claim that historical oppression and inequality are at the root of the still significant wealth disparity. After all, things like displacement and enslavement of Africans to North, Central, and South America do not cease to have an effect simply because slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865 after the end of the Civil War. To put it in a nutshell: It doesn’t help you too much if you are legally free from one day to the next, but wealth, especially land ownership, political power and access to education remain largely out of reach.

Legal freedom did not mean legal, let alone economic or social equality. Instead of peace and joy and happiness, there were segregation, lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan.

But it all began with a visionary idea: In January 1865, the victorious army of the Union ordered the confiscation of land owned by slaveholders in the southern states and its distribution to former slaves. Each family was to receive up to 40 acres of land and a mule, so they could farm independently. (Yes, socialist land reform is actually a US-American invention. Take that, Mr Guevara!)

Unfortunately, nothing came of this idea because, as you all know, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865. His successor Andrew Johnson was, according to unanimous opinion, one of the worst presidents in U.S. history and thus the professed role model of Donald Trump.

Andrew Johnson was also a racist and deemed blacks intellectually and morally incapable of owning land or running a farm. In the fall of 1865, he rescinded General William Sherman’s order. Many blacks, for lack of any other choice, had to return to the cotton plantations and toil as sharecroppers. What else could they do, when access to many professions was barred? Well, a rebellion would have been a possibility, but with “Spartacus” this idea only came to the movie theaters a hundred years later.

Speaking of a hundred years: Because this episode is supposed to revolve around events exactly a hundred years ago, in May 1921, we have to step it up a notch and cover the rest of the background so frenziedly that it brims with omissions and inaccuracies like a history textbook issued by the State of Oklahoma.

So, things continued to be uncomfortable for blacks in the Southern states. Fortunately, the U.S. was always finding new land in the West to take from the Native Americans. Not only whites were moving west, but also blacks and (involuntarily) Native Americans displaced from the east. Life in the West was not free of legal and social discrimination either, but there, blacks could farm land or work as cowboys.

And in some places, that is where whites considered the soil too bad and a strong enough black community came together, small centers of black business activity emerged. One such community was the Greenwood district in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Located north of the railroad, the neighborhood was disparagingly called “Little Africa” by the white majority in Tulsa. There and over time, blacks opened their own stores, two movie theaters, two newspapers, restaurants, nightclubs, banks, several churches, a library. Black lawyers, doctors, accountants, photographers and other service providers settled there. When oil was discovered, blacks became owners of drilling rigs.

“Little Africa” had become “Black Wall Street”.

And that was a problem for many whites. Because segregation, still the law in many states in the U.S. until the 1960s, was based on the idea that blacks were intellectually and morally inferior to whites. When whites see that blacks, too, are becoming lawyers and teachers, drilling for oil and pulling off all this capitalism wizardry, the white worldview wobbles.

And, as the old Southern saying goes, “when the worldview is wobbling, the black man gets a flogging.” The Ku Klux Klan was very active in Tulsa. Colored people were repeatedly mistreated and killed. Whites were also keen on the properties in the black neighborhood. They wanted them for their own businesses and to run the blacks out of town.

By the way, I’ve long wanted to mention that when I write “whites,” of course I don’t mean all whites. Because mist certainly, there were non-racists among them. But then I see photos like the following printed and mailed around the country as postcards, like a postcard from Niagara Falls. And then, I find passive non-racism pretty weak. Sometimes, you have to be actively anti-racist.

In May 1921, Tulsa was a tinderbox.

The fuse was laid by two unwary teenagers.

On 30 May 1921, Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old colored shoeshine boy, rode the elevator to the top floor of a building, which was the only one in the area with a restroom for colored people. The elevator was operated by Sarah Page, a 17-year-old white girl. Something happened. Or maybe it didn’t. In any case, Rowland ran out of the building, Miss Page reportedly looked startled, and a clerk notified the police. Although the elevator attendant testified that Rowland had only touched her arm and that she did not want to press charges, Rowland was arrested the next day and taken to a cell in the courthouse. (Ever since then, American men refuse to get on the same elevator with a woman.)

That same day, 31 May 1921, a distorted account appeared in the afternoon edition of the Tulsa Tribune under the headline “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in an Elevator”, with a reference to Rowland’s whereabouts in the courthouse.

That was the spark that broke the tinderbox’s back.

A white mob with arms advanced to the courthouse to demand the young man, obviously for lynching him. Blacks also armed themselves and went to the courthouse to protect the building from being stormed. The situation was extremely tense. When a white man tried to take a gun from a black man, a shot went off, and with that, all hell broke loose.

What followed were 16 hours of shooting, violence, looting, arson.

The fire department did, as pogrom protocol requires, nothing. The police distributed badges and guns to the white looters. As many as 300 people were killed, and thousands of colored people were interned.

Only the National Guard, arriving on 1 June 1921, was able to bring the white mob under control. But Black Wall Street, the successful black community, was completely destroyed.

Now the real estate could be gobbled up cheaply, the white citizens of Tulsa were hoping. But the blacks wanted to rebuild their neighborhood, even though all kinds of obstacles were put in their way. Insurance companies did not pay, citing the exemption for riots. The city council changed zoning and building codes to discourage reconstruction. Few victims received government assistance. But in the end, Black Wall Street was rebuilt.

And no one spoke any more about the events of 1921. No one was convicted. Hardly anyone learned about the massacre, but just as little, and perhaps this is the more important aspect, about Black Wall Street. Because successful blacks did not fit into the white concept. Not only in Tulsa.

Continued discrimination was sometimes quite overt, with racial segregation in schools, in public transportation, in restaurants, in parks. There were bans on marriage between whites and blacks, and many blacks were denied the right to vote. The former has been abolished; the latter is still a struggle.

Criminal law was also a popular method of perpetuating slavery under a different name. Blacks were sentenced to imprisonment on trivial or trumped-up charges and then “leased” to cotton plantations, sawmills and mines as laborers.

But, even if it doesn’t sound as dramatic as slavery or forced labor, another form of discrimination is probably more relevant for the wealth inequality between whites and blacks mentioned at the top of this article: the different access to mortgages, to bank accounts, to credit cards and other financial and insurance services.

This is because a major bedrock of wealth accumulation (not only) in the United States is ownership of real estate as well as inheritance of the same. Those from the working class or middle class who want to acquire a property usually need a loan to do so, usually secured by a mortgage on the property. In theory, the loan is based on the income of the home-building/purchasing family and the value of the land or its expected appreciation.

In practice, during the post-World War II boom years and until more recently, city maps were divided into different risk zones that ran along old racial segregation lines. For example, neighborhoods predominantly inhabited by blacks and Latinos were rated as such a high risk that the government would not guarantee mortgages there, making it almost impossible to secure a bank loan. (These were the so-called red zones, hence the term “redlining”.)

And this happened even when those neighborhoods were, on average, wealthier than some white neighborhoods! So, poorer whites got a mortgage more easily than affluent people of color. And because affluence almost automatically leads to more affluence, whites get richer and richer over the generations, while blacks’ income only makes landlords rich. (Yes, of course there are exceptions, but they are already included in the averages cited above.)

And now comes the most insidious issue: the interplay of racism and capitalism.

As people of color moving into a neighborhood reduces the chance of mortgages, property values in the neighborhood decline as a result. Hence, the white homeowners and real estate agents don’t have to be racist at all, but “only” act out of pure financial interest to reject black neighbors. The result of past racism is perpetuated by the market economy even if no one acted out of racist motivation anymore. (Which is not the case, as settlements from 2015 show.)

And thus, even though this is a story from a hundred years ago, it is far from over.

Oh yes, last year – 99 years after the events – Black Wall Street and the pogrom were finally included in the curriculum of Oklahoma schools. Even today, mass graves from 1921 are being discovered in Tulsa. – But then, my home country of Germany needs more than a hundred years to recognize a genocide, too. And recognition alone is not enough, because in Namibia, too, the current land ownership situation is a continuation of colonialism.


Posted in Economics, History, USA | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Hitchhiking, an Odyssey with 50 Hail Marys (part 3 of 3)

Zur deutschen Fassung.

If you want to do things in any logical order, you better read part 1 and part 2 of the hitchhiking odyssey before reading this article.

You remember, I hadn’t made it onto the motorway, the sun had set, and I was standing at a barely frequented gas station outside of Ulm with no plan B.

And then, this happened:

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“It’s your own fault,” “I’m sorry,” or “not my problem” is what everyone else would think. But the woman, who looks more like a young girl, is seriously concerned and correctly assesses the situation: “You can’t stay here all night, no one will come by here anymore.” She used to hitchhike herself, she knows what she is talking about.

“If I was going home,” she continues, “you could come with me. But I’m on the way to my parents, and if I bring along a stranger, saying he needs a bed for the night, …”

Yes, I had set out to hitchhike all the way. But not just to save money. Not just for the adventure. Rather to see – and to report – that there are good, helpful people everywhere. And I found them. It was stupid coincidences that only ever got me a few kilometers ahead, that made me wait in inappropriate places, but there was no lack of good will on the part of people who had never met me before.

“I really wanted to make it by hitchhiking,” I concede to the young woman, “but honestly, if you could drive me to the train station in Ulm, that would be sweet, too.” I’ll just give up and take the train home.

She agrees to drive the 20 km detour. Only in the warm car do I realize how cold it had already become. That would have been an uncomfortable night, perhaps a lethal one. And I was saved by a young woman who had to move boxes of jam jars in her car to make room for me and my backpack.

Finding the way to the train station in Ulm is not that easy. Ulm is a confusing mess. The city is so miserably planned and executed that the project was once abandoned and relaunched as New Ulm. Now, both are a conglomeration of confusing on-ramps and off-ramps, construction sites and dead ends. Terrible for hitchhiking.

Finally arriving at train the station, it is 9:15 pm. I quickly proceed to the ticket hall.

“Good evening. Is there still a train to Amberg today?”


“To Schwandorf, perhaps?”


“But at least to Nuremberg?”


“Is there a hotel?”

“You can try next door at the Intercity Hotel.”

There, the receptionist says that she does indeed have plenty of free rooms, but only for railway passengers who present a voucher. I ain’t got no voucher for nothing.

Apparently, if your train is delayed, you get a voucher and a room. If there is no train at all, you don’t get one, although a non-existent train is the ultimate form of a delayed train, isn’t it? But the receptionist is not open to such arguments. She has rules, and she follows them.

In a civilized country, she would say: “Just give me 20 euros. You have to be gone by 8 o’clock in the morning, though, when the next shift will show up for work.”

But Ulm is not a civilized city, which is why it was rightfully bombed to rubble in 1944. A treatment which has unfortunately failed to be repeated every five years or so, as it should be.

I wander through the city in search of a homely park, but there is nothing like that here. Only concrete and ugliness, crack dealers and drunks.

There is still light at the Ibis Hotel. Again, I try my luck, and this time I find it: The night porter here does not perform the job because he wasn’t accepted by the revenue service, but because he likes to have guests.

“Do you have a confirmation that you are on a business trip?”

This is necessary, because anti-Covid-19 legislation currently prohibits overnight stays for mere touristic reasons.

“I’m returning from work in Switzerland and got stuck in Ulm because there was no train that would still take me to Amberg tonight.”

“Do you have an employment contract letter or anything like that?”

Not really. Nothing at all of the sort, to be honest. But now is the time for creativity, not honesty, or else face homelessness for a night.

“I write travel stories. For this purpose, I was in Switzerland and at Lake Constance, where I then got stuck in Friedrichshafen longer than planned because of the beautiful weather and therefore …”

The receptionist seems sympathetic, but has no interest in my whole life story. He slips me a piece of paper and a pen and says: “Just write it down briefly, so I can file it.” And, having already seen me begin to write with verve, adds: “One sentence will do.”

Only one sentence? I can do that, especially in German. And thus I write:

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen of the Ibis Hotel in Ulm,

my spontaneous and unplanned arrival at your highly esteemed hotel at short notice is due to business reasons in that I am on my way back from Switzerland and Lake Constance, where as a self-employed travel writer I have been researching, observing, photographing and writing for travelogues, which by their very nature can not be presented before the result will have been completed, let alone in the form of a simple, unambiguous and preferably officially stamped document, as other guests probably can,

and the unplanned end of today’s journey, coinciding with the end of the day itself and thus the need for a bed and the admittedly decadent desire for a shower, is the result – without any predictability – of the lack of meaningful onward train travel options from this city, which seems to be only rudimentarily connected to the rest of the republic,

which is particularly negatively striking if one comes, as I just do, from Switzerland, where even small towns with funny names like Pfäffikon, Witzwil or Tinizong have perfect public transport connections that work until midnight, which should once again call into question the German focus on building more and more motorways, which, as I had to experience today, do not fully serve their purpose, at least not to the benefit of all citizens contributing to their upkeep,

which is why, in gracious expectation of your decision, in the hope of being accepted into your accommodation institute and with gratitude for being permitted to present my wish in person, I respectfully remain:

Andreas Moser

“You really are a writer,” he says as he accepts the paper, and we both smile under the FFP2 masks.

And so, with that brazen assertion, I put myself under obligation to actually write down and publish this story, thus turning a white lie into retrospective truth. I happily announce that I fell asleep without remorse and even with a joyful outlook on this new career.

The next morning, I finally find a beautiful park in Ulm. It’s the Old Cemetery. Between gravestones and monuments, I treat myself to a vagabond’s breakfast baguette.

It promises to become another beautiful day, because everyone is out for a walk already: Dogs with their owners, children with their parents, and nurses with their patients from the nearby Elisa retirement home.

I am torn between the original plan, the adherence to it and the unshakeable faith in human kindness on the one hand, and on the other hand the non-enthusiasm about the prospect of spending this beautiful day once again getting sunburn and nothing else while standing on the entrance to the motorway, just to have to give up at night and to explain my undertaking and my right to accommodation to another representative of the hotel industry in a short sentence like this and to place my fate in his literary-critical hands. Torn between Thomas-Mannian syntax meanderings, which in their seemingly erratic aimlessness resemble my random movements along the highways, which, however, and this is also a fitting metaphor, ultimately always get to the point and the destination, on the one hand, and the concise journalistic style on the other hand.

Either way, writing requires material, and the material lies on the road. Well, the railway can also provide material, but I don’t trust the regional trains from Ulm to Amberg with the same fruitfulness as crossing Canada by train or the Orient Express.

So, with a heavy heart and with the readers’ interest in mind, I decide to try it with my thumb again. About 10 km north of Ulm, there is a different motorway onramp than the one that was my downfall yesterday. I set off on foot on the long way there, but always stick my thumb out when a car comes along. A young man first drives past me, but then turns around to pick me up. He is going all the way to the motorway, great!

During the drive, we talk mainly about traveling to Israel and Jordan, about the pros and cons of salaried versus self-employment, but fortunately also about the destination of my trip.

“Well, then I can take you all the way to Heidenheim.” The town’s name translates as “home of the heathens”, and that’s a nice change after the 50 Holy Marys from yesterday.

Here, too, I get off at the onramp to the motorway. The young man is so worried by the fact that Heidenheim and thus the nearest train station are 6 km away that he gives me his phone number: “Call me if you can’t get away from here. Then I’ll pick you up.”

He needn’t have worried, because one car after another stops here. Beautiful weather and a relaxing Sunday put people in a good mood. The first offers don’t drive far enough. This time, I prefer to be picky over ending up in the Pampas.

Soon, a couple on their way to Erfurt gives me a lift. They rave so much about this year’s Federal Horticultural Show there that I’d love to go all the way to Erfurt and its flowers and palm trees with them.

But according to the plan, I get dropped off at the next motorway service station. It’s one of the big ones, with hundreds of cars from all directions. From now on, traffic and me will move with stereotypical German efficiency and speed.

So I thought.

But the service area looks as it if was the oil crisis of 1973. The only thing that is active here is the sun, as if to prove that petroleum is indeed becoming obsolete.

A few trucks are hanging around, but they are not allowed to drive on Sunday. A few pensioners are picnicking, but they share neither their sandwiches, nor their attention. A few boys are cleaning their cars, but car fetishists never pick up hitchhikers.

Only a young couple asks: “Where do you have to go?”

“To the A6 in the direction of Ansbach, Nuremberg, Amberg.”

“We’re just going to Rothenburg, sorry.”

The two go to the rest stop for coffee, which gives me a few minutes to think. That’s good, because spontaneity needs proper mental prepration. When they come back out, I intercept them:

“You know what? If you give me a lift, I’ll throw my plan out the window. After all, the whole world wants to go to Rothenburg, and here I finally have the chance.” In case one or the other hasn’t heard, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the most beautiful city in Germany.

Heiko and Saskia make room in the car and we talk about archaeology, about the Neumayer Station in Antarctica (one of their colleagues, a doctor, is working there for a year and would prefer not to come back home) and about bombs from World War II, which you can still find in this area when you build a house and dig out the basement.

Rothenburg was also bombed a bit in World War II, if only by chance, because the oil depot in Ebrach was covered in clouds on 31 March 1945, thus declining receipt of the bomb package destined for it. But the bombs had to be dropped somewhere. And in a town where 83% voted for the NSDAP, the Nazi Party, it certainly didn’t affect any innocent folks. Seriously, dear people of Rothenburg: Don’t confuse cause and effect. If Germany did not want to be bombed anymore in March 1945, it should have surrendered earlier.

But now everything looks pretty again, like a city from Grimm’s fairy tales. Just the way the world imagines Germany to be. It won’t surprise you that Germany doesn’t look like this everywhere, but there are a few small towns that do: Dinkelsbühl, Landsberg am Lech, Beilstein an der Mosel, Hornburg, Tecklenburg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber, for example.

I am sitting in the relatively quiet castle garden, looking out over the city walls and the Tauber valley, and writing about the descendants of the pilots of the past. They now come with buses instead of bombers, selfie sticks instead of Spitfires and expectations instead of explosives. While I am feasting on my alliterative associations, I am approached by a young man sitting on the castle wall, looking not at all like a tourist, but like a deeply relaxed daydreamer.

“Excuse me, may I ask what you are writing about?”

Of course, and that’s how we start talking. Timo is a Taiwanese Taoist, and I swear I didn’t make that up for the alliteration. Worried about my unhealthy diet (he’s been watching me smoke), he offers me a big apple. Because he eats one himself, I don’t believe in a Snow White poisoning plot, despite the fairy tale backdrop.

We talk about spontaneity, about hitchhiking of course, about the unpleasantness of gainful employment, the dream job of vagabonding, about India, about Paraguay, Far Eastern spiritualities, neuro-linguistic programming, sword fighting, the advantages of merino wool as well as about worldbuilding (which I can’t do at all) and writing in general (I’m trying).

What was bound to happen does happen, and we chat away until we are the last people in the castle park and in the setting sun. A typical city that lives from day-trippers, you can have Rothenburg almost to yourself if you stay for the evening. Only a few locals in undershirts and with beer bottles in their hands dare to come out now. When the photographers are gone, there’s no need to play Disneyland anymore.

To celebrate the spontaneity we have been praising, Timo would actually invite me home. But as long as he doesn’t have his own monastery, he lives with his parents in Schwäbisch Hall, which should actually be added to the above list of picturesque towns.

I won’t be able to get home by hitchhiking today, that’s for sure, so I hurry through the empty old town to the ugliest train station in Germany’s prettiest town. On the two-and-a-half-hour train ride, nobody talks to me, no interesting encounters, nothing. Travel can be so boring if you don’t do it right.

Practical advice:

  • If you want to move faster, a little planning helps. For example, I could have asked to be dropped off at a better spot in St Gallen. And on the German shore of Lake Constance, I would have been better off hitchhiking to Lindau, where the motorway A96 begins instead of moving along the B30 like a snail. But then, speed is not everything.
  • What I spent on bus, ferry, hotel and train together was still less than what a train ride would have cost for the whole route. But of course it would have been smarter to organize accommodation in advance, for example through Couchsurfing.
  • The earlier you get going in the morning, the better.
  • Towns that are worth a visit: Friedrichshafen, Bad Waldsee and Rothenburg ob der Tauber.


Posted in Germany, Photography, Switzerland, Travel | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Hitchhiking, an Odyssey with 50 Hail Marys (part 2 of 3)

Zur deutschen Fassung.

If you want to do things in any logical order, you better read part 1 of the hitchhiking odyssey before reading this article.

You remember that we had reached Friedrichshafen without any major hiccup. But then I liked the city so much, that I overstayed, jeopardizing the nonexistent plan.

So, let’s get moving again:

Only with the firm resolution to come back for a trip around Lake Constance, I finally manage to tear myself away. Now, I somehow have to hitchhike northeast, in the direction of Bavaria. I walk to the beginning of highway B30, which leads to Ravensburg and Ulm – not yet able to imagine what headaches this highway will give me today. It will turn into a veritable way of the cross.

But it all starts off great. I’ve only been standing at the traffic light for a minute when a young man comes out of the kebab store behind me: “Where are you going?”

“Towards Ravensburg.”

“I’m only going to Meckenbeuren, but that’s on the way. I’d be happy to give you a ride.”

“That’s extremely nice of you! But take your time with the meal, I am not in a hurry.” Well, when the sun is high in the sky, you still think like that.

After a few minutes and a digestive cigarette, we climb into a mega-turbo horsepower BMW, and the young financial advisor is taking the hitchhiking hobo north, through wonderfully green avenues with blossoming trees under the smiling sun. That’s how life is supposed to be.

As could be expected from a financial advisor, he drops me off in front of the bank in Meckenbeuren, directly by the highway. A good spot, I think, with a parking bay, as if made for bank robbers, hitchhikers and other people who need to get away quickly. Not a good spot, think dozens of drivers who ignore me, until a young African in an old Volkswagen stops. He’s only going a short distance, but he is determined to give me a ride because his wife once hitchhiked from Germany to Portugal. For him, it’s a matter of honor to return some of the kindness experienced by her.

So you see: If you hitchhike, you are making the world a better place!

Fortunately, I mention that I don’t actually have to go to Ravensburg with its puzzle-like maze of streets, but on to Ulm, and the driver, who knows the area well, has a flash of inspiration. He takes me to an intersection of the highways, where the cars to Ulm have to stop at a traffic light. This gives the drivers time to look me over, to decide and to invite me to come on board.

Truly a perfect place to hitchhike.

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In theory.

In practice, I stand here for half an hour in the blazing sun, and most drivers stare ahead, roll up the window and pretend to ignore me, displaying their lack of both acting and social skills. In the more expensive cars occupied by married couples, I can observe the same discussion again and again: The female passenger suggests giving me a ride, but the driver brusquely declines. “If he wants to go somewhere, he should buy a car,” he grumbles with derision for the poor, not wanting to take on the risk of a car-less, career-less and burnout-free person talking about a more interesting life than going to the office every day. The wife raises her eyebrows and gives me an apologetic look. “On Monday, I’ll call the divorce lawyer,” she thinks to herself, while the husband speeds off as soon as the traffic light gives him permission to do so.

Only a pretty woman with a hippie camper van and a baby in the passenger seat stops. But she is not going far and thinks that the current spot is definitely better than where she would drop me. Because she looks like she has already hitchhiked to Kerala and Kathmandu, I heed her advice. And continue to wither in the sun.

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Finally, after more than half an hour, a red van stops. The driver can only take me 10 km further, but I gratefully accept. The radio is playing “Mr Vain” by Culture Beat, just like on the mixtape which I made for road trips in the 1990s. Thirty years later, I have no car, no tapes, but a better taste in music.

“In the tunnel ahead, there’s a speed limit of 100 km/h, but recently someone was caught going 300 km/h there,” he says. That’s 186 mph. I could use a driver like that right now.

The window is open, the wind is blowing around our faces. It’s a feeling like driving down the Pacific coast in California. Instead of Berkeley, he drops me off near Baindt, which is just as hard to get away from as Alcatraz.

At the onramp to the highway B30, I am standing pretty lost until another red van stops. Maybe the son of the previous driver. He takes me to Bad Waldsee and drops me off where absolutely no one passes. It’s 4:20 pm, I am beginning to run out of time. Thus, I walk into town and stock up on water and gummy bears. Because the prospect of spending the night in a park is becoming more and more realistic.

Bad Waldsee seems to be a pretty little town, so would be no less suitable for a vagabond’s night out than any other place in this world. Although time is precious, I need to sit down in the park to write, which is met with enthusiastic approval from a passerby: “It’s nice to see someone scribbling in a notebook for a change, and not just typing into their phone.” I rather not mention that it will end up as a blog on this modern interweb thingy.

In the friendly town of Bad Waldsee, I wait by the road for just a minute. A young family gives me a lift on their way to a barbecue. Apparently though, I don’t look hungry enough to warrant an invitation.

At the supermarket and gas station it is already more difficult. I have to refuse an offer of a ride to Biberach, because two bear-sized German shepherds are barking angrily in the back seat.

But then a woman stops. She used to hitchhike herself, all over Germany, to festivals and concerts. She takes me in the direction of Biberach, where highway construction is throwing all the non-existent plans out the window. “I have to take you to the Jordan roundabout, otherwise you’ll never get away from here.”

But I can’t get away from the roundabout either. As always, I deliberately place myself where the speed is reduced, but the drivers don’t care. They would slow down for a speeding camera, but not for a human being.

Until another van stops. Somehow, people who drive vans are more helpful. This time it’s a former investment banker turned yoga instructor. Among career dropouts, we get along splendidly.

Apparently, though, we’re still not in Ulm, but in Biberach or near Biberach or somewhere around Biberach, because he drops me off at a convenient spot and says: “You’ll easily get to Ulm from here.” That’s where the motorway finally begins, which should put an end to the 5- and 10-km rides, and I’ll really be covering proper distances. Also, once I’m on the motorway, it doesn’t matter if it gets dark, because I can hitchhike from rest area to rest area.

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A car stops, the door opens, a man and two women, all of them over 50: “We are praying the rosary. If you don’t mind, get in!” I don’t mind at all, as long as I will get to Ulm.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” they recite mantra-like. A rosary dangles from the rearview mirror, and the two women each hold one of these prayer chains in their hands.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Apparently, you have to recite this repeatedly.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” This will probably go on for the whole trip.

“We’re going to the industrial park in Schwaighofen, does that suit you?”

“I don’t know my way around Ulm at all. But if I can get on the motorway from there, then it’s fine.”

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” It’s difficult to maintain a proper conversation in this car.

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Finally something different.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” But Mary does seem to be the most important figure.

“Couldn’t we take him to the Temple of God? Maybe someone will drive in his direction from there,” one of the women suggests.

“That’s too risky,” the man replies. It remains unclear whether he means that I might not find a lift, or whether I am a threat to the Christian community.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”

In the end, they dismiss me with God’s blessings in Breitenhof, a few kilometers before the motorway. Still two hours until sunset. The clock is ticking. Car after car rushes past me, unchristian, selfish, heartless.

The only one who stops is a young father with three children in the back seat. He is driving them to their mother. The three children don’t say a peep, either because they are afraid of the stranger or because they don’t want to spend the weekend with mom.

He drops me off right at the entrance to the A7. Another hour and a half of daylight, that will be manageable. But this onramp is not blessed and sacred, but bewitched and cursed.

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Car after car darts past me, while I cast longer, lonelier and more desperate shadows in the golden light of the relentlessly lowering sun. The only one who stops is a Croatian truck driver, but he is going to Stuttgart, not Nuremberg. I should have gotten in anyway, because – to cut the ordeal short – I won’t make it onto the highway that night.

As the sun drops behind the horizon, exhausted from a long day’s work and because it’s wanted elsewhere on this globe, I have to leave. The area is not lighted, and no one will stop anymore.

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There is a gas station nearby, maybe I can talk to drivers there. The closer I get to the gas station, however, the more depressing the sight. Hope is fading, actually it’s already dead. As dead as the Total station with all its tristesse.

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Sporadically, a car passes by. Two Polish truck drivers stop, but they are going in the wrong direction. I am already preparing for a night in the nearby forest when a young woman approaches me: “Where do you have to go?”

I explain the plan and the problems with its implementation.

“I’m going on the A7, but south, to Illertissen,” she says. I need to go north.

We check the map to see if there’s at least a rest stop on her way, where I could spend the night in the light and not quite so cold. Negative.

“It’s your own fault,” “I’m sorry,” or “not my problem” is what everyone else would think. But the woman, who looks more like a young girl, is seriously concerned, also because she has often hitchhiked herself, as it turns out, and therefore correctly assesses the situation: “You can’t stay here all night, no one will come by here anymore.”

“If I was going home,” she continues, “you could come with me. But I’m on the way to my parents, and if I bring alone a stranger, saying he needs a bed for the night, …”

That’s a good point for a break, isn’t it? After all, it’s already dark and you need to go to bed.

But soon, everything will be resolved in part 3.

Practical advice:

  • If you want to move faster, a little planning helps. For example, I could have asked to be dropped off in a better spot in St Gallen. And on the German shore of Lake Constance, I would have been better off hitchhiking to Lindau, where the motorway A96 begins instead of moving along the B30 like a snail. But then, speed is not everything.
  • It would have been smarter to make the trip more manageable by organizing accommodation in Ulm, for example through Couchsurfing.
  • Friedrichshafen and Bad Waldsee are definitively worth a visit.


Posted in Germany, Photography, Switzerland, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Hitchhiking, an Odyssey with 50 Hail Marys (part 1 of 3)

Zur deutschen Fassung.

Last weekend, I finally hit the road again: hitchhiking through the Swiss cantons of Zurich, St Gallen and Thurgau, across Lake Constance and through the German states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. A brisk 500 km is what I had planned.

However, I strayed from the path so often that it turned into a veritable odyssey. Consequently, the account became so long that I turned it into a trilogy, so as not to overburden those of you who get upset about the length of my articles.

So here is the first part:

Switzerland is beautiful. Rolling hills, lush green and some lakes in between. Perfectly marked hiking paths, leading through deep gorges with small creeks. Villages with meticulously kept houses, flowers in the gardens and fluffy clouds above.

Like a postcard.

And perfectly organized. Although the village of Waltenstein (near Winterthur) has barely 15 houses, and that’s already counting the tree-houses for the children, there is a bus every hour. From 5am until 11pm! Even on Sundays! I am so fascinated by this, because in Germany I live in a village which has a hundred times more people, but no bus bothers to venture there after 6pm, let alone on the weekend. Well, now we know why Switzerland has such high taxes, but I think it’s worth it.

Problem is, it’s all too picture-postcard perfect.

I really like countries that are more exciting than beautiful, where stuff happens, a little bit of chaos, maybe even a revolution from time to time. Because in my experience, there are more authentic and interesting human interactions in such places than in the ones where everybody has everything they need or can call a number to get it. Too much organization destroys communication between people.

For example, because of the exemplary public transport, I wonder if motorists see any need to stop for hitchhikers at all, knowing that in this mountainous country you can be reliably chauffeured from any point A to any point B by public bus.

So, after finishing a two-week cat-sitting job in Waltenstein, I decide to try it and place myself at the side of the road, as curious as a cat.

Shortly before 8am, I stand at the crossroads in the village. A sunny Saturday morning. I have to go to Ammerthal in Bavaria, so I have about 500 km ahead of me. And 13 hours of daylight. That should be enough.

After 20 minutes, a gentleman who is going to the next village, Elgg, stops.

He is on his way to a job interview as a sales manager for kitchens. After 22 years with the same company, it’s time to try a new employer, he thinks. About time, I think.

“That’s really nice of you to stop for me on such an important day. I would probably be much too nervous and excited,” I express my gratitude.

“Oh, no problem. I still have 12 minutes until the appointment.” Swiss people are very precise and never arrive a minute late, nor a minute early.

It’s market day in Elgg, so people should be flocking from all over to buy agricultural products, and afterwards they can give me a ride on their way home. So I stand just a little bit away from the market place on the road leading north-east.

“Difficult, isn’t it?” asks a passerby with an air of connoisseurship, as if he too is disappointed by a society of people who are shy, even scared of meeting new people.

But soon, a young man stops and introduces himself with a firm handshake: Thomas. He is only going to Aadorf, about two and a half kilometers away, but he sometimes hitchhikes himself and encourages me: “Hitchhiking is not about your thumb, it’s about your head. It’s all a matter of attitude. With the right mindset, you can do it!” His optimism is contagious.

In Aadorf, a young family first drives past me, but then turns around and comes back to pick me up like a dog forgotten at the highway rest station. The landscape gardener, his wife and the baby are going to St Gallen. About 50 km, now things are really picking up.

When I am in the car with couples, I always feel guilty about telling them about my life and my adventures. I am worried that the young man will pack his backpack afterwards, leave his wife and child and go on pilgrimage to Nepal. On the other hand, as a landscape gardener, he has peace and quiet all day anyway.

Completely committed to the idea of spontaneity, I did not pick a good spot in St Gallen beforehand. The two drop me off at a shopping center near the motorway. There, it takes me less than 10 minutes to realize that it’s a hopeless spot. The cars are too fast, there is no place to stop, and without a sign, no one knows where I am going.

Near the motorway entrance, there is a small chapel for lost souls and lost hitchhikers. On the steps of the hitchhiking hermitage, I spread out the map and get an overview of my position and my situation. Both are very bad, not even the mindset helps. When Saint Gall founded the city, he must have taken Los Angeles as his model, as the city is covered with highways going in all directions and crossing and intersecting each other. It’s a mess of urban planning and hitchhiking hell.

An older, very friendly gentleman approaches me and asks if he can help. I explain the situation and the plan.

“Forget about it,” he says crisply, but not without reason, “you’re on the wrong side of the city.” I’m all the way on the westside, he says, and need to get on the eastside, once through the elongated city. “Anyone who gets on the motorway here certainly doesn’t want to go in your direction,” he says.

“Walk 300 meters down the street and take the bus through town for only 2 francs. Or, even better, go straight to Wittenbach, from there the country road goes to Romanshorn.” The latter is the last destination in Switzerland, because from there a ship sails to Germany. From readers’ feedback, I know that you appreciate it when I vary the means of transportation on my journeys.

I am reluctant to travel in any other way than by hitchhiking. But if I walk two hours through the whole city, I will miss the two hours at Lake Constance later. Besides, I am hitchhiking for pleasure, not out of puritanical purism, even though St Gallen is a Reformation city.

And there comes bus no. 4 already. The gentleman explained everything to me so kindly and helpfully, it would be rude not to follow his advice.

“And from Wittenbach, you can take the train to Romanshorn,” he shouts after me, letting his low confidence in my beginner’s hitchhiking skills shine through.

No, I certainly won’t do that. Back on the road, I will trust only my thumb and my smile. And indeed, in Wittenbach, after only a few minutes, a man stops and drives me almost the whole way to the port. He goes to Egnach, already on Lake Constance and only a short walk from Romanshorn.

It is already the second driver today who introduces himself as someone downplaying the corona virus. “Masks don’t help against viruses at all.” “I refuse to follow all this crap.” And best of all, “You shouldn’t believe everything” from people who, after 10 minutes of YouTube University, think they know everything better than the broad consensus of virologists, epidemiologists, immunologists and medical doctors. And these are the people who are voting in referendums on corporate liability in supply chains, unconditional basic income, and the framework agreement with the EU.

There are people trivializing the corona virus everywhere. But in Switzerland, there’s another aspect: the desire to distance themselves from Germany. “Oh, you’re going to Germany? That’s bad, you have absolutely no freedoms there anymore.” I keep hearing that, as if Germany were North Korea, just because gyms and cinemas have been closed. It is always uttered with ostensible pity (“you poor Germans”), doing an inadequate job of concealing the Swiss sense of superiority and condescendence.

But I don’t want to argue with people. First, I’m a guest in their car. Second, it’s useless. Third, I am glad for anyone who is not afraid of infection and therefore willing to give me a ride.

The driver drops me off at the hiking and biking trail along the lake, because I want to walk the last few kilometers. It’s a beautiful day, with views of Lake Constance on one side and the Alps on the other.

On the lakeside footpath, a stressed-looking man with a builder’s uniform and blueprints under his arm approaches me: “Tell me, is it half past eleven already?”

“Yes,” I confirm, “it’s 11:35.”

“I don’t believe it! Where on Earth is he?” the waiting person is furious with the 300-second delay of his colleague, boss or customer. Normally, the Swiss are so punctual; here, even women show up reliably and to the minute for a date.

To continue hitchhiking in Germany, I thought that I will talk to motorists on the ferry to Friedrichshafen to find out if anyone is going to Bavaria.

That’s a great plan, I am thinking to myself.

Unfortunately, the port in Romanshorn and the ferry look as empty as if a naval blockade had been imposed. Hopefully the sea mines have not been laid yet.

Distance-wise, Lake Constance is not the halfway point. I have 70 km behind me and at least 360 km ahead of me. But mentally, the water and the international border, the leisurely cruise and the return to the EU make me think that I am halfway there, so I am relaxing. Relaxing too much, as it will turn out later. But I don’t suspect anything of that yet, while enjoying these views:

Very briskly and very narrowly passing the quay wall, the ferry heads into the harbor of Friedrichshafen. Perfectly parked. A modernist-style building, now the Zeppelin Museum, and a hangar at the harbor reveal what the city was really built for.

For the people of Friedrichshafen, Lake Constance soon became too small, and they wanted not only to reach the other shore, but other continents. So they built airships and flew to New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a ticket for the airship, and we know from the movies how harsh their ticket inspectors are.

Far less harsh are the German police, supposedly controlling the supposedly strict coronavirus protection measures when entering oh-so-strict Germany. An empty police car is guarding the border, the officers are out to lunch.

A good idea! I’ll get myself the first kebab after two weeks of abstinence, because in Switzerland, this staple food costs a whopping 10 euros, for which in Germany you get two kebabs, or even three on student discount.

For the Swiss friends who believe that in Germany everything is frozen in quarantine, here are a few photos of Friedrichshafen:

People are strolling, eating, holding hands, kissing, dancing, singing and jumping here, too. And unlike in Switzerland, you can even lie down on the grass, smoke, barbecue in the park and pee in the bushes. There are no signs prohibiting this and that and telling you where to do what, but finally there is graffiti again, and people don’t put their empty beer bottles in the trash can, but deliberately next to it, so that the bottle collectors can make a living as well. Even the monument to Kaiser Wilhelm II is not taken seriously by anyone.

The Corniche of Friedrichshafen has a flair of cities by the sea, like Nice or Sukhumi. It is so beautiful, also thanks to the Swiss mountain panorama from the other side of the sea, that I would love to stay a few days.

Only with the firm resolution to come back for a trip around Lake Constance, I finally tear myself away. Now, somehow, I have to hitchhike northeast, in the direction of Bavaria. I walk to the beginning of highway B30, which leads to Ravensburg and Ulm – not yet able to imagine what headaches this highway will give me today. It will turn into a veritable way of the cross.

How or if I manage to continue the journey at all will be seen in part 2. There, you will also hear what the 50 Hail Marys are all about.

Practical advice:

  • If you want to move faster, a little planning helps. For example, I could have asked to be dropped off in a better spot in St Gallen. And on the German shore of Lake Constance, I would have been better off hitchhiking to Lindau, where the motorway A96 begins. But more about that in part 2.
  • Friedrichshafen is definitively worth a visit.


Posted in Germany, Photography, Switzerland, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 20 Comments

Post-Pandemic Plans

Zur deutschen Fassung.

As a friend of alliterations, once the pandemic is over, I will go on pilgrimage to Petra, hitchhike to the Himalayas, walk to Waziristan, go to Giza, travel to Tirana and take the train to Tehran as well as the railroad to Rawalpindi.

After the ship to the Shetlands, the cruise to the Caribbean and the boat to the Baltics, I will run through Russia, but not without a stop in Stalingrad. Then, I will march to Marseilles, backpack to Baku, hurry to Hungary, dawdle to Damascus, journey to Jordan, stroll through Strasbourg and wander to Weimar.

Only swimming to Sweden is a somewhat scary scheme.

I could also bike to Belgium or bicycle to Burma, but that’s bad for the butt.


Posted in Language, Travel | 14 Comments

A Walk around Baza

Zur deutschen Fassung.

Sometimes, I only get to a town because it’s on the way from A to B, but the distance from A to B is too long to travel in one day. Traveling from Málaga to Venta Micena, the town of Baza was such a convenient half-way point, inviting me to spend a day and a night there.

In Málaga, I had met a lady who had worked as a music teacher in Baza. “Solo hay dos estaciones ahí, la del invierno y la del autobus,” she warned me of the winter there with a pun that cannot be translated without losing the joke. It was September and I was not worried, because when Spaniards speak of winter, it means that it briefly dips below 30 degrees Celsius. “No, no, they even have snow in winter,” she substantiated the warning. Well, that’s what winter is for.

Three hours on the highway, in a car with three Spaniards, each of whom speaking faster than the other, that’s a more demanding test than the DELE exam. At the end, I will have a headache. But it’s interesting and fun. Bla Bla Car is a good way to get to know the country and the people.

When I arrive in Baza, my fellow drivers are worried that I would be bored in the small town. They drop me off almost with pity, like someone going to a monastery, and invite me for a Coke before they drive on.

The town really doesn’t see many visitors, it seems. Under the Moors, Baza was an important border town to the Kingdom of Murcia (now a Spanish region and province). But now, the streets and squares are deserted. (This was long before the corona virus, hence my surprise.)

At the hairdresser’s, a sign in the door says: “Won’t open until 5 today.” At the real estate agent’s, prices are marked down, a three-bedroom apartment from € 66,000 to € 50,000, another three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment from € 180,000 to € 135,000. The real estate boom in Spain seems to be over. By the way, the real estate agent has “closed until Wednesday, the 25th”, without specifying the month.

The large church on the town square opens only at 7 pm, followed by mass at 8 pm. I will stop by again in the evening, only for sightseeing. I don’t need any blessings.

Continuing the tour, I come across more churches in the vicinity, for example the Templo de nuestra señora de la Piedad – Patrona de Baza = Iglesia la Merced, where the service is also scheduled at 8 pm. Clearly, you have to decide between these two churches, there is no dual membership permitted.

I drop off my backpack at the Hotel Virgen del Pilar, where I am handed an extra blanket “in case it will be too cold at night.” It has 24 degrees Celsius. Of more practical use is the receptionist’s recommendation of a nearby restaurant. “You can have a cheap lunch there,” she adds, and I wonder how people can tell I’m stingy. Maybe the German passport gave me away. In any case, she doesn’t seem to be expecting any more guests today, because after my arrival, she closes the reception desk and goes to Casa Grande for lunch herself. This is a tavern after my taste. You ask the confidence-inspiringly stout innkeeper what’s on the menu today, and then you say “yes” or “no.” Written menus are impersonal frippery.

Across the road to the hotel, a banner advertises the Spanish distance education university, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, pointing the way to a regional center of UNED. An avid distance student myself, I’m impressed by the widespread network of the Spanish colleagues, all the way down to provincial towns. Baza has about 20,000 residents and is not of any other supra-regional importance, at least as far as I am aware of.

In the past, as I said, that was different. On the highest point of the town, I discover the ruins of the Moorish fortress Alcazaba. Remains of ruins, rather.

The view is all the more spectacular for that, with church spires, mountains and clouds like in a Photoshop. But everything is real. That’s Andalusia.

Baza FB.jpg

“Please forgive us that the site is so run down,” a lady kindly interrupts me while I’m taking a picture. And she is right. There is rubble lying around, and weeds are growing everywhere.

“We already have the plan to improve the square. See that circle on the ground? That’s where we want to put a fountain.” But as is the case with public projects, they take time. Any anyway, the Moors only left in 1489, so there is no rush.

The lady is wearing a colorful dress and a tin tray covered with aluminum foil. “For the kittens,” she explains, “there’s some meat left from lunch.” Judging by the size of the tray, that was no accident.

At the train station, which looks like it’s no longer active, I meet a very old man with two dogs and just as many teeth. The station has been closed for about 20 years, he tells me, and we agree that this is a great pity. He used to take the train to Alicante, to Seville, as far as Barcelona even, and it was a pleasure. Relaxing, comfortable, beautiful and safe, he says. Now, with the buses, traveling is no longer fun, and besides, he just heard it on the radio yesterday, 1,810 people died in road traffic last year.

We both stand in front of the now useless station building and reminisce about the heyday of railroads. As he shakes my hand in farewell, I’m afraid that my bones may break. The man, who must surely be between 70 and 80 years old, still has so much strength in his hands, if the tracks hadn’t been dismantled, he could push the train all the way to Alicante himself.

The beautiful, green and quiet park at Plaza San Jerónimo is the magnet, to which I keep being drawn back to on my walks around town.

Here, I can rest for a few hours and read a book. Because that’s the beauty of such small places: You don’t have to worry about missing too many sights, even if you take longer breaks. Although I shouldn’t make fun of Baza’s size and lack of bustle. Because I suspect that after a month in Venta Micena, I’ll be thirsting for a town like this.

There is something suspiciously intellectual about this small town, by the way. First, they have a branch of the university, then I discover a four-story library open until 9 pm. Well, only until 2 pm on Sundays, but these are opening hours that municipal libraries in similar towns in the rest of the world can only dream of.

A pub is called Rincón del Poeta, Poet’s Corner, and the graffiti on the church is by Pablo Neruda himself.

Opposite the police station in the old town, there is a well-stocked tobacco store. I may have to stop by here again in a few weeks. The police cars are parked next door in front of the “store for exotic birds”. All the cages in the shop window are empty, but according to a handwritten sign, they now sell Siberian huskies instead. People really think it’s freezing here.

“Se alquila por poco dinero” is desperately written on a store in the winding streets of the old town: To rent for little money.

At 6 pm, I am passing by the park again. Now, there is much more going on. The three bocce courts are busy, and the players are discussing each throw with more vigor than could be witnessed in the courthouse around the corner.

The church doesn’t open at 7 pm, after all. Maybe they are on summer holidays, too.

When I return to the hotel in the evening, I see that it is also for sale. I just hope it doesn’t change owners tonight, interrupting my sleep. After making fun all day of the Spaniards who think it’s cold here in September, I have to meekly and ruefully confess that I need long sweatpants and a sweater to fall asleep.

Conclusion: Baza is not Granada or Málaga, obviously. But you shouldn’t drive past it, either. Maybe you can even learn more about Andalusia in such a small town, because you don’t share the attention with other tourists. The apartments are also more affordable, as you have seen.


Posted in Andalusia, Photography, Spain, Travel | Tagged | 4 Comments

One Hundred Years Ago, a Royal Funeral was the Last Gasp of Times Past – April 1921: Augusta Victoria

Zur deutschen Fassung.

When I launched the series “One Hundred Years Ago …”, I had the intention to highlight events from the past that still resonate today. Sometimes this succeeds, sometimes not.

But never has it been so easy to bridge the gap to the hundred-year past as this month. Thank you, Prince Philip!

A week ago, the husband of the Queen, himself almost a hundred years old, passed away, and today, the funeral takes place. An almost perfect reflection of the events from a hundred years ago: On 11 April 1921, Augusta Victoria Friederike Luise Feodora Jenny of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, the wife of Germany’s last emperor, Wilhelm II, died. He was no longer emperor at the time, though, having retired involuntarily and drawn a final line under the long history of German monarchy.

On 19 April 1921, Augusta Victoria was buried in the gardens of Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam.

And this despite the fact that the Kaisers no longer lived in Germany at the time. They had absconded in 1918, slightly disappointed by their German people, who didn’t think the famine was so great after all and because, contrary to expectations, not all of their subjects were looking forward to death in France or Flanders.

The Hohenzollerns, the name of the family that had ruined Germany, gathered all their gold, silver and paintings and went into exile in the Netherlands, where they bought a small house in Doorn. The Netherlands didn’t mind, because they were – and still are – an unconscionable tax haven.

When Kaiser Wilhelm II saw that 59 railroad cars were needed to transport his private booty, he was in tears: “Oh, how many men could have been brought to the front with 59 railroad cars! Four thousand? Five thousand? So much unshed blood, what a shame!” But in the end, the greediness, a trait the Hohenzollerns have retained to this day, won out over the murderous.

Doorn is rather unassuming compared to classic places of exile (Babylon, Constanța, Elba, St. Helena), but that suited Wilhelm II, as did the creative, intellectually demanding hobby he engaged in every day: The last German emperor was immensely pleased when he could saw down a tree in the garden. – Another ex-emperor, Charles of Austria-Hungary, on the other hand, was not at all satisfied with being a pensioner in the garden and tried to putsch his way back into power. But more about that in October 1921.

Everyone knows such people who prefer to make noise with the leaf blower rather than indulge in literature, who prefer to shred shrubs rather than write stories, and who produce gardens without life in a frightening culmination of the ugly. Countries, especially problematic ones like Germany, should not be entrusted to such people.

Also, I don’t know what to make of people who don’t attend their wife’s funeral. Thousands of onlookers, friends of the monarchy, noblemen and stab-in-the-back-mythologists, often all in one, showed up when the coffin with the empress was driven through Potsdam. The emperor, however, apparently had to chop wood and therefore had no time.

Perhaps he was still angry about his dismissal and that Germany had become a democracy. Or he was afraid of having to answer for war crimes at the Leipzig trials (addressed in the last episode). Or he was jealous because his wife was more popular than the emperor himself. Or Wilhelm II was already dating his new girlfriend, Princess Hermine von Schönaich-Carolath, whom he married soon after.

This funeral procession was a sad swan song to a bygone era, of which the attendees did not want to believe that it was indeed gone forever. Wilhelm II was still cutting down trees until 1941, thus establishing the German tradition of “Waldsterben”. Thank you, Kaiser!

The Hohenzollerns didn’t care about the forests, they didn’t care about Germany, they just wanted to be emperors again and live in castles. To that purpose, they even aligned themselves with the Nazis. But that’s another story, for another time. Of frightening topicality, though.


Posted in Germany, History | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

There is always a Fossibility

“Dammit, you will never be useful,” said Dinosaur Mom.

“How would you know?”, thought Dinosaur Son with much derision, leaving the house for one last time, before – a mere 65,510,388 years later – filling up the tank of a stranded emergency ambulance vehicle at a gas station in the desert of Nevada.

Photo by Harrison Haines on


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One Hundred Years Ago, an Armenian Student took the Law into his own Hands – March 1921: Operation Nemesis

Zur deutschen Fassung.

For the series “One Hundred Years Ago …”, I had promised one episode per month. But the last episode about the Russian Civil War and Mongolia met with plenty of positive responses and led to new supporters on Patreon and Steady.

For that, I thank you with this extraordinary, unplanned special supplementary episode for March 1921.

You should thank the supporters of this blog. Or, better yet, become one yourself, so that many more historical curiosities will be brought to light.

Currently, the trial for the so-called Tiergarten murder is being held in Berlin, after Zelimkhan Khangoshvili was shot dead in August 2019 in a Berlin park that deceptively calls itself Tiergarten (German for “zoological garden”), although the park has neither tigers nor elephants. The murder was a real pity, because Mr. Khangoshvili was simultaneously Georgian, Chechen, Kist and Kakheti, and thus more exotic than an elephant tiger. Who is behind the murder is not hard to guess, because there is this one mafia state that shoots, poisons and pushes people from the fourth floor balcony, which is why nobody should be surprised when this blog will come to a sudden eeeeeeeeeend.

In any case, there is a tradition of political assassination in Berlin, with foreign adversaries bringing their fury and firepower to the city. One well-known case occurred on 15 March 1921, exactly one hundred years ago. And, as if made for a historical-legal blog, it led to a well-known trial.

At least well-known in Armenia.

It was there, in the martial military museum in Yerevan, that I first heard about “Operation Nemesis”.

Now I’m afraid I’m going to have to lay some groundwork, and unfortunately it’s going to be gruesome. But I’ll keep it brief. During World War I, the Ottoman Empire disintegrated for good. As is often the case when you lose an empire or a soccer match, you want to take revenge on a minority. In the case of the Ottoman Empire, these were mainly Greeks, Jews and Armenians. The latter were murdered and expelled in a systematic genocide starting in 1915.

I would be curious if you learned about this at school. Because back in the 1990s, I didn’t. Maybe because in Germany, there were more Turkish than Armenian classmates and surviving Turkish parents complain more often to the principal than dead Armenian grandparents. In other countries, the memory of this genocide is much more present.

Or maybe the reason was that Germany had played an inglorious role in the genocide. We are apparently a people with some affinity for mass murder, and with that I will stop counting whom I have already insulted with in this article.

Up to 1.5 million Armenians died, and the survivors fled all over the world. (I’m sure you’ll find some in your local chess club or brandy store.)

In 1919, the first legal surprise happened. The Ottoman Sultan set up a court before which Turkish politicians, officials and officers had to answer for the Armenian genocide. This was 26 years before the Nuremberg Trials.

Unlike the Leipzig Trials beginning in 1921, in which German soldiers were to answer for massacres in Belgium, the Turkish court took the matter quite seriously. At least initially.

The Turkish court handed down 17 death sentences, including against former Interior Minister and Grand Vizier Talât Pasha, former War Minister Enver Pasha and former Navy Minister Cemal Pasha. Whoever believes that international criminal law, i.e. the culpability of individuals for violations of international law, began in Nuremberg, has now learned something and will hopefully one day use this knowledge to win a television quiz.

The Pashas did not want to end up on the gallows, so they fled to their old comrades in arms – to Berlin. Germany was known for cozying up to war criminals and did not extradite the convicted murderers.

The Turks were furious and threatened: “If you don’t hand over Talât Pasha, we won’t support you in the next world war”, which is why World War II ended the way it did.

But the Armenians were even more furious.

The Armenians realized that Germany would do nothing against the murderers relaxing in its capital city. The Armenians realized that Turkey, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union, which, to make matters worse, had annexed the briefly independent rest of Armenia, would not lift a finger. And the Armenians realized that the establishment of the International Criminal Court would be a long time coming.

So they decided to carry out the sentences themselves. Operation Nemesis was born.

Because it was a good excuse to postpone the exams to the next semester, a student volunteered for the execution of the main culprit Talât Pasha: Soghomon Tehlirian. Coincidentally, it allowed him to move to Germany, where he wanted to continue his engineering studies. Germany had a good reputation in engineering at that time. Unjustifiably so, because the airport in Berlin was still not completed. So Tehlirian had to hitchhike.

Hitchhiking was not a problem, because the Spanish flu had just died down after three waves and two years. People were eager for human interaction, and besides, Tehlirian was not one of those stereotypical scruffy students on LSD, but rather preppy and polite.

In Berlin, Tehlirian found out that the former Grand Vizier lived on Hardenberg Street, shadowed him for a few days and, when he was sure that the man was the target and that no passersby were in danger, he shot him in the open street on the morning of 15 March 1921.

Now, this was Berlin, where people are being shot all the time. No one would have cared about another death. The tabloids would have ranted about “gang warfare”, and after a few days the matter would have been forgotten. But Tehlirian remained beside the body, waiting for the police. He explained to the officers that he had carried out the Turkish death sentence and had also avenged the death of his wife and grandparents, and expressed regret at having inconvenienced the German authorities by doing so.

The Armenian student was charged with murder, and the trial before the criminal court in Berlin led to the second legal surprise. A real sensation in fact.

Tehlirian could not and would not deny the crime. So the defense had to rely on justifying and exculpating arguments. It turned the murder trial into a trial about the genocide. Surviving Armenians recounted the horrors. Johannes Lepsius, who had tried like no other to persuade the German public and politicians to protect the Armenians, testified as a witness. Otto Karl Viktor Liman von Sanders, a German general who had commanded the Ottoman army as a field marshal in World War I, was summoned to testify. And Tehlirian told how he had lost 85 family members to the genocide.

Then, on 3 June 1921, the sensation: Acquittal!

The verdict was hotly debated, with the men of Operation Nemesis, who killed other perpetrators of the genocide in subsequent years, receiving understanding for the fact that no court took up their cause: Turkey put the old verdicts on file. Other countries did not extradite. And Armenia, well, it had been absorbed into the Soviet Union, and with it the independent Armenian judiciary.

The lesson learned, as always far too late, was the development of international criminal law: Certain serious crimes can be prosecuted anywhere in the world, regardless of where they were committed. Germany celebrated the centenary of the Tehlirian judgment in 2021 with the conviction of a Syrian intelligence agent for torture in Syrian prisons.

Tehlirian moved restlessly around the world: Cleveland, Marseilles, Belgrade, Casablanca, Paris, San Francisco. He was never to return to Armenia.

By the way, in the military museum in Yerevan there were a few dubious exhibits as well. But that seems to be the case in every household in Armenia, and besides, it’s another story to be told later.

First, I’d like you to venture a guess about the subject for April 1921.


Posted in Armenia, Germany, History, Law | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Quite some Drama

Pro tip: Whenver a woman e-mails on behalf of her boyfriend, most likely unknowingly, and refers to the boyfriend as “fiance”, expect some drama.

And expect only half of the story. At most. Although this half is confusing enough.

Okay let me start from the beginning. My fiance was having sex with his ex German girlfriend but she was also have sex with 6 other men along with him. She told one of the men she doesn’t care how many men she had to have sex with she was just trying to get pregnant again.  So when my fiance found out she was pregnant with the child he already knew that it wasn’t his because she was having sex with 6 other men. Because he would not leave me and our unborn child at the time and move to Germany with her. She decided that she would just leave because my fiance told her that they broke up and that they were never getting back together.  So she left. After the child was born in December 2015 she went after him for child support. He asked her why did she do file child support against him.  At first she lied to him and told him it wasn’t her but the German Government.  He told her he did not believe her. She finally admitted that she filed child support against him because she was mad at him for not leaving me and our child. He tried to keep in contact with the mother for the child’s sake but she wouldn’t let him. So he decided to give up on keeping contact.  There was no point. He still believes in not paying child support for a child he never gets to see or be around. He wants to sign his writes away because he and I both know nothing about the German child.

Honestly, I think my time is better spent writing than trying to untangle this mess. But please have a go at it!


Posted in Family Law, Law | Tagged , , | 9 Comments