Dear L and P,

“Glück im Unglück”, say the Germans. Good fortune wrapped into bad luck. That’s what struck this morning. I intended to start riding a bit later because I first wanted to see an exhibition, but when I looked at my bike, departure was delayed even more. I had a flat tire. That was the “Unglück” part. The “Glück” was that this happened in a city and that I found a repair guy who not only replaced the inner tube but also the worn-out tires with two new “unplattbar” (tip: when changing tires, choose Schwalbe “unplattbar” – the very best).

***

The exhibition was in the “Haus der Weimarer Republik” across the National Theatre, where in February of 1919 the German parliament adopted the first democratic constitution as law of the land (Weimar, because Berlin was in the thralls of a not-so-democratically-minded revolutionary left). The Haus documents the ins and outs of the short-lived Weimar republic (you saw “Babylon Berlin”, did you not, but did you know that the first self-adhesive band-aid was concocted in Weimar Germany?), and in a special exhibition the lives of its two presidents, socialist Friedrich Ebert, and Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg. Two things will stick in my memory: one that Hindenburg is not once shown with a smile, the other a photograph of a heartily laughing Ebert in the midst of a bunch of visiting schoolgirls. Ebert, a saddler by trade,  died prematurely in 1925 a bit over 50 years old (appendicitis) which cleared the path for Hindenburg, a professional Prussian soldier whose great luck in life was World War One which brought him out of retirement and made him by way of clobbering the Tsarist Russians  from a dozen-a-dime general into a larger-than-life national hero (Ebert lost both sons in the war). Hindenburg in 1925 became the candidate of the anti-republican, anti-democratic, anti-Versailles-peace-treaty right and won by a nose.

***

I could not help but draw some comparisons, perhaps frivolously so (who wants to be compared to Donald Trump?). In some ways, Hindenburg was a Trumpian figure.  Both men’s public persona was brought to life through make-belief of a resourceful propaganda machine exploiting the lower instincts of humanity, the bankrupt artist Trump turned into a ruthless master of competitiveness, and mediocre Prussian troupier Hindenburg into a master of warfare. Most of this was poppycock. The German victory in the Masurian swamps over the Tsarist Russians was due to the skills of Hindenburg’s wingman Ludendorff (and it did not at all take place in historically loaded Tannenberg). Like Trump, Hindenburg very actively carved out his image, taking resort to a dystopian view of his country’s present (he coined the “Dolchstosslegende”, which claimed that the left “drew a dagger” into Germany’s military and rendered a certain victory impossible). And like Trump – not to mention his opponent – he was an old man when running for President (78) and a very old man when standing for reelection in 1932 at age 86. It was the old codger who appointed Adolf Hitler chancellor of the Reich a year later and killed the republic off. Of course, the “Haus der Weimarer Republik” does not make such comparisons. It refrains from ageism altogether, perhaps with reason (Germany’s first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, was 73 years old when taking office and 80 when leaving it. Parallels drawn refer to the woes of today’s Germany, where the demise of the formerly large parties, a general rage against the “system” and the rise of the right-wing extremist “Alternative für Deutschland” provoke a fear of  a new “Weimar situation”.

***

“Haus der Weimarer Republik” was well worth the stop. It was afternoon by the time I started riding and after 3 when I reached Erfurt. I tossed the plan to go on to Gotha. Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia, was just too beautiful to be skipped for yet another half-dead German small town. I visited the “Old Synagogue”, the oldest Jewish house of prayers in Germany, its remains cleared of later annexes after unification. There is an exhibition, showing replicas of a “bible” and a Thora from the 14th century (the originals – cultural appropriation – are with the Prussian cultural heritage in Berlin). I hoped to learn a bit about old Jewish life in Germany but was underwhelmed. An usher told me that there is only a handful Germans with the Jewish community in Erfurt, most of the 500 being Russian.

Best

J

PS: Some foreign reporters are bending  over backward in order to make the US election interesting. The cake goes to a guy from Zurich who found out that Trump and Biden are actually good for the country. Headline was “Trump and Biden are better than their reputation”. The first paragraph read: “Regardless which one of the two will be elected: It is good for America”. In know the man who wrote this: He must be desperate to be invited to a talk show.