Tag Archives: Germany

Germans on Twitter say ‘ja!’ to Nein Quarterly

Eric Jarosinski (Photo: Caitlan Carroll)

Eric Jarosinski (Photo: Caitlan Carroll)

Here’s a guest post from Frankfurt-based reporter Caitlan Carroll

“Nein Quarterly” has attracted more than 40,000 Twitter followers with its wry observations on everything from US politics to the sexiness of the German umlaut.

Here are a few Nein Quarterly quips: “What’s so awesome about nihilism? Nothing.”

“You call it happiness. I call it Acute Despair Deficit syndrome.”

“My Doppelgänger wants to start resembling other people.”

The man behind the Twitter feed is Eric Jarosinski, a German professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Jarosinski grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. His early experience with German culture came in the form of kitschy folk fests and polka nights, but he got to know the real Germany after spending time in the country and mastering the language.

“German for me was a lot like learning math which I was resistant to,” says Jaronsinski. “But I learned that it became something very different after I could make the language my own in some form and in fact, that’s something I encourage my students to do is to make puns in German.”

Puns and word play are trademarks of Nein Quarterly. His jokes jump from Marxism to pumpkin spice lattes—all told from the perspective of a depressed German philosopher pining for another time and place. It’s a persona Jarosinski loosely models on the real German philosopher Theodor Adorno, who died in 1969.

“More than anything I’ve tried to develop the persona of a loveable misanthrope who comments on most anything he encounters and feels like he has something to say about most everything he encounters.”

Jarosinski says he started Nein Quarterly over a year ago as a way to relax while writing a book about the concept of transparency. “Essentially this gave me a voice at a time when I found there was very little I could put on paper but there was a lot that I could type into my iPhone,” he says.

What started as a lark has turned into something more serious. Jarosinski is in Germany to meet with publishers to talk about future writing projects. Interest in Nein Quarterly is running high in Germany at the moment, especially among intellectuals.

Elka Sloan, a professional translator in Frankfurt, reads the Twitter feed for the word play. “The plays he does with sort of nihilist statements, the way he twists around famous quotes from philosophy and the way he breaks the German intellectual tradition through this satirical lens is, I think, the hilarity of it,” says Sloan.

It got Helmut Wicht laughing too. He teaches anatomy at Goethe University in Frankfurt. “I think the first tweet which actually made me follow him immediately was the famous one it must have been like a year ago on philosophy,” he says. “Three lines. First line: ‘Ontology – what the f—? Epistemology – Why the f—? Phenomology – The f—.'” (In the original tweet, Jarosinski spelled out the f— word.)

“And in that very moment,” says Wicht, “I hit the follow button.”

Wicht says Jarosinski has found Germany’s enigmatic funny bone. He jokes like an insider. “He is playing with that. He gives us the feeling that ultimately, finally there is someone out there in the Anglo-Saxon world who loves and understands us.”

That view from the outside is something that Germans crave, and Jarosinski knows it. “I have had people tell me that. That that is something that they have liked,” Jarosinski says. “How does an outsider perceive us? And in particular, an outsider who knows us somewhat—I think that has something to do with it as well.”

Jarosinski is raising money to support a Nein Quarterly blog he plans to launch at the end of this year. He’ll feature writing from many different contributors. He describes the blog this way on his website: “Words. Thought. Art. Umlauts. Despair.”


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Political language before and after Tucson

After the Tucson shootings, we hear from Dutch and German journalists about political discourse and violence in their countries.

Like many Europeans, the Dutch used to think of their country as less violent than the United States, in both word and deed. That’s no longer the case, after the street assassinations of politician Pim Fortuyn and film director Theo van Gogh. After Fortuyn’s murder in 2002,  the political left came under fire for the tone of their verbal attacks on Fortuyn, who was a populist right-winger — something of a foreshadowing of the Tucson shootings, albeit with the politics of the accused and accusers switched.

In Germany, political discourse is far more subdued. There is, of course, a historical reason for that:  hate-mongering speech during  1920s and 1930s that led to political assassinations, firebombings and the rise of the Nazis. Moreover, there are certain things in Germany that you cannot say;  most famouly, you cannot by law deny the Holocaust. Also, libel law is more stringent than in the United States. Josef Joffe, the German journalist we talk to,  says that as a result, German political rhetoric today is “almost boring.”

Sarah Palin’s equivalent in Germany — should such a person ever exist — almost definitely would not have used the term blood libel. With its Jewish associations it would have been beyond the pale. It was strange enough to hear it in the United States. Defending herself against charges that her own harsh language contributed to the Tucson shootings, Palin said journalists and pundits were “manufactur[ing] a blood libel.” See her video message here.

Historically, as my colleague Alex Gallafent reports, blood libel is a “false accusation that Jews murder others in order to use their blood in ceremonies.”  This form of anti-Semitism goes back centuries. After the false accusation was made, more extreme rhetoric followed, often ending in ethnic violence.  Sarah Palin’s use of the term seems misplaced, insofar as she is neither Jewish nor is she accused of orchestrating or relishing the death of anyone. Still, it did draw attention to Sarah Palin, which may have been the point.  It meant that Barack Obama’s oratory at a memorial ceremony inTucson later that day, while receiving high marks, did not get the banner headline coverage than it might otherwise have done.

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Turkish, Stalin, and just say non!

The avidly pro-Western Georgian government has just torn down a statue of Joseph Stalin in his hometown of Gori. Many people think of Stalin as Russian, but he was Georgian, much to the embarrassment of many Georgians today. There’s an exception: Georgians who live in Gori adore the former Soviet leader; for them it’s a case of local boy made good bad and all of that. As it happens, I visited Gori in 2005, and filed a story from there on Stalinphilia and the language of denial.

The newest star of Germany’s national soccer team is an ethnic Turk. And the  popularity of Mesut Özil is one of the reasons why Turkish has become just a little more accepted in Germany today. There are other reasons: the emergence of a small middle class, as well as  the rise of writers, filmakers and politicians (our report from Cyrus Farivar includes comments from Cem Özdemir, Germany’s first member of parliament of Turkish descent). Turkish in Germany remains nowhere near as prominent as Spanish is in the United States. It’s the exception rather than the rule to find a German corporation marketing a product to ethnic Turks in Turkish. Earlier this year Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Germany to offer Turkish as a language of instruction in high schools.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded by promising more bilingual education. Related articles: a blanket ban on foreign languages at one German school, and the influence of Turkish and Arabic on urban, spoken German.

World Cup notes:  this World Cup is breaking TV viewing records from China to Chile. A story here on U.S. TV ratings, which are especially impressive on the Spanish-language Univision channel. The Argentina-Mexico game was the most-watched  Spanish-language telecast in U.S. history, with nearly 10 million viewers. Combined with English-language coverage, that game attracted nearly 14 million viewers — impressive for a contest that did not feature the United States. In contast, a combined 19  million watched the U.S.-Ghana game.

And there’s a nice video montage from BBC Mundo here of the eleven official languages of South Africa.

Finally,  British politician Chris Bryant has called French a “useless” language to learn. He suggested that children should instead learn Chinese or Arabic. After he made those comments, the BBC hauled him into a studio to defend himself, and to debate the issue with a German diplomat. (Late replacement for a French diplomat? Peut-être.)



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Gaddafi’s translator, Swedish fury at UNESCO, and Nazi slogans in English

Here are the 5 stories  Carol Hills and I selected as our top five language-related stories for the past month or two:

gaddafi5. The sad tale of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s translator at the United Nations General Assembly. Gaddafi spoke for 94 minutes, 79 minutes longer than he was alloted. At 90 minutes, his translator appeared to collapse and was replaced by a UN translator.

Hunmin_jeong-eum4. The quixotic tale of the real estate mogul who is trying to export Korean Hangul script to Indonesia. Koreans are immensely proud of their 24-letter alphabet, which was established in the 15th century in a document caled the Hunmin Jeongeum — “The Proper Sounds for the Education of the People.” (See above: the  Hangul-only column is fourth from left.)

3. India’s burgeoning number of official languages. It currently has 22 official language, with 38 more under consideration. Where will it fit all those languages on its banknotes?

Scanian2. A declaration from UNESCO that a southern Swedish dialect is in fact a language under threat. The image above is a 13th century rendering Scanian and Church Law, which includes a comment in the margin called the “Skaaningestrof”: “Hauí that skanunga ærliki mææn toco vithar oræt aldrigh æn”  — “Let it be known that Scanians are honorable men who have never tolerated injustice.” Sweden recognizes five minority languages but Scanian is not among them — and it’s not likely to be designated as one any time soon.  Most Swedish linguists call it a dialect – a thick one that many Swedes poke fun at – but a dialect nonethless.

1. A German court’s decision to permit Nazi hate speech, so long as it’s not in German. The words in questions are Hitler Youth slogans; they clearly have greater potency in the original German.

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