Saturday, October 26, 2013

Criss-crossing the United States: Erik Kirschbaum on Tour

Erik Kirschbaum in Tucson, Arizona, talking about Rocking the Wall

For the last ten days, I've had the chance to talk to large and small groups of Americans interested in Germany and German expatriates in the United States. It's been great to engage in many exciting and stimulating discussions about my book Rocking the Wall and exploring the question whether Bruce Springsteen's record-breaking four-hour long concert in 1988 East Berlin helped spark the fire that led to the revolution that brought down the Berlin Wall sixteen months later. The grueling eight-city tour also gave me the chance to see what it might be like to be on a rock 'n' roll tour with eight different hotel rooms, four time zones, fifteen flights and nearly forty hours in the air and almost as much time standing in airport security lines—it made me glad that I went into journalism and never even dreamed of becoming a rock star.

The tour to talk about Rocking the Wall, which has been generously sponsored by the American Council on Germany at its Eric M. Warburg Chapters,  included stops in Nashville, Charlotte, Davidson, Madison, Minneapolis, Nashville, Flagstaff, Tucson and Minneapolis/St Paul. The gatherings ranged from about ten people to as many as fifty-five. And most of the people in America who came to the talks—everybody from students to lawyers, accountants, local business leaders interested in all things German and a few German consulate officials—seemed to be really excited by the notion that the power of Springsteen's music may well have helped influence the course of history twenty-five years ago.

The Rocking the Wall tour began on October 16 in Nashville with a 'klein aber fein' luncheon gathering of ten local German professors, students, lawyers and even a retired federal judge that was organized by Douglas Berry, the Nashville ACG chapter leader. I tried to keep my speech short and sweet at about thirty minutes and spent the next forty-five minutes fielding their thoughtful questions. German audiences tend to expect longer speeches while Americans seem to relish the chance to ask questions so it worked out well in Nashville and everyone seemed happy. Douglas, who is also the honorary German Consul in Nashville, said the approach was "just perfect" for American audiences and so the Nashville speech became the basic template for the rest of the tour.

The next stop on October 17 was in Madison, Wisconsin, a return to the college campus on Lake Mendota where I was once an undergraduate student in history and German. It felt a little strange suddenly being a guest speaker in the Van Hise Languages Building that towers over the campus some three decades after I sometimes struggled there to memorize irregular German verbs and the genders of nouns. But any awkward memories quickly vanished thanks to the warm embrace from the German professors, especially Coralee Kluge and Marc Silberman, and their urging to do my talk auf Deutsch because the thirty-five or so students, faculty and alumni at the gather all understood German. So we did it all in German—even though my book is in English (as well as in German). The lecture and discussion, co-sponsored by the Center for German and European Studies at the UW German Dept., was quite lively. There was one graduate student in the audience who had actually been at the 1988 Springsteen concert and he asked some challenging questions and had his doubts about my thesis. Earlier that day in Madison, I gave a forty-five-minute version of the talk to a high school history class at West High that was studying the Cold War and whose teacher had read about my book in a story online. The high school history teacher, David Holtan, had also been at the concert and proudly showed me the 'Konzert fuer Nikaragua' ticket stub. He found the spirit at the concert incredible.

The next stop on October 18 began in Charlotte, North Carolina, where an early morning meeting of about twenty lawyers, accountants, local business leaders and friends of Germany (and a few big Springsteen fans) gathered in the board room of Parker Poe, one of Charlotte's top law firms (with a spectacular view of the fast-growing city), organized by Albert Guarnieri. At noon, I meet a group of about 10 Davidson College "American Pop Culture" students who were fascinated even though they were all born about five years after the concert in the early 1990s. Later in the afternoon, about forty-five students, faculty and the general public came to an hour-long lecture on the concert warmly organized by German professor Caroline Weist.

The fifth stop was in Atlanta on October 20 at the German American Chamber of Commerce. It was exciting to see how many young Germans there are hard at work helping German companies get in-roads into the United States—no wonder half of Germany's GDP is exports. Organized by Martina Stegmeier, the head of the German American Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta, there were about twenty-five local business leaders, German expatriates and even the head of the German consulate gathered in the evening for the chat and to ask engaging questions about the concert. Several German expats had some helpful ideas on how to help more people in the United States hear about the book—always welcome!

The sixth stop was Flagstaff, Arizona on October 21. The indefatigable Helge Jordan, head of the ACG chapter and Germany's honorary consul for Arizona, accompanied me on the forty-eight-hour driving marathon from Phoenix to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and then down to the University of Arizona in Tucson. In Flagstaff there were about fifty German students, faculty and friends of Germany who stayed on the campus late on Tuesday evening for the talk and kept me on my toes with vibrant, probing questions. Organized by German professor Marilya Veteto Reese, the lecture hall was packed, the questions were excellent and the talk was a success—topped off with a superb dinner in downtown Flagstaff with a group of enthused German speakers.

The seventh stop was in Tucson, Arizona—at the southern end of the state and about forty degrees hotter than chilly Flagstaff. Barbara Kosta, the head of the U of A German Dept., didn't seem at all concerned when there were only two young students in the lecture hall about five minutes before the talk was supposed to begin. And she knew the student body well because in the next few minutes the room was full with about forty students and faculty. After a lively discussion, a smaller group tried out a tasty Mexican restaurant nearby and enjoyed the warm evening outdoors under the stars in Tucson.

Erik Kirschbaum and the Tucson Students after the talk

The eighth and final stop was in St. Paul, Minnesota, where there were snowflakes in the air, at the stately Germanic-American Institute building perched high on a high overlooking the city. GAI executive director Aline Anliker and board member R. Don Keysser brought together an eclectic audience of about forty-five—and they kept me talking for more than ninety minutes answering their questions. There were several people in the crowd who had not only read Rocking the Wall already, but brought their copies along for me to sign, which was a special treat. Making the final evening even more special was a guest appearance by a former East German air force officer who had six tickets to the Springsteen concert but had to give his away because he was called into duty on the night of the concert. He lives in Minnesota now, but his recollections of life in Communist East Germany before and after the Springsteen concert helped give the audience a feeling for what life was like under the Communist regime that Springsteen's concert helped bring down.

All in all it was a fantastic (yet draining) fortnight on the road in America, talking about Springsteen's '88 East Berlin concert and the power of rock and roll with Americans and Germans in America—some of whom weren't born until well after the concert happened and some of whom had never before heard about it. It was a great opportunity to meet young and not-so-young Americans and German expatriates who are intensely interested in German and Germany.

- By Erik Kirschbaum

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ten Reasons Artists and Authors Should Still Get Paid in the Age of the Internet

We live in the age of the internet, and the age of free content. And free music. And free books. Free blogs. Free news. Why should artists, musicians, authors, and journalists be paid at all, even less so since what they produce is invisible, immaterial, and ubiquitous? Or should they? Here are ten arguments why they should:
1) In former times, there was no copyright. Artists had sponsors, and wonderful art was produced -- think of Mozart and Bach. Why not go back to these times? 
Mozart died fairly young and in debt, since his royal sponsors lost money in the Austro-Turkish war. Bach was full-time employed by various churches. But sure, lets go back to these times. We already have a society where 1 percent own most of the money, so these are the sponsors right here! However, during Bach's times, not only was copyright unheard of, pretty much nobody was guaranteed payment for work. Farmhands worked as indentured servants, maids slaved for food and lodging. Peons owned squat. Doctors were paid with chickens. If artists and writers have to go back to feudalism, everybody should. Then at least I'd have a free maid. Or two.
2) It costs nothing to produce an ebook, or a MP3 file, as opposed to a printed book or a CD. Why should I pay anything to get one?
Really, it costs nothing? A book just pops out of nowhere? Writes itself? Here is a great business model for you: Produce 100 e-books a day and sell them for 10 cents a copy, you will be a millionaire in a few weeks. Whoever thinks like this confuses the production of the actual art with the conversion to a format suitable for e-readers or MP3 players. The expensive part of ebook or CD creation is the writing/editing/music making part, not pressing the finished product on paper or plastic. Plastic is cheap. This is the reason Windows 8 costs the same as a download than as a CD. The plastic the CD is made of has the same value than the plastic bag it's wrapped into.
3) I'm only downloading stuff I would not have purchased anyway. If an ebook is downloaded illegally, the author does not suffer any actual material loss.With that logic, you can ride the subway for free, because it is running anyway. Or an airplane, for that matter. Problem is, every system can sustain a certain number of freeloaders, but not unlimited. If everybody downloads books for free, then nobody is paying the author, the editor, the designer, the publisher, and whatnot. So you are either ripping off the artist, or freeloading on paying customers. By the way, as an author, I much prefer people who steal paper books to people who steal e-books. With paper, I still get paid by the store. And nobody is deprived of his copy, because since Gutenberg, every book can be reproduced in unlimited numbers. Of course, if you steal a paper book, you deprive the store owner of his income, but otherwise it would be me. If it's any consolation, if a lawyer comes after you, you won't suffer a material loss as well. It's only virtual digits on your credit card account.
4) Why can't musicians make a living from concerts instead from CD sales, or authors make a living from paid appearances?Why do I have the feeling that the people who are arguing this are the same people who used to sneak into a concert for free because the artist was supposed to make a living from his albums and not from live concerts? Seriously, how much money have you spent on concerts or readings lately? Nada?
5) How about selling T-shirts?I tried, really. Sadly, some Hollywood lawyers cracked down on my collection of Mickey Mouse in bed with Princess Leia. Also, if I would want to make a living by selling stuff, I'd sell used Macbooks on eBay.
6) Journalists don't need to be paid; there is a ton of stuff on the internet you can read for free, mostly blogs, and, of course Facebook and other free sites.
Sure. However, those sites thrive by letting folks comment on news stories that derive from actual, paid journalists. If the New York Times would fold, the blogosphere would fold twelve hours later. News costs money. Just look at the last venture, Al Jazeera, a news TV program sponsored by the Emir of Qatar. He spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get Al Jazeera to America. The BBC is free to watch as well, but only courtesy of the British taxpayer. And there is a new feature, run by Glenn Greenwald, financed by an Iranian-American whose name just escaped me. And I'm sure we can find some Koch brothers-financed news someplace. So, there is a free lunch after all!
7) There are so many free ebooks, videos, or music on the net -- why should I pay?Absolutely. There is so much free stuff to watch, hear, and download, I have no idea why people still need to knock down prices on the rest. You can spend your whole day watching free cat videos, why would you need free HBO shows?
8) Most of the stuff in the mainstream media is dictated by Wall Street/controlled by the government/written by run-amok Pinkos. I'm not paying for that.
Bro, I can feel your pain! I'm just not sure what the problem is. If you don't want to pay for, say, the Washington Post, because you believe it's filled with communist/corporate/fill-in-the-blanks-drivel, just don't. But why would you want to read it in the first place? I firmly believe that Twinkies are fattening toothkillers. So I'm not buying them. But I'm not asking Hostess to give them away for free either.
9) I would pay for well-researched stories, but not for gossip about Lindsay Lohan
As you should. However, sadly, this gossip is what people tend to click on, hence it's pulling in eyeballs. And eyeballs attract ads. This is why you find lots of Lindsay Lohan on the internet. In the good old times, those ads also used to pay for those well-researched stories, since everything was bundled in the same newspaper. But not any more. This is the age of the internet. Nowadays, if you want well-researched stories, you have to fund the whole bill. But Lindsay Lohan will always be free.
10) Isn't being on the internet and being read PR for the writer already?Yes, kind of like it's PR for a restaurant if people eat there and talk about it. But it still costs money to operate, so at some point, they have to make some cash.
by Eva C. Schweitzer

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Rocking the Wall - The Tour Goes On

Erik Kirschbaum, the author of  Rocking The Wall: Bruce Springsteen: The Untold Story of a Concert in East Berlin That Changed the Worldis still touring America. Erik had a great talk in Charlotte, North Carolina, yesterday, now he is on his way to Atlanta and Minneapolis. He will speak about the impact Bruce Springsteen had on bringing down the Berlin Wall, there will also be an opportunity for questions.

Here are the tour dates for Arizona later next week:

October 22 
4:00 pm. to 5:30 p.m.
NAU Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, German Department

October 23
4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, Department of German Studies, Education Building 353

The reading is free; the tour is generously sponsored by the American Council on Germany at its Eric M. Warburg Chapters in Atlanta, Charlotte, Madison, Minneapolis, Nashville and Phoenix. In Arizona, the Phoenix Chapter has arranged events in Flagstaff and Tucson.

Arizonians, we hope to see you all there. It will be a one-of-a-kind event.

Picture: Herbert Schulze

by Eva C. Schweitzer

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rocking the Wall — Springsteen-Author Erik Kirschbaum Tours America

Erik Kirschbaum, the author of Rocking the Wall. Bruce Springsteen: The Berlin Concert That Changed the World is touring America. For this book, Kirschbaum spoke to scores of fans and organizers, including Jon Landau, Springsteen's long-time friend and manager. This gripping book gives you a front-row spot at one of the biggest and most exciting rock concerts ever, anywhere. It takes you to an unforgettable journey with Springsteen through the divided city, to his hotel, and his dressing room at the open air grounds in Weissensee, where The Boss, live on stage, delivered a courageous speech against the Wall to a record-breaking crowd of more than 300,000 delirious young East Germans.

The book has garnered raving reviews in Rolling Stone, ABC, the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, The Irish Times, and the New Jersey Star Ledger, Springsteen's home town paper, and many other papers. Michelle Martin called the book in the Washington Post "a glorious example of the influence that rock ‘n’ roll can have on people who are hungry and ready for change."

Now you can meet the author himself — here are the tour dates:

October 16
12:00 - 2:00 p.m.: Nashville luncheon event on Rocking the Wall
                           Venue: The University Club of Nashville
                           2402 Garland Avenue, Nashville TN 37212

October 17
2:30 - 4:00 p.m.: The Center for German and European Studies, German Department,
                          University of Wisconsin-Madison
                          Venue: 1418 Van Hise
                          1220 Linden Dr., Madison, WI 53706

October 18
8:00 - 10:00 a.m.: Charlotte breakfast event on Rocking the Wall
                  Venue: Parker Poe
                  101 North Tryon Street, Suite 1900, Charlotte, NC 28246

October 21
5:30 - 7:30 p.m.: Atlanta meet and greet with Erik Kirschbaum
                          Venue: GACC South
                          1170 Howell Mill Road, Suite 300, Atlanta, GA 30318

October 24
7:00 - 8:30 p.m.: Minneapolis evening event as part of the GAI's Cultural Series Events
                          Venue: Germanic-American Institute (GAI)
                          301 Summit Ave, St. Paul, MN 55102

The tour is generously sponsored by the American Council on Germany at its Eric M. Warburg Chapters in Atlanta, Charlotte, Madison, Minneapolis, Nashville and Phoenix.

There will also be appearances in Flagstaff, and Tucson. We will keep you posted.

by Eva C. Schweitzer

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Mark Twain in Berlin

Mark Twain in Berlin: Tagesspiegel, Berlin's leading daily, reported on the new Berlinica book about a 1891-92 journey of America's most famous author to the German capital, Twain's search for an apartment, his dinner with the Kaiser, and his observations on Berlin landmarks and other things. The book, by Andreas Austilat, is in English, it has all of Twain's stories on Berlin, and interviews with Twain himself in Berlin papers.

And here is the book:

by Eva C. Schweitzer

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Frankfurt Book Fair - Here I Come!

Off to the Frankfurt book fair! Tomorrow I will be boarding the plane to the biggest book event on the planet. Pretty much every publisher is there, including small ones like myself. It is an event crammed with meetings, talks, industry panels, appearances of famous (and less famous) authors, sightings of agents, end-of-day parties between the aisles and nightly parties in Frankfurt. Brazil is the guest of honor, and also American publishing companies will be present (in the only hall where your bag gets searched — what a surprise!). Food is usually limited to cookies, chocolate, gummy bears, and plastic glasses of wine, albeit a lot of those. To quote another great Frankfurter, you can eat (or sleep), when you're dead.

Funny things happen at the book fair. I once ended up at a brunch at a Frankfurt hotel where a Berlin-based journalist from Austria was running his mouth so sharply that I missed my train, because I couldn‘t leave. Not so much because it was so interesting, but because I was afraid that he‘d talk about me likewise as soon as I was gone! I also once stole a cat book, my apologies, I was drunk. And Frankfurt is a great place to meet people you could see in New York and Berlin as well, but don't.

So why am I there? I will be covering the fair, and I am also hoping to find a German publisher interested in the German version of, "A Tramp in Berlin. New Mark Twain Stories." There will also be talks about a book of travels into Native American territory. I will, of course, keep everybody posted. I will be taking my new Nook with me, love, love, love the Nook. Let‘s see how it works on a 24/7 basis.

by Eva C. Schweitzer

Speaking of Berlin, by the way, here is the newest story.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mark Twain on Congress

Exciting times! So, this is how Congress works. Of course, this is nothing new; Mark Twain knew already that the body of representatives could be a bit ... difficult? Anyway, for those of you who want to delve in, here is our signature T-shirt with the famous quote, "Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." Soon as a mug, and a baseball cap. Check it out:


Make a personalized gift at Zazzle.