Sunday, December 24, 2017

Where does Christmas come from?

Why do we celebrate Christmas in the middle of winter, and where does the tradition come from? Christmas, as we know it — with an evergreen tree, decorations, cookies, chocolate, mulled wine, and presents — was invented in Germany, in the late Middle Ages, Of course, people then would put up red apples and not glass ornaments on said tree, and chocolate was way too expensive for ordinary folks. That has changed today; all German stores are filled with Christmas chocolates and gingerbread since, I kid you not, the end of August.

The reason for Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Christ, but the holiday has also roots in older celebrations; the winter solstice and the rebirth of spring, the Saturnalia in ancient Rome for the God Saturn, and some similar feast existed in ancient Greece; this is why it takes place on December 24.

However, Germany turned this into a festivity of its own. In England, Christmas was much more rowdy and secular, which is why in America Christmas was outlawed by the Puritans for a long time. Only when more and more German immigrants came until they outnumbered the English, Christmas became popular in the USA. It was, for instance, a German immigrant named Thomas Nast who drew the first Santa Claus with the red coat (the image who was later picked up by Coca-Cola). Even many German Jews in America celebrated Christmas (and also many in Germany).

So, Santa Claus as we know him is more of an American invention; in Germany, he took hold only after World War II. Santa Claus goes back to a Greek bishop named St. Nicholas from the year 270 A.D. (yes, he was Greek, not Turkish, not only did Turkey not exist in these times, it is also a Muslim country). However, Nikolaus shows up in Germany on December 6 and brings some extra chocolate (and toys). In Austria, he is accompanied by Krampus, who gives coal to bad kids.

German culture had a setback in America in and after World War I, when many Germans were forced to give up their language, their books, their culture, and their music.It would be interesting to learn whether that led to an early war on Christmas, but this is not much talked about nowadays. It is one of these forgotten chapters of American history, but if you know, by all means, tell me!

In Germany, meanwhile, Christmas was endangered when the Nazis took over. The Nazi Party put some pressure on families to "nazify" Christmas, like, to use swastika cookie cutters or tree ornaments, or to not go to church. There was even a fringe element in the SS that wanted to go back to the old Norse, "Aryan" Gods. They celebrated the winter solstice with torches in the forest, pledging alliance to the superiority of the Nordic race. Today, this is pretty much frowned upon.

The Communists in Eastern Germany tried something similar. It is said that they renamed the Christmas Angel into "Jahresendflügelfigur," end-of-the-year flying figurine, but I assume this was only told as a parody. Anyway, after the Wall came down all of this disappeared into thin air.

An American friend who lived in Berlin-Kreuzberg at the height of the squatter movement, surrounded by Hipsters and hard-core political streetfighters was very surprised when everybody packed his or her bags and went home for Christmas. Nowadays, Germans complain about the feast being too commercial. Some even try to ban Coca-Cola-Santa-Claus, but this has not caught on either.

So what do Americans do who want to have an old-fashioned Christmas? Travel to Germany, of course! All the Christmas markets are full with strolling tourists, and the lights keep shining.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Advent with Martin Luther

Christmas is coming! December 3 will be the first Sunday of Advent. And in the spirit of the holidays, we are offering a limited number of discounted copies of Martin Luther's Travel Guide, by Cornelia Doemer, with a preface by Professor Robert Kolb. The book takes you to Lutherland, the German landscape where the Reformation took place 500 years ago; to Leipzig, Torgau, Dresden, and the historic town of Wittenberg, where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church (see below).

The book usually retails for $13.99, but for a limited time, it is $12 ony — including shipping and handling (within the United States). It is first come, first serve, when they are gone, they are gone, so don't hesitate!

Your publisher, Eva C. Schweitzer

Thursday, November 23, 2017

To Turkey or Not Turkey

Happy Thanksgiving! There is much to be thankful for, including the lively debate with your relatives about politics around the table, the weather, and the food. That said, there is always room for improvement. And we have a special offer for you: The Berlin Cookbook, Traditional Recipes and Nourishing Stories, by Berlin master chef Rose Marie Donhauser. It tells you how to make Schnitzel, Currywurst, Eisbein, Döner Kebap, and all the other healthy, wholesome German dishes. And you will also read about the heritage of Berlin food, from the Bismarck herring to Frederick the Great's potatoes.

As a special for Thanksgiving, the book will be one dollar off at Amazon. So, you can get it for $15.95 only! In full color and with 60 recipes. Will turkey be one of those recipes? Of course not, but the book tells you how to broil a real German Christmas goose. Here is how it should look like eventually:


The Berlin Cookbook
102 color pages / 60 recipes
Softcover: 8.5’’ x 8.5’’
ISBN  978-1-935902-50-8





But there is more! You can also take a trip to the Reformation, or Leipzig, or Berlin!


Your publisher, Eva C. Schweitzer

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Here We Stand

Americans don't think of Germans as revolutionaries. Lenin once famously said, if Germans would stage a revolution at the train station, they would first buy tickets to get onto the platform. Of course, Lenin was smuggled into Russia in a German train to start a revolution, so this is rather ironic. Nevertheless, 500 years ago, one German started a revolution. It would trigger the Thirty Years' War that would take the lives of one third of the German people, turn Europe upside down, and bring down the remnants of the Roman Empire. This was the Reformation, brought to you by Martin Luther.

Five-hundred years ago, on October 31, 1517, Luther nailed (or rather, posted) his ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. At first, this was less dramatic than it sounds; really more an invitation to debate Theology, not a declaration of war against the Pope. The actual stand-off occurred on April 18, 1521, after three and a half years of mounting hostilities up to the point of burning Papal decrees. In April, Luther spoke before the Diet of Worms, where the Dukes and Princes of the Holy Roman Empire congregated, presided by Charlemagne. Charles V. was the Emperor who ruled Europe, the Americas, and Asia. Luther was a monk with the sparse salary of a teacher. He defended his Theses in Latin, followed by a statement in German. "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me."

Today, it is in doubt whether he spoke those exact words, but his stance is undisputed: He refused to compromise. Quite knowingly, he was declared "vogelfrei", an outlaw whom everybody could kill. He to spent nearly a year in hiding in the Wartburg, while — to prove his point —translating the Bible. Subsequently, uprisings broke out, churches were plundered, peasants killed. The Dukes of Saxony and Hesse went to war against the Pope. Luther, who had only searched for the right way to approach God and not for a revolution, did not recant. Eventually, half of Germany became Protestant and the Holy Roman Empire split into three parts.

Luther was motivated partly by belief and partly by his desire for honesty, but deep down, he was basically driven by German stubbornness. He once (presumably) said: "If I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today." This is one hundred percent German: The determination to stick to what feels right, no matter what. Not even if the world burns down around you, and your family with it. Because this is what we do. And this is how a German revolutionary looks like.

It is not just Luther. In the Nibelungensaga, which goes back 1500 years, everybody fights to the death in the castle of Attila the Hun for no reason at all. Michael Kohlhaas, a fictional character by Heinrich von Kleist based on real-life Hans Kohlhase, turned a legal battle about two seized horses into a feud against the state that only ended after half of Saxony was burned and plundered and he himself was executed. Kurt Tucholsky famously said: "Nothing is more difficult and nothing requires more character than to find oneself in open opposition to ones time and to say loudly: No!"

This stubborn determination has good sides and bad sides. Germans like Sophie Scholl, Arvid Harnack, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer said No to Hitler, full knowing they would not survive. Hitler refused to take a No from Stalin. Rather, he would sacrifice the entire Wehrmacht (and he was not even German). Other countries debate about the number of refugees they want to, or can, take in. Germany shrugs and opens its borders for millions. Because it is the right thing to do and we don't do compromise. Other leaders pretend to like Donald Trump. Angela Merkel does not. It all boils down to the inability or unwillingness to calculate whether it's worth it. Americans can be radical, outspoken, and beholden to the narrative, but at the end of the day, they are about compromise and making things work.

So, was the Reformation worth it? What did it achieve? A lot. It brought religion from a far-away Roman Pope to ordinary people who did not speak Latin. They could read the Bible for the first time. The Reformation turned religion from a shiny object in the sky to something in people's hearts and minds. It also opened the door to a multitude of churches. This was not what Luther had intended, because he was by no means a Liberal, but this is how life works. Even if it's not a very German thing to happen.

Your publisher, Eva C. Schweitzer

Monday, August 21, 2017

Fabulous, Tragic Kurt Tucholsky ...

...  is what the wonderful Franz Baumann calls the author of our new book Germany? Germany! Satirical Writings: The Kurt Tucholsky Reader in the Los Angeles Review of Books. The LARB has reviewed our fourth book by Tucholsky; the collection of (mostly) satirical essays about Germany between the two World Wars was translated by Harry Zohn. The preface is by Ralph Blumenthal. Here are some excerpts from the review:

One of the best-paid German journalists in the 1920s, Kurt Tucholsky was the canary in the coal mine of the Weimar Republic. His ire targeted the revanchist military, unreformed judiciary, cowardly government, and accommodationist politicians (namely, Social Democrats), whom he vilified as intellectually pedestrian and petty bourgeois, accusing them of turning a blind eye to the dangers of the political right.

Most of his commentary was unabashedly political, and his cultural criticism was only slightly less so. Among his favorite targets were the bourgeois, for whom he felt a visceral disgust, ... Cursing both houses, Tucholsky charged that the cowardly, avaricious middle class, fearing a left-wing revolution, invited the right-wing dictatorship and were happy to “bear all the burdens as long as they are allowed to make money.

The timing of this book’s publication is fortuitous. It allows readers to reflect on disturbing parallels between Weimar Germany and the politics of 21st-century Western states, for instance: the success of populists; the unbridgeable gap between the “deplorables” and intellectuals writing in elite publications; and the failure of the political left to translate analysis into winning tactics. And that’s just the beginning.

Many of Tucholsky's aphorisms, observations, and formulations are timeless. More than a few are thankfully included in Germany? Germany! For instance, in “How to Travel Wrong,” Peter Panter asks and answers pithily: "Don’t have a consideration for your fellow travelers; they would interpret it as weakness. Be unfriendly in general; this is the hallmark of a man […] When you are amused, laugh — and so loud as to annoy those stupid other people who don’t know what you are laughing about. If you don’t speak foreign languages very well, then shout: this will make them understand you better."

In “National Notes,” he observes that a Jew “once said: ‘I am proud to be a Jew. If I’m not proud, I’m still a Jew — so I might as well be proud.’”

The book is for sale in bookstores and online, also as an ebook. Booksellers can get it from IPG/Small Press United in Chicago. 
Germany? Germany!
​​Softcover: 5.5’’ x 8.5’’ 208 pages
ISBN  978-1-935902-38-6
Suggested Retail: $15.00, Ebook: $ 9,99


Monday, May 22, 2017

Reminder — Kurt Tucholsky at the Leo Baeck Institute

This is a reminder for everybody: The new Berlinica book, Germany? Germany! Satirical Writings. The Kurt Tucholsky Reader will be presented today, May 22, at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, 15 West 16 St,  near Union Square, at 6.30 p.m. Ralph Blumenthal, who wrote the foreword, and Steven Zohn, the son of translator Harry Zohn, will talk about the book. There will be a reception after the talk.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Kurt Tucholsky Today and Tomorrow

When I was a young girl, eleven, maybe, or twelve, I spent a lot of time in my father's library. My father was fairly progressive, especially for a middle-aged man who was working for the military. He had all kinds of books. And his policy was, when I wanted to read something, I should just take it, whatever it was. Even at age eleven.

So I was sitting on the carpet, between dark bookshelves al the way up to the ceiling, and reading. Some of these books were by Kurt Tucholsky including "Tiger, Panther & Co," a classic, named after his five pseudonyms. It has a tiger and a panther on its yellow-orange cover. Tucholsky was an author of the 1920s and 1930s, but somehow, I did not notice. Everything I read was fresh, and funny, and totally relatable. His witty bits about humans, how they behaved, how they tried. How a couple tells a joke. How the cheese got holes. And how you rely on a fellow human; You sit on him, then you can rely on the fact that he will not run away for the time being. "Some people also rely on the character."

Tucholsky was painting the big city world of Berlin in front of my very eyes (my father was from Berlin, but due to World War II, we had ended up in a small Bavarian village, and Berlin was divided anyway). The world of the fast-talking Wendriners and Lottchens, of equally fast traffic, theater, cabarets, flappers and artists, nightly drinks and daily fights. It would take me a couple of more years to find out that this world was gone for quite some decades by the time I read Tucholsky. So was he, he had killed himself in exile in 1935. For me, he was very much alive.

And so were his books. I‘m not the only one who still has the book with the tiger and the panther on the cover; I have met people in New York who remember how their parents read it, then had to hide it, and eventually brought it over to America in their suitcases. One of them was Harry Zohn, who had to flee Vienna, a Jew as well. He was the first one to translate Tucholsky into English.

At that time in Bavaria, I would not have imagined that I would be publishing Tucholsky in America, but here I am. This is our fourth book, the very translation of Harry Zohn, in a new edition. With a foreword by Ralph Blumenthal and an afterword by Steven Zohn, Harry Zohn's son. All new and shiny. Hide it from your children! They might get addicted!

So, there will be an introduction to the book, at the Leo Baeck Institute at 15 W 16th Street in New York, near Union Square. The date is May 22, the time is 6.30pm. Here is the link!

Eva C. Schweitzer

Monday, February 6, 2017

Martin Luther Digital — New Travel Guide Now as an Ebook

Carry Martin Luther on your smartphone! Our new book Martin Luther's Travel Guide. 500 Years of the 95 Theses: On the Trail of the Reformation in Germany is now available as an ebook, on Kindle at Amazon, as well as for every other format—Android, Apple, and Kobe reader. The 176-pages full-color guide by Cornelia Dömer, the former head of the Luther Center in Wittenberg, came out for the anniversary of the Reformation, which began 1517. While the printed book sells for $13.95, the ebook is available from $7.49 to $7.99 only.

This guide takes you to the German landscape where the Reformation took place, to every church, castle, and convent Martin Luther has ever set foot in. A big part is devoted to the historic city of Wittenberg, where Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church. The book also features Eisleben, Mansfeld, and Magdeburg where Luther was born and went to school, Eisenach with the Wartburg Castle, where he translated the Holy Bible into German, and many other cities of the Reformation, from Leipzig to Erfurt to Torgau, where his wife, Katharina von Bora, is laid to rest. Also, stories about food and clothing, traveling and living in the Middle Ages can be found here.

The ebook offers many pictures and maps of every town, as well as a multitude of live links to hotels, museums, churches, and other places, and also addresses, phone numbers, and information on American churches and services in Germany. The preface was written by Robert Kolb, Missions Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.


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