The Shortest History of Germany

shortest history of germany.jpgI’ve been reading this little 227 page paperback by James Hawes. It does a great job of outlining the history of Germany for a popular audience. Having had a severely deficient education in the history department, I feel that this sort of knowledge should be the baseline of all Europeans, whether Brexited or not. This is after all the history of the centre of our continent.

Take some of the key points:

  • The Roman Empire  in its greater form was established by Julius Caesar. In 58BC he gave name to the peoples beyond the River Rhine that he could not easily conquer: the Germanii. He even used them as bodyguards.
  • Around 16AD Germanicus eventually claimed the territory between Rhine and Elbe for the Empire. This was not particularly secured and eventually a defensible ‘wall’ was built roughly along and to the west of the Rhine (The Limes).
  • When the Empire began to fall apart there was eventual ‘renewal’ by Constantine 306-337, changing the focus of the Empire to the east at Constantinople. But the Empire gradually fell apart with successive waves of invasion from the east – goths, franks, huns, vandals and so on.
  • After the fall of the Roman Empire the franks attempted renewal resulting in Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire around 800, extended beyond the Elbe to the Oder by Otto in 948, but this extension to the east was fragile and the place was run by independent lords who became known as known as Junkers. The HRA lasted for many hundreds of years of manoeuvering between Kings, Emperors and Popes.
  • The peak was around 1229 when Frederick II briefly liberated Jerusalem without a fight. The teutonic knights that had helped pilgrimage to the holy land were given the new task of subduing an area in what is now Poland/Russia – Prussia.
  • In 1356 the Kings freed themselves from the Pope and established control on future Emperors.
  • The Reformation was begun by Luther on the Elbe and took root to the east, the west remaining Catholic. Conflict began. There was a temporary truce in Charles V’s Peace of Augsburg (1555), but eventually 30 years of war (1618-48) that destroyed much of Germany, but the Prussian/Junker state survived and prospered through great power machinations.
  • Following the French Revolution of 1789, Napoleon effectively re-established the Holy Roman Empire – his hero was Charlemagne. He established the Confederation of the Rhine that got the west Germans organised again.
  • After the first defeat of Napoleon, Prussia was ‘given’ some of these west German states, instigated by Britain – to provide a counterweight to a possible French resurgence.
  • This was eventually crystallized by Bismarck into the dominance of an aggressive Prussian Germany. In 1870 Napoleon III fell into a trap set by Bismarck, and France was overrun in the subsequent war. A new German Empire was declared, and France lost territories. By 1887 the seeds were set for the coming 1914 world war, as France/Russia faced off against Germany/Austria.
  • Following the end of WW1 the liberal Weimar Republic desperately tried to re-establish a functioning country despite the over-burdensome terms of Versailles. They were undone by the 1929 Crash, with resulting reduction in American support and rising unemployment. The Nazi party gradually arose from the East, where their main support lay, and eventually got into power due to misjudgements that they could be ‘controlled’. They could not, and WW2 came to complete the battle against Prussian dominance.
  • The new West Germany was basically the old confederation, once a core part of the Roman Empire. The new East Germany was basically the residual Junker/Prussian state, Prussia itself having been obliterated.
  • Following the collapse of the USSR in 1989, Chancellor Helmut Kohl engineered the recombination of the two Germanys, which has proved a major drain on the West German economy ever since. One has to wonder, was this wise? Polls show the East to be poorer, older and more right wing…

For me, this is a stunningly informative and thought-provoking book, putting in context much of European history and throwing light on modern events. (Apologies for my own oversimplification and misinterpretations.) Essential information really for understanding our world.

And of course, it is completely different from the Neil MacGregor’s Germany, reviewed a few years ago.

Ever Flowing

I contemplate the huge flowing mass of water before me, opposite the ‘German Corner’ in Koblenz where rivers Rhine and Moselle join together, overlooked by the massive monument to Kaiser Wilhelm, first German emperor 1871-88. Here is inexorable power and movement before me, a part of the cyclic flow of the earth’s water system. Today, tomorrow, it is always there, pretty much as in Wilhelm’s day, yet always different.

As it happens, I have been reading The Shortest History of Germany, by James Hawes and A Short History of Europe by Simon Jenkins. I am struck by how the major figures in these histories have their brief flowering influence, usually driven by an overwhelming ego, often associated with some abstract concept, and without concern for the consequences on their own and other peoples: Julius Caesar, Constantine, Charlemagne, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Bismarck, Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, and on and on…

Recent events suggest that this flow goes on, to new dimensions, with environmental breakdowns and resulting attempted migration of populations, and the rise of populists – more blooming egos with their destructive consequences. Yet ever new challenges require ever better solutions, not the gross over-simplifications of those who appeal to what is lowest in us. They will be seen in time for what they are.

The flow of history, and the zeitgeist, inevitably moves ever on, just as those great rivers – the same as before, yet ever different.

Maybe we should not fear too much. The flow that matters is here, now. Our fears are that the future may not be the same as the peace and plenty of our recent past (in the West). Our present is the opportunity for our own best action, guided by conscience, not by selfish ego or abstractions.

Red Admiral

Our buddleia continues to attract more butterflies than we have seen for many years – more like they used to be in earlier decades. We have even seen several red admirals at the same time.

What a difference bright sunlight makes to the vibrancy of the colours, really picking out the zebra-style antennae.

The underwing shown in the featured image is quite unexpected.

This Is Not A Drill

this is not a drillThese days, daughter is much more clued up about the latest ‘must read’ books on green issues than I am. So this book, subtitled An Extinction Rebellion Handbook, was kindly left for me to read. And an incredible book it is, outlining the thinking and practicalities behind the recent phenomenon of Extinction Rebellion.

The premise is that we can no longer continue to ignore the issue of climate breakdown, as argued so many times in this blog. So we cannot continue with ‘business as usual’, which has been the response to pretty well all climate change protests and initiatives so far. The first part of the book presents evidence of climate breakdown and its consequences from all over the world – you can be in no doubt that change is needed after reading this. This leads to the conclusion that the needed system change will only come about though some sort of non-violent revolution/rebellion, whereby the status quo is disrupted sufficiently to evoke and force through the necessary changes. And non-violent it must be, enabling peaceful and democratic change; violence always begets more violence and leaves the wrong sort of people in control of societies.

It is a handbook, in that it outlines the approach that was taken recently in the London protests, and the experience of many of the protestors. It really was a quite incredible operation.

This is needed to evoke the necessary economic and political change needed for continuation of human societies on the planet in a form that is a recognisable continuation of today’s societies. Otherwise, the status quo is driving us towards increasing disasters, wars and breakdown of societies and ecosystems.

Yes, this book outlines a vital aspect of the needed New Renaissance of humanity. It is not the whole story, but a vital part of it, comparable to that played by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King in their struggles for justice.

Read This Is Not A Drill, and you might even be inspired to become an essential part of the necessary change that is ever more pressing.

 

 

Crocosmia Lucifer

Amazing what plant breeders have done with the smaller Montbretia we used to have in our garden around 50 years ago. Crocosmia Lucifer is around 4-5 feet high, with strongly coloured flowers.

Eyes in the back of my Head

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There it was, flowering in the garden. Familiar-looking and vermilion, but I couldn’t remember what it was called and ended up asking my far more knowledgeable neighbour. “Crocosmia” she said. I was none the wiser.

But I took a photo of one virile, prehistoric-looking budding stem because of reminded me of a dinosaur’s head – maybe a pterodactyl?

Fast forward a few days and we were talking again, me and Mrs Greenfingers next door, and she dropped into the conversation the other name for this flower, which I remembered right away. Montbretia.

I couldn’t help thinking that naming this version of the flower Lucifer was rather appropriate. It’s light and bright, and has a devilish look to it when seen from the angle  photographed.

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Hottest Day

It has been England’s hottest ever July day. The air is hot and humid, more like summer in Houston. Becalmed all day, without the air conditioning that is regarded as necessary in Houston, I have to take a walk in the evening, now it is slightly cooler, despite impending rain.

We are lucky that Knutsford has a number of smallish green areas. As I walk I become aware of just how hot and oppressive are the streets around the town, heat emanating from the terraced houses and roads. Entering the parks there is an immediate change of atmosphere, cooler, more breezy. The grassy areas, surrounded by trees, have a different feel again, still refreshing. The small ‘walled wood’ is another perceptibly different environment, completely enveloped and protected by trees. By the lake that is the Moor pool a different quality comes from the relatively cool water.

In short, contact with nature – trees, grass, water – makes the extreme heat tolerable. More trees and lakes will not only slow global warming but make its effects more tolerable. More bricks and concrete make things worse. This is common sense, yet we don’t act like it is. The only alternative will be islands of air conditioning for those that can afford it, as in Houston.

As I return home, spots of the anticipated rain begin to fall. The roadside trees help my brisk walk home, removing the need for that umbrella. I pause gratefully in the relative cool under our beautiful weeping birch, before going back into the oven-like house.

Featured image taken in the shade of our weeping birch tree.

The Wrong Road

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost‘s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring



We are still on the wrong road, as so beautifully expressed by Rachel Carson so many years ago. Did we really listen? No wonder people, in desperation, now take part in Extinction Rebellion.

Painted Lady

Painted lady butterflies are sometime migrants to the UK. We’ve seen a lot this year, so this must be a bumper year when they come here in large numbers.

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These painted ladies were around thistles on local farmland. They have a certain faded grandeur, compared to the vibrant colors of the young, but this is maybe not too surprising considering the long migration.

An idea whose time is coming?

“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”

Milton Friedman

This quote by economist Milton Friedman is used by John Lanchester in his recent article in London Review of Books on Universal Basic Income. As one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, Friedman probably has a point.

Lanchester takes us through many experiments in Universal Basic Income from across the world. The evidence is that it works, that it reduces stress among poor people, reduces drug and alcohol use, reduces crime, etc etc. Depending on the level set it can also remove the need for much other public spending on benefits for the poorer sections of society.

The direction we are moving, in terms of increasing disruption due to climate change and robotic technology, suggests that some such solution is going to be inevitable unless we are willing to revert to Victorian approaches of almost washing our hands of the problem of the ‘undeserving poor’, and leaving it to charity.

What is not clear is what would be the optimum level for such a basic income, how fraud and coercion could be avoided, etc. Which is why it is suggested that it be introduced at a low level and gradually increased.

Of course, the question is how to pay for it. The inertia in the current taxation system suggests that it is unlikely to come through ‘steady as she goes’ political change. But Lanchester suggests that with the coming crises the situation will be ripe for just such a change.

The article does not mention the possibility of more fundamental change to the underlying money system to ‘pay’ for such a system. What if money were created as basic income for people, rather than as debt to fund the banking system? Or some hybrid of the two. I.e. we change the nature of banking and money itself to be more in the interests of the people. Now there’s a thought. See Positive Money.

Here today…

The other day I was entranced by the pink and yellows of the grasses and flowers on Knutsford’s Small Heath. The fuzzy pink of the grass seeds offsets the yellow of the profusion of dandelions and buttercups. With only smartphone to hand, these were the pictures I took.

Sadly, this beauty is no more. The next day the grass cutters came and all was mown down, a rather dramatic illustration of the transience of nature’s beauty, and of the insensitivity of bureaucratic timetables.

Allium – another week on

Another week on from my last look, the petals on the now-huge allium flowers are losing or have lost colour and almost faded to nothing. The seed heads are full and bulbous. And still there is that amazing cluster of stems emerging from the apparently lit-up centre.

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The speed at which these changes take place unnoticed by us is truly remarkable. The more you look, the more nature has to give.