Goethe and Schiller in San Francisco


German culture at the “Goldenen Thor”

NOTE: This updated version posted on 28 August 2017 (the day when Goethe was born in 1749) was first published on 20 January 2010.

During a recent visit to San Francisco I got a surprising reminder of how truly widespread and important German culture once was in the United States – before two world wars drastically changed the role it played in America.

My wife and I were standing in a very long line of people, slowly making our way towards the entrance to the California Academy of Sciences building in Golden Gate Park. (And we all already had tickets!) As the line flowed at its glacial pace, I noticed a statue of two figures standing on a stone pedestal. I remarked to my wife that it looked like a German or European statue. As we got closer, the bronze figures seemed even more familiar.

Once we were standing right in front of the statue, I was amazed to read the inscription on the reddish stone base: “Goethe. Schiller.” As I gazed up at the large bronze figures of Germany’s two greatest poets and philosophers, I realized why they looked so familiar. This statue seemed to be the same one my wife and I had seen a few years earlier in Weimar, Germany. How the heck did it get here? What was the story behind this larger-than-life symbol of German culture standing in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco? Did any of these people in line, besides my wife and me, even know who Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Friedrich Schiller were?

I took out my iPhone and snapped a picture of the statue (see photo below), thinking I would try to solve this mystery later.

Goethe Schiller statue

The Goethe-Schiller memorial statue in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (Dec. 2009). PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

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The German/Austrian-Hawaii Connection


NOTE: This is an updated version of a blog I first posted in May 2010.

I’m currently in Hawaii. As usual, I’m on the outlook for Germanic connections, and even here, so far away from Europe, there are many. First, I wanted to see if there were any direct historic ties between the Sandwich Islands (now better known as Hawai’i) and the German-speaking countries. I didn’t have to look very far. Aboard the Resolution, the ship that took Capt. James Cook to his discovery of the Hawaiian archipelago in 1778, were a German-Swiss artist and three German sailors.

Since Cook’s discovery, Hawaii has been influenced – positively and negatively – by other haoles (outsiders), including Americans, British, French, Portuguese and Asians. It turns out that people from the German-speaking parts of Europe have played some key roles in Hawaiian history. If you study Hawaii’s past, you’ll run across many German names: Hackfeld, Hillebrand, Isenberg, von Chamisso, Lemke, Pflueger, Scheffer, Spreckels, and Zimmermann. At one time, the island of Kauai in particular had a sizeable German population. The island’s main town, Lihue, was nicknamed “German Town.” There were German Lutheran churches and schools in Lihue and Honolulu (Oahu).

World War I pretty much put an end to the German presence in Hawaii, but I want to concentrate on two enduring legacies: one German and over a century ago, the other Austrian and much more recent. Continue reading

Krampus, the Christmas Devil of Alpine Europe


Much of Europe has a venerable Christmas or December tradition that pairs the good bishop-like St. Nicholas with a demonic, nasty character known as Krampus (and various other regional names). In Alpine Austria and southern Bavaria, this wintertime good-cop/bad-cop routine often exhibits aspects scary enough to put the fear of the devil into adults, not to mention young children. As St. Nicholas Eve (December 5) approaches, youngsters in Austria and Bavaria begin to have serious thoughts about whether they have been naughty or nice. They know Krampus is coming, and he’s definitely not nice.

Krampus

This antique greeting card depicts one version of what Krampus looks like. He has a basket to take bad children away with him. The German text reads: “Greetings from Krampus!” PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

In addition to an appearance in local family homes, usually along with St. Nicholas, Krampus and his cohorts also gather to put on a wild show in the streets of many Austrian and Bavarian towns. The “show” is known as a Krampuslauf (Krampus run). Customs vary by locality, but the tradition goes back hundreds of years, and far, far beyond a mere lump of coal in a kid’s stocking. An American witness to several Krampusläufe in Austria writes: “The ability to be genuinely frightened of someone wearing a costume is often left behind in childhood, and as an adult it is a bizarre experience. Fleeing from a person wearing a wooden mask and brandishing a bundle of sticks is terrifying but also exhilarating.” Continue reading

US Women Destroy Germany’s World Cup Dreams

The USWNT Made Good Last Night

The USWNT Made Good Last Night

The headline in today’s Bild online says it all: US-Girls zerstören unseren WM-Traum. In a contest between the top two teams in the world last night, the United States came out on top 2-0 in a surprisingly dominant performance, outlasting a loaded German side in the most anticipated match of the tournament. Germany was heavily favored going into the game, despite a nailbiter against France last weekend. But the USWNT made good on the promise they brought into the tournament to peak at the right time and pulled off the win in front of the rabidly pro-USA crowd in Montreal.

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Racing in the Right (or Wrong) Direction

This post came about because I happened to see a photograph of a German horse race, similar to the photo below. It reminded me that horses usually gallop around a German race track in a clockwise direction, while in the United States they run counterclockwise. It made me curious about this custom and how the direction of a race can vary from sport to sport or from country to country, or even from place to place in a country. For instance, NASCAR races in America always go counterclockwise around the speedway, but Formula One races in Europe and elsewhere almost always run clockwise.

home straight

Are these horses racing the wrong way? The Hoppegarten Race Track (Rennbahn), Berlin.
PHOTO: Winfried Veil, Flickr

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A Pseudo-European Teenager Goes to Texas

Our eldest has been in Texas for the past year attending high school, after spending most of her life in Europe – some in Ireland, but mostly in Germany. She is sixteen, and with that comes the sixteen-year-old way of looking at the world.  She’s been back for a week, and after announcing that she no longer speaks German, she seems to be settling in okay. And yes, she does still speak German. You can’t lose it that easily!

When she moved to Texas, there were a couple of things that she was worried about. She only knew American high school from movies: cliques, sports, cheerleaders, nerds, etc. German school is just not like that. The stratifications are not so clear, and the groups are not so defined. I told her that it might really be like the movies. And when she started school she said, “It’s like Save the Last Dance!” My daughter is in a high school near Dallas that is very diverse. I think the non-white portion of the school is something like 90%. Heidelberg is also diverse, but not in the same way. She was scared to death of the bus — she told me they called her “Snowflake” — but I think in the end she fits in in a way that she didn’t expect. Growing up in Europe, she didn’t have any experience with American race issues, again except for movies. She didn’t grow up with the stereotypes about black people, or white people, or Mexicans, or whomever. We are pretty liberal in our house politically. I think landing in this school in Texas was a huge shock, but it was also an amazing chance for her. She has friends across all groups of kids, black, white, Christian,  Hispanic, straight, and gay. And she is surviving and thriving. Continue reading

American Expats, the IRS, FATCA and Other F-words

Besides “IRS,” Americans can now add another item to their list of ominous acronyms: FATCA. Like most things related to income taxes, the FATCA issue has a lot of people in a dither. As if US tax law wasn’t already complicated enough, along comes FATCA to gum up the works even more, especially for US citizens living overseas and earning income from a non-US source.

All US citizens or resident aliens living abroad are obligated to pay income taxes to the US Treasury, even if they haven’t lived in the United States for years, have no intention of returning, and even if their income comes solely from foreign sources. The United States of America is the only modern, industrialized nation that taxes the worldwide income of its estimated six million citizens who live abroad, even if their income is generated in a foreign country and they never return to their homeland.[1] Continue reading

Gone Fishin’

Recently we spent a long weekend on the shores of one of the thousands of lakes that dot Ontario. The weather was fantastic, so we spent lots of time paddling, in canoes and in the pool. Most of the time, however, we spent fishing. The kids had a fantastic time trying out different bait and lures, finding the perfect combination for catching the little sunfish and bass lurking in the water under the dock. A simple hook with a worm did the trick.

Fishing with my kids reminded me of my own childhood, fishing with my parents at similar lakes, or in rivers, anywhere we wanted. When my oldest received a fishing pole as a birthday gift a few years ago, however, we were a bit lost in Germany: where can we go fishing? We ended up at a nearby trout farm, pulling bored fish out of unsanitary-looking ponds. It was unsatisfying to say the least. Continue reading