Monday, 27 July 2015

Back from Temple Bayreuth

Back from Bayreuth, the Wagner temple, where worshippers of Wagner flock for their annual ritual. The quality of the opera productions in Bayreuth has been deteriorating for years – a not untypical outcome of a family run business, in which the main criterion for leadership is being a descendant of the founder, in this case of Richard Wagner.

There was special anticipation this year, for the opening night was a new production of Tristan und Isolde, directed by the now sole director of the Wagner Festival, great granddaughter of Richard W, Katharina Wagner. In true Nibelungen style, Katharina got rid of her co-director and half-sister Eva. Eva has not been killed but rumour has it that she is not permitted to tread the “Green Hill”, i.e., the temple grounds. 

The production had some quirky und unnecessary ideas. Unfortunately, most of the time, the stage was under lit, and it was hard to impossible to distinguish facial expressions and mimicry. This would point to Katharina’s lack of professionalism. But, all-in-all, it was fairly safe, which should ensure Katharina’s acceptance by the Wagnerians.

The evening’s real disappointment – to my mind - was the great Wagner and Strauss specialist, conductor Christian Thielemann. In interviews he explained how the music had drug-like impact on the senses, that it could in fact be life threatening. It didn’t. The second and third acts of Tristan und Isolde, in which one normally gets goose bumps, left my skin in peace. But, Wagnerians love their Thilemann, who has so clearly tied his flag to the Bayreuth (“a house to which my heart is bound”). He is indeed a very gifted conductor, whatever his other failings may be and the singing (except perhaps that of last minute cast change Isolde) was very good.

Thus, the druids of the Wagner Temple, had a good opening shot for this year’s events.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

I hope that you have all registered, as I no longer send emails informing of new blog items. 

I continue to be grateful for comments!


The Iran Deal

Both sides are feeding us spin. The American administration, through all avenues open to it, is explaining why the Vienna agreement - that will bring an end to the sanctions on Iran - is the best we can all hope for. In Israel, virtually the whole of the political class - including the parties that call themselves opposition - are briefing against. Netanyahu is the leader of the doomsday evangelists.  And yet, you get some of the most senior of Israel’s defence and security experts (including some former heads of Mossad and of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service) explaining that the agreement with Iran is in fact good for Israel.

So what to think? Trying to form a view is probably impossible. At the end of the day most of believe what fits our worldview and what we want to believe.

In matters pertaining to risk assessment I tend to have more faith in security experts than in politicians of the extreme right, or any politician in fact. You cannot expect a politician to forget his or her ideological convictions. Indeed, most will not hesitate to lie, to promote their political stance. 

Netanyahu has a long track record of lying to mislead his listeners, including in his speeches to the US Congress. That makes him and his flock of message repeating ministers and spokesmen worthless. Not irrelevant – as people do listen to what official Israel is saying – but definitely not trustworthy.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Donald Trump and John McCain

Donald Trump decided that it served his purpose (whatever that may be, as even he must know that he will not be the Republicans’ presidential candidate) to insult John McCain where it really hurts: “He’s not a war hero,” said Trump. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

I actually think that Trump is right. Being captured does not make you a hero. Drunk, disorderly and insubordinate McCain had a second rate naval career on which he has based his whole political career. He finished fifth from the bottom in a class of 899 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. In his very short flying career, he lost several airplanes and when his plane was shot down in Vietnam and he was captured, it was after he had disobeyed orders to abandon the mission. He got away with it all because both his father and his grandfather had been highly decorated admirals.

For once, Trump is right.

Berlin and its Condoms

Berlin – as the posters around town are proclaiming – is using condoms, and… there are even bins that welcome the used ones.

Now, what would my Berlin grandmother, who left the city that was by no means coy in the Weimar years, have thought of that?

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Just in case you are at one or more of the following venues, you may wish to come to my reading events:

28 September    Gummersbach
30 September    Siegen
22 Oktober         Wuppertal
10 November     Refrath 
11 November     Wipperfürth
27 Januar ’16     Fulda
16 Februar ’16   Kassell

Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Truth

This is what I had to find out at a party in Romania, a couple of weeks ago...

Quds Day London

About 350 participants, some brought by buses from Leicester and Birmingham for the annual Quds Day demonstration in London, chanted In a thousand, in a million – we are all Palestinian.  The charismatic animateur instructed and they repeated BBC – shame on you or Who is the bloody terrorist – Netanyahu, Netanyahu, as well as one, two, three, four – occupation no more.

Mother with daughter wearing Hizbollah flag

Stop Iranophobia

A solitary young man draped with an Israeli flag tried to hand out pro-Israel leaflets. At some point, one of the demonstrators stole his flag and ran away into the centre of the demonstration. Organiser: “please be careful, there is a Zionist troublemaker around”.  Another solitary man, danced with a sign “The Soldiers of the Caliphate are sent by Christ”.


In front of the American embassy, we were informed that the Americans had sold the embassy building to the Qataris, “their slaves”.  Next year, the speaker said, we would no longer demonstrate at the American embassy. Why? Is Nine Elms (where the new building is situated) not posh enough? At least one of the speakers spoke about the eradication of Israel and a very eager blond German explained to his Iranian Radio interviewer how the media is all pro Israel and only he reported directly from Gaza and saw all the atrocities inflicted by the Israelis. The German, apparently a freelance journalist, explained that he would also be at the Berlin demonstration the next day and that he is available to interviews also by Skype.

The icing on the cake, and much feted by the organisers of the demonstration, were 4 members of Neturei Karta, a small Jewish ultra-orthodox sect that believes that Jewish exile will only end with the arrival of the Messiah. They are virulent opponents of the state of Israel and like to make their views known.

The man was unable to tell me which book in the Torah... 

Thursday, 18 June 2015

They want Respect

The well-respected Israeli actor Oded Kotler got into trouble for a comment he made a few days ago at an emergency meeting of Israeli artists considering their options following the appointment of a former military censor and Likkud politician, Ms. Miri Regev, as Minister of Culture.

Regev had already explained that she was going to call the shots, as “we got 30 Knesset seats, …we don’t need to get confused about who the public is, and who [the public] chose.” The new minister called on Israeli artists to increase their outward expression of Israeli nationalism during performances.

Kotler, addressed Regev and said: “Imagine your world is quiet — without books, without music, without poems, a world where no one disturbs you and no one stops the nation from celebrating the 30 [Knesset] seats which are followed by a herd of straw and cud-chewing cattle.”

I am not quite sure how one should define the almost million Israelis who voted Netanyahu and his gang. However, this reminded me of a story my father told me about the man in 1920s Berlin, who was taken to court and made to pay a fine for having said “you stupid cow” (or rather dumme Gans) to a lady. Before leaving the court, the man addressed the judge and asked: “I understand that I may not call an honorable lady, a stupid cow. Could you please tell me if I may call a stupid cow, an honorable lady?”

The judge smiled and said that that was indeed permitted. Upon which, the defendant turned to his accuser and said “ Goodbye, honorable lady”. 

Break or Silence

The mayor of Cologne succumbed to Israeli pressure and cancelled a planned exhibition in his city of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organisation that collects and publicises testimonies of former Israeli soldiers about human rights violations committed or observed during their army service.

If they can’t break them, the Israeli government, wishes to at least silence them:
 - We will not be complacent when an organization whose whole purpose is to tarnish IDF soldiers acts in the international arena in order to cause serious damage to Israel’s image. - Israel considers the more than a thousand Israelis who have given these testimonies to be traitors and or liars.

It now turns out that Cologne’s mayor has succumbed yet again, this time to criticism over his decision, and the exhibition will take a place at a later date. To be fair, the exhibition should not have been scheduled – as it was - to be part of the festivities marking 50 years diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel. The mayor of Cologne, however, was right to quickly find a solution for the exhibition to take place after all.

The work of Breaking the Silence is laudable and deserves to be supported.