The thin line between Mekka and Babylon: #refugeeswelcome … but for how long?


(Photo: Raul Rognean, 2010 Wien – “Turmbau zu Babel” – Pieter Bruegel dem Älteren, Öl auf Eichenholz, 114 cm × 155 cm – Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien)

(Photo: Raul Rognean, 2010 Wien – “Turmbau zu Babel” – Pieter Bruegel dem Älteren, Öl auf Eichenholz, 114 cm × 155 cm – Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien)

In Germany, there is a new dictum, word-of-the-year-to-be: “Willkommenskultur”. It refers to the way that (in a historically remarkable dimension) “the Germans” (whoever that is), have reacted to the (not surprising, but surprisingly massive) influx of refugees to their country, from places less fortunate than their own. These Germans have welcomed and continue to welcome them with open arms, open minds, open hearts. Germany, the new paradise, a refuge where people understand, listen, help, help, help. Wherever they can, whenever they can, however they can – even at their own expense, pecuniarily, temporally, emotionally. Germany, the eye of the world’s storm for so many battered, shattered and scattered men, woman and children. A place where all is calm, all is bright. A Western Mekka with an angel(a)ic halo.

But, unfortunately, Mekka is not that far away from Babylon, never was. It’s a thin line between the land of milk and honey, where all is understanding, same language, same beliefs, same values, and the place where nothing is understood, where languages are world’s apart, beliefs and values just as much. Where a lingua universalis does not exist, where decent English is merely the fragile foundation of Babel’s Tower, rudimentary knowledge of German vocabulary and grammar nothing but an inevitable beginning, yet never a remedy. Language alone cannot bridge gaps, refute misconceptions, overcome prejudices. Misunderstandings generally go deeper.

Paradise Lost?

Indications of the gauzy fragility of our newly discovered Willkommenskultur are omnipresent for dialecticians, and I fear the tipping point is soon to come…

Scene #1: Sitting at McD’s a couple of days ago, I overheard a discussion between an elderly couple, cracker-barrel philosophising about the refugee crisis. Sentences like “Die sind doch selber schuld, wenn sie aus ihren Ländern fliehen!” and “Wir sollten die alle wieder zurückschicken” fell amidst fat big mac munchs, nutritious cornerstones American foreigners had brought decades ago, those foreigners that helped put an end to this couple’s own fellow countrymen’s flights.

Scene #2: For the first time in months, anti-islamic, right-wing Pegida movement has managed to active 8.000 supporters for its recent rally, its Facebook presence states an increase of almost 4.000 page likes since September 20, with 62.341 talking abouts. Just highlighting one random comment makes you shomit (shiver and vomit): Wir sind nicht alle Asylantenfreudlich.Viele,sehr viele Deutsche wollen das Pack hier nicht haben und stehen hinter jedem, der sich gegen die Parasiten wehrt.” Willkommenskultur? Hmmm. The only consoling thing: the ignorant female writing this comment only has 39 friends herself, serves her right. Still: She is not alone, and the engagement rate on Pegida’s Facebook page is alarming, amazing, and incredibly credible to those prone to reactionary German protectionism.

Scene #3: A interview with Thilo Sarrazin, German politician and writer, clear-cut enfant terrible who in 2010 published a controversial book called “Die Deutschen schaffen sich ab”. He’s back in town, in search of scandalous limelight, provoking with statements like “Wir müssen unsere eigene Bevölkerung und unser Gesellschaftsmodell vor äußerer Bedrohung schützen. Dazu gehört auch ungeregelte, kulturfremde Einwanderung im Übermaß.” or “Die allermeisten trauen sich vermutlich gar nicht mehr, ihre Ängste und Meinungen offen auszusprechen. Ich kann nur eines sagen: Es gibt eine ganz große unterdrückte Wut und einen ganz großen Frust, der sich keineswegs auf Sachsen beschränkt.” (in: from September 13).

Sounds detestable, refusal is the natural reflex.

But: What if he’s right, even if just a little bit? What if the infamous election slogan of Bavaria’s CSU from decades ago “Das Boot ist voll!” may indeed be nothing but the truth very soon? After all, the recent influx of refugees seeking for asylum (however justified or not every individual plea may be) is not even comparable (not in size, not in drama) to the imaginative storm clouds of otherness that were apparently dooming over last century’s Wohlstandsdeutschland, its gardens in Grünwald and kindergardens in Bogenhausen. Now it is indeed a sheer oppressive mass of people, a veritable tsunami smashing its waves on our own front door. What if the first asylum seekers who get accepted begin their eager integration process, willing to become full, respecting and respected members of their new homeland, not only learn our language and customs, but also start applying for and even getting the jobs you or your friend wanted, get the crèche place you thought was reserved for your daughter? “Fachkräftemangel” is yet another IT-word of German society, and certainly many a qualified refugee will help fill this gap, but: “weil sich der einfache Mann nicht durch Ärzte und Ingenieure bedroht fühlt, sondern durch Menschen, die stark sind, Muskeln haben, einfache Tätigkeiten machen können und damit seinen Lohn senken oder ihn vielleicht ganz überflüssig machen” (from same interview with Sarrazin), tolerance and helpfulness might quickly turn into reluctant and coy doubt, which again might turn into open resentfulness, rejection, maybe even uproar and rebellion.

hiSTORY repeats itself with (more or less) instant karma

Might and maybe are dominating words here, and I’m not saying Sarrazin is right, not at all agreeing with most things he says and the way he uses societal developments for his own populist fame (and fortune), BUT: hiSTORY teaches us that people love to help other people as long as it doesn’t interfere with their own lives in a sustainably negative way. So: what, if…what, if…what if…???

During my summer holidays, when the first refugee streams were mere abstract news in digital feeds, so not that long ago, I read a remarkable and highly recommendable book called “Die zerissenen Jahre 1918-1938”. In words understandable to historical laymen like me, author Philipp Blom circumnavigates the macro perspective, historical dates, and hashed and re-hashed highlights that made us detest school history lessons. Blom rather makes use of impressive, very well-dosed storytelling that makes macro developments come to life in micro worlds, spans the perspectives from heroes all over the world, and accountably explains (not justifies) why the darkest chapter of the 20th century was practically inevitable. The book’s 500 pages make this pretty apparent. I read about the seemingly little things that made big things happen, about little misunderstandings that led to massive catastrophes, about manipulated, ill-informed and emotionally ignored people(s) that blew off steam in the face of the innocents and unprotected, but also about power-obsessed, fanatic men (men, NEVER women!) who brought so much pain onto their people that these had to flee their homes, Jews, Russians and Germans being just a few to be named.

And while I read these stories with awestruck incredulity, I frequently felt compelled to draw parallels to what is happening all around the world today, 100 years later: While Europe is certainly a better and safer place to be, so many countries are not: Syria. Afghanistan. Iran. Somalia. Russia, you name it, even China, if we’re honest.

One of the sentences concluding Blom’s hiSTORYcal book puts my thoughts into words:

Für diejenigen, die glauben, dass wir aus der Geschichte lernen können, ist diese Parallele zur Zwischenkriegsgeschichte alles andere als beruhigend. (bpb Edition, p. 507)


To be honest: Looking at the state of the world today, aware of the fragility of Europe’s  freedom, peace, and stability, and also of the thin line between Willkommenskultur and Pegida, aware of how quickly moods can change, I am not really beruhigt.



“Zwischenwelten”: Side notes on a blurred world.

zwischen welten
auf dem weg ins niemandsland
navigation ausgefallen
wo bin ich?

jahre, ins land gegangen
in die jahre gekommen
grenzen, einst klar und gut bewacht,
nun verschwommen, zerronnen.

stehen wir
vor der überwucherten grenzschranke.

zwischen menschen
am herzen liegend
emotionaler bypass
unregelmäßiger schlag
ins wasser zerflossener träume.

wie leicht lebt sich’s
wenn der kompass süden sucht
ein stich der nadel
ins eigene herz.

beklommen stehen wir
vor der überwucherten grenzschranke.

zwischen farben
längst verblasst und aufgelöst
schwarz und weiß ausgestorben
kein weg
aus dem labyrinth grauer töne.

stehen wir.



“Warteschleife”: Side notes on a world placed on hold.

da sitzt sie
die koffer gepackt.
und wartet.


da liegt sie
schlägt noch im takt.
und starrt.


es dämmert
in der stille ihrer welt
eine frage im nebel.


hinter milchigen augen
geht eine welt zuende.

die letzten strahlen
die den balkon erhellen
werden die ersten sein.


da lacht sie
bewusst und gut gezielt
morphides winkelzucken

zu wem?

da weint sie
dann wenn’s keiner sieht
einsame tränen der sehnsucht.


hinter milchigen augen
unterschmerzen, überwältigt
blutleer, würdevoll

geht eine welt zuende.

vom kampf zerwühlt
im frieden ruhig

geht eine welt zuende.


“Vorfreude”: Side notes on a fogged up world.

vor freude nicht wissen nicht wohin
vor, zurück, immer im seitschritt
endlich soweit
noch nicht bereit

im blick zurück verschleiert erinnerung
färbt das morgen grauer
versteckt gestrige hoffnungen
hinterm schleier enttäuschter realität.

auf zelluloid, in pixeln gebannt
schaut ein anderer mensch
naivität verbrannt im fluss der zeit
eingeholt von der schönheit künftiger momente.

kopf frei, auf drei!
urlaub, zeit der auflösung
alltäglicher gewohnheiten
und wenn’s nicht geht
weil sich alles weiterdreht?

perpetuum mobile mollis
wiesnkarussell in endlosschleife
kein entkommen vor sich selbst
weil’s ja sonst keiner merkt.


Wonder Why Your King Content Performs Like a Wicked Jester? The answer is simple …

Ever since I made my first professional walking attempts in the digital world (20 years ago that must be #feelslikeyesterday), I heard this mantra everywhere in the pre-dotcom bubble euphoria of Cluetrain afficionados, would-be Internet prophets, and notorious panjandrums:

CONTENT IS KING! They all said.

Wicked Jester

I had been studying Storytelling for five years, long before I even knew it was Storytelling. Back then they called it literature. So it seemed a little odd to hear these Internet geeks regurgitating their royal mantra when I had just meticulously learnt about the history, structure and perennial powers of stories told by early-day classics like Homer, Cervantes, Dante or Boccaccio, classic classics like Goethe, Schiller or Lessing or modern classics like Grass, Mann or Böll. Admittedly, I was also getting carried away by this millennial the-end-of-business-as-usual atmosphere of imminent change. Felt somehow audacious to dust off the venerable Germanstik patina in favour of some fresh … ehem, content?

It was only many years later, after necessary detours through the fires of corporate Mordor, that I realized one ring, I mean thing: The business world was (sorry: IS!) overly attracted by the glare of technological possibilities and features, fanatically prone to wanna-be-first- and because-we-can-itis. And thereby narrowly and one-sidedly interpreting the word “content”, neglecting other, much more elementary facets – facets that become clearest in the three different German translations the word “content” offers.

Back in the late 90’s, corporate content creation had nothing to do with journalistic research or writing talent. Its creators literally were content “managers”, i.e. project managers for pieces of content that they 1:1 transferred from paper to HTML and pinned to the newly discovered digital blackboard called website. Period. Their job was simply about the most general interpretation of content: words and pictures on a screen, publishing material. The (most probable and wide-spread) German translation for this aspect of content would be:


Or: “Something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts … something that is contained.” (

But it this Inhalt automatically something meaningful? Something that goes deeper than letters strung together by punctuation marks? Something that links beyond the surface not to just another succession of trivialities and soulless pixels, but to true substance? Mostly not. This is where in recent years (in continental Europe) or maybe decades (in Anglo-American dominated countries) the bandwagon of storytelling has already been able to do a lot for the greater good of meaningful content. If understood well and deployed according to the storycodeX of Expectation, Surprise and Change. The (a lot less wide-spread and more rarely spotted) German translation for this aspect of content with substance would be:


Or: “Significance or profundity; meaning” (

But interesting: Gehalt also means “salary” in German. So maybe in the end all just about the dough, be the content meaningful or not. Surely, what did you think? Now let’s once and for all get past the naïve, childish, even insulting notion that any one corporation on this planet has a different purpose than making money. And the more they want you to believe that they’re sustainably trying to save the world, “do something good” on the side with CSR and foundations, a little like a Hollywood actress doing charity, the more they’re deceiving you.

The labyrinth of linguistics … Whatever. What I actually wanted to say was: Meaningful content with substance is a good thing. But is it enough? No. Not today anymore, that’s for sure. Inhalt and Gehalt were a great, successful and sufficient, but nevertheless rare combination in the pre social media age. When the third facet of “content” didn’t really matter. It was the age of broadcast after all, old-school Shannon-Weaver style.

Bad news: those days are over. Interactivity, ubiquitous commentaries, likes and forum discussions have changed the recipient side practically over night (in a historical sense of time).

People and the conglomerates they form called audiences (NOT users!) will no longer be satisfied with consuming content-turned-into-great-stories and commenting on it in a more or less intelligent and fruitful discussion with fellow audience members or members from other audience groups. They will first of all want to be able to dig deeper behind your story, deeper into the spider web, find proof for your story, get in contact with the heroes of your story, and maybe some day also with you. If they’re not disappointed on their journey.

But, even more substantial, they will want to become an active part of a company’s business story and stories, not as actors or heroes, but as co-authors. After all, they are the other half of the corporate truth, the devil on the corporate shoulder, internal versus external perception. Devils who might become angels when they turn into a renowned and emancipated member if a brand’s story creation team. Only then will they be what the third, most vital and rarest facet of German translation attempts hints at:


satisfactionOr: “Satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else … Archaic: willing.” (

Yep, content is also an adjective, not only a noun.

And the central question is: Who is it that you want to satisfy with your content? Yourself? Your bosses? Your bosses bosses? Or maybe, only very maybe … your customers? Your customers’ customers? Your audiences? Maybe even a targeted small portion of your audience? Certainly, your answer will be: Of course my customers! Of course my audiences! Plus the fact, now I have all these big and massive and powerful data, I now even know what my audience wants before it knows that it wants it! Ha! There you go, eat this!

I’m eating …

Only: Lies are hard to digest. And all the easier to unmask. As written in the world’s most successful example of purposeful storytelling: “Thou shalt not lie!”

Which brings me to the answer of above-asked headline question: As long as you betray yourself and thereby the people you are apparently creating your content for, there will be no sustainably successful content! Take all your pig data, winnow the refuse from the valuable gold nuggets, take an honest and disarraying look at them, shuffle your cards anew, do away with your organization’s and your management’s old shibboleths, dare, launch a pilot, let go, and see what happens.

There is an even older mantra from our economy’s service sector, way back from the days when storytelling was still literature, when relevant content didn’t need to be called king, when it in fact was a rarity due to its scarcity, not due to its abundance. Back then, the saying went:

Der Kunde ist König. The customer is the King.

Aha. So, so. Let’s try that for once, what do you say?

I can’t get no satisfaction, he says? All the better; let that be your stimulant.

Me and Bobby McKee: My Day on the Island with Hollywood’s #1 Story Expert

Valetta, Malta, late November. It’s an evening at the end of one of those days. Summer has finally lost his last fight against Jack Frost, reinvigorated by Judas Autumn, his beautiful, deceptive seasonal companion. Stealing the remaining rays of warmth from the year’s sunny season for his own colourful performance. Just to lose his beauty to master Winter with the blow of a November wind. The last moment before the days become grey and miserable, foggy and wet, cold.

Nature’s true game of thrones, a drama of expectation, surprise, and change, story in repetition mode. A perfect platform, autumn the perfect time of year, an island the perfect location for a very unique scene, at least in my life story …

A November day in Valetta, Malta (copyright:

Clouds over Valetta. Nature’s Game of Thrones in the Mediterranean. (copyright:

… Dinner with Robert McKee, one of the world’s most renowned, respected and successful story teachers, accompanied by his wife and my dear friend and story consultant James McCabe. Great food and even greater Maltese wine were the witnesses of an evening of lively and inspiring discussions about, naturally, all stories great and small, good and bad. About stories from Hollywood, McKee’s professional backyard, behind and in front of the scenes (very interesting to a provincial Bavarian story lover like me!); about movies galore; about the rise of sophisticated and elaborate TV series like Breaking Bad (the best ever produced, I recall McKee raving, that was some common ground to start an evening on!), and … about the poor state our world is in when it comes to business stories.

From Hollywood Entertainment to Malta Business

"Write the Truth", he told me.

“Write the Truth”, he told me.

Robert McKee is not only Hollywood’s #1 story expert and creative writing instructor: His seminal book “STORY” is as famous and well-reviewed as his four-day “Story Seminar” is legendary, a must-attend guide for every ambitious (screen)writer willing to learn the craft or recall its essence. I have yet to judge this for myself, but allegedly 410 of his alumni have won Golden Globes, Academy Awards and many other renowned prizes. Not bad. Alumni like LOTR’s Peter Jackson go into rapture saying things like “McKee is the Guru of Gurus of Storytelling” (whatever a storytelling guru is…), or John Cleese who less guru-ishly claims: “It’s an amazingly important course that I’ve gone back to do three times.” Not bad either.

McKee has as of late also embarked upon the effort to transfer his knowledge and expertise in fiction story (mainly designed for entertainment purposes) to the sphere of business, corporate communications and marketing – storytelling with the slightly altered purpose of not only telling, but actually selling something, products and ideas, by means of entertainment. (Ideally. Mostly though, the State of the Business Story Union suggests that these means are currently mainly boredom, repetition and tutelage.)

McKee’s seminar builds upon one major notion: That companies are not abstract enterprises, they are not their portfolios; they are their employees. And these employees are actual human beings, people creating and experiencing stories every day. Only: They’re simply not telling them, rather burying them on power- and pointless PPT’s, vertiginous data sheets, and propaganda wolves in a press release’s sheep skin.

Robert McKee.

Frowning at the sight of too many appalling business stories? Robert McKee’s helping overcome self-centred corporate communication and marketing nightmares. (copyright:

Businesses must shift from “We” to “You”.

So, there’s a urgent need for action here, a demand that McKee has identified and tries to answer with his “Storynomics Seminar”, which premiered under the then name “Story in Business” (which I find much more intuitive, to be honest) in Valetta, Malta, on above-mentioned autumn day.

Upfront: I sincerely believe that endeavours like this should be on the mandatory training list of EVERY person responsible for communications and marketing, from one-man enterprises to multi-national companies. Actually, while I’m thinking about it: slam McKee business story seminar it into the PMP files of every manager attempting to lead in a meaningful and not just power-centric way!

And why? Cos it’s good. Not perfect yet, but really a great start to break up fossilized PR and Marketing dinosaurs, and introduce them to a world where people are people and not abstract target groups, people that indeed WANT to embark upon meaningful dialogue with people from companies (not the companies!), for whatever purpose.

Here are a couple of notes I made, ideas and impulses that I got from that one day in Valetta – they’re pretty spot-on and need no further commentary:

  • Everyone has storytelling skills, it’s natural. It only got erased by the way we are trained in schools.
  • Very little in life that really matters can be measured.
  • Facts are not the truth. Facts are what happens. Truth is how and why things happen.
  • The only thing our mind is really interested in, is change. And change is NOT activity.
  • Story means “learning by inquiry”.
  • A story needs a violation of expectation.
  • The business malady of “solutionism” ignores life, ignores duality and ambiguity. Most corporations suffer from “negaphobia”.
  • A good (business) story gives the audience insights into their own life, it makes wise use of the “like me” effect.
  • Before you can find your story’s character(s), you need to know who you are as a company. The spirit of every story a company tells needs to fit into its identity.
  • Businesses must shift the pronoun from “We” to “You”.
  • Let the events tell the story. Events are much stronger than the commentary on events.


A little less conversation, a little more (inter)action, please.

The seminar is structured into three parts: Story Purpose, Story Design, Story Telling. McKee convincingly demonstrates the principles of a good story that “serves its purpose” (be that entertainment or a trip down the sales funnel), mechanisms are the same everywhere. A story is a story is a story. With many a business video example, good and bad, reinforces the fact that “story is a metaphor for life”, hence also business life. Very illustrative, very stringent, very substantial, at times maybe a little dogmatic, definitely too much from-stage-to-audience style, and unfortunately almost completely interaction-free (apart from a pre-structured Q&A session at the end). Granted, this is probably the maximum you can do in the course of just one day with such a fundamental topic.

Still: While his screenwriting reputation and Hollywood expertise is the greatest asset and perspective-changing element of this lecture, it’s also maybe the cause for its only weakness, or let’s rather call it room for improvement. I really feel that it’s an opportunity wasted for McKee to have so many interested business people in a room hanging on his lips for story expert advice and only TELL them stuff, and not let them experience it themselves. Not just transfer fiction story mechanics to business story in a demonstrative way, but let them experience it hands-on.

Corporate dinosaurs need more than one day to be story-empowered

Maybe invite a co-lecturer or break-out session lead who actually has extensive experience of working INSIDE and just WITH companies, for the benefit of the much-aspired “like me” effect. To share this business expert’s experiences, especially in terms of overcoming organisational hurdles and convincing notorious nay-sayers nevertheless. Let the audiences maybe even work on short business story challenges amongst themselves, so they don’t just see and hear how it’s done, but can actually do it and feel it. Turn it from a lecture into a true seminar where PR and Marketing professionals are not only evangelized but actually enabled and empowered to go back to their desks and produce their first-ever real business story.

That would probably turn the one-day event into a two- or three-day event. But so what? Why not? Business story lecturing is faced with far crustier mindsets than the entertainment sector where disciples already know the Why’s and want to learn the How’s. Corporate dinosaurs need convincing before you can even get to the tutorial, the hands-on learning part. And that requires more than a day, and more story engagement spice in the story telling soup.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”, Churchill once said.

So please continue, Bobby McKee! And thanks for great insights – and great wine.



“Randnotizen”: Side notes on a world gone mad.


alles verfügbar, hier und jetzt
nichts offen, kein wunsch verletzt
kaum erblickt, schon gezückt
fremdwort sehnen.

regale voll, nasen auch
volle köpfe, fetter bauch
kaum erblickt, schon gebückt
alle münder gähnen.


homo analogus ausgestorben
pixeliges grab schon ausgehoben
suchen gesterns kinder heut nach glück
stück für stück mit blick zurück
doch da ist nichts mehr
außer randnotizen.
im sand.
im meer.

©herrdennehy, 2014.

“Schreiben nach Hebdo”: The World is Grey. And Grey is Beautiful.

Impressions in Grey.


„Shades of grey wherever I go

The more I find out the less that I know

Black and white is how it should be

But shades of grey are the colors I see.“

(Billy Joel)

Charlie Hebdo, even the name Charlie alone, has become a sad chiffre for the state of the world we’re in – or maybe have always been. On January 7, 2015, at 11:30 AM, the world stood still for a second, probably even changed irreversibly. Once again.

Like on September 11, 2001.

Like on November 10, 1938.

Dates scarred into modern conscience, because they marked the end of worlds as we knew them. Once again.

Watching the unbelievable Paris scenes, enduring the multitude of talk shows that spilt over our TV screens like the inevitable vomit after a serious case of food poisoning, I could actually physically feel the caesura this event means for Europe, just like 9/11 for the USA. For better or worse, only history will tell.

Stereotypes will grow, prejudices will thrive, the legislative and especially executive countermeasures to serve the earlier will be scarily en vogue. Left, right. Muslim, Christian, Jew. Black and White.

Blueprint “Schreiben nach Auschwitz”

Writing about anything else in the aftermath of the Hebdo murders felt like an impossibility to me, inappropriate, even an act of blasphemy in a strictly non-religious sense.

Posts on communication and marketing trends in 2015 were on the storycodeX to-write list in early January – as for many a net writer interested in this stuff. Topics like the rivalry of Content Marketing and Brand Journalism. Like the true meaning of Content. Or Doc Searls’ and David Weinberger’s “New Clues”, but … just wouldn’t work. It’s like the author’s fingers refused to type, forced their tips to the West, to France, to the city of love.

Emotional thoughts and thoughtful emotions that somehow drew me towards a re-read of a speech by Günter Grass, held as part of his poetry lecture at Goethe University in Frankfurt in 1990. Its title: “Schreiben nach Auschwitz”. In his speech, Grass not only elaborates on his literary story and stories, but also makes a critical reference to Theodor W. Adorno’s discourse “Minima Moralia” as well as the infamous and often over-exaggeratingly dogmatized claim “Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht schreiben ist barbarisch” from his 1951 essay “Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft – Gedichte nach Auschwitz”. The full context of this quote goes as follows:

“Kulturkritik findet sich der letzten Stufe der Dialektik von Kultur und Barbarei gegenüber: nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch, und das frisst auch die Erkenntnis an, die ausspricht, warum es unmöglich ward, heute Gedichte zu schreiben. Der absoluten Verdinglichung, die den Fortschritt des Geistes als eines ihrer Elemente voraussetzte und die ihn heute gänzlich aufzusaugen sich anschickt, ist der kritische Geist nicht gewachsen, solange er bei sich bleibt in selbstgenügsamer Kontemplation.”


It might seem a far-fetched, lame mental leap from World War II to the afterbirth’s of Al Qaida and ISIS, but mental leaps always are, and are allowed, maybe even meant to be. So here’s mine:

Granted, the extent and magnitude of the Nazi terror that forever displayed to the world the ugly grimace of human abyss is by no means comparable with anything we see happening in the name of Allah by a fanatic, blinded-by-hate extremist minority of an otherwise peaceful religion today. Not yet, that is.

Also, the apparent historic facts of the lurching Weimar Republic and today’s crumbling century-old models of life in many parts of the world, not only in the Middle East and Africa, seem to hold little resemblance.

And the respective motives for launching terroristic machinery are quite different. On the outside at least.

On the inside it’s always about power, money, and religion in a wider sense.

NAZISIS – Same Illness, Different Symptoms

Still there are parallels, alarmingly terrifying parallels, between what took its beginning in Germany’s 1933, in a time of ubiquitous uncertainty, political and economic fragility, susceptibility towards extremism, and the rise of organizations like Al Qaida and ISIS. In the end, it’s the promise of a better life for the faithful and devout, a better world, even a better death and afterlife, killing and dying for a greater good.

I figure a young, frustrated, unemployed, sidelined man with no role in society, no prospect for a future, in disharmony with the world, approached by someone seemingly larger than life, promising wealth, meaning and purpose, to serve a cause … and off the soldiers march.

I figure the constant human need to find bogeymen for their own misery, the all-too-human suspicion of everything and everybody different, and how it’s always easier to blame others than yourself. And if you then even get the official mandate to punish those others … off the soldiers march.

I figure the damage that fanatism and the colors Black and White have always done, the pain and the suffering they have created, always for seemingly greater goods, proclaimed by charismatic mindfuckers using people to kill people, turning them into blind-folded soldiers … soldiers that march off to wherever they are told.

Self-sufficient Contemplation – The Death of Civil Courage

While drawing parallels between the spoilt acronyms NAZI and ISIS, and bringing them closer together for thorough examination seems like a worthwhile topic for a Bachelor or Masters thesis in Political Science, Cultural Science or History (that would certainly do this idea more resilient justice than my unstructured, initial thoughts here), the author is drawn back to Adorno and a key phrase in above quote in relation to writing after Auschwitz, after 9/11, after Hebdo: “Selbstgenügsame Kontemplation”, probably best translated as “self-sufficient contemplation”, the enemy of the skeptical, questioning intellect.

Maybe self-centered contemplation is indeed even the death of civil courage, the end of questioning, the end of insurgency. To read about such tragedies and incredibilities, watch them on TV, maybe follow a hashtag that makes you feel engaged, yet de facto going on with your life as if nothing had happened. To go on with writing about meaningless bullshit like content strategies and the best way to fill people’s heads with marketing shit they don’t want to see, at places where they don’t want to be bothered, by companies they care for even less after being menaced. Gosh, how many newsletters or tweets or Linked-In group posts did I receive right after Paris, and how many of them made me think “Why the hell is this important now???”.

I agree, life goes on, and life changes as it does – that’s probably the only constant we can really rely on. And the probability that also will return to the path it initially set out on is high. Still, sometimes it’s simply time to pause for a moment, take a grateful look around at your own life, your own health and wealth, at the freedom of speech we enjoy, a privilege that should never be taken for granted, a freedom that none of us post-war kids ever did anything for, nothing that makes us actually deserve it. It was given to us a gift by our parents and grandparents, and we need to fight for it, now and forever.

But not by all means, not with uninformed impulses, and never in a way that serves delusional superiority over others, never with a sense of Black or White, but with a dialectic appreciation of the beauty of Grey, the manifold shades of which much better represent our world and everything that has ever happened, everything that is happening right now, and everything that will ever happen. The world is grey, and should we ever learn how great it is that there are always two sides to a coin, that this is what makes life rich and exciting, only then will we be able to do what – let’s be honest – everybody wants: to live in peace and enjoy life.

Light at the Grey Horizon

“Der Verzicht auf reine Farbe”

Günter Grass concludes his speech in Frankfurt and his reference to Adorno (whose famous quote he also, at first, misunderstood as a prohibiting verdict) with the retrospect cognition that his own (and his fellow post-war writers’) literary output would never have been possible without the leaden weight of history, and for him personally without the weight of Adorno’s verdict. In his own reading, Grass notes that “diese Vorschrift verlangte Verzicht auf reine Farbe; sie schrieb das Grau und dessen unendliche Schattierungen vor.” (Grass, Schreiben nach Ausschwitz, 1999.)

Or as Billy Joel put it three years later:

„Shades of grey are all that I find

When I look to the enemy line

Black and white was so easy for me

But shades of grey are the colors I see.“

(Billy Joel, 1993)