‘Listen carefully and repeat” was to be the phrase he remembered most when he began to learn German. Critics suggest that with these words, he would have already learnt the basics of what characterises and distinguishes German schools. Of course it’s not really true, as the example of a city such as Bielefeld proves. But there are other German cities, such as Bonn, or any other city that has around 320,000 inhabitants. So let us take one of these cities, let us take Bielefeld as representative of all German cities with an approximate population of 320,000 people.
The city of poets and bookworms
Bielefeld has 129 publishers, which in 2010 published a total of 1,505 books, including 350 works of poetry and literature alone, then 286 translations of foreign literature and poetry and in the field of philosophy, 16 works written by the city’s own philosophers, as well as 15 translations of foreign philosophers.
These works by Bielefeld’s authors were printed by printers and bound by bookbinders, then all 1,505 works were delivered to the city’s 26 bookshops in order to feed the reading habits of the good folk of Bielefeld who were impatient to devote their long winter nights to their hobby: reading books. Of course, in Bielefeld a book is only a book if it combines the work of poets, graphic artists and bookbinders with the knowledge of the booksellers. From this it should be clear that the burghers of Bielefeld consider ‘reading’ to be anything but looking at sentences and devouring words. And so, year after year they wait for the stream of books to return before engrossing themselves and are always surprised by any novelty, by anything that didn’t exist beforehand.
In Bielefeld, this situation has led to the rise of a community of all those connected with the publishing industry: the Authors association of Bielefeld, a union of authors whose role is to protect freedom of expression in literature. This association handles agreements with the publishers, theatres, press, institutions and other bodies that wish to publish or use the works.
This is how, in Bielefeld, 70 writers manage to make a living just by writing; the city pays commissions to a special fund that covers the books loaned by public libraries and their use as educational tools in the city’s schools.
Such is the status of Poetry and literature in Bielefeld that the local dairy organised a poetry competition for the city’s schoolchildren and then published the children’s poems on their milk cartons. Familes in Bielefeld could therefore enrich their days by reading the poems at breakfast, such as the one below:
In the past
I was so happy
To torment him
And no-one dared reproach me
I saw him,
Now he is famous,
I am jealous of him.
Who am I?
Welcome to the city
We should not therefore be surprised that the city’s mayor writes to those who visit it, the tourists, and explains to them that is very unlikely they are in this city, since most of humanity can be found elsewhere, a scientifically proven fact:
“Is our place of our birth an accident? Is it subject to a general rule? Did I already exist in another form before I was born? Did I have anything to do with where I was born? Why did Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun not have children? Surely they tried to have them? Is it possible that no child would have wanted them as parents? I don’t know, but I don’t believe in coincidences. I don’t believe that God rolls the dice, especially where human lives are concerned. These thoughts inevitably lead us to consider Schrödinger’s cat. Here we have probably one of the world’s most famous cats (maybe a close second after Ninja cat?). How is it that we still don’t know its name? So what was the name of Schrödinger’s cat? Abracadabra? I can’t remember any more. Let’s call it Phoenix. It’s a common name for cats. Phoenix was a type of cat that was alive and dead at the same time. It has therefore always existed, and even if Schrödinger killed his cat with undeniably bad taste, the cat is still alive in Schrödinger’s house, while Schrödinger himself died long ago:
Δx Δp ≥ h/2
Does this means that I have always existed, or perhaps I have never existed and what’s more, I don’t exist now either? Impossible! This would mean that our entire existence was unreal and only existed in our imaginations. So if I don’t exist, neither do you. I find that difficult to believe. The facts speak for themselves. If I don’t really exist, then how can I take a plane for Finland, send myself a postcard of Tarja Halonen, the president, go back home and greet the postman as he delivers my postcard? Who knows?“
“The father was an alcoholic and the mother always tired”
“We could compare the nation with a family, that has an alcoholic father who had been drunk for years … He had wonderful ideas, but only when he had them. This loud mouth had no compunction in sending his family packing. His catch phrase was ‘Stop talking bullshit!’, yet his family trusted him. Partly because his family loved him in spite of his drunkenness and his mistakes, but also because they were quite simply afraid to stand up to him. The family began to wonder if he were not some kind of genius rather than an alcoholic with psychological disorders, a brilliant man able to see things that your average loser was too stupid to see … In the end, he was indeed obliged to acknowledge his mental, physical and financial ruin. He went off to rehab. But the family were bereft, bewildered, confused and angry.”
This was the mayor’s speech during the second debate on the council’s annual budget and the citizens, who called his apparent flights of fancy ‘frighteningly accurate’, praised this speech. Nevertheless, the mayor warned them against the rage that ‘burns’ energy and leads to exhaustion, since grief and despair breed inactivity. “Anger is human and may be necessary, but if left to build-up, it becomes a deadly substance that poisons the mind.” These were the mayor’s words and he had already announced in his speech on the city’s budget:
“We don’t share a set common ideology. We are neither on the left or on the right. We are both. We are not even certain that this issue is important …. How many times can you cut a cake? Who will have a small slice? And who needs a really big slice? What is luxury and what is important? Is it better to steel from children than from old people? ’
The most honest politician in the country
At this point, it’s worth pointing out that this is not a city we are talking about here, but a whole nation, which has no more citizens than a city like Bielefeld. And this speech was given by a mayor who adopted the name of Jón Gnarr, and his term of office which put him in charge of the 8,000 employees of the city of Reykjavik is now over. He may no longer be in power, but that’s not to say he would not have been re-elected. Quite the reverse. After just one year of office, the nation gave him the title of the country’s most honourable politician. According to a ranking of political figures in Iceland published in the daily newspaper Morgunblaðið on 11/03/2001, Jón Gnarr came first in terms of sincerity (28.8%), working with local government (23.7%), personality (29.5%), while he was at the bottom of the class for determination (5.0%), power (5.6%), the firmness of his convictions (17.9%) and the ability to work under pressure (3.5%), which made him the most honest and the most honourable person in Iceland.
This ranking irritated more than a few: Is it not those very qualities of ‘determination’, ‘power’, firmness of his convictions’ and ‘ability to work under pressure’ that sets politicians apart and makes them who they are, whether in a dictatorship or a democracy – which in this respect is the same – and irrespective of whether the regime is secular or religious? And does that mean that politicians are only politicians if they are sincere, work with local government and are endowed with a strong personality?
Well here are the last words from Jón Gnarr’s annual budget speech for the city.
“Miss Reykjavik has a future ahead of her. Perhaps she had an alcoholic father and a mother who was always tired. But that won’t stop her. She forgives everyone, and turns to face the light. Reykjavik has the potential to the cleanest, most beautiful, most peaceful and most exciting city in the world, with a global reputation for sympathy, culture, nature and peace; it’s a diamond that we must polish if it is to shine.”
What is a comedian? Let us give the floor to Jón Gnarr himself:
“A year ago, I found myself on the island of Puerto Rico. I had just finished a film, which I had both written and produced with a few friends. I found myself unemployed and wondered what my next project might be.
Until then, I had worked in an advertising agency, before being laid off following the recession and the economic downturn. I kept up-to-date with the situation in Iceland by news sites on the internet, I got into the habit after the collapse. After the collapse, I was barely interested in politics and even had to make quite an effort to avoid having to follow the events in this corner of society. This is what I did until everything collapsed in a huge crash and our Prime Minister appeared on television to ask God to bless us. It felt as though I had been hit with a wet cloth. What had happened? After that, I began to follow the news closely. Wherever I went, all discussions revolved around this: in parties, business meetings and with friends I met in the street.
In an instant, I became addicted to news. And the more I followed the news, the angrier I became. Angry against the capitalist bankers. Angry against the system that had failed. But I kept my fiercest anger for the politicians. All, without exception, were incompetent, egotistical idiots, or so I thought.
I was mad at myself and mad with the people who had elected these politicians. I wanted to do something. I went down to Austurvollur several times to participate in the demonstrations. But I couldn’t make up my mind to join them, heart and soul. I didn’t want to throw faeces into Alþing, nor put up with the police. I didn’t want to vent my rage by launching a blog.
All this anger in me and around me began to make me afraid. I was afraid that it would grow and strengthen until something awful happened. I felt everyone’s suffering. I empathised with those who, as a sign of protest, remained silent while banging on pots and pans; but also with the worried politicians who hurried to their cars, or who stood in front of the cameras, with fear in the eyes. I empathised with the policemen who stood facing the angry crowd. At the time, my father lay dying in hospital. He had been a policeman in Reykjavik for more than forty years. During all those years, he had never been promoted to a higher rank, because he was a communist. I was sad that he was dying without ever having known that the socialist-green party had taken power at Alþing. That would have made him very happy. I love this city and I love this country. I love the people who live here.”
This makes one wonder whether it is fair to measure the greatness of a nation by the size of its population.
The Frankfurter Rundschau ran the headline: “A clown moves to serious matters” and Henryk M. Broder reported live from Reykjavik: “Reykjavik is on standby for a coup d’Etat’.
Jón, the ‘clown’ handed over the town council to his successor. The coup d’État was over. Yet, was he a clown? Was it a coup d’État?
Translation: Jackie Dobble