I already said that this blog, written with undeniable vocation of being published as a book, was practically closed due to its excessive growth. I will only write new entries in very specific circumstances. In return, they may have an extension, in journalistic terms, more of article than of column. In some cases, like this one, I will divide it into two entries (separated here by asterisks) somewhat different in character, more general and descriptive the first one. Exceptionally, I write them in English.
A recent event, the arrest of former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, of whom I will speak in due time, in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, in the extreme north of Germany, next to the border with Denmark, has reminded me of that part of German land —land and sea, I should say— especially dear to me and that perhaps I know better than the rest of the country, for which I profess, as a whole and for many reasons, an invincible affection. I enjoyed many times its beautiful landscapes and the civility of its people. The idea that Germans do not make much noise when they meet is one of the misconceptions that different peoples have of each other. It so happens that in Spain we may all speak at once and Germans do it more orderly, almost always one at a time. At the end, the laughter, the approval or disapproval, the jokes and the songs may be even noisier or louder than in Spain.
This marriage of land and sea is well embodied in Schleswig-Holstein, German Land that I visited many times, almost always in summer, in endless and unforgettable days, often in the last week of June, at the time of the Kieler Woche, an annual event famous worldwide, when hundreds of sailboats from different countries participate in races and competitions of various kinds in the Kiel fjord, more than one hundred kilometers from Hamburg.
In this latter city, unthinkable without its port, its river Elbe and its commercial and maritime vocation, another happening is also celebrated in summer, the Hamburg Festival Kreuzfahrt, in which at least seven major cruise lines arrive at the city in the same dates. The frolic takes place in the immense port, at night, among dozens of fireworks and with lovely games of light, led by renowned lighting designers (lichtkünstler), using spotlights and other lighting devices, which fill and sweep the total area where the event takes place.
The show is unforgettable. Buildings and boats shrouded in light, with overflowing masses of excited and happy people scattered everywhere, on the piers, on the open terraces, on the decks of the innumerable ships of all types and sizes, with their melancholic sirens shuddering the air and insistently calling to enjoy the moment and this unique opportunity, setting fire into the hearts in the warm night of the Nordic summer, so ephemeral. Wanting to capture the fleeting beauty of the moment, which will not return until after two years or until God knows when. With the need and the urgency to profit the good weather season, the beautiful mallow sunsets, eternal in the summer in those latitudes. United all in the innocent observance of the Latin Carpe diem; unknowingly following the ancestral and happy Dionysian rites, which underlie all cultures. Trying to fix forever the fairy atmosphere of the moment, to be able to remember it later.
Events like this inevitably engender nostalgia, the fatal feeling that everything splendid ends too soon, the realization that happiness occupies only a small part of our lives. According to a chronicle of the event in 2014, six hundred thousand souls from all over the world were there, looking astonished and incredulous to the Elbe, transformed by magic into an enormous, beautiful and fugitive stage. Similar festivals exist in other countries. Perhaps in northern Europe, with limited summers that flee fast, people tend to take advantage of them with greater vehemence, with more pressing desires. It is beautiful to see them so determined not to let the elusive happiness escape.
These are countries of land and sea, I said. Life on land cannot be conceived without reference to the sea and many local songs tell us about it. One of the most popular, Wo die Nordseewellen, is sung in plattdeutsch (a West Germanic language spoken mainly in northern Germany and the eastern part of the Netherlands and that has some variants). Can someone not expert have an idea of the subject? Wikipedia serves, at least, so that daring fools, who believe that the world is simple and four ideas are enough to understand it, may stop a little and meditate. With so many different languages and dialects, can any of them be used as argument to justify a disintegration or separation? The process would never end and could atomize any community, no matter its antiquity, its birth process, its history.
I cannot speak with authority about the musical taste of the Germans. But I have been able to appreciate that soft songs, sometimes melancholic or sad, are cherished in that country. I believe that German people, with the caution due in any generalization, are serious, honest and romantic. As one of my goals is to disclose realities that I have had the fortune of knowing, I will refer to some typical or popular German songs, that my readers can even listen to with the links that I show; they may be new for some of them. Of North Germany, to be more precise, of the seafaring Germany, turned over to the sea for centuries.
One of them is the aforementioned Wo die Nordseewellen. I give the link to Youtube and translate some words of the beginning: https://youtu.be/oBM_2GsWsKU: Where the waves of the North Sea bathe the beach, / where the yellow flowers bloom on the green earth, / where seagulls scream in the storm. / That is my home (Heimat is the word used in German), there I feel at home.
One’s home lies in very different places and can therefore be in the sea. Heimat, the German word in this song, designates the terroir, the homeland, in a deep and kindly sense. The world is full of such gentle homelands, intimate, welcoming, small and definite spaces anchored in a preterit time that is often that of childhood. There is so much beauty in our world that we all receive some of it and I have always thought that excessive and exclusive love to homelands are unjustified and vacuous. Exacerbated nationalisms are perverse. When I run into one of those extreme nationalists, I want to laugh, then I feel like crying. In the end, I want to run away. Not because they are dangerous, although they may be so —they have been, infinitely, throughout history— but because I fear them. I'm afraid because they bore me, they bore the sheep.
Another song is Seemann, deine Heimat ist das Meer (Sailor, your home is the sea) and was composed by Werner Scharfenberger. The link is http://youtu.be/B-SVP6i9tbk. I translate the initial words: Sailor, forget your dreams, / do not think about your house. / Sailor, the wind and the waves / call you. / Your home is the sea, / your friends are the stars. / Your love is your ship, / your nostalgia is distance. / Only to them you have to be faithful / your whole life.
Another song, very sad and that does not come from the regional area that I'm sticking to, is Abba Heidschi Bumbaidschi (I have seen the title written in various ways). It is a very old song of Austro-German origin, perhaps dating back to the fifteenth century, with a text that speaks of a mother who dies and leaves her little son alone. It was originally a lullaby, but it has become a Christmas theme, without the words having changed. The title is untranslatable and the link for the version of Plácido Domingo is https://youtu.be/80n6JTscWBU. I offer in Spanish only a few words, very simple: Abba Heidschi Bumbaidschi, sleep peacefully, / your mother has left / and will be out / for a long time.
These Germans from Schleswig-Holstein, of whom I am speaking now, are serious and yet warm people, show honesty, restraint, consideration for the law, the institutions and the servants of order. It is not fear, I know it very well, it is respect, as if they understood without effort that their work is necessary and important for any society. I will briefly tell an event, which happened while I was there. A rather elderly lady fell at home and broke the bone of her elbow, the olecranon, a part of the ulna. Only by lightly exploring the injury could you hear the crackle of the fracture. Almost in front of the house there was a traumatology clinic and I wanted to take her there, although there was no urgency in fact. It was impossible, because the lady argued that she had to go first to her family doctor, who also lived very close, so that he could write the pertinent request to the specialist.
Perhaps these Germans are even somewhat different from those of the South of the Country. They themselves joke a little about the latter and consider them less formal people, of more erratic behavior. In the north, for example, it is not usual in restaurants and breweries to share a table with strangers, what is, in contrast, very common and almost obligatory in Bavaria. It is a minor detail. In Schleswig-Holstein, I met people of very diverse condition, from university professors to workers of varied trades. I never had any problem with these people of simple and unsophisticated likings, who have fun in a calm and placid way.
In my first summers there, they were very popular the so-called Butterfahrten, 'butter trips', which ended in 1999. They were boat trips of four to five hours, which could be decided and started as soon as the weather seemed right and the body asked you to breathe more closely the marine winds. They had an almost symbolic cost, half German mark (0.25 of the current euros), and many of the passengers were retired people, without haste, without time constraints. The boat navigated until passing the German jurisdictional waters, their limit in the sea. Then you could buy products in the ship's shop, such as alcohol, perfumes, tobacco, especially butter, exempt from taxes. The trip was a delight with seagulls constantly on our heads, almost threatening, attentive to the food that could fall or be thrown next to the boat. People —many knew each other for their frequent coincidence in the trips— were chatting, eating, joking, never having an argument or a brawl. Old people, educated, legal people, as someone would say now.
And the gentle winds caressing us. They were refreshing and friendly winds, like those that some Arabian pilots kept in silver tubes and opened when, already elderly and forced to retire from sailing, had longing for the sea. Good and happy winds. How do we know that a wind is good? Reader, the heart knows; when we are happy and the wind invites us to get after the world and love it, that wind is good and you should only care that it is not bad for anyone. In the fourth book of Gargantua and Pantagruel, an Island of Wind is mentioned, where live people who neither eat nor drink and feed only on the wind. They clustered around the wind vanes and breathed it there. We breathed it in our journey in peace and harmony. Francisco Umbral writes in Las ninfas: “So much loneliness inclines me to abandon myself in the wind”. We felt in happy company and also took shelter in the winds, which greeted us in the friendly, boundless sea.
Those stout people from the North love their climate and their winds. When I was there, in summer, and came a somewhat cold wind, which surprised me a little, my companions were happy and told me, smiling: Frische Luft, eh, Frank, schöne Luft! (Fresh air, eh, Frank, beautiful air!). For them it is like that. I also finally came to like it. Am I going to discuss winds, their legends and stories? The Arab pilots, in the times of the caliphate of Baghdad, believed that by means of hidden magic certain winds could be tamed to always have them abaft, to arrive at the places where the heart demands you to go. There are no winds like that, so constant and docile. Life consists in taking advantage of them when they blow in favor and avoid them when they are contrary.
People of the world are very different and by recognizing it —but really, without restrictions— we win a lot. I see myself in those summers of North Germany, in a beautiful beach of fine and white sand, with a fresh and clean air, that can be invigorating and pleasant, but that makes bath impossible for a majority and forces to hide in the Strandkörbe, those huge baskets, authentic shelters. Some of my German friends confess to me, in the most sincere and friendly way, that they could not live in a country with a climate like ours. In fact, they usually spend their summer vacations in latitudes even further north, in Norway, towards the Arctic Circle, etc. On the other hand, it is true, others buy their houses in Mallorca or the Spanish Levante and adore the Sun. The world is diverse and anyone loves what he wants or what he can.
It is clear, reader, that I like Germany and its people. I will bring here, as an exordium, some words that should make many think, among them the Catalan separatists, and thus I begin to unveil the recent event that I mentioned at the beginning of this post and of which I said that I would speak in due time. The quote is from Tzvetan Tódorov, a linguist and Bulgarian-French literary critic, who died a short time ago: “The man who finds his country sweet is nothing more than a tender debutante; the one for whom each floor is like his own is already worthy of consideration; but only he for whom the whole world is like a foreign country is perfect”.
I have it very clear that I belong, at least, to the second category. I feel the German land as my own. This breadth of horizons is not reduced only to Germany, something similar happens to me with other countries and cities in which I lived: New York, Bologna, Lausanne, etc. The memories of these places —of my youth spent there too, but that is another story—, always haunt me and still help me to be content. The third category, defined more ethereally in the last sentence, the most beautiful and literary of the quotation, is less strictly logical, more vague. What is really meant? Literature is just that: the vagueness, the insinuation, the mystery... Well, I also sometimes feel like a foreigner in this world of ours, so you know it.
Returning to my story, the recent event I mentioned at the beginning is none other than the detention on German soil of the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, imprisoned in Neumünster, in the Land of Schleswig-Holstein, not far from the free Hanseatic city of Hamburg. He is there awaiting the decision that the Land authorities adopt on the international arrest warrant issued by the Spanish justice system.
I know that area well and I already said that I have a high regard for the people who live there. They seem serious, noble, honest, reliable and, as one would say in German, nette Leute. Curiously, the opinion that was held of Catalans in my youth was somehow similar, although it has changed enough in the latter decades. All this makes me think about the matter and try to give some advice to the illustrious prisoner.
My advice for him would be to impartially observe his fellow inmates in the prison. He should for some time not to pay attention to his lawyers or the people of Catalonia who may visit him or write to him in these days of imprisonment. I am sure, Mr. Puigdemont, that despite being confined in a penitentiary, you will find there those quiet, solid and reasonable people I speak of. Surely they will be more exemplary and judicious than those who cheer you in your native country and urge you to continue committing crimes. And that your prestigious lawyers, who fight eagerly, spurred by fabulous profits, to obtain your impunity in front of your crimes.
I am happy to know, Mr Puigdemont, that you consider good people your fellow prisoners in Germany, as you recently stated. In that we can agree. In what follows it is not likely, because I sincerely believe that they are more prudent and better people than you. Look at them and, if you can understand each other, speak to them and tell them what you intend and how you intend to do it, tell them the truth of what you have done so far. Tell them the story of the past thirty years, especially the last few months, the times you have ignored court warnings, the times you have broken the law, the various crimes you have committed. With simple words, without half-truths, without hiding anything. They will listen to you politely and will know how to form an opinion. That is the only international acquiescence that you should look for.
Mr. Puigdemont, you and your followers have become a bad example for everyone. Your well-organized and orchestrated campaigns may find an echo in small sectors of population of some country and in radical groups, fundamentally dedicated to creating any of the infinite variants of chaos. In any meeting of people like the ones I have known in the region of Germany where you are —and whom you can approach now if you continue some time in jail—, they will not arouse any enthusiasm or understanding. Because these people are, in general, compliant, lovers of order and law, not fond of excesses and with a noble and just sense of social coexistence, of life in common.
Molt Honorable Carles Puigdemont, I sincerely believe that in the prison in Neumünster there will be people much more honorable than you, even if they have also made mistakes. Nobody will have committed the very serious fault that you have committed: to break a country, to divide it perhaps already without a possible solution, to face one half of its inhabitants against the other half. All that, after years of dirty, dishonest, unfair play, adorned, in addition, with an infinite arrogance, fatuity and a stubbornness worthy of a better cause. Talk to your fellow prisoners, try to acquire that respect for the law and order that they most certainly still retain. And try, when you can, the Kieler Sprotten, those delicious little fish (sprats) smoked from the region.
On the verge of publishing this second part of my entry, the news comes, Mr. Puigdemont, of your release, what unfortunately deprives you of the detoxification cure to which I am referring. Do not get too puffed up, or throw bells on the fly. Already in our Spanish Golden Age it was said that “doblones doblan leyes” (money bends laws). I do not allude to any suspicion of prevarication, but to the mere effect of having a legion of flexible, understanding, tolerant and seasoned lawyers, masters of legal prestidigitation, some of them with a penalty of years of imprisonment in their history. In spite of everything, they cannot stifle the feeling of true justice, which I am sure beats in the hearts of the good people of Schleswig-Holstein and other places of the world; that justice without futile “considerations, exemptions, attenuations, etc.”, that springs natural, pure and accurate from the deep foundations of human beings.
Thus, it turned out that there was no violence, none of the infinite variants of it. Neither more or less innocent preparation for violence, nor possibility of violence. And nothing illegal was done. My eyes saw and my ears heard how a republic was proclaimed in part of my Spanish land and a crowd was inflamed by the event, although disappointed shortly after. Nothing of that existed, everything was a fallacious reverie of my mind, a collective hallucination, anchored in pure symbolism. There were no transition laws, nor lists of citizens to implement fiscal taxes to the new country. Neither festive and ostentatious acts, which were sad and like doomsday for those who did not share the same feelings. They derogated the Spanish Constitution and the Catalan Statute, voted laws without qualified majority, ignoring half of the members of Parliament, deprived of their legitimate faculties. They systematically violated the law to impose, with the strength of the people in the street and no reason, a unilateral secession imposed by way of the fait accompli. And in spite of everything, they talked about a ‘government coup d’état’, referring to Madrid’s government. One of the most popular quotes —absolutely apocryphal because it is not, nor is there anything like this, in Don Quixote— says: Cosas veredes, Sancho, que farán fablar las piedras (You will see things, Sancho, that will make stones to speak). This has been the case here, in its most absolute nudity. Unfortunately, the stones rarely speak, and when they do, nobody pays too much attention. That is how the world goes.