Tag Archives: Hitler

Trevor Lock on Dapper Laughs, Andrew Lawrence and the rise of liberal Fascism (my phrase not his)

trevor Lock, as seen by Poppy Hillstead

Trevor Lock, as painted by Poppy Hillstead

In yesterday’s blog, comedian Trevor Lock explained that he does not think Third World charity aid is always a good thing.

We talked at the end of a week in which there had been a social media maelstrom in the UK about comics Dapper Laughs and Andrew Lawrence.

Dapper Laughs had been at the centre of a storm about misogyny. Andrew Lawrence had posted on Facebook about the UK Independence Party’s poll successes and immigration.

I told Trevor Lock: “I don’t think Andrew Lawrence is being unreasonable if you actually read what he says.”

“Yes,” said Trevor. “If you read what he says. But it’s just… People… It’s absolutely terrifying… You can understand how Nazi Germany got off the ground. You really do see the witch huntery delight in identifying ‘the enemy’. It’s horrendous. Chilling. I found it chilling. That and the Dapper Laughs thing I find chilling.”

“Dapper Laughs,” I said, “I have no opinion on, because I’ve never seen or heard his stuff.”

“I don’t find him funny,” said Trevor, “but the point is he is not the anti-Christ.”

“Can I quote you?” I asked. “You might get hate mail.”

Andrew Lawrence’s Facebook postings ruffled feathers

Andrew Lawrence’s Facebook postings

“Yeah,” said Trevor. “I don’t care. I got hate mail for the Andrew Lawrence thing. I was ‘outed’ on Facebook for liking Andrew Lawrence’s thing. I was described as being a Right Wing, misogynistic whatever. It’s weird.”

I suggested: “It was the three-word description of some women on panel shows that did for Andrew.”

Women impersonating comedians,” said Trevor. “He didn’t say all female comedians and it’s true. They have a lot of people who are not comedians on the shows. I didn’t agree with everything he said and the way he put it, but the shocking thing for me was how people took delight in deliberately mis-representing him or jumping to the worst possible conclusion in order to hate him. It’s frightening.

“I find the self-righteousness of it terrifying,” Trevor continued. “This certainty – this chilling certainty – that they are right. That is how most of these people think. They are certain they are the good guys. Did the Nazis walk around thinking they were the bad guys?”

“That is something it’s dangerous to even talk about,” I suggested. “Presumably Hitler, while committing unspeakable evil, thought he was doing good.”

“Well, of course he did,” said Trevor. “Stalin thought it was a good idea to kill people. On Facebook, a propos the Andrew Lawrence debate, someone wrote something to the effect of It’s funny how, if everybody who opposed liberalism were to be shot, the world would be a much better place. It was there on my Facebook Feed and I just thought: This is interesting on so many levels.

Hessy Levinsons Taft's photograph was selected by Nazi party for the front cover of Sonne Ins Haus publication, but Joseph Goebbels' propaganda machine never discovered she was Jewish, 1935.

This photograph won a contest to find the ‘ideal Aryan infant’. It was selected by the Nazi Party as front cover of Sonne Ins Haus in 1935. They never realised she was Jewish.

“Well, Hitler was a National Socialist,” I said. “And that’s not a misnomer. I’ve always thought that Socialism is not a political system; it’s a religion. If you follow the true path of Socialism without deviation, it will create a perfect heaven on a perfect earth. That’s bollocks. That’s religion not reality. If you’re a Conservative and someone disagrees with you, then you think: Someone disagrees with me. If you’re a militant Socialist and someone disagrees with you, then you think: They are evil.”

“That’s what we’re talking about,” said Trevor.

“There’s that thing in some universities,” I said: “We are liberals. We are democrats. So we must not have people coming to talk to us if they disagree with what we think.

“It’s astonishing,” said Trevor. “This time last year, someone invited me to talk at Leicester University. He said: I am chairman of the Oxfam Society. I would like you to come and give a speech on the importance of charity. So I said OK.”

“Why did they invite you?” I asked.

“He said: I love listening to you and reading about your philosophical take on life.

“They also wanted me to write something for their student magazine and it was just after Russell Brand had said Don’t vote! when he was on BBC2’s Newsnight.

There is a YouTube clip of Russell Brand’s appearance on Newsnight last year.

“So I wrote this piece explaining my views on charity and they were on the phone to me saying: We’re not sure we can publish this and we’re really worried about you coming to talk to us.

“And I was like: Whaaatt?? You can’t publish my views on charity – about how I have a completely different understanding of charity and how giving money to an organisation is not what I understand as charity. And I was sympathetic to Russell’s idea about not voting.

“And they changed the wording of my piece. They edited bits out to make it sound like I was in favour of charity. They sent it to me and said: This is what we are going to publish. Is it alright?

How would that be alright? I told them. You have made me say Vote! when I did not say that; it was a complicated thing. And I am actually against organised charity. 

Yeah, they said, we’re really worried about what you’re gonna say.

Well, I asked them, why have you booked me? I even said it in the article. I said I didn’t know why I had been booked to talk about charity.”

“Did they keep the booking?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Trevor.

“How did it go?”

Trevor Lock may go to a variety of counties in South America

Trevor Lock talked to me at Soho Theatre earlier this week

“It went fine. There was one clever know-it-all trying to make me defend Russell Brand’s point of view, which I don’t fully share. But what was amazing was that this was a university unable to hear… I don’t think I’m known as being Right Wing; I don’t think my opinions are particularly Right Wing… I was just saying: This is what I think charity is.”

“And did they print your piece?” I asked.

“In the end,” said Trevor. “But it took me a long long time and I had to accuse… well, two of them got very angry.”

“They printed your original version?”

“Yes. Because I told them: You have to put THIS back in. Then they said: It’s too long…. I thought: Don’t tell brazen lies to me! You are telling me you have had to edit the article to make it sound the opposite of what I said because my article was too long??

“If they disagreed with your views,” I said, “all they had to do was commission someone with opposite views to write a counterbalancing article and then it would be an interesting debate.”

“This is the thing,” said Trevor. “When I went to university, it was about hearing and talking about ideas. I am 40 years old and here are young lads in theirs 20s who should be debating interesting thoughts. But they are frightened to hear my thoughts. It’s almost like being in Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

Welcome to 1984 Doublethink “The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible.” Welcome to the Big Brother House.

“The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible”… Welcome to the Big Brother House.

I said: “Whenever wankers use the phrase ‘positive discrimination’ I think Have they not read about Doublethink in Nineteen Eighty-Four? Positive discrimination is discrimination.”

Trevor said: “What I have taken away from reading Facebook in this last week about Andrew Lawrence and Dapper Laughs is that Hitler could have happened here.”

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Filed under Censorship, Charity, Politics

A few things I should have mentioned about Nuremberg – or maybe not

My eternally-un-named friend in Nuremberg

Eternally-un-named friend in Nuremberg at weekend

“I need a blog,” I told my eternally-un-named friend today.

“Oh no, no,” she said. “I’m tired. There’s a lot of things you’ve said in other blogs where I think Oh, I don’t really like the way I sound there – that’s stupid – and why do you have to use the eternally-un-named friend phrase so often?… and… I’m really tired.”

“You’re at your best when you’re tired,” I told her. “You’re on a roll; go for it.”

My eternally-un-named friend and I returned from Nuremberg yesterday. It was my first visit. She had been there in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Tell me about Dürer and the statue of the rabbit,” I suggested.

Albrecht Dürer drew a picture of a young hare in 1502. Outside Dürer’s (rebuilt) house stands or, rather, sits a modern sculpture based on his picture.

Mad hare

The hare with the myxomatosis kind of eyes

“I remembered it being like your mother’s ornament,” my eternally-un-named friend told me today. “But it wasn’t like that at all – or Dürer’s drawing. Instead it was like this crazy thing that had myxomatosis kind of eyes and had his claws on top of a human foot and had other things sticking out of it… It looked like it had had a car crash and was really rough and ghastly and spookily gross but, then, Dürer did have some pictures of odd animals with pop-eyes for some reason.

“It just disappointed me because, of course, I was getting well into hares because of their connection with the moon and them being…”

“Connection with the moon?” I asked.

“The moon,” repeated my eternally-un-named friend. “The moon goddess is represented by a hare in pagan religion when women ruled… or were, at least, equal… ehhh… the world.”

We looked at each other. We laughed.

Durer_NurnbergRuins

But you can mention the Dürer statue which survived the War

“We did have that conversation at Dürer’s house,” I reminded her, “where we were both disappointed that nothing in Dürer’s house appeared to actually be Dürer’s. Most things were copies.

“And I said to you: That’s possibly our fault, because the British bombed the place and – was it 94% or was it 97% of the town was destroyed?”

“I don’t think we need to keep mentioning things being bombed,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “I don’t think we need to keep mentioning the War. There is the Fawlty Towers joke of Don’t mention the War, but there does come a point where it all… There ARE other things.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“Dürer had a toilet built in his kitchen,” replied my eternally-un-named friend.

“I forgot to mention that in my blogs,” I admitted. “Remind me.”

“It was against city council regulations, even in those days,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “So he had to pay a fine before they would give it back to him.”

The Nuremberg Rally review stand in 1933

The Nuremberg Rally review stand in 1933

“But, getting back to the War,” I said, “you thought it was odd that I didn’t mention Rudiger playing tennis against the back wall of Hitler’s review stand at the place they held the Nazi rallies.”

“Well,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “people just used it for hitting balls against and Rudiger did when he was a teenager in the 1970s. Now you can’t do that because of it crumbling. If you had included it in your blogs, it would have showed that life had gone on. Only a few decades after this building we’ve all seen used on television as an awesome Nazi symbol of power… people were playing tennis against its side and back walls. It’s like the Ozymandias poem.

The Noremberg Rally review stand in 1993

The Nuremberg Rally review stand in 1993, already crumbling

“When we were there at the weekend, the whole of that road where they used to march in front of Hitler was being used by a family on roller skates. It was like a 1950s no-longer-used schoolyard and there was some guy in shorts just using the steps to run up and down for exercise.”

“The odd thing,” I said, “was that, when we were in the rally ground, I didn’t think of the awfulness of the Nazis or the scale of the rallies. I was thinking of the lyrics in that Stereophonics song Nice To Be Out:

Let me think now, let me see
I stood once where Hitler’s feet had stood
When he made a speech in Nuremberg in ’38

“Oh for goodness sake…” said my eternally-un-named friend.

Rudiger Schmidt - one degree of separation from car accident

Rudiger Schmidt: a man only one degree of separation from Nuremberg’s first car accident

“You didn’t mention that one of Rudiger’s first landladies was an old woman who was so old she had owned the first car in Nuremberg and, about a year after she bought her car, someone else bought the second car in Nuremberg and, a few weeks later, they crashed into each other.”

“I didn’t think it was interesting enough,” I said.

“But,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “you were interested when Rudiger mentioned that female nurses are called krankenschwester, male nurses are called krankenpfleger and ambulances are krankwagens.”

“I just like the idea of a crank wagon,” I said. “When were you last in Nuremberg?”

A knitted tree-warmer in a Nuremberg park

Knitted tree-warmer in Nuremberg park

“1993. And you didn’t mention in your blogs that the Nuremberg bratwurst sausages are small and thin – the size of a finger – because the wives of men in prison used to shove them through the keyhole. They were small enough to fit through a large keyhole… At which point in your blog, you could use the picture I took of you looking like Dr Strange-glove pointing to a very large lock which isn’t the prison. It was in the castle.”

“It might not be interesting enough,” I said. “What else did I forget to mention?”

“They have beavers in the river,” said my eternally-un-named friend.”

We looked at each other.

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Filed under Germany, Humor, Humour, Nazis

Will following in Hitler’s footsteps help me at Britain’s Big Comedy Conference?

Will this help me achieve world domination?

Will this help me in a world of comedians?

I flew to Nuremberg this morning at the godawful hour of 07.40am – at least I did if I got up in time to be at Stansted Airport at 05.40am. So, if you spot any gibberish in this blog more than normal, it is caused by me writing it at some ghastly, inhuman hour. This blog was posted when I left for the airport. I may still be there at the airport. Who knows?

Why am I going to Nuremberg?

Well, going to Nuremberg did no harm to the career of Adolph Hitler so, I figured, why not? Someone has to and I may be able to pick up a few tips for speaking at The Big Comedy Conference in London on 30th November.

I am going to be on one of the many panels there. I am not quite sure which panel, but I am keeping schtum in case they realise that I don’t know anything and I lose out on the free lunch.

The Big Comedy location - Old Sessions House

Big Comedy Conference location – Old Sessions House

The Big Comedy Conference is billed as “a day of lively talks and workshops tailored to arm aspiring stand-up comedians, producers, performers and comedy writers with the knowledge and tools to help them forge a career in the British comedy industry.”

So… much like the Nuremberg Rallies of old, it is aimed at a bunch of sociopaths who dream of world domination – though, this time through the medium of HBO, Comedy Central and BBC3 rather than Panzers, Stukas and blitzkriegs.

Look, I’ve had no sleep.

“I’ve been wanting to run a comedy conference for a number of years and this year I took a deep breath and committed to it,” the Big Comedy Conference’s führer Mark Boosey told me yesterday. He is Guide-meister at the British Comedy Guide who are organising it.

You will gather I am trying to ease myself into my Nuremberg visit.

But, then, in the Conference publicity itself – written before my trip to Nuremberg was known – it says: “John Fleming is the entertaining comedy blogmeister general and keeper of the flame of alternative comedy”.

I recognise all the names except mine.

Lots of good people… but also me

The Big Comedy Conference have got performers like Jo Brand, Al Murray and Arthur Smith lined up. Well, not LIKE them. They ARE them… As well as writers, commissioners, promoters, agents, editors, BBC heads and, indeed, anyone and everything bigger than the late Basil Brush.

The number of big names involved presumably has a lot to do with the fact that writer Dave Cohen has overseen the programming of the event and he knows everybody. In fact, he knows so many people that he has probably forgotten I am the John Fleming who, as an Associate Producer, worked with him at Noel Gay Television in the early 1990s. I suspect he has me muddled up with some other John Fleming – there are millions of the bleeders.

My full name is actually John Thomas Fleming – I was named after my two grandfathers (John McLellan and Thomas Fleming) and I swear that any alternative meaning of ‘John Thomas’ was unknown to my parents at the time I was born. They were going to call me John Tuesday Fleming because, when my father first saw me in the hospital, he said to my mother: “Let’s call it a day.”

Anyway, when I applied for a National Insurance number after leaving college, it took ages to get one because there were five – yes FIVE ! – John Thomas Flemings all born on the same day, month and year. The Social Security people thought I was the one in Newcastle trying to con a second number out of them.

John Flemings – there are millions of the bleeders…

So I suspect Dave Cohen may have muddled me up with a more worthy John Fleming who is, as a result, going to miss out on the free lunch.

Anyway…

Dave told me yesterday: “It’s great to be involved in something that really covers what it’s like for people starting up now. There are conferences and talks for performers and similar ones for writers, but this is the first time anyone has tried to put something on that gives an idea of the whole picture.”

Dave Cohen may have got confused

Dave Cohen may have got me confused

He then wisely added: “I thought it would be a lot harder than this and it is. It’s like one of those toys where you stand on one thing and something else pops up that you have to stand on. Organising the talks has been a little bit like juggling jelly with one hand tied behind your back while swimming through an oil slick – actually the novelist Anne Tyler has the best description when she talks about organising toddlers – like herding water. I’ll go with that.”

I know what it feels like. When the late Malcolm Hardee and I compiled the short story book Sit-Down Comedy – alright, Malcolm made phone calls and I had to cajole, shepherd and sometimes advise 19 stand-up comics most of whom had never written for print before – it was like, I thought, doing a plate-spinning act. You had some plates happily spinning away but then one would suddenly go wobbly or would crash to the ground.

Don’t ask for more details.

Don’t intrude on private grief.

MarkBoosey

Mark Boosey – Big Conference Führer

Mark Boosey told me yesterday: “What I really want to emphasise is that The Big Comedy Conference is not just a day where people come along to hear about how nice it is at the top and what a lovely time everyone had on set with this star or that celebrity – I’ve been to some of those kind of things before and they’re pointless. This is going to be a day about arming people with the facts, knowledge and contacts they need to further their career. The speakers are going to be briefed to keep everything relevant and useful. No waffle!”

So, like I said, they may have got me confused with another John Fleming.

Don’t tell them.

It will be our little secret.

“Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)

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Filed under Comedy, Germany, UK

Anne Frank with her clothes on proves offensive to UK comedy-going audience

Elsewhere in London...

It’s Springtime for Hitler and SE London

Sometimes it is strange what people find offensive.

Last night, my eternally-un-named friend and I went to Vivienne and Martin Soan’s monthly variety and comedy club Pull The Other One in Nunhead, South East London.

Ending the night was Frank Sanazi, the wonderful act that sounds like Frank Sinatra but looks like Hitler.

Three people walked out.

The problem was his new sidekick ‘Anne Stank’ who talked about being lonely up in the attic and sang Björk’s Ssshhhhh….It’s Oh So Quiet.

United Kingdom - London - Annie 2012

Anne and attic antics

“I don’t understand,” my eternally-un-named friend said afterwards, “why they didn’t find Frank Sanazi offensive but they did find the Anne Frank bit offensive.”

And, indeed, the three walk-outs did seem to have found Frank Sanazi’s re-versioning of Sinatra’s That’s Life as Third Reich entertaining and found the re-writing of the Strangers in the Night lyrics as Strangers On a Plane (as in the 9/11 hijacks) perfectly OK.

But Anne Frank they walked out on.

I had never seen the Anne Frank part of Frank Sanazi’s show before – his Das Vegas Night is returning to the Edinburgh Fringe this August (it got a 4-star review last year) – but ‘Anne’ told me after the show that I had blogged about her during last year’s Fringe.

“I was the one wearing a lettuce,” she told me.

“You didn’t recognise her with her clothes on,” Frank Sanazi added.

This is the reference from my blog last August:

__________________________________________________

I was walking down Niddry Street, and found comedian Bob Slayer standing in the street outside his Hive venue.

“I had to get naked in my show,” he told me. “I think it was the worst show I’ve ever done so I had to get naked. Jamie the sound guy sees my show every year and he told me: You failed on so many levels there, but it was definitely my favourite show. I had to get naked and there was a lady in the audience who turned up just wearing a lettuce.”

“Just a lettuce?” I asked.

“Just wearing a lettuce on her fanny,” said Bob.

“She had nice tits,” a female staff member added, tweaking one of Bob’s nipples. Passers-by ignored it. This is the Edinburgh Fringe.

“The lady with the lettuce was a friend of Frank Sanazis,” said Bob.

“That might go some way to explaining it,” I said.

__________________________________________________

Frank Sanazi’s Christmas show last year

Frank Sanazi’s 2012 Christmas show

The boundaries of offensiveness vary.

A girl wearing nothing but a lettuce leaf  over her frontal bits was almost normal in Edinburgh last August. But a girl with her clothes on (never referred-to as Anne Frank) in South East London last night triggered three people walking out of an always-bizarre monthly comedy show.

Personally, I thought it was slightly eerie and very funny.

But, then, I like Chinese pickled ginger with scrambled egg on toast.

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Filed under Bad taste, Comedy, Offensive

What Hermann Goering’s great-niece told me about the Holocaust this week

Hermann Goering, leader of the Nazi Luftwaffe

Hermann Goering, the Deputy Führer

This week, via Skype, I talked to Hermann Goering’s great-niece Bettina Goering in Thailand. She is writing a book.

“Hermann wasn’t really a nasty Nazi, though, was he?” I asked her. “He wasn’t identified with the Holocaust. He was simply head of the Luftwaffe. The image I have of him is an overweight man, who liked art, stamping around in rather flamboyant uniforms.”

“That’s what I thought,” replied Bettina. “That’s the image I had too, until I started digging further and it’s much more complex. The truth is that he was involved in the Holocaust too. I didn’t know that until I started the process of writing this book. He was as involved as any of them. He might have not been as gung-ho in his rhetoric about Jews. He came across as ‘the Luftwaffe guy’. But he was just as involved. I first learned that when I did a documentary called Bloodlines. He was part of the Final Solution. He co-authored it. So he was very involved. He was part of setting up concentration camps. And, when they decided to do the Final Solution, he was part of all that.”

Bettina has no children.

In the documentary Hitler’s Children, she says:

“My brother and I had the sterilisation done in order not to give life to other Goerings… I was feeling responsible for the Holocaust, even though I was born after the War, because of my family, who had an active part in it.”

“You got sterilised,” I asked her this week, “because you didn’t want to pass the genes on?”

“I think that was part of it,” she told me. “I think we had a lot of other intellectual arguments. There are enough children. We don’t want children, blah blah. I think, deep down, that was part of it too. It’s kinda complex.”

“And your relationship to Hermann Goering is…” I asked.

“He is the brother of my grandfather on my father’s side,” Bettina explained.

“You were born in the decade after he died,” I said.

Bettina Goering - currently living in Santa Fe, USA

Bettina Goering – currently living in Santa Fe, New Mexico

“Yes. The only member of that direct family that I knew who was really involved was my grandmother. My book is also largely about her and her relationship to Hermann and her relationship to the whole family. They were a very close-knit family.

“Her husband – Hermann’s older brother – died very young when she was in her 30s. She had three young boys and Hermann took care of her. I just found out she actually looked after his household at the beginning of the Nazi times – 1932/1933.”

“So,” I said, “by the time you’re really aware of anything, it’s the early 1960s, when people are making films about the Nazi era, but it’s not the immediate past…”

“There was a bit of a limbo time in Germany,” said Bettina, “when really not much was mentioned in education or films and it really came home to me when I was about 10 or 11 and documentaries were shown and that’s when I really started to see how bad it was. Before that, I knew bits and pieces, but I didn’t know what it meant, really.”

“Which obviously,” I said, “must have had an effect on you…”

“There have been different stages to it,” replied Bettina. “I came of age around the end of the 1960s and I got into this whole ‘Anti’ movement. I became left wing, hippie and tried to somehow understand this whole dilemma more and create something else.”

“That’s roughly the time of Baader-Meinhof,” I said.

Baader-Meinhof: a troubled generation

Baader-Meinhof – in a troubled generation

“Yeah. They were around and one of my friends became one of the second generation of Baader-Meinhof. I was in a left-leaning organisation but for me to use violence was totally out of the question. But some of my friends were starting… You’d be surprised how many people were sympathetic to them (the Baader-Meinhof activists), including us, for a while. There’s a good movie that came out a couple of years ago…”

The Baader Meinhof Complex?” I asked.

“Yes. That was about the time I was growing up and I think they (the Baader-Meinhof activists and supporters) were partly in reaction to the Nazis in some ways, because most of them were born during the War. All that manifested in themselves.”

“A very mixed-up generation,” I said.

“My mother only met my father after the War,” explained Bettina. “My family was the Hermann Goering family on one side, but my mother’s family were the opposite. Very different families who married each other. My grandfather on my mum’s side was an anti-Fascist. He was once arrested. It was well-known he was supporting Jewish people. He had to be really careful.

“So here I have the Fascist side and the anti-Fascist side both in my family and that made it very… crazy. This trouble within myself was always trying to work itself out.”

“So your book is going to give an inside view of a troubled family?”

“Yes. It’s the inside view and trying to find some way to… You can’t really marry those two sides together… Also I was judging them so negatively that I was judging some part of me. Do you get that? That came to a head at some point where I realised I couldn’t really live my fullest potential  because I was really judging part of me so negatively. That is something I have been striving to overcome. Exactly that. To find some forgiveness in myself – of myself. It’s like an impossible thing to do, but just in order to feel healthy, I feel like I need to do that.

“There’s a lot been written about the Nazis on a very intellectual level but my book will be maybe a more emotional way to deal with it, which is hard for the Germans to do. There’s still all this guilt, conscious or unconscious, and I write a lot about this guilt stuff. On an emotional level, it is not resolved.”

“Who do you think would like to read your book?”

“Well, anybody who has any traumas in their closets. So far, we’ve only approached one or two German literary agents. Until now, we’ve really not been that ready.

“Maybe it will be that a British publisher will publish it first and then it will, in a roundabout way, go to the Germans. We are writing it in both languages and I have been living more in English-speaking countries than I have in Germany. I lived even in England for a couple of years.”

“You are in Thailand at the moment, but you and your husband live in Santa Fe in the US?”

“Yes, but we are moving…”

“… to where?” I asked.

“We’re not sure just now. We are sort of in flux. We have a house in Santa Fe that has still not been sold. It’s gonna take some time.”

“Could you live back in Germany happily?”

“No, I don’t think so. It’s not that I don’t like Germany. We go visit a lot. But I’ve never felt drawn to live there again. I feel it’s a bit limiting.”

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Filed under Germany, Jewish, Psychology

UK comedian Martin Soan once met a strange man at Bimbotown in Germany

Martin Soan at home in London last night, his mind boggled.

Martin Soan – at home in London last night.

I had never heard of Bimbotown in Germany until British comedian Martin Soan told me about it last night. He was raving to me about the joys of Leipzig.

“It’s a genius place, John,” he told me. “It’s full of such beautiful architecture. the central nervous system for 19th and 20th century music conservatoire education, great resistance against Fascism throughout the Second World War, the Green Lung.”

“The Green Lung?” I asked.

“Hitler created it,” Martin explained. “The Saxons were building the largest navigable waterway from the south to the north. The two parts ended up 300 metres apart. Hitler came to power, hated Saxony and stopped the construction and, to this day, those two canals stand 300 metres apart. But all the land in between and around was given over to the infrastructure – warehousing and goods yards, train systems – and it all turned into ruins in the Second World War. When they came out of it, it just grew up as a park.

“So now, in Leipzig, wherever you go, you go through glorious countryside. And Bimbotown’s there.”

“Bimbo Town?”

“Bimbotown,” Martin confirmed. “Probably the world’s greatest semi-automata-automated-automaton of a club. It’s genius. Run by Jim Whiting.”

“Ah,” I said, “I met him in London in about 1986, I was looking for people to be on Game For a Laugh and went to his first floor flat in Archway Road and, going up the stairs, I think there were moving robotic things on the walls and, in his flat, I think there were things moving on the walls and a mechanical man sitting on the sofa.”

There is a clip of his 1986 flat and work on YouTube.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Jim Whiting’s in Leipzig now. Plus there’s this other art guy called Henrik Håkansson who has ensured that the Turner Prize winner gets exhibited second in Leipzig: so it’s now shown in London, then Leipzig, then New York.

“Leipzig’s becoming a hugely important cultural place. I’ve not been for a few years and I’m slightly worried that the romantic, slightly-decaying, forgotten East German aspect which is Saxon – they consider themselves completely different from West Germany obviously – might disappear.”

“And Jim Whiting?” I prompted.

“Genius artist,” said Martin, “dealing in welding, machinery and anything to do with the finer aspects of engineering. He does beauty on an industrial scale, but he’s also a fine engineer on a tiny scale too. Wide vision.”

“So what’s Bimbotown?”

“It’s a concept he came up with. It’s a club with music, bands, comedians. But incorporated into his club are things like…

“You sit down at huge, sweeping unusual-looking bars and stools are installed which are bolted to the ground and they have tractor-like seats. Very comfortable. They incorporate your bum. So you’re sitting on one of these and suddenly – WHOOSH! – your seat zooms upwards and you’re sitting up in the air on this seat and everyone’s laughing.

“Another thing was when I was standing at the bar and everyone had pints of beer. I looked along the bar and everyone simultaneously grabbed their drinks and took them off the bar. I thought What’s that about? and suddenly my glass was just – WHOOSHKKK – knocked over… There was a wire above the huge, sweeping bar which had six East German greatcoats moving round the whole club forever and ever and ever so, when people at the bar saw the next greatcoat coming, they just lifted their glasses off the bar.

“In one part of the club, you’ll be sitting down on chairs over here with a live band over there and suddenly everyone goes WHOOOOAAA! and the whole area with the chairs is on a false floor and suddenly you are sitting there on the chairs moving round the club.

“There was actually one bed ride where you got on these East German beds and it took off and you went round art instalations. Absolutely amazing.

“The people who push the buttons to make all this happen are just ordinary people sitting on armchairs with a table in front of them with BUTTON A, B, C, D. It takes them a while to work out what the buttons do. So they press this – What’s this? – There’s nothing happening! – But, when they press one button, a bar stool is rising with someone sitting on it – rising up into the air. Absolute genius! Loads of stuff.”

“Did you perform there?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Three times.

“I met this guy in the club, an old guy – and he had a shopping trolley. He had his whole life in this shopping trolley. He had books and all the significant things in his life. He had a hat on his head, was wearing sunglasses, had a huge beard, a greatcoat, was hunched over this shopping trolley. And people were coming up to him and talking to him; some people were slightly abusive to him, trying to make him react. But he didn’t do anything. He just listened to them for a while, then just moved off. He went through the whole place like that. Enormous club.

“In the end, I actually went up to him and said: Man, you’re doing a fucking genius job. I’ve been watching you for about twenty minutes. I’m stoned, I’m drunk but – I tell you what – that doesn’t take away from my keenness and observation. You are a fucking performance genius.

“He just listened to me and moved off.

“But, as he moved off, there was the flash of a strobe light – because there were lights all over the club flashing and strobing – and I saw he had no legs.

“It was just an automaton machine going round the club. It took me in. It convinced me. I was drunk and stoned and the lights were flashing and the music was great and I thought it was real. I thought he was real. But it was a machine.”

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Filed under Comedy, Germany, Humor, Humour, Puppets, Robotics

North Korea – Walter Mitty truth in an anarchic, pedestrian totalitarian state

The throbbing industrial heart of the mineral water plant

It is ironic that one of the most controlled states in the world is so anarchic.

Every day on our continuing guided – or should that be guarded? – tour of the the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we are told: “The itinerary has changed.”

It is in the countryside that you realise just how disorganised things are in North Korea.

An ox pulling a medieval plough is a rarity – possibly even a luxury. People sit using their hands on the soil. A tractor is as rare as a raindrop in the Sahara. Not unknown but still visually shocking.

In the cities, cars are a rarity. Even in the capital city of Pyongyang, where there is some traffic, vehicles do not exactly jam; they drip.

When one of our two ever-present guides realised I had been in North Korea before – in 1986 – she said: “You must see a lot of changes.”

I smiled and nodded a lie.

There seems virtually no change in 26 years. The monuments have got bigger. That’s about it.

When I was in China in 1984, people used to bicycle to get around. In North Korea in 2012, they still mostly walk. In the countryside. In the cities.

This is a very pedestrian totalitarian state.

Today, we got taken to a mineral water bottling plant to see the awe-inspiring strides North Korea has taken under the glorious guidance of its three great Leaders: father son and holy grandson.

The mineral water bottling plant, like so much else in North Korea, had a stylish look to it, but was not working. We were told the workers were “rehearsing for the celebrations tomorrow” of the late Great Leader Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday.

Plausible if odd, given that our two official state tour guides had organised the trip and, in the coach, had told us what we would see happening inside the bustling bottling plant.

Someone in our group had been before to the same mineral water bottling plant – a couple of years ago. It was closed then too. Back then, the story was that it was closed “for maintainance”. No visible maintenance had been happening. It was – and still is – the Marie Celeste of mineral water bottling plants.

Today, the gleaming, suspiciously clean machines looked un-used. We were told by the manager of the mineral water bottling plant that, each day, they produce 400 tons of health-giving mineral water – 10,000 bottles per day. Quick mental arithmetic makes me realise this mean that 25 bottles must weigh one ton. This seems somewhat unlikely. Perhaps they are manufacturing health-giving mineral heavy water for health-giving mineral nuclear bombs.

The manager tells us the factory’s water is exported to 1,000 different countries around the world.

Opinion varies on how many countries there currently are in the world. But it seems to be accepted to be between 89 and 196 countries. (What, for example, of Palestine or Taiwan or, indeed, Scotland?)

So, of these 196 countries, North Korea sells its health-giving mineral water to 1,000 of them?

Welcome to North Korean reality.

Perhaps many of the countries are not of this Earth. I could believe that.

If modern-day Beijing has a touch of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis about it, North Korea has the touch of a paranoid Walter Mitty about it. In that very real sense, nothing has changed since I was last here in 1986.

One of the most frightening parts of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is when the hero Winston Smith is being tortured and is told that it is not good enough for him  to say he loves Big Brother; it is not good enough for him to say 2+2=5.

If Big Brother tells him 2+2=5 then he must truly believe that 2+2=5. He must know without doubt that the truth is that 2+2 really does equal 5.

In North Korea, people have no access to outside information sources. The trick is to ban the personal ownership of radios. The people have no access to foreign TV, no access to foreign publications or news sources, no access to radio except state-owned radio sets broadcasting the state radio channel. From cradle to grave, the truth they know is what the state tells them.

I do not know that Adolf Hitler existed. I only ‘know’ because I have been told in books and have seen him speak  in old footage used in TV documentaries. But I do not from personal first-hand experience ‘know’ that he existed.

In 1986, the North Koreans showed us (its foreign visitors) a documentary film explaining how the Korean War started. As we saw in the film, the United States’ pet dogs the South Koreans wantonly attacked North Korea without warning. The valiant North Koreans fought back and pushed the South Koreans and the imperialist Americans back to the sea and the Americans begged for peace. The Americans did not push the North Korean forces back significantly; the Chinese did not enter the War and push the US/UN troops back.

In 1986, grandfathers and grandmothers would have been alive who remembered American troops passing northwards through their towns and villages; they would also have remembered Chinese troops passing southwards through those same towns and villages.

But, presumably, they could not tell their grandchildren that.

Because it never happened.

Their grandchildren ‘knew‘ from books and photos and captions and documentaries and museum trips what had actually happened in ‘reality’.

If their grandparents told them anything else, it could only be based on American imperialist fabrications. The only right thing to do, I presume, would have been to report them to the police.

Historical reality is what you are shown to have existed.

I know the aliens were defeated by an Apple computer because I have seen filmed evidence in Independence Day.

Pictures do not lie.

… CONTINUED HERE …

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Filed under China, History, North Korea, Politics, PR, Psychology