Saturday 19 January 2013

Luther, the Greek Resistance, and Tomato Sauce

Erfurt under the Weight of History

I am used to being surrounded by history. In England I live ten minutes away from the Burford churchyard where Oliver Cromwell had the Levellers executed in 1649. I actually attended church there until the curate told me atheists weren’t welcome.  Until  recently, I also drove on my way to work past Runnymede, where King John signed the momentous Great Charter of Liberties in 1215.

 Luther thinks up some Articles
But a week based in Erfurt has left me feeling that I have been hit over the head by the entire history not just of Europe but of the world.

I live on the street featuring the oldest synagogue in central Europe (c. 1100). I am attached to the same university and indeed the same Faculty where Martin Luther became a radical Protestant and took his Masters.  Max Weber, who (with Marx and Durkheim) invented sociology, and without whom we would not understand ancient slavery, was born up the road in 1864.

Nikos Beloyannis
20th-century Erfurt got nasty. It was here that the incineration furnaces for Auschwitz and other death camps were made by a local engineering company. After WW II, Erfurt, as part of East Germany, was handed over to the Soviet Union. But the oven company (now dissolved)  was improbably renamed Maschinenfabrik Nikos Beloyannis in honour of a famous Greek resistance fighter and Communist who had escaped a concentration camp. The name change only lasted three years. I imagine the Erfurtians struggled to pronounce it.

23 years after reunification, the DDR still haunts the city. People over forty don’t smile back at well-meaning foreigners (or at least not at me). Signs asking you to shake the snow off your boots before entering premises ! or leave the toilet clean ! have that bossy old German Democratic Republic exclamation mark after them!  In corners of one supermarket I found some mysterious containers for sale marked ‘DDR Tomaten-Sosse!’.  

Just imagine! There was a communist condiment so beloved that people still crave it under free market capitalism! Since the said new economic wonder-system can’t even cope with the local demand for Heinz Baked Beans, of which the father-of-my-children scoffed the very last remaining central German tin today, my DDR-sauce is about to come in handy. 

After acquiring sufficient Deutsch courage in the local ale house, I am about to try it, crowning the only pig-free sausage I have located since arriving in Germany.

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