Ich habe lange überlegt, ob ich etwas zu diesem Tag und diesen Taten sagen will, sagen kann. Den ganzen Tag über fehlten…

Posted by Daniel Bröckerhoff on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

I’ve thought a long time about whether I want to say, can say, something about this day and these actions. All day, I was at a loss for words. But then they came after all.

The problem is not religion,
but rather what people make of it.
Every ideology can be abused.
The problem is not the refugees,
but rather what they are fleeing
and why their escape routes are being abused.
Every person has the right
to a secure life.
The problem is not the media,
but rather how we use it.
We can all decide
to pull away
and not let it make us crazy.
The problem is not “the others,”
but rather social systems,
which make people into “others”
and shut them out.
We all want to feel like we belong.
Power-brokers in the background,
who radicalize such people without hesitation
for their goals,
so that they become murderers,
are the problem.
Because every person is born
wishing to live in peace.
Fear of one another,
which these killings are supposed to trigger,
is the problem.
But we can all decide,
not to be afraid.
I am not afraid.


I’m in the habit of referring to the pop singer Judith Holofernes as a Heldin (heroine). I don’t mean it literally–most of the time–but it’s actually a pretty accurate description. As the lead singer and songwriter of the chart-topping group Wir sind Helden (We are Heroes), she served in exactly that capacity for tens of thousands of Germans for well over a decade. Even after the group went on hiatus, in 2012, Judith continued to share her frank opinions about music, politics, “culture jamming,” and much more on her Facebook page and her blog. (And more recently on Twitter: follow @jholofernes.)

Judith is a Buddhist. She would never proselytize, but she does believe that a tenet of Buddhism applies directly to the current refugee crisis. She wrote about it in a brief post on her blog the other day. Although I’ve translated some of her material as a paid contractor, I wanted to share this strictly as a volunteer. (I guess you can call me an honorary #bloggerfuerfluechtlinge–once you’ve figured out how to pronounce that!)

(REFUGEES WELCOME, the Buddha says)

The Vow of the Bodhisattva is a text of Buddhist protection–a text that is meant to provide a shelter and foothold in difficult times. Its poetry has deep meaning for me–it has put me and my writing in touch, time and time again, with what is really important to me. I believe that it can be a source of strength completely outside the practice of Buddhism–so I’ve wanted to share it with you for a long time, even though I would otherwise try to be very restrained with “Buddhist propaganda.”

Always, when something happening somewhere in the world shocks me, this text comes to mind, and helps me not to lose hope in the world. So, too, as I saw the pictures of the refugee boats, the despair, the weariness–and the fear and denial of those in safe harbors who tried, in panic, to pull up the rope ladders and blow up the piers.

How lucky you feel, when you can be a harbor, a boat, a raft, a bridge, a protector for all who need protection! A blessing that the petty, the envious, the angry–and the fearful–deny themselves. And how precisely this text puts into words what can be our challenge and our gift to ourselves. And now, to the extent that I’m permitted to be a #bloggerfuerfluechtlinge (blogger for refugees), I think there’s nothing better and more heartfelt that I could say on the matter.

The Vow of the Boddhisattva

May I be a guard for those who are protectorless,
A guide for those who journey on the road;
For those who wish to go across the water,
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

May I be an isle for those who yearn for landfall,
And a lamp for those who long for light;
For those who need a resting place, a bed,
For all who need a servant, may I be a slave.

May I be the wishing jewel, the vase of plenty,
A word of power, and the supreme remedy.
May I be the trees of miracles,
And for every being, the abundant cow.

Like the great earth and the other elements,
Enduring as the sky itself endures,
For the boundless multitude of living beings,
May I be the ground and vessel of their life.

Thus, for every single thing that lives,
In number like the boundless reaches of the sky,
May I be their sustenance and nourishment
Until they pass beyond the bounds of suffering

A song in a foreign language always feels an arm’s length away, somehow. If you plan to sing it yourself, you first have to study the technical things like pronunciation and phrasing. And at some point, hopefully, you look at the literal translation. Perhaps you even commit it all to memory, and congratulate yourself for doing so: it is now part of you, as close as your most intimate thought. You want to share it, so you invite your friends and relatives to come hundreds of miles to your performance, where someone hands them a piece of paper and says, “Take this translation, so you’ll know what the song is about.” And there it is again–at arm’s length.

Although many German singers are skilled interpreters of texts in foreign languages (especially English), I’m not sure if that’s true for Berlin-based artist Dota Kehr. When I first heard the song “Grenzen”–whose text she shared with her fans back in January–I got the sense that, for her, there are no arm’s-length experiences.


Who is inside, who is outside?
I’m drawing a line. You’re not allowed past.
It’s where air meets air,
it’s where land meets land,
it’s where skin meets lead.

Where’s the top, where the bottom?
Who could, who would change that?
What happens in nations
at their margins?

There are Frontex and push-backs,
fences, weapons, refugee management conferences.
The Mediterranean becomes a mass grave.
There are boundaries.

They lead to nationalism with its
crazy consequences,
People are disenfranchised just because of where they came from.
There are boundaries.

Could you please give an answer
that’s reasonably correct:
What could possibly be the heart of the problem?
There are boundaries.

I’m checking out, give me a passport
that says “Earth-dweller” inside.
Simply “Earth-dweller.”
Tell me, please, how you get there.
I’m checking out, I’m signing up,
it just can’t be that difficult.
Just write Earth-dweller inside.

We draw a boundary in Heaven,
one god is here and one is there.
Then they shake their fists at each other
In eternity and so forth.

Because there must be something better,
no godly messenger brings peace.
We’ve tried it for a few thousand years with boundaries,
it left a great many dead.

Call me naive, it’s all the same to me,
but I find it’s enough.
I’m looking for the country, in which everyone
is equal in non-citizenship.

I’m checking out, give me a passport
that says “Earth-dweller” inside.
Simply “Earth-dweller.”
Tell me, please, how you get there.
I’m checking out, I’m signing up,
it just can’t be that difficult.
Just write Earth-dweller inside.

I close the door and enjoy the silence,
I mark myself off, it has to be.
We all have our boundaries, which encircle us,
they surround us protectively.

Every encroachment, every strike
violates a human right.
Why are the nations’ boundaries defended so well,
and the people’s boundaries so poorly?

They need to run not between countries,
but rather between people.
They should be made not of barbed wire,
but rather of respect.

-Dota Kehr 2015

itsyour.life on Time

Posted: May 24, 2015 in Time Management
Tags: , , , ,

The closest I ever came to creating my own blog, rather than a blog of translations of other people’s work, was a three- or four-page essay. That’s slim, I know, at least in terms of quantity. But oh, the effort! My wife witnessed it all, humoring me through every fussy revision over a period of months, and finally–after hearing nothing about it for a while–printing the unfinished draft and filing it away just so it wouldn’t be lost. I’m not sure if I’ll ever follow through on that piece. If I do, don’t look for it here. (It’s already in English, or my nearest approximation thereof, so there’s nothing to translate.)

The subject that vexed me so was the troublesome relationship between time and money. It seems like fodder for an army of bloggers, at least to me. But leave it to an indefatigable philosopher like Sandra (itsyour.life) to distill the matter down to a few salient points–without, I’m sure, ever troubling her spouse…

Time is Money is Time

A long time ago I was about to do a big assignment. Bigger and more complex than any project I had done on my own before. And a wise man with a great deal of experience advised me:

“Replace time with money!”

What he meant: Systematically apply money, in order to save time. Consider which tools you frequently need, and buy those so that you can always use them without losing time. Determine which ancillary tasks someone else can do better and more quickly than you, especially when the assignment comes up only once, and pay a professional, to save time. So waste no time trying to save a few cents somewhere, but rather concentrate your energy and your time on the important tasks.

The wise man was right, and I pass his advice along here gladly and with complete conviction.

But when do we put it into effect?

Time is money: this premise rules our society. But our behavior follows the equation only in one direction. Namely, in the one that maximizes money. It’s the same, no matter whether we’re squeezing five more to-dos in our multitasking list, optimizing our habits and piling our mini-habits into little stacks, which then become “morning” and “anytime” routines (always in the service of efficiency), or driving out of our way–either to find the cheaper gas station, or to borrow a book from the library, spending an hour in the process, instead of buying it (secondhand): we deploy time to optimize money.

So it’s bad to lose time, if money is lost in the process.

When do we use money to gain time? Constantly, it seems, at first: We buy precooked meals and grab coffee in the shop to go, stuff our smart phones full of efficiency apps, take the shirts to the cleaners and book the vacation in a package. Who really has time to do all that themselves?

So everything is nice and clear? Time is money is time, and we conduct ourselves as proper homini oeconomici?

Clear yes, nice no: We’re still optimizing ourselves in only one direction: More. More money, so time gets more scarce. So it becomes more expensive, and must therefore be spared. That happens only with further expenditure of money. And so on.

This spiral staircase is the reason for the general belief that free time costs money, and that more free time costs more money. Because when we give up the bulk of our time to earn money (or save it; if your sense of austerity is nitpicky enough, you can trade in a miraculous number of hours for pennies), then the rare free time will mostly be used up. We wouldn’t dream of just doing nothing, or even growing bored, in our free time! What a waste–time is still money! So head out to the safari park, or to the video game console, or at least onto the Internet! Soon we’ll be back at work, so let’s get as much out of our free time as we can, no matter what the cost! We’ve already run up one floor on the spiral staircase, gone once in a circle, and are looking in the same direction as before. And sorry, what awaits us up there is not the next level. All that’s up there is just the end. That’s life.

But we can also do something different. Money is time, and most stairways go in both directions. So we’re going downstairs for once! If we invest less money in our free time, we don’t have to earn as much money. And we begin to accrue free time, which we can sensibly fill up with activities that not only don’t require money, but actually save it–or even bring some in: cooking at home, taking coffee along in the thermos instead of sacrificing six dollars at Starbucks, learning to repair or build something (whether it’s a bike or a homepage). Or simply doing what we please, without spending a fortune.

The whole thing, unfortunately, is more complicated and multilayered. And we, unfortunately, are for the most part not completely flexible in how we earn and spend time and money. Who can really cut back from 34 to 24 hours of work for just a 9.5% cut in pay?

But it’s worthwhile to look closely, again and again, and to ask for what, exactly, we are exchanging our money and our time. Sometimes it is simply useless. Like when practically all of the mother’s part-time income goes to childcare and commuting expenses, or the vacation is so tightly regimented with events, that the first thing we need afterward is a day off.

Time is money–we can exchange one for the other. At the same time, there are two things we can’t forget:

First: Our time is finite. When we exchange money for time, we win.

Second: Time doesn’t multiply or become more valuable just because we put more money into it. Often, that just makes it more scarce!


German journalist Daniel Bröckerhoff, stunned over the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices, posted his initial thoughts:

Attacks happen every day in the world. Iraq, Afghanistan, yesterday Istanbul, today Yemen. Always far enough away, that you can think: “That has nothing to do with us.” And then our little world suddenly collapses and we stare at the screen in shock. 

I don’t understand people who do such things. I’ll never understand. I don’t want to understand.

And even if it sounds trite: I’m shocked and paralyzed. The attackers have achieved their goal, at least in that sense.

I’m completely at a loss as to what you can do against these people. Violence begets violence begets violence. An endless spiral.

Can you stay peaceful and cool-headed, when others are trying to attain their objectives through violence? This question is the genesis of many lessons, sacred and secular. Yet so often utopian.

This attack comes at the worst time. In Germany, we have demonstrations by PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West). In France, Houellebeqc publishes a book that plays on fears of Islam. In Syria and Iraq, an “Islamic State” takes charge.

The rifts grow deeper. Are made deeper. What sticks with me right now: to hope and plead, that we don’t allow ourselves to be split. Because that is what such attacks are meant to do. But a hand can reach over every rift.

Felix Janosa‘s German fans can sum him up in one word: Kabarettist. That translates as “cabaret artist.”  But he’s so much more than that! As the musical half of the team behind the RITTER ROST children’s book/CD series, Janosa has written the music and lyrics for dozens of songs–which are thoughtfully printed right alongside the text and drawings.  (Jörg Hilbert creates the drawings and storylines.)  When Felix Janosa isn’t writing music for children, he’s often listening to music for adults.  He recently described a rather disappointing concert experience on his Facebook page:

(posted 7/5/14)

Yesterday evening something was out of whack.  Namely, Keith Jarrett at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, where my dear wife and I were in the audience of a sold-out house.  After the customary admonitions about coughing that we’ve come to expect from Jarrett, and a total of six complete improvisations as well as two interrupted ones in the first half, the second half began in  markedly elevated fashion:  a Shostakovich-ian toccata, followed by a convincing Jarrett gospel number, and then a very beautiful ballade.  But during the fourth piece (a standard Jarrett-ostinato), when Jarrett again felt he had been distracted by a VERY small cough, he left the hall in a snit after some back and forth with fans and “disruptors.”  Even ten minutes of sustained clapping could not convince the shrinking violet to bring the concert to a fitting conclusion.  The master then came out again, but only to say to the disappointed fans, “I have no more music in me.”  Jarrett departed to the accompaniment of catcalls and real disappointment from many hardcore Jarrett-fans, my humble self included.


The Cask

Posted: June 28, 2014 in Free Trade, Theater

Uta Köbernick

Uta Köbernick fits the classic “singer/songwriter” mold, but it really wouldn’t be fair to limit her to that.  After singing for six years with the Berlin Radio Children’s Choir, and later earning an undergraduate degree at the Liszt School of Music in Weimar, the Berlin-born musician took a detour into theater.  She earned a master’s at the Zurich University of the Arts in 2004, and was hired by the Berliner Ensemble shortly after that. She then returned to Switzerland–where she developed her one-woman show “Sonnenscheinwelt.” A friend on Facebook recently shared the text of a speech that Uta Köbernick gave at an awards ceremony in Switzerland. (There’s even a video of the performance.)  Like all the best polemics, it falls somewhere between poetry and prose:

I’m tapping a cask.
Wine into water!  Cheers.

2013 was the Year of Water–and a lot was going on.
A European citizens’ initiative against the privatization of water was successful!  My goodness.

Raise the water glass–down with the communal hangover!
In this spasm of sobriety I’m asking you–and I expect no answer:
What pushes us forward?  What advances us?

It is thirst.  Yes, thirst!
You have to quench it.
We thirst for much.  That is good.
But I don’t want to confuse thirst with greed.  You can be greedy for a great deal, but that is something different.

… OK,
maybe you can greedily drink water, when you’re very thirsty.
But you can’t
drink out of greed.
That doesn’t work.

But what does work,
is to fill bottles with water and then sell them at high prices to the thirsty.
That works.
Besides that, you’ve got to buy up
very cheap water sources
ahead of time elsewhere
or in South Africa and thus deprive the natives access to their water.  Then they’ll only drink contaminated water, and get sick or die.  Especially the children.
That, naturally,
doesn’t work at all–I don’t want anything to do with such sad things, either… and don’t want to nestle any names in here.
It was just an example.  Of greed.

Not to be confused with thirst!
We thirst.
For love, for knowledge, for stories.
Thus we have television, counselors, and porn. –But that’s not water, but rather cola, Rivella, or booze.
Now I got nothin’ against booze.
You need booze sometimes, when the thirst for knowledge or the thirst for love leads to bitter realizations.
Then you have to drink one over this very thirst, sometimes.
And there are actually many reasons to drink one over thirst.

For example:  The Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement.

Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement.
That sounds good.  It sounds legitimate.  It sounds like stimulating the economy.
It sounds like:  “You don’t have to understand it, the main thing is things are looking up”

And that’s what’s happening, things are looking up, I feel it, everything’s looking up.  I notice, along the way, that I slowly lose steam.

This feeling:  all conspiracy theories are now being put into effect!

The negotiations have been going on since July.  And are just as transparent as raw sewage.
What’s known is that the wheeling and dealing goes on in secret.

And the dealing over free trade there is very free- very very freewheeling.
With a freedom that is generally to be defined through loss of control.
This freedom will
bring a great deal of relief,
or so they say.
“Freedom is always the freedom of those who think differently,”
said Rosa Luxemburg.
Good, they were free enough
to murder her.

But why would you think d i f f e r e n t l y when you’ve just c o m p l e t e l y freed yourself from thinking?
We know how often thought gets in the way of deals.
Only when the dealing is freed from thinking, is true free-trading possible.

Genetically-modified corn, hormone-laced meat, chickens soaked in chlorine, cloned meat–those are the kinds of words that shock our reason, and it would like to be left in peace.

Stuart Eizenstat, former U.S. Ambassador to the EU, also campaigns for more trust
from consumers in Europe,
he says:  “What’s good food for an American family should also be good food for Europeans.”

Er, yes.  And what’s good food for a west African family in Niger should also be good food for Mr. Eizenstat.
No.  Little joke.  This deal doesn’t apply to developing countries.
They’re only affected by it.

Dear Free Secret Dealers !
Something has begun to leak out of you.
And what’s leaking out is so unappetizing, that one would have to assume
there’s an actual sump pump in your back room.
And a sump pump contains
the results of relief!
Rotting excrement, um, dung–
just that, yes–a lump, released from the human body, which produces it suddenly, with pressure–

So, real shit.  One doesn’t say shit?  Fine, then I’ll say:  investor protection clauses.
I would prefer not to have such a phrase on my lips.
But I’ll make an exception, and say again:
investor protection clauses.
(I just need a swig of water now as a chaser, or–even better–schnapps, which disinfects)
Such clauses go as follows:
If an investor makes too little in a country, because it’s hampered by the laws of that country from doing irresponsible things, the investor can sue the government of that country.
And the government has to pay damages.  With what?  With taxpayers’ money.  Or it has to relax the laws.  And then the citizens get inferior, harmful products.
Unlabeled and totally legal.

I’ll spin this out a little further.  And I’m exaggerating disproportionately–but you have to do that, when things are out of proportion:

If we can quench our thirst at a well, without fear.  If good drinking water flows from the pipe–that clearly reduces sales of bottled water.
That is:  some corporation will earn less.
Must it then be compensated?
Or would a government in the long run be forced to weaken the high legal standards controlling its water supply?

And everything that I’m telling you here–
Are these now dry facts, or just the watering-down of reality?

The question is not whether I’ve tapped a cask,
but rather which drop will trigger an overflow.

Good day,
Uta Köbernick