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Benerkenswert July 2022
Summer, surfing, and Sommerliebe
Welcome to the July edition of Benerkenswert!
As always, you can also head over to my website to find this issue in all its glory.
Time in Taiwan: Sacrifices to the sun god
The main story of July is… summer? I don’t want to be too cliché and talk about the weather, but—as every European now knows—there is only so little you want to do when it’s 37 degrees outside day after day. Yet, even though temperatures are rising in Taiwan just as everywhere, it *is* a subtropical country, which means not only that the heat is soaking and choking, but also that ACs are ubiquitous and plants still lush and green.
Heat and humidity mean that you essentially run into a wall of hot wetness whenever you leave your home. (Tropical greenhouses you find in botanical gardens are called tropical not without reason.) The fact that we still have to wear masks everywhere that transform into a soaking sponge within seconds doesn't make it more comfortable. The only solution is thus to stay inside and sort any activities (apart from drinking bubble tea and shopping) into the early morning and later evening hours. Yet, if you expect Taiwan's summers to be like vacation in Spain, you'll be dead dead wrong.
The heat during the day makes the fresh morning hours even more precious. Parks are usually packen, especially by tough older folks, practicing Qi Gong, taking short hikes up and down the hills, or just gossiping with friends. The communal spirit is heartwarming, and whenever I force myself out early for a run, I am rewarded by gentle smiles and short bursts of broken-English-conversations. Most working people seem to not cherish the mornings as much, though, sloughing to work similar to their European peers, clinging to their coffees, teas, and smartphones. Shops and public places too do usually not open before 10am or even 11am. It is hence not clear whether the early rising speaks to the wisdom of the old, the possibility of a proper, undisturbed after-lunch-nap, or just "seniler Bettflucht" (to quote my uncle).
Evenings are the other part of the day where the outsides become tolerable again - or rather: actually nice. The sun sets around 7pm, and even though the "golden hour" lasts only a few minutes, it becomes quite mild at around 6pm. Yet, most parts of the city are not build to cherish these hours, the streets often too broad and empty in the newer parts to allow for comfortable wining and dining, too narrow and cramped in the older parts.
Especially during the week, Berlin's "let's meet at 8pm and go to three different places"-approach or even Spain's "let's put tables everywhere and get buckets of sangria" mostly seem nonexistent. While the commercial area close-by hosts a stage that features older expat-cover-bands just as teenage-tiktok-dancegroups, its audience is mostly shoppers stoping for a quick photo with their smartphone. Many public places close between 6pm and 8pm and even restaurants—very very few of which offer outdoor tables—close between 8pm and 9pm, even ordering food after 8pm can be tedious. Only night markets are open a bit longer, but even those tend to be rather easy-going rather than ecstatic during the week. The mix of open air music sessions, wining, and even dancing I cherished so much at Berlin's Bode Museum is unfortunately mostly missing.
This changes a bit during the weekend, thanks to recent developments. Taipei started to invest in a couple of "creative parks" all over the city in the last decade—refurbished old industry or military places featuring interesting architecture with many original materials, open spaces for pedestrians, green parks, and a posh hipster atmosphere meeting the cosmopolitan zeitgeist. At weekends, these parks often offer a welcomed distraction for the spoiled European traveler—stages, some snacks, cheesy teeny-songwriters, yearning couples, and even a few cocktails.
Overall, Taiwan lacks the joyous exuberance of public life in Europe's summer, and I am fascinated by these differences, especially as most flats are too small to host visitors and I thus expected public life to make up for private gatherings. There are many possible reasons of course. First, Taiwan lacks the European seasons, the dark, cloudy, cold, grey, uncomfortable mess that are the five months around New Years Eve in northern Europe. Then, people have different preferences and maybe just don't enjoy outdoor-places as much as I do. (Mosquitos might play a role, here... traditional restaurants and the food courts in malls seem quite packed, and they often bleed the crowd into the streets where young street artists present their skills and online channels.) There are probably also historical cultural-economic reasons, having to do with low wages, long work hours, and the overall rarity of holidays and free time, even though these are often descriptions rather than explanations of what is happening. And then there is the fact that Europe is just packed with tourists that you cannot tell from the locals, while Taiwan is still closed due to Covid. Still... I would enjoy a bit of jazz and a glass of cold white wine with friends in the evening! And I am really happy about the joyful atmosphere they started to create at the creative parks, even if it feels very "event-y" compared to Berlin's Admiralsbrücke, Hamburg's Ovelgönne or Münster's Aasee.
Up and down the hills
All that being said, our days don't deviate from the local patterns too much to be honest. We experimented with getting up *really* early last year, but I struggle to quiet my mind early enough these months. During the week, we are often happy to get some quiet and relaxing hours in the evening before the next workday starts, mostly staying in our *Kiez*, meeting friends mostly at the weekends or for a rather early dinners. Weekends are a different story, though. Here, the lush green hillsides surrounding Taipei invite for an early hike before the sun shows her full strength. It doesn't take more than 30 minutes from most places in Taipei to reach forests dense enough to hide the city, their old temples, lianas, and various crouching wildlife embracing the visitor with a hint of wilderness, making the hikes a lot of fun.
The greatest experience—excursion-wise—was a day-trip to Waiao beach at Taiwan's east coast, where I did my first wave surfing. This one was so much fun, it got a whole photo-essay, so please head over if you are curious!
Book: Egon Friedell, Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit (★★★★★, A Cultural History of the Modern Age)
Egon Friedell was an Austrian Journalist, Writer, and Philosopher, living around the turn of the 19th century. Like that of many poets, his life path bent and twisted around his unique temperament more than other people's expectations. He paused his early education, changed religions, inherited a flat in Vienna that allowed him to focus on his writing and art, received a late doctorate in philosophy, and hustled through life with all kinds of artistic passions and projects. "The worst prejudice we take with us from our youth is the idea of the seriousness of life," he wrote in an essay in 1905 with 27. Thus, it does not surprise that his main work, the *Kulturgeschichte*, oozes with smart wit, shifting into kind mockery for everyone who took himself too serious. (It is a testimonial to his time that he mostly wrote about men.)
The *Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit* is Friedell's main work, capturing him for the better part of his last 15-or-so years. It is a wild ride through European history from the Black Death in 1348 until World War I, playing homage to many of the geniuses, kings, and lost souls of what he calls the *Neuzeit*, the pre-modern and early modern age. Not claiming scientific rigour, his grand arcs and joyous linkages might speak truer about a time that still had to invent science than many of his more careful colleagues' works did. His story is not one of interventions, technologies, and political campaigns, but of humanity, its confusion, disarray, and madness, its art, stories, and believes. And it is with this freedom and witty candour that he eloquently paints his pointed pictures.
(Head over to deepl for a translation.)
Wie es um die Kirche stand, haben wir bereits mehrfach angedeutet. Eine wilde Verachtung des Klerus ist die Signatur des Zeitalters. Bei allen erdenklichen Anlässen wird die Roheit und Unwissenheit, die Schwelgerei und Unzucht, die Habsucht und Trägheit der Geistlichen gerügt. Sie spielen, trinken, jagen, denken nur an ihren Bauch, laufen jedem Weiberrock nach: besonders in Italien ist Pfaffe und Cicisbeo fast gleichbedeutend. Zahlreiche öffentliche Äußerungen, stehende Redensarten und Sprichwörter spiegeln die landläufige Auffassung, die man diesem Stande entgegenbrachte. Allgemein war man der Ansicht, ein Bischof könne nicht in den Himmel kommen; eine besonders reichliche und üppige Mahlzeit nannte man ein Prälatenessen; vom Zölibat sagte man, es unterscheide sich von der Ehe dadurch, daß der Laie ein Weib habe, der Geistliche aber zehn; »solange der Bauer Weiber hat, braucht der Pfaffe nicht zu heiraten«; »ich kreuzige mein Fleisch, sagte der Mönch, da legte er Schinken und Wildbret kreuzweis übers Butterbrot«. Konkubinen waren beim größten Teil der Kleriker eine Selbstverständlichkeit: man nannte sie, weil sie das ständige Zubehör der Seelenhirten bildeten, »Seelenkühe«; übrigens erklärte selbst eine theologische Autorität wie der Kanzler Gerson, das Gelübde der Keuschheit bedeute nur den Verzicht auf die Ehe; und wenn man jemandem besondere Ausschweifung vorwerfen wollte, so sagte man: er hurt wie ein Karmeliter. Daß Pfaffen Schenken besuchten, zum Tanz aufspielten, Zoten zum besten gaben, war etwas ganz Gewöhnliches, selbst im Vatikan erheiterte man sich gern an Vorlesungen pornographischer Geschichten; zum Konzil von Konstanz strömten aus allen Weltgegenden Kurtisanen, Gaukler und Kuppler herbei, und Avignon galt, seit die Päpste dort residierten, als Bordellstadt. Ja man kann sogar noch weiter gehen und sagen, daß ein Teil des Klerus von einer atheistischen Strömung erfaßt war, die wiederum im Volke ihre Resonanz fand.
Friedell is strongest when talking about people. His few sentences are of such short clarity, careful precision, conscious hyperbole, and respectful cynicism that is unreached even by Zweig.
Von Kant hat Goethe gesagt, wenn er ihn lese, so sei ihm zumute, als träte er in ein helles Zimmer. Auf wenige deutsche Schriftsteller könnte dieses Bild mit ebensolcher Berechtigung angewendet werden wie auf Lichtenberg; nur besitzt dieses Zimmer noch allerlei halbdunkle Winkel, Erker und Gänge, die in die absonderlichsten Polterkammern führen.
It seems he is describing friends he has met personally over many years. And indeed, the sheer vastness of side-notes and side blows proves that this might be true, if only in such a way as we call the celebrities an weirdos in our feeds "friends". Like the friendships of our messages and timelines, his friendships played in his head for years, while he trawled through the piles of books in his study. Like for friends, he finds appreciation and respect even for the darker characters of the past.
Wir sagten vorhin, die italienische Renaissance habe keinen einzigen Philosophen hervorgebracht. Sie hat aber etwas besessen, was vielleicht ebensoviel wiegt: einen praktischen Beobachter, Schilderer und Beurteiler von höchster Klarheit, Schärfe und Weite des Blickes: Machiavell. Machiavell ist nicht bloß der erfahrungsreichste, einsichtsvollste, geordnetste, konsequenteste und großzügigste Kopf, das Gehirn seines Zeitalters gewesen, sondern geradezu eine Art Nationalheiliger und Schutzpatron der Renaissance, der ihren Lebenswillen, ihre ganze seelische Struktur auf einige kühne und leuchtende Formeln gebracht hat. Er ist Politiker und nichts als Politiker und daher selbstverständlich Immoralist; und alle Vorwürfe, die ihm seit vier Jahrhunderten entgegengeschleudert werden, haben ihre Wurzel in dem Mangel gerade jener Eigenschaft, die er am vollkommensten verkörperte: der Gabe des folgerichtigen Denkens. Wer ihn verdammt oder selbst nur zu widerlegen versucht, vergißt, daß er kein systematischer Philosoph, kein ethischer Reformator, kein Religionslehrer oder dergleichen sein wollte, sondern daß der Zweck und Inhalt seiner geistigen Arbeit ausschließlich darin bestand, die Menschen so zu schildern, wie sie wirklich waren, und aus dieser Realität praktische Schlüsse zu ziehen.
Music: Jan Delay (★★★★☆)
My album of July was EARTH, WIND & FEIERN,
a new one by German hip-hopper Jan Delay. A true Hamburger with his signature nasal sound, he always summons some nostalgic memories. I especially enjoyed “Zurück”,
for its great dance rhythm and sax solo, and “Der Bass & die Gang”, reminding me off my time at Bravourstück.
Rather random stuff I stumbled upon.
YouTube-Video, "Who made these circles in the Sahara?" | A short and entertaining documentary by Vox, mainly about one of their employees going a down a random rabbit hole after seing satellite photos of circles in the desert he didn't understand. I like the childlike curiosity (in a good way!) that started this journey, his ingenuity in his research, and the fact that this endeavor brought together a bunch of people who are really passionate about... circles in the desert. Another reminder about how great the internet is, actually! Hats up to my brother Jan who recommended this, as far as I remember.
YouTube-Video, "Building a Lego-powered Submarine 4.0 - automatic depth control" | A fun DIY video on how to build a LEGO submarine. I can imagine this to be an amazing weekend-project (well, weekendS-project?) if you have kids!
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