Which is the oldest continuous culture in Germany? The answer will surprise you.

Before reading the following article, ask yourself the following question: Which nation is older: the American or the German? The answer may surprise you. The American nation is older. It was constituted in the year 1776. The first unified German nation arose almost a century later in 1871. The people of Germany call themselves Deutsche.

Who lived in Germany before the Deutsche? The answer will surprise you.

Long before Deutsche appeared in Europe, an earlier people had lived in and contributed to the formation of cities that are now in Germany. Cologne, Bonn, Worms, Speyer, Trier and Augsburg, to name just a few, were already in existence before the Deutsche arrived. In Cologne there is a monument to that early people which settled on the Rhine almost two thousand years ago. The name of the artwork is „Ma’alot“.

Cultures come and go. They arise, exist, and dissipate. Peoples are often named by their neighbors. A good example concerns the Germanic peoples, which have been allotted different designations in other languages. The Finns call them „Saks“, because Saxons, who first appeared in the third century, lived in their immediate vicinity. The French referred to them as Allemand, a term which also made its first appearance in the third century. The Poles call the Germans Niemcy and the English say Germans. Not all Germans today would refer to themselves as Saxons or Allemands, and hardly any would call himself a German (Germane). The Germans call themselves „Deutsche“. Where did the word „deutsch“ come from?

“Deutsch” is derived from the word „diutisc“ which means „member of the people” as a designation of the non-Latin populations beyond the northern border of the Roman Empire. In his translation of the Bible during the fourth century, Bishop Ulfilas understood the term „ἐθνικός“ (a heathen) as a reference to the non-Jewish peoples who, of course, hadn’t yet been Christianized. Wulfila transferred the concept by using the Gothic word „þiudisko“ for non-Christian heathens.

All of the tribes beyond the northern border of the Roman Empire were grouped together as a single people. The etymological origin of the word „deutsch“ arose at a time when a synagogue was already standing in Cologne. However, those tribes north of the border were anything but a unified people with a common identity. Quite a few were at war with each other.

For centuries after the collapse of the Ancient Roman Empire, Central Europe was a chaotic area with migrating and warring tribes. Finally, the Carolingians brought order to the region whereby Charlemagne was crowned Emperor by the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, arose the Carolingian kingdom of Eastern Francia. The western part developed later into the nation of France. During the tenth century, the eastern part developed into the Holy Roman Empire under the Ottonian dynasty. The name „Sacrum Imperium“ was first documented in 1157 and the title „Sacrum Romanum Imperium“ later in 1254. Sometime during the 15th century „Deutsche nation“ was added in order to distinguish the empire from Ancient Rome.

After that empire dissolved in the early 19th century, Central Europe was again a patchwork of dozens of principalities. „Deutschland“ (The land of the Deutsche) was merely an idea. The dream of a German (Deutsche) Republic was shattered during the failed revolution of 1848/49. Instead of a unified Deutschland there was the Austrian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia, the Rhine Confederation and the German Confederation („Deutscher Bund“) under the leadership of Austria, which was founded in 1815. The German Confederation consisted of „sovereign princes and free German cities”, members of which included the Austrian Emperor along with the kings of Prussia, Denmark and the Netherlands. Although there was a desire for a united German (Deutsche) nation, rivalry between Austria and Prussia in the confederation led to “German (Deutscher) dualism”. However, after the decisive battle of Königgrätz in 1866, Prussia prevailed and annexed all the German speaking states, except Austria, to form the empire „Deutsches Reich” (Second Reich) in reference to the Holy Roman Empire of the Deutsche Nation (First Reich), whereby an allegedly century-old German tradition was implied. Thus, a singular German people (Deutsche) had been established by 1871. As witness to the power of the “Deutsches Reich”, a six hundred year old construction project was brought to completion, a building that was the world’s tallest building for four years: the Cologne Cathedral.

Cologne became German (Deutsch) in 1871. Before then, the city was Roman, French and Saxon. No people, however, have lived longer in Cologne than the Jews. The oldest written reference to Jewish life in Cologne is a decree from Emperor Constantine in the year 321. The decree states:

„We allow all town councils to appoint through general law, Jewish people in the Curia.“

In a document from 341, a synagogue was provided with emperor’s privilege, proving that a large Jewish community was already present. Judaism was part of Cologne long before Christianity. The Jews brought with them the stories of Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca, Moses, Adam and Eve to the Rhine.

As Christianity, along with the invention of a German people, spread over Europe through the power of the Roman Emperor, the Jews were soon defined as arch-enemies. In 1096 several pogroms accompanied the First Crusade. On May 27, 1096 hundreds of Jews were victims of excessive violence in Mainz, which then spread to Cologne in July of the same year. In 1146, shortly before the start of the Second Crusade, several Jews were killed in Koenigswinter by a Christian mob. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 required all Jews be clearly identifiable in their clothing as non-Christians. In Europe, yellow was often the preferred color of discrimination against Jews. They were required to wear a yellow ring at chest height on their clothing.

From that early stigmatization the Nazis developed the yellow Jewish star. Similar dress codes for Jews were common, but varied, in Islamic ruled regions since the early 8th century. Identifying labels were introduced in 717 by Caliph Umar II. In 807, Caliph Harun ar-Rashid ordered Jews in Persia to wear a yellow belt.

In the years 1287 and 1288, persecution of Jews intensified. In Andernach, Altenahr, Bonn and Lechenich, Jews were killed and their homes looted. In the early 14th century, the so-called “Jewish sow“ was mounted on the side of a wooden seat in the Cologne Cathedral choir. And can be viewed even today!

Despite persecution, Jews left their mark on the face of Europe. A most significant influence was the foundation of SHUM (Hebrew שו“ם). SHUM was a kind of Jewish Hansa, namely a federation of Jewish communities in Speyer, Worms and Mainz. The initials of the Hebrew names for those cities, Shpira, Vermayza, and Magentza form the initials SHUM.

Besides formulating decrees in regard to commercial matters, the SHUM also introduced common policy in the interpretation of religious laws, known as Takkanot Shum (תקנות שו“ם). These decrees and the yeshivas were highly respected among the Jews throughout Europe. The Shum cities gained a leading role in Ashkenazic Judaism in the early 13th century and are even considered the birthplace of Ashkenazi religious culture in Central Europe. Four centuries later, the epic days of Shum ended around 1350, when these communities were wiped out during the Great Plague and pogroms. Their revival never attained their former significance. The Jewish Mikveh in Speyer is one the most visited sights in Speyer today:

In 1424, all Jews were expelled from Cologne. The Jews, who were longer in Cologne than the Christians, were declared illegal settlers and then expelled! It was after the establishment of the Napoleonic Civil Code, by which religious freedom was guaranteed, that Jews returned to Cologne. However, a century later, Jews were again called illegal settlers, this time by the Nazis.

In the first half of the 20th century, there were many Jewish settlements in Europe. They were called shtetl. For the Nazis, however, these shtetl were illegal Jewish settlements that were to be destroyed along with most of the Jewish population in Europe. The Nazis declared, Jews couldn’t be Germans, by declaring it a racial identity, long after the Jews had already settled in Germany. Thus, the Nazis invented the third German Empire (Third Reich) and maintained that Jews are not Germans (Deutsche). They persecuted and murdered them. The Catholic Church signed a concordat with the persecutors.

Examining the history of Cologne more closely, one realizes that the Jews lived significantly better under the Romans, the French and the Americans than under the Prussians and Germans. Germans were too often occupiers and other nations more often liberators. Under the Allies, religious freedom returned to Germany and Jews were no longer considered illegal. However, it would not be long before a new trick was found to resume calling Jews illegal settlers, but this time in Palestine. Jews have been living in Palestine much longer than the “Palestinians”, just as they have been living in Germany longer than the Germans. The term “Palestinian”, redefined to designate a separate non-Jewish people, is even more recent than the invention of a German nation.

Palestinian Jews existed in ancient times, long before Islam or Christianity. The word „Palestine“, as a derivative of the Hebrew word „Peleshet“, was first used in the Septuagint (“Greek Old Testament“), and merely denotes a geographical area without reference to any specific group of people. After the banishment of the Jews, the provinces of Judea and Galilee were renamed Palestine by the Romans in order to erase Jewish history.

The Palestinian people as we know them were invented only recently in 1967. Before then, there was no Palestinian language, no independent Palestinian culture, no Palestinian state and no Palestinian people. There were only people of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds who were united merely by the fact that they lived in a geographical area called Palestine, as Romans had once designated an area beyond their northern borders as Germania. Until the mid-20th century, the designation „Palestinian“ was actually a synonym for „Jew“! In the forties of the previous century, there was a Palestinian orchestra in Jerusalem, whose members, without exception, were Jews. So how could it happen that a Palestinian nation is now characterized as non-Jewish?

To clarify this question one must first remember that the greater part of Palestine lies in present-day Jordan. Palestine also includes Golan, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, along with areas of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Present day Israel makes up only a very small part of Palestine. Whether they are Jordanians, Israelis, Arabs, Jews, Christians or Muslims, all of those living within the territory of Palestine are Palestinians. In the 20th century, the Jews were expelled from a group who then redefined themselves as “true” Palestinians as Jews were once expelled from a group calling themselves the “real” Germans (Deutsche).

After the First World War and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the territory of Palestine was orphaned. After a short time, the territory was then administered by the League of Nations. All people living in the area were called Palestinians whether they were Christian, Muslim, Jewish or pagan. Today, Palestine is divided up into several different countries. However, only one country is democratic: Israel! In 1948, Israel was founded by mostly Jewish Palestinians. They believed in the establishment of a peaceful democracy in the Middle East. In the Declaration of Independence, the nation of Israel extended its hand “to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.“

On the day on which that statement was broadcast, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria advised Arabs to leave that part of Palestine in order that their armies may annihilate the new nation and make way for a victorious return. 500.000 people left Israel, however 160,000 Arabs accepted Israel’s offer to all people within the new boundaries to remain and live free lives in democracy and self-determination. Today, about 20 percent of all Israeli citizens are Arabs with full and equal rights. The Israelis are therefore the freest Palestinians in the world!

They are the only Palestinians who have a prime minister who is elected legitimately within a democracy. Although Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in 2005, his legislatorial period ended on 9 January 2009. Since then, he holds no legitimate power. Jordan is a monarchy with Islam as the state religion based on Sharia law. Jordan cannot possibly be considered a democratic nation, alone for the fact that Palestinians who are not Muslims are second-class citizens according to law. In Syria, disenfranchised Palestinians are held in camps. In January 2014, the Syrian army encircled one of those camps and let the Palestinians starve. In Gaza, Hamas rules. They were elected, but right after the elections they initiated a program of state terror. Hamas prevails in Gaza without legitimacy. Nowhere are Palestinians so brutally suppressed as in Gaza. All the horror is expressed in the Hamas Charter, in which Article 7 proclaims:

„The Prophet, Allah – bless him and grant him salvation – has said: ‘The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight and kill the Jews. If a Jew will hide behind stones and trees, the stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’“

Hamas stated that one can not be Palestinian and Jewish, just as the Nazis once claimed that it’s not possible to be Jewish and German. Hamas allows its ministers to hold speeches in the style of Joseph Goebbels. On February 28, 2010, the deputy minister of Hamas‘ Ministry of Religious Endowments, Abdallah Jarbu, reiterated Hamas’ principle views:

“Jews want to present themselves to the world as if they have rights, but, in fact, they are foreign bacteria – a microbe unparalleled in the world. It’s not me who says this. The Koran itself says that they have no parallel: ‘You shall find the strongest men in enmity to the believers to be the Jews.’ May He annihilate this filthy people who have neither religion nor conscience. I condemn whoever believes in normalizing relations with them, whoever supports sitting down with them, and whoever believes that they are human beings. They are not human beings. They are not people. They have no religion, no conscience, and no moral values.”

That speech would have made Adolf Hitler proud. Just as Hitler once wanted to “free” the German people from the Jews, there are efforts underway today to rid Palestine of Jews. It’s no coincidence that Hezbollah and Hamas salute each other with outstretched arms as the Nazis did. The United Nations ignorantly looks on and the European Union even funds this madness.

Ultimately, the Nazis failed in their attempt to rid Europe of Jews. Hamas, however, has had partial successes. By the morning of September 12, 2005, every Jew was expelled from that area of Palestine called the Gaza Strip. After the last Jew crossed the Kissufim border, the event was celebrated frenetically by many Arabs with gun shots and motorcades. The abandoned synagogues were torched in a “Kristallnacht 2.0″. Soon after, intensive violence erupted between Arab klans and also between Hamas and Fatah, whereby several hundred Arab civilians lost their lives. Since the expulsion of Jews from Gaza, Israel has continuously, and even on a daily basis, been bombarded with rockets. Ever since, Gaza has been in decline on all fronts.

In the Middle East, the situation for Jews is similar now as it was in old Europe. Although Jews lived in Palestine long before there was Islam, Muslims consider Jews to be illegal settlers in the Middle East. European politicians, who share that rhetoric, have forgotten that their ancestors used the same trick to banish Jews from European cities and regions, although Jews lived in Europe before German and French identities were even invented.

„Why is it so beautiful on the Rhine?“ Jews, enjoying the local wine, asked themselves that question long before Christians and Germans even existed. Nevertheless, they were later expelled by Germans and Christians as squatters and their significance for European culture was negated. However, the Jews are the less illegal in Europe and Germany then as they are today in the Middle East. European politicians forget that fact when they repeat the rhetoric of “illegal settlers” in Judea and Galilee.

Max Isidor Bodenheimer was a lawyer and leader of the Zionist movement. At the close of the 19th century, nearly two millennia after the first Jews settled in Cologne, he developed in Cologne a lofty idea that would become a reality and made him so famous, Cologne gave him a statue at the City Hall Tower.

Bodenheimer proposed that Jews, who were so often persecuted in Europe, should revive the land of Judea, which had been destroyed over nineteen hundred years ago. About half a century later, modern Israel became a reality. The creation of the modern state of Israel is the only moment in the whole history of mankind, whereby a dispersed people were able to preserve its language (Hebrew), its traditions and its constitution (Torah)! Although every nation is a construct, the Jewish people are an extraordinarily impressive construct.

Not only does the modern state of Israel have its roots in Cologne, the flag of Israel was designed in 1897 in Cologne by the businessman David Wolffsohn, a resident of the cathedral city. At the location where modern Zionism was born, there is today a large Shield of David.

Cologne is important for Judaism and Judaism is important for Cologne. Therefore, a monument was dedicated in Cologne to the Jewish people. It’s called „Ma’alot“.

Ma’alot is Hebrew for „stairs“. The name refers to Psalms 120-134, also known as the „Song of Ascents“ and are attributed to the Israeli kings, David and Solomon. In Jerusalem, these psalms were traditionally sung when the priests climbed the stairs to the Temple with pitchers of well water. The Cologne steps ascend from the Rhine, thus making the Cathedral a symbol of the destroyed Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

The artwork was created by Dani Karavan, an Israeli artist, known especially for his expansive outdoor artworks. The artist describes „Ma’alot“ as an „environment made of granite, cast iron, bricks, iron and rails, grass and trees“. He combines contrasting materials with ease, thus showing the extremes between which Jewish life experienced Germany. The artwork is framed by six acacia trees on one side and nine maple trees on the other side.

Maple wood was used to build the Second Temple. After this Temple was destroyed in the first century, many Jews fled Jerusalem. Some found their way into the newly founded city of Colonia, now Cologne, Germany. They lived in exile hoping that the Temple would be rebuilt so they could return home. In Isaiah, it is written what will happen when the Temple stands again. The flowers of acacia trees will line the road for the returning exiles (Is. 41, 19).

The Ma’alot “artscape” represents the Jews in the Diaspora, during times that were good, but also times that were cruel. One of the cruelest moments is represented by an iron rail cutting across a path. The rail procedes from the Cathedral in the west to Deutz in the east, and runs parallel to the railroad tracks on the Hohenzollern Bridge. Here on October 21, 1941, the remaining 6377 Jews of Cologne were transported to extermination camps in Eastern Europe. The track leads to and cuts through a towering sculpture which has associations with a chimney.

If you look at the Cologne Cathedral through a vertical slot (to which a rail leads) in the sculpture, a tower of the Cologne Cathedral may conjure an association with a concentration camp watchtower, a brutal indictment against the silence of a large part of the Christian Church during the Shoa.

At the end of a rail, Dani Karavan lowered the ground enough so that the rail is a stumbling hazard. Here it’s clear: Those who forget the past and don’t watch their step, may trip and fall.

That rail, which leads down the steps from the cathedral and terminates at the center of a circular cobblestone area, is directly above the beautiful concert hall of the Cologne Philharmonic Hall. The rail dissects the circular concave area, which symbolizes the beautiful, the good, that which is perfect.

Exactly here, Ma’alot has a design flaw, although unwanted, offers an ingenious interpretation. There are indeed works of art that gain their special significance only through a mishap. The Venus de Milo, for example, would be rather uninteresting if it had its arms. The tower of Pisa would not be the attraction it is, without its leaning.

The design flaw I’m referring to, is such that the sunken part of the circular space at the end of the rail may not be walked on during a concert performance because the pedestrians’ footsteps can be heard below in the concert hall. More guards must be positioned near the area above because Ma’alot cannot be ignored.

After Auschwitz, many people raised the question as to whether after such a human catastrophe a poem could be written or a song composed. Ma’alot offers an answer: Only if you don’t forget Auschwitz. Whoever forgets, will find no peace, but will be followed by the dull echoing steps of the past.

This interpretation merely reflects my own associations. Dani Karavan is smart enough not to comment on such interpretations. He says instead:

„A work of art (…) does not have the task to tell a particular story or to illustrate certain contexts. It can provoke reverberations and evoke associations (…). But in eliciting this echo, a work of art is free and has all the rights and complete freedom to initiate associations in any direction and to trigger a variety of fantasies and ideas with people, even ideas that I myself didn’t have, didn’t see, images that I can’t control, and for which I’m not responsible.“

Ma’alot is an exquisite monument to one of the oldest peoples of Germany and it’s not the Germans!

(Translation: William Wires)

Über tapferimnirgendwo

Als Theatermensch spiele, schreibe und inszeniere ich für diverse freie Theater. Im Jahr 2007 erfand ich die mittlerweile europaweit erfolgreiche Bühnenshow „Kunst gegen Bares“. Als Autor verfasse ich Theaterstücke, Glossen und Artikel. Mit meinen Vorträgen über Heinrich Heine, Hedwig Dohm und dem von mir entwickelten Begriff des „Nathankomplex“ bin ich alljährlich unterwegs. Und Stand Up Comedian bin ich auch. Mein Lebensmotto habe ich von Kermit, dem Frosch: „Nimm, was Du hast und flieg damit!
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