Barack in the Biergarten of Good and Evil
Deutschland über us.
Barack Obama, our ex-stepdad who we thought was going to adopt us and save us from our abusive mom (THE AMERICAN VOTER), has instead moved on with his life and is currently chilling in Berlin with longtime “companion” and apparent new girlfriend Angela Merkel, and boy are HER kids thrilled.
The ostensible purpose of his visit is to talk about humanitarian issues during bi-annual German Evangelical Church Assembly, a five-day congress of discussions, panels and other faith-based events attended by 100,000 lay members of the mainline German Protestant faiths (some 27 percent of Germans; a plurality of Germans is ohne Glaube, or “not religious”).
Given that his new girlfriend looooooves humanitarian issues — ooh la-di-da, I get it, she’s better than us, you just had to leave — and is also a very famous lay German Protestant, it’s unsurprising that our ex-stepdad would fly over to hang out, and possibly lend a hand with with her long-shot underdog campaign for re-election (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha).
But according to the German media — some of whom lead off coverage with open wishes that Obama were still US-Präsident — that’s a front. The former President is in Germany to Redeem us all. Check the headline from Der Spiegel, which proclaims that on this “Church Day” — the literal translation of Kirchentag (KURCH-un-TOG), or church assembly — Germany welcomes der frohe Botschafter.
This phrase (pronounced dare FRO-uh BOAT-shaft-ur) literally translates to “joyful ambassador,” which is of course what the former President technically is now, but it’s not actually what that phrase means to Germans — and, relatedly, why you should never use Google Translate to do your foreign-language homework, kids, because you will turn in a pile of gibberish-ass nonsense.
What der frohe Botschafter really means is the ‘bearer of Good News,’ with frohe Botschaft being the German translation of “the Gospel,” a.k.a. the Biblical Greek ευαγγελιον, which the Germans pronounce Evangelium, which is (aha!) where the name of their Protestant denominations comes from.
So, in conclusion, Der Spiegel is hella good at headlines that mine the multivalence of the German language, and Barack Obama is somehow still supposed to save us all from an eternal fiery hell-scape where candidates for elected office can beat journalists up on camera and it helps their chances to win.
Speaking of excellent conclusions to rigorous academic research, another gentleman who liked to style someone der frohe Botschafter sardonically was Nietzsche, who spat it so often in Der Antichrist it became an insult, and then later turned that insult sarcastically (but also sincerely) on himself. In the chapter of Ecce Homo called “Why I Write Such Good Books” (“Why I Am So Good At Semi-Sarcastic Referential Self-Epithets” was, presumably, altered during editing), Nietzsche refers to the conclusions of Twilight of the Idols as “the right way, the way upwards,” which nobody before him had, “to be honest,” been able to figure out.
“Only after my time was there hope again, great tasks, road-maps for the culture — I am their froher Botschafter.”
Jesus H. Christ, that Bearer of Good News sounds disconcertingly familiar. And I guess if I were our ex-stepdad, and I were given the choice to stay here and bear the fruit of the great “way upwards,” or go hang out with Cool Tante Merkel on a couch, I know what I’d do.
Especially right now. Because late May means one thing and one thing only in the Federal Republic: the Schmuddelwetter has lifted, the scarves are worn by ornament and not necessity; the trees stehen in voller Blüte; the sunscreen-free abuse of the tanning-bed has been traded for the sunscreen-free abuse of the real thing (on all body parts, natürlich) — in short, lo, I bring unto thee the Good News that Biergarten season is risen.
Every flat surface in the general vicinity of a purveyor of liquid (be that a pub, restaurant, private residence, or abandoned-looking hut in the middle of the woods) has, by now, had jauntily umbrella’d tables spring to life upon it, and at those tables gather the hordes, the very Pöbel Nietzsche deplored, gazing up at the sky and laughing their asses off (if they’ve been properly trained, that is), and throwing back Bier, the beverage the good Lord invented warm weather for.
That Germans would spend the majority of their eating-and-drinking hours (so, the majority of their hours) outside in nice weather is no surprise, given that these are a people who would live outside permanently if they could find a way to do it without ever getting cold or wet. One of the reasons that German health-care costs are so much lower than ours is that the number-one remedy for any ailment is to grab your dicky little hiking sticks and go on a walk.
This is a value that’s indoctrinated as young as possible, with the Waldkita (VALD-keet-ah), or outdoor preschool, and continues into hipster adulthood, when too much Biergarten enjoyment plus Instagram somehow makes it impossible to determine when something is clearly, obviously, a river.
So what existentially traumatized ex-president wouldn’t want to go have a German beer under the stars? And who wouldn’t want to have one with him?
The second question actually points to a rather striking cultural similarity between our land, where we make most of our political decisions based on memes, and theirs, where political advertising is strictly limited to poster campaigns and logic.
And yet: According to this recent post by Friedemann Karig on the Cool Young Person’s Website JETZT, all German politicians absolutely must drink beer.
“The beer in a politician’s hand says: ‘I am one of you. And you are good.’ Beer is the drink of the worker, the simple and honest man. Particularly for suit-wearing bigshots, it’s a carbonated foot in the door to the domain of the ‘little man.’”
During the Bush years, old people such as myself had major shit-fits about how your desire to have a beer with someone had fuck-all to do with fitness to lead the vaguely-free world; then, we promptly elected the person we’d most like to have a beer with.
Eight years later, the other side overcompensated in the opposite direction: Our current US-Präsident’s attitude about whether he’d enjoy a beverage with his subjects is best summed up by this, another eerily prescient moment in Ecce Homo:
Ich kenne mein Los. Es wird sich einmal meinen Namen die Erinnerung an etwas Ungeheures anknüpfen — an eine Krisis, wie es keine auf Erden gab, an die tiefste Gewissens-Kollision, an eine Entscheidung heraufbeschworen gegen alles, was bis dahin geglaubt, gefordert, geheiligt worden war. Ich bin kein Mensch, ich bin Dynamit.
I know my fate. Someday, my name will trigger the memory of something formidable — a crisis unlike anything on Earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision made against everything that had heretofore been believed, demanded, hallowed. I am not man. I am dynamite.
I’ll take that beer now, please.