Monday, July 30, 2007

bull wash

Here is an addendum to the Salzburg trip.

During the boat tour, I learned that boats used to transport salt along the river Salzach. Because salt was so valuable, these boats were often attacked by pirates. Hence, the boatmen were armed. Further, they only hired non-swimmers, to prevent them from abandoning their posts. They have a holiday every year to honor the nonswimmers who died during pirate attacks and accidents.

Another tale ... in 1525, the fortress Hohensalzburg was besieged by peasants. The peasants were revolting over their usual petty grievances, probably including insurance, better security, life boats, and paid swim classes for boatmen. The fortressmates were running out of food and were close to surrender. Then the commander had an idea. He marched the last remaining ox around the parapets. That night, they washed that ox and painted him black, and then marched him around again the next day. Oh no, the attackers thought, they have 2 oxen up there! They must have lots of food! They can hold out forever! And so the besiegers dispersed to their lives of 0 vacation days per year and only an 8 hour workday on Sundays. Hence the Salzburgers are now called Stierwashers.

Two tales I heard in Salzburg.

This would not be funny but for efforts to verify it online. I found nothing about the first tale, though I did see a T shirt for sale about the Salzach pirates that seems to corroborate that story. As to the second one, here are some other bloggers' memories.
There was some story of how during some battle the people of Salzburg didn't want to let the enemy know they were starving, so they painted their last ox and paraded it out into the city to make it appear as if they still had livestock.

NO! Now come on, think about this. Wouldn't an unpainted ox convey the same message? If you paraded it through the city, wouldn't some besieger just take your ox, and kill you? Sheesh. Try the tour sober next time. Hint: If you are looking for Oktoberfest in Munich, you're too far south.
According to the sign (in around 1525) Salzburg was besieged by the enemy. Despite all efforts to conserve food very soon all that was left was one ox. An idea was born to paint the ox different colours on each side to parade along the fortress parapet to show the enemy that the people of Salzburg were not going to run out of food for a long time. The enemy gave up their fight and Salzburg were free. Ever since the people of Salzburg have been known as "Oxen Washers" (Stierwascher).

What?! What kind of plan is this? You parade the ox around clockwise one day, then counterclockwise the next? Your people are starving! Get with it!
One of the interesting points is this half brown - half black ox in one of the courtyards. The story goes that sometime around 1525 the fortress was besieged by an enemy army. It lasted long enough that the residents were down to their last ox. Wanting to show their strength, they washed and painted their last ox black on one side, leaving the other side brown. They then paraded the ox along the ramparts, back and forth so the enemy could see they were not near starvation. The enemy was fooled, believing the citizens had enough food to last a very long time and gave up the siege. The residents washed the ox one last time and ever since then the people of Salzburg have been known as the “stierwaschers” or oxen-washers.

No, no, no! Same problem! Just because the statue is half black and half brown, you think it's some kind of chimera like the blackwhite quack from that old Star Trek episode!! Pay attention to the tour guide next time! Or just stay in Amsterdam.
Apparently an invading army was laying seige to the Hohensalzburg once upon a time. The situation inside the fortress got so bad that they were eventually down to just one ox to eat. To try to convince the seigers that they were doing fine, they paraded this one ox up and down the walls of the fortress, then painted it black and did it again, trying to convince them that they had more to eat than they actually had. The plan worked and the invading army left. Who knew? So now there is a random half-black and half-brown ox inside the Hohensalzburg.

Huh. Aside from misspelling siege, this is mostly correct. No fun.
"Let's paint our last cow blue and parade it around the walls so they can see it."
"Sounds stupid, boss...."
"Shut up, you fool! The next day, we wash up the cow and paint it green and show it off."
"What's the point, your worship?"
"You buffoon!! Don't you see!? If we keep that up and keep showing them different colored cows, they'll think we have tons of cows left! Duh!!!"
Believe it or not, just like the bells that ring 12 times at 11, this silly idea worked too. The peasants weren't willing to it stick out through the winter, so they split.

I appreciate the effort at satiric dialog. I wonder how many cows it would take to have a ton of cow. Duh!!!
I forgot to explain why "Ox-painters" is the nickname for residents of Salzburg.

The fortress of Hohensalzburg was under seige and although the residents had been conserving food they were down to the last Ox. They were faced with three options:

- Starve,
- Repel the invaders, or
- Surrender.

To show the invaders that they still had plenty of food they paraded the last ox in sight of the enemy. The then painted it another colour, paraded it again. They kept repainted in the ox and parading it until the invaders thought that the foodstocks were still plentiful and they withdrew rather than wait for the Salzburgers to be starved out.

No! They only painted it once. Now, this did seem a weakness of the original story, since two heads (of cattle) are not much better than one. They did not have an unlimited supply of paint, nor potential ox colors, genders, or other identifying parameters.

"Hey, Johannes!"
"Yeah, Gerhardt?"
"Look! It's another ox! He's just coming on to the parapet now!"
"Huh. I guess they got lots of food."
"But this one - he's pink!"
"And the one yesterday, and last Thursday - he's the exact same color as the fortress walls!"
"And all seventeen of them - they all had that limp in the left foreleg!"
"And they're all male!"
"Yeah. Of course. They're all male. We're speaking German."
"Oh yeah."
"Never mind. Let's go home."

I found other blogs that said the siegers were Turks or that the cow was simply washed without repainting.

Moral: When life is at steak, don't be an ox.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Round and round

I ate brunch today at the Alex Cafe, a hip three-level joint near the city center. It had a view of one of the main city squares, which happened to feature a play called the Bremer Musikanten. Imagine that! At the town center of Bremen, 200 meters from the main statue of the Brementown musicians, in an area surrounded by statues of them and giftshops rife with their likeness, the play they choose to present to the public happens to feature this fumbling foursome. The actors wore colorful costumes and did indeed sing very badly. When all four of them sang together, children laughed and clapped while their elders winced.

I could understand very little of the dialog, but it's not a complicated story. The kids seemed to follow it at least as well as I did. I continue to lose to the umlaut onslaught. They are insidious, looking very much like an a, o, or u, but sounding quite different. I was vanquished at the Battle of Chin's Asia Bistro last week, when I was sneak attacked by a stealth umlaut. There I was, sluggish and offguard after dinner, digging through my fortune cookie. The cagey Chinese waiter brought me the check, smiled, and walked away. The lack of a Bitte Shoen should have warned me. I read the fortune cookie, which said that I would have good luck. In German! That is just wrong! You can't have a Chinese fortune in German! Viel glück back at you, bitch! I almost ate one of those. Now gimme a proper American fortune!

Language affects cognition. 2 weeks ago, I was discussing the NextFest plan with my boss. An aggressive and elusive fly bugged us like only flies can. We failed in efforts to ignore it, kill it, or expel it. Out, out, damned spöt!! I referred to the fly as "it," while my boss kept calling it "she." Wow, that's pretty observant, boss, I thought. I can't even identify its gender if it's still. You can do it on the fly! But no, that is just how Germanspeakers think of the world. All flies are female, like all cats and trains. The brain is neutral.

A fourth gender, Satan, should be created for European washing machines. So far, the French, German, and English versions have all proved abysmal. In my old apartment complex, the wash cycle took over 2 hours. I would put in the clothes, pay one Euro, hit start, then start cooking while checking back every few minutes. Inevitably, I would finish my meal, wash the dishes, clean up my apartment, go to the store, read a couple articles, grow old, and die twice before laundry was done. I once sat in the laundry room to study its oddities. It would spin in one direction, then stop for a long time, then reverse direction. many times. The spin cycle takes far longer than American machines, yet gets clothes no drier. Round and round. Stop. dnour dna dnour. Stop. Spin spin spin. Stop. Stop. Pause. Wait for it. Wait. Longer. Wait ..... yup, I'm done. finally. Here ya go - oh! Psych! Nips Nips Nips. Stop. Stop. Don't even get your hopes up. Spin. Spin. Spin. Aaugh! Gimme back my clothes, you vicious little troll! They're way too small for you! Adding to the fun, Germans do not believe in dryers. They are available for sale, but people prefer stringers. You finish drying your clothes, hang them up, wait for a day, (repeat if it rains), then get your crunchy clothes.