Gerührter Präsident

Gestern war ich bei einem Empfang des italienischen Staatspräsidenten Carlo Azeglio Ciampi im Hotel Adlon. Der Empfang, zu dem schätzungsweise über 100 Personen gekommen waren, fand in einem Vortragssaal statt. Ich war das erste Mal auf einem Empfang eines Staatsoberhauptes und musste mich erst einmal zurechtfinden. So war ich etwas überrascht, dass alle empfangenen Gäste aufstanden, als der Präsident den Saal betrat. Ich befürchtete schon, es stünde an, gemeinsam die italienische Nationalhymne zu schmettern, die ja gesangstechnisch nicht ohne ist, aber so weit kam es dann doch nicht, und das Publikum nahm wieder Platz.

Es folgten einige mehr oder weniger überflüssige Reden, bevor zum Schluss der Präsident selbst das Wort ergriff. In seiner kurzen Ansprache kam er auf seine Jugend zu sprechen, die er teilweise in Deutschland verlebt hatte. Als Student war er aushilfsweise als Italienischlehrer in Leipzig tätig. Als er davon sprach, war er den Tränen nah. Die Rührung in seiner Stimme war nicht zu überhören und wirkte durchaus authentisch, soweit ich das aus der dritten Reihe beurteilen konnte. Kein Wunder, dass dieser Präsident (im Gegensatz zu Ministerpräsident Silvio Berlusconi) so beliebt ist! (Bei der Gelegenheit hier schon mal ein Hinweis auf den Film Bye bye, Berlusconi, den ich allerdings noch nicht sehen konnte.)

Da Italien sparen muss, gab es außer warmen Worten weder Getränke noch Häppchen. So mussten wir unseren Kaffee im Hotelsaal des Adlons selbst bezahlen. Die Atmosphäre dort ist auch gar nicht sehr gemütlich, was vor allem an den unbequemen Sesseln und Sofas liegt, aber es ist schon stilvoll, in der Lobby des Adlon beim Kaffee zu sitzen – und zum Plaudern waren ja genug Leute da!

Blogging from the sky

I’m currently on my flight back from Houston and there’s internet on board of the aircraft! I have bought the flatrate access for $26.90 which gives me unlimited access throughout the flight (including all connecting flights within 24 hours). That’s a reasonable price for a lot of fun (at least till the batteries get low, but I have battery power for at least 6 out of 8 hours So that will be sufficient, since I plan to see the movie Walk the Line about the lifes of Johnny Cash and June Carter.

I had barely written the above lines when Tim got in touch with me through Jabber and made me get a Skype account (I had downloaded Skype some time ago without using it) and Gizmo. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my Skype handle (mahabln) for my Gizmo account, so I’m mahaberlin there. We started to VoIP (which was in itself an interesting experience, if you consider that I was high above Washington, D.C. at that time), and then we produced a podcast in German: Maha im Flugzeug.

Jetzt bin ich über dem Atlantik… 😉


Starting on Saturday, March 11th, Chris and I travelled around in mid-western USA. Here is my account of our journey. Sorry, it’s a bit long. I’ll add some pics as soon as possible…

  • Our first day:
    • We start in Houston, Texas at five in the morning and drive to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We want to stop at the State Capitol which has a very tall tower (it is the tallest state capitol in the US), but the tower is closed. When we cross some quarters quite near to the city center we get a good view of the aftermaths of hurricane Katrina, there are people begging in the streets…
    • From there we continue through one of America’s dullest states: Mississippi. The journey isn’t that dull, because we see a burning car on the Interstate Highway (which looks as if it came out of a movie) and some miles later a pedestrian crosses the interstate, looking very relaxed for somebody crossing a four-track speedway.
    • We try to leave Mississippi as soon as possible and reached Memphis, Tennessee where we concentrate on the city’s main attraction Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home. I regret that we don’t have the time to see the National Civil Rights Museum, but museums have the irritating habit of closing at 4 or 5 p.m.—even in the States.
    • From Memphis we continue our journey through Tennessee, Arkansas (which we shall pass through later again, but always at night), and Missouri to St. Louis, Missouri where we stay for the rest of the night.
  • 2nd day:
  • 3rd day:
    • Chicago strikes me as quite different from what I have expected: First of all, the neo-gothic style of the university buildings is a sharp contrast to the skyscrapers we know. But even in the commercial center of Chicago the skyline is different from Manhattan, because the Chicago skyscrapers are less densely built. We have dinner at The Signature Room, at the 95th storey of Chicago’s second-highest building Hancock Tower, and visit different parts of the city, including some antique bookstores.
    • In the evening we continue our journey and come to Iowa where we stop at a motel near Iowa City. It has become rather cold by now.
  • 4th day:
    • We start the day with a short visit to Iowa’s former capital Iowa City, Iowa; our aim is to take a look at Gilbert Grape’s state. We spontaneously decide to visit the Amana Colonies, where we have copious amounts of Germanish food.
    • On our way through Iowa we stop at Grinnell College and buy cookies at ALDI discount store in Newton which looks just like a German Aldi and may be the kind of store that plays a role in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
    • Our next stop is Iowa’s new capital Des Moines. We go into the Iowa State Capitol and watch the on-going session of the Iowa General Assembly.
    • We continue our journey with a short stop at Kansas City, a rather dull town of the Mid-West. After we have crossed the border to Kansas, we are stopped by the police. The police officer is German too, but prefers American driver’s licenses. We stop for the night in Emporia, Kansas.
  • 5th day:
    • The next day we reach the Arkansas River once more, exactly where the two “smaller” Arkansas Rivers come together in Wichita, Kansas. There is an All-Indian Center that we visit. A very relaxed Native American asks us to sign the guest book and tells me the wrong date. When he realizes his error he comments: “Indian time!” which becomes my favorite quotation for the following days, esp. when Chris wants to do too much in too little time.
    • After a quick stop in Arkansas City, Kansas, “we’re not in Kansas anymore”, but reach Oklahoma, the Sooner State, which seems even more lost in the middle of nothing. We take a detour through the Osage Indian Reservation, which is impressive, esp. for the landscape, but we don’t see very many Indians. We stop in Fairfax, Oklahoma, a Western town with a big convenience store. From there we return to Texas. It’s a rather long drive. On the spaghetti highway junctures in Dallas we get lost and have to take a detour through the skyscraper parking lots before we find our highway to Houston again. We get stopped by a Texas Ranger and Chris has a hard time finding his driver’s license. The rest of our journey is uneventful: We pass the colossal statue of Sam Houston and find ourselves on the equally spaghetti-ish Houston junctures.

Kritische Stimmen zur Fußball-WM

Über meinen Fußballhass habe ich ja schon vor einiger Zeit geschrieben. Inzwischen stehe ich da nicht mehr ganz so allein. Angesichts der drohenden fußballerischen Großveranstaltung erheben sich doch einige unverzagte kritische Stimmen zum WM-Wahnsinn in Deutschland. Hier ein paar Links aus der Blogosphäre:

Mal sehen, was da noch alles auf uns zu kommt.

Linguistics blogs

Thanks to Christopher and some “private investigations” I have come across some interesting blogs about linguistics:

And speaking about linguistics, don’t miss the IPA eyechart: You can find out how shortsighted you are with the help of IPA-signs.

Rice Linguistics Colloquium

Today I am at the Linguistics Department of Rice University in Houston. It’s a very agreable place, esp. when the weather is nice, as it is now (people say it’s 75 degrees which doesn’t mean much to a centigrader like me). At noon I went to the university restaurant with some colleagues and had some Mexican food which tasted quite exotic to me.

This afternoon I will give a talk at the Rice Linguistics Colloquium about Complex verb constructions in Romance languages and Basque. I’m getting excited already…

I just read the blog of the last week’s invited speaker who had some very special experiences in Houston, albeit under different circumstances and in another century. Compared to that, my visit will certainly be quite uneventful. Actually what happened in 1992 in Houston seems to happen now in Berlin during Lech Kaczynski’s lecture at Humboldt University; so my remark about different circumstances and another century seem to be a bit out of place here.

Four things about the USA

Four things I like about the USA:

  • shops that are open 24 hours a day 7 days a week (and have employees who pack up what you have bought),
  • the time-machine effect (you see things that you will notice in Europe about two months later),
  • the importance of linguistics in higher education and research,
  • the independence of universities from lousy reforms by even lousier politicians.

Four things I dislike:

  • waiters that do not stop talking to you when you want to eat (a bit as in a famous Loriot sketch),
  • highway police controls (which really happen quite often on a US interstate highway, esp. if you have a broken headlight and a beard),
  • straight cowboys, esp. you-know-who…,
  • the collection of biometric data (and other fruitless homeland security measures).

Letter from America

Letter from America used to be a radio program I sometimes listened to on the BBC World Service when I was much younger. Since I’m currently in the U.S. I’ll write my own letters from America on my blog and perhaps I’ll even manage to add a podcast, if everything works out right. (And if I find out where I can host the podcast.) But I don’t want to promise too much…

I had booked a Lufthansa flight, because that was the only convenient direct flight to Houston, and I didn’t want to stop over in the U.S., because then you have to get your baggage and carry it around before you can get to the connecting flight. I used to think that Lufthansa is one of the safest and more comfortable airlines, but the old Airbus 340 looked as if Lufthansa was based in the Second World, or perhaps that is just a sign of the economic crisis in Germany. On-board food, wine and entertaining were likewise second-worldish. After goulash for lunch and chopped beef for supper even a stubborn carnivore will consider vegetarianism.

The US immigration procedure took less time than I thought and was quite unproblematic, although I don’t really like the idea that they took my fingerprints and a picture. Chris, my host from Houston, wanted to pick me up at the “passenger & baggage pick-up point” in front of the airport. That is some sort of tunnel where car-drivers drive through looking for the people they want to meet. You are only allowed to stop in order to pick someone up, so all the cars are constantly moving around and everybody has to inhale the exhaust fumes. A nice place to be! Afterwards we went to a really good Japanese restaurant with the unsurprising name Nippon. I really liked the food and I was hungry enough.

We spent the evening at home (I was tired enough due to my jet lag) and saw some television series classics: Sex and the City (“Attack of the 5’10” Woman”), Will and Grace (which I hadn’t seen before, episode: “Women and children first”) and Seinfeld. The last one was particularly funny: The episode called “The Betrayal” is shown backwards, i.e. it starts with the ending and then goes back scene after scene until the beginning of the story.

Rechtschreibung: Und was kommt jetzt?

Soeben hat die Kultusministerkonferenz den Empfehlungen des Rates für deutsche Rechtschreibung zugestimmt, und somit gibt es wieder eine Reform der Reform der deutschen Rechtschreibung von 1996 – bekanntlich nicht die erste „Reformreform“ in dieser Angelegenheit.

Jetzt scheint aber alles gut zu werden, denn das Wesentliche an der Reformreform ist, dass nun wieder zusammengeschrieben wird, was zusammengehört. 🙂

Wir erinnern uns: Die Reform favorisierte im Verbalbereich die Auseinanderschreibung auf Biegen und Brechen. Man sollte also immer wieder vereinigen, sitzen bleiben, Rad fahren, Eis laufen usw. schreiben, obwohl es natürlich Unterschiede gibt zwischen dem Sitzenbleiben in der Schule und dem Sitzenbleiben auf einem Stuhl gibt und Eis kein Objekt von laufen ist. Auch der Unterschied zwischen den folgenden Sätzen war durch die exzessive Auseinanderschreibung verwischt worden: Sie ist mir wohl (= vielleicht) bekannt. und Sie ist mir wohlbekannt. (= ich kenne sie gut), denn es sollte immer wohl bekannt geschrieben werden, obwohl sich die beiden Sätze auch durch ihre Betonung unterscheiden.

Nun hat alles wieder seine Ordnung. Dinge dürfen uns wieder schwerfallen, ohne dass wir schwer fallen müssen. Und die Parteien für und gegen die Neue Rechtschreibung (jetzt auch mit Recht mit großem N) können sich näherkommen, um dem Ziel einer geeigneten Rechtschreibung näher kommen zu können.

Es gibt noch ein paar kleinere Reförmchen, die aber andere besser referieren können als ich.

Experiment geglückt

Ich habe zur Zeit Besuch von einem norwegischen Esperanto-Sprecher, der Deutsch lernen möchte. Daher habe ich mir überlegt, ihn heute zum offenen Abend des Chaos Computer Clubs Berlin mitzunehmen. Das war natürlich ein gewagtes Experiment, denn ich konnte nicht vorhersehen, ob er sich in der speziellen Nerd-Atmosphäre zurechtfinden würde.

Das Experiment ist jedoch gelungen. Wir haben beide einen sehr interessanten Abend dort verbracht: Wie zu erwarten gab es mal wieder gutes Essen von CCC-Chefkoch Wuerfel und interessante Gespräche, wobei sich heute besonders prom als Diskutant hervortat: Erst hab ich von ihm ein paar interessante Denkanstöße über Analogrechner bekommen und dann hat er mit Hårvard noch die wichtigsten Probleme der theoretischen Physik besprochen. Das hat meinen Gast schon sehr beeindruckt. Ich glaube, er hat verstanden, worin die Faszination des Clubs liegt.