And Erasmus Lived Here: Of Alemannics, Catholics, And Long-Short Reds.

Last weekend one of those special family holidays snuck up on us-

the type that here in Gutenberg land is called a “round birthday”

and always celebrated as an “event”

of the kind where you need to rent the San Francisco Cow Palace,

invite everyone you call friend,

and, here at Gutenberg U,

your area of math specialty group,

the cousins up to third generation,

all the choirs-

that’s in the hundreds, people…




as already noted,

the date”snuck up on us”-

no Cow Palace available,

no room for the others at the inns-

hey, we will get to it.

If the queen can have a birthday out of season, so can his Maj-

we called around,

gathered the first of the group,

and set off for the Black Forest-

to rediscover the small Alemannic town where I spent my first year in Germany:



for those who have never tried to buy an apple at a Freiburg market,

only to find out that no one there speaks received standard German,

the kind taught in school,

both ours and theirs,

is actually Rhine Alemannic.

As opposed to the “high Alemannic” spoken in Switzerland,

And Rhine Alemannic,

for those who would prefer not to google it,

is the language spoken in this Sir-Knight-Bertold-defending-the-faith area-

a very strong sing-songy dialect

with a very very long tradition.

(Since about 1000 AD)

Resulting in sentences like “Issshhht nit meegli”

(es ist nicht möglich,)

the Freiburg answer to anything and everything,

and roughly translating as “Not on your Nelly”

And that is one example of “Freiburgness.”

When I was first here,

the entire town was only accessible on foot,

or by bike.

It still is- only the bike paths now are cement,

and go up and down mountains,

and are so fast, if you get in the way of the eighty year old professors in suits,

or young mothers pulling a small tent on a wagon with twins and a dog inside,

you may easily end up as the sort of remains suitable only for ground calf hot dogs-

one of the local food specialties.

Oh, and the tram lines go everywhere now,

and are often four lines next to one another.

Then there is the student thing-

when I was first here, it was 15,000 students-

now 25,000,

versus, then, 150,000 retired civil servants,

(this is the warmest, most Miami-like part of Germany)

Today, in addition to the 25,000 students,

there are 220,000 non-students of all nations, professions,  and religions,

a real shocker in a town that,

when I first lived here,

put all Catholic students in Newman Houses,

cloister dorms,

a nunnery, actually nick-named “at the sign of the holy spoon”

for its great cooking,

or one of the other Catholic institutions inside the city walls.

(complete with early morning and late afternoon mass,

required lunch with the entire cloister,

and ten Pm curfew)

The non-Catholics got rooms in a super-modern student settlement

about a half hour outside the town-

complete with a central tv room, washing machines in the basement,

and no curfew.

Except the constant room control at 3 AM on Saturday and Sunday  by the local police.

(This was the time of the seriously dangerous RAF terrorists,

but also of the political greens, who threw paving stones at the trams

to demonstrate for a free transit system.

And then, of course, there was the huge amount of trafficing in drugs,

and, for some reason, oriental carpets,

by way of a handful of students,

most of whom really weren’t,

students, I mean,

but were trying to find a way pay rent so they could stay in the country.)

A fact greatly exacerbated by the language problem.


when I arrived in Freiburg the first time,

I discovered there were only two working languages:


and Alemannic.

Even the University profs, most of whom, at that time, were in-house called,

ie trained there, hired there, and retired there,

spoke Alemannic.

(I once watched with great glee,

sorry, not nice, but,

after spending many fruitless months struggling to learn the local dialect,

you get to a point where…

So anyway, there was a newly called modern,

ie post WWII, history prof,

from Berlin,

who spent, from what we observed, every waking minute

struggling to understand colleagues.

And who, apparently as a form of revenge,

became a real bear about making sure that everything around him

was always replete with absolutely correct high German grammar.

And the language of Goethe.

I would love to have seen him trying to get something to eat in a restaurant.

This trip, however,

after three days of interacting with town and gown,

and doing more than a little visiting of the tourist spots,

Harald and I discovered that

even in the small pubs, and wine places,

offering exclusively local snacks,

we didn’t hear one single word of Alemannic spoken.

And we did try to find it.

For three fruitless days.


Saturday morning…

when the locals came in on the tram.

To buy the spectacular local biologically grown produce,

eat one of the long, or short, reds (a local form of hot dog, with grilled onions)

drink the new wine,

and discuss local politics,


with one another


oh yes,

there it was,

real, genuine, verifiable,



More about our trip tomorrow.

copyright 2017


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