Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

Paul Klee’s students apparently celebrated his 50th birthday by dropping presents through his (flat) roof at the Bauhaus from a Junkers aircraft. An interesting story, although Mark Brown doesn’t pick up on it (Rowan Moore does here but only superficially).

Junkers was the home-town industry of Dessau by then, which is probably why the students were able to arrange the stunt. It’s mildly interesting that Marcel Breuer wanted Junkers to fabricate the alloy tubes for his furniture, but it’s more interesting going the other way.

Hugo Junkers started out working on gas heating systems and two-stroke engines, first as a product of the industrial R&D departments that emerged in Germany before anywhere else and that would later become the key manifestations of J.K. Galbraith’s technostructure, and later as an entrepreneur in his own right. He was the first to build an aircraft entirely out of metal, in 1915.

This was a crucial invention. It combined changes in metalworking and metallurgy with others in structural engineering and aerodynamics. It also meant that aircraft would no longer be craft products of varying quality, like the German fighters of the late first world war, but genuinely industrial ones. Stressed-skin construction would also mean that aircraft would no longer have external guy wires to heave their structure taut, and therefore that their wings would be aerodynamically clean.

In some ways, this would make the original design of the aircraft more important, and its production into a question of mass-producing metal components on standardised machine tools. But that could be overstated. When BAE set about converting the Nimrod MR2s built in the late 1960s to MRA4 standard, they found to their consternation and the Ministry of Defence’s financial horror that the new wings, cut identically on computer-controlled machines, matched the old blueprints but none of the actual aircraft, which had been fabricated mostly by hand. Aircraft still occupy a niche on the scale of industrialisation, rather less mass produced than cars or computers, rather more so than ships.

Of course, the Bauhaus was all about trying to mass-produce the change you wanted to see in the world. So was everybody. As Adam Tooze pointed out, mass production and product design were also part of how the Nazis wanted to escape the uneven economic development of Germany in the 1920s, along with the genocidal imperialism, of course. And it didn’t quite work, as so many of the Volksprodukte remained stubbornly pricey, as the Bauhaus’s had.

As well as aircraft, Junkers wanted to mass-produce buildings, and in fact he did. If you bought their planes, they could also sell you prefabricated hangars to park them in, and that was also how Hugo Junkers made a living between 1933 and 1935, after the Nazis expropriated the company. They had big plans for it, and it grew to enormous size as part of the nationalised Hermann Göring Werke (and part of the man himself’s corruption-empire).

Specifically, they liked three aircraft designs from Junkers – only one of which dates from the company pre-1933, the Ju52 trimotor airliner, which was produced in huge numbers for transport. Then there was the Ju87 dive bomber, the Stuka, the only war aircraft that deliberately screamed at you as it dived in a sort of Gesamtkunstwerk dedicated to violence. When it did so, it was often being filmed, in order to convince Germans at home and everyone else abroad of German power.

In fact, even by 1939 it was rather dated, but it was cheap to build and packing the numbers of front-line bombers with them spoke to the aspirations of pro-Nazi politicians, the fears of the general public, and the empires of airpower bureaucrats everywhere.

It also had a successor, the Ju88, much closer to Hugo J’s vision of a rake-thin streamlined rocket ship.

It’s not too much to say that the hope of a Nazi future rested on it. The air force procurement plan for 1941 foresaw a mammoth build-up to challenge British and US industry, and the Junkers industrial complex began to spread across Europe in search of enough aluminium alloy. In fact, Nazi plans for Norway and the Balkans were heavily determined by the needs of the Ju88. And the Ju88 design was meant to trump the advantages Rolls-Royce and North American Aviation had, by being a multirole combat aircraft before its time, a masterpiece of product design.

Of course, it didn’t work. It wasn’t big enough to make a strategic bomber, it was too big to be a decent fighter, and its high performance made it dangerous as a close-support dive bomber (the role of the Ju87 and interestingly, also of the very first Junkers). They lost and the plants were eventually bombed out to make sure of it. Not only them: the town of Dessau was destroyed to 80% on the night of the 7th March, 1945 by RAF Bomber Command.


I recently had the opportunity to look round the Stasi’s old head office (as visitors to my photo blog will be bored beyond belief by). A couple of things – first of all, here’s something in the spirit of the last post.

A real conspirator's radio

That – as you may be able to make out from the brass plate – is a model of the concealed shortwave transmitter used by none other than Richard Sorge to send his reports from Tokyo so Stalin could comprehensively ignore most of them. (I don’t think I’ve blogged this interview with his Japanese mistress in Die Zeit before, so there you go.) The East Germans made a bit of a cult out of Sorge (and you bet we would if he’d been a Brit) – as you can see from this photo.

The building has a sort of Stalinised Royal Festival Hall chic to it; this is the private meeting room inside the Minister’s offices.

Communist executive-suite luxury

They could make anything, as long as they could make it out of wood.

Hypermodern marquetry

Talking on this device was probably unwise.

East German personal tech

But more to the point, here’s the display in Chief Directorate VII (Counterespionage and Police Internal Affairs)’s unit hall of fame about their campaign against Amnesty International.

You know you're indecent when the Stasi put your photo on the wall

The text is in a truly awful bureaucratic German; I will try to render it faithfully.

Amnesty International – a “bourgeois (or civil – the German word is fundamentally ambiguous) human rights organisation” – is strongly oriented towards slander of the socialist states. The colleagues of Chief Directorate VII contributed successfully to identifying the enemy efforts to create AI operational bases in the GDR and to rendering their attempts at discrimination ineffectual.

The exhibits are a collection of Amnesty leaflets, reports, letters and the like, which they presumably collected by slipping over to the West and going to their street stalls. These are described at the bottom as “sichergestellte Hetzschriften der Amnesty International”, which translates as something like “securely recovered hate-sheets” and usually refers to something like Der Stürmer.

Further, after the last post, BT futurologist says we’re living in science fiction. And what particular works does she mention? Blade Runner, Judge Dredd and Solyent Green.


In the world of Halting State, meanwhile, the Germans have had a wee probby with their electronic health cards. Partly it’s due to a reasonably sensible design; they decided to store information on the card, rather than on a remote system, and to protect it using a public-key infrastructure.

Data on the cards would have been both encrypted for privacy, and signed for integrity, using keys that were themselves signed by the issuing authority, whose keysigning key would be signed by the ministry’s root certification authority, operated by the equivalent of HM Stationery Office.

Not just any PKI, either; it would have been the biggest PKI in the world. Unfortunately, a hardware security module failed – with the keysigning key for the root CA on it, and there are NO BACKUPS. This means that all the existing cards will have to be withdrawn as soon as any new ones are issued, because they will need to create a new root KSK, and therefore all existing cards will fail validation against the new ones.

It’s certainly an EPIC FAIL, and alert readers will notice that it’s a sizeable chunk of the plot of Charlie’s novel. But it’s a considerably less epic fail than it might have been; if the system had been a British-style massive central database, and the root CA had been lost or compromised, well…as it is, no security violation or data loss has occurred and the system can be progressively restored, trapping and issuing new cards.

In that sense, it’s actually reasonably good government IT; at least it failed politely.

probably a robbery

From the always wonderful, Satin Pajama shortlisted, Where the money is…, the rock band who stage guerrilla gigs in banks. Bursting out of a white van, the men in balaclavas from the power trio Caracho (as in “Ni karasho!”, I presume) charge into the bank, assemble their specially hacked backline amps, and hit it. This could really only happen in Berlin, no?

I liked the policeman’s reaction as quoted : “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life…but I’d have very much liked to see their identity cards.” This is apparently the product: Caracho live ´07.

Hmm. Well, there’s always Renegade Soundwave.

Genius. Not only can the Chaos Computer Club tell you how to fool a fingerprint reader, but they’ve got Wolfgang Schauble’s dabs.

Why must you record my phone calls? Are you planning a bootleg EP? (thnx, derausqed!) So said the Specials.
Laura Rozen points us to a New York Times story regarding the wider telecoms surveillance effort that led to the great AT&T whistleblower case; it seems as good as certain that they got cracking the moment Bush took office.

What interests me, however, are the exceptions – two carriers refused to take part. One was Qwest – their motto is Spirit of Service, and I recall that at MCI we glossed it as Spirit of Silence, until some nut started sending green-ink emails about how they should be Al Qa’ida Telecom. The other, about which you hear less, was T-Mobile USA. Now, Qwest’s motivations remain obscure; but we can deduce something about the program from T-Mobile.

T-Mobile is, of course, the mobile division of Deutsche Telekom; it bought the former Voicestream assets in the United States, and is now rolling out a UMTS network. The company is the biggest mobile operator in Germany, the fourth-biggest in the UK, and the fourth-biggest in the US. Being a GSM/UMTS operator, it can offer transatlantic roaming; and here is the rub.

When one of T-Mobile’s European customers gets off the plane in the US, their mobile phone will send a CC SETUP message to the loudest base station it can hear whose network ID is in its list of available roaming partners. It will try to get on to T-Mobile’s local network by preference; if it does so, the base station controller (RNC for 3G purposes) will send a signalling message to the switching centre requesting that the subscriber be added to a local database called a Visitor Location Register (VLR), which holds a list of all roamers on the network. This is used to authenticate attempts to make calls from the number, and also to route incoming calls to it.

In order to check if the number is indeed from the network it says it is, and that the subscriber is in credit, a further signalling message is spawned to the home network to look up their Home Location Register (HLR), their master database containing all their subscribers. This will also cause a lookup on the BSS (Billing Support Subsystem), and will amend the HLR so that calls to the number are routed to the visited network.

We’re now in a position to roam. There are two ways in which that works – one has all traffic to or from the roamer routed to their home network’s switching centre, the other delegates the switching to the visited network and merely sends signalling messages to the home network. Yes, it’s complicated.

Now, if (as seems to be the case) the NSA was trying to hoover up signalling data and call-detail records, this all means that whatever they were doing in the US would also absorb information from the German and UK HLRs. Similarly, T-Mobile USA customers roaming in the UK or Germany would be leaving a data trail sent back by T-Mobile UK or Germany. The reason T-Mobile declined is probably for fear of being taken to German or British courts; because not only the local affiliate, but also the European-based networks, would in a sense have taken part, the distinction of jurisdiction could not save them. And such an act would have been highly illegal; either the German legislation on data privacy or the UK Data Protection Act, as far as I can make out, would have been violated comprehensively.

OK, then; remember the beef I had with the Indy about THE RAYS!! and THE BEES! ? Well, we now know what the problem is with the bees; they caught a virus. Interestingly, Australian bees are immune to it; I recall beekeepers on the Web back in February suggesting that this might be so.

So, clearly the Indy covered this in some detail. Sort of. Instead, their environment editor Geoffrey Lean had another story about THE RAYS; this time, the German Government was meant to have advised the public to avoid wireless LANs. It’s traditional that any statement from a German that appears in the British press is mistranslated or simply invented, but one usually associates this with the ‘bloids, or at least the Daily Hell.

I took the dramatic step of reading the parliamentary answer referred to. I wasn’t expecting accuracy, but I was a little surprised that even the question stated that there was no evidence of a risk within the regulatory norms, as far as was known to science, although the question was not definitively settled. Charmingly, they also quoted a Fox News report as a source..

Anyway, rather than advising the citizenry to avoid WLANs, the Federal Government said that their experiments showed that radiation exposure from them was between one and two orders of magnitude below the regulatory limit, that even when the device was in contact with the skin, a breach of this was very unlikely, that public hotspots made up only a minimal exposure to the public, that there were no specific precautions recommended by the government, but in general it might be better to use a wired solution where possible, and that the question of whether to use WLAN or wired Ethernet in schools was an individual decision, and the government had no opinion on it.

Following an unexpected referral to this blog, I came to this discussion of Theodor Adorno. Well, that takes me back. I remember having reams of him stuffed down my neck at Vienna University in the winter of 2001, which I didn’t like in the least. I certainly didn’t like the cult of personality some people surrounded him with, (I remember one painfully well-brought up student punk who went around with “Glückliche Sklaven sind die Feinde der erbitterteren Freiheit” scrawled on his tastefully ripped shirt) and I didn’t think much of his books.

So I’m immensely amused by this tale of how he reacted to the student movement of 1968, when a group of his students at the Institut für Sozialforschung decided to occupy the place. Specifically, he called the cops, like any good Ordinarius faced with a buncha dirty hippies. Scheißkritische Theoretiker!, (Shitty critical theorists!) howled the leader of a demo as the riot squad dragged him away past Adorno’s office.

Wonderfully, having insisted on pressing charges against the advice of Jürgen Habermas, ever the most reasonable of the Frankfurt Schoolies, Adorno didn’t bother to give evidence against the guy because it would have interrupted his summer holidays. I can’t help imagining him – trudging up an alp? in lederhosen? sunning himself on the white beaches of Sylt? – surrounded by the Daimler-Benz executives and senior civil servants he excoriated as bearers of faschistische Kontinuität, whilst the case he insisted on bringing against the student he set the cops on collapsed for want of his testimony.

It’s always interesting to watch somebody confronted with their own utopia, and Adorno’s ferocious assaults on authority could really only be read by a 60s German student as a savage critique of the old-fashioned professoriat’s authoritarianism and pomposity. He even made use of this trope in his own work – I think it’s Erziehung zur Mündigkeit in which he boasts that when he returned from exile, there were still students at Frankfurt who clicked their heels when they spoke to an academic, and now look at them! That was written some years after his experience on the receiving end of his own principles, so clearly he re-evaluated somewhat, or at least he recovered his composure.