Episode 62 - A Filthy Little Tip for the Barman (Travellers Week)
Updated: Apr 19
Sam's Episode Notes: Ahnenerbe, the Indiana-Jones influencing Nazi archaeological society.
I thought I'd work a bit laterally in my research this week, so I started off looking at shitty diplomatic missions and people who'd made faux pas whilst travelling on official business. I didn't find anything I could spin into a really good story on its own. BUT I did find a couple of excellent honourable mentions.
The first is for US President Jimmy Carter, on his 1977 trip to Poland. Now, this should have been a fairly boring trip – you turn up, give a big speech banging on about democracy for a while in front of a load of communists, do some shots, take a photo and piss off home after checking your luggage for microphones.
However, there was a problem from the offset. And that was Mr Carters translator, a guy called Steven Seymour, who was hired for the job at a rate of $150 a day – about $650 today. A pretty well paid gig, so you'd hope he could speak Polish. But no. He spoke very bad Polish. And a bit of Russian, which as you can imagine went down really well when he slipped it into his translation.
So, what Carter meat to say – and did say in English – was that he had left America that morning. Which was translated into Polish as President Carter had left America for good that morning. IE that he was migrating to Poland. Confusing, but ok – it's a nice place, why not.
Significantly more embarrassing was what happened next: He said wanted to learn more on his trip about Poland's desires for the future. And what was translated, Tom? The Polish audience, and god knows why, were told that President Carter wanted to get to know them carnally.
Before announcing that he was excited to grab at Poland's private parts.
Anyway, that got me on to other diplomatic blunders, and I came across Joachim von Ribbentrop. Now some listeners will be familiar with him as the chief Nazi diplomat and foreign minister, who bought together the axis powers and arranged the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-agression pact between the USSR and Germany, which eventually led to the splitting of Poland by the pair in 1939.
But he was also the German ambassador to the UK for a few years, and made a right hash of it, surrounding himself with nutcases and committing so many diplomatic blunders that no serious British officials would see him. He took this personally, becoming increasingly anglophobic to the point where he actually tried to convince Hitler to sign up to an anti-British alliance with the Soviets, and invade the British empire instead of Eastern Europe. And among the gaffes which made him a laughing stock, several were related to his fondness for a certain salute.
In November 1936, he was taken to a service in Durham Cathedral and the hymn Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken was sung. Now, the first few bars of this song sound suspiciously like the Horst Wessel Song, the Nazi anthem. Ribbentrop, with reflex action, jumped to his feet, threw the nazi salute and started Zieg Heiling in the middle of Durham Cathedral, in the middle of a service. He had to literally be manhandled and pulled back down into his seat by his handlers.
Ooor the occasion in February 1937 where he punched King George 6th in the face. Which as political gaffes go, pretty good one. George was approaching Ribbentrop for a friendly handshake at a formal dinner. As he approached, Ribbentrop, ever the good nazi, pulled out his old favourite nazi salute. And, because Goerge was closing in for a handshake, he punched him square on the nose in the process, knocking him back with some force and almost sparking him out.
Aaanyway, that got me on to thinking about more traditional travelling and exploration, Tom. And I had a thought – we've talked a lot about explorers, a lot of the time pretty morally dubious ones. But always 'our guys' so to speak – British, Australian, etc. But we haven't talked much about the bad guys and their exploration of the world. So today, since we're going travelling, I thought I'd talk a bit about the Ahnenerbe and Amt Rosenberg – the bizarre and downright evil pseudo-scientific nazi archaeological societies, who toured the world trying to find archaeological evidence to prove their batshit crazy ideas about race and history. Now, Tom. You may have seen Indiana Jones. And you'll know he hates nazis. Well, these are the guys he hates. There's a whole load of legend surrounding them and the Nazi obsession with the occult, but they did exist, and they went on some pretty mad expeditions.
Some of this was to try and find out more about the German heritage, some was to prove the superiority of the German heritage, and most was to try and prove that the Germans were there first, and therefore had a historic right to claim X or Y territory.
And what they were specifically not looking for was Aryan archaeology. This is a bit confusing – but the “academics” of the Ahnenerbe viewed the Aryan/Semitic divide as overly simplistic and a crowd pleaser for the peasants.
No. The Aryans were merely the upper echelons of the Nordic people, whilst the Jews were a cultural mishmash who spread themselves around any culture they came into contact with, and therefore didn't really count as anything and weren't worthy of any respect. Still a nonsense idea, but a twist on the classic. And so what these guys were looking for was essentially Nordic history – and with it, the nazis hoped, proof that nordic paganism was the one true religion.
Amt Rosenberg, the organisation founded by Alfred Rosenberg in 1934, was the smaller but more professional outfit. It had the express aim of supporting the theory that the German people were the last refugees from the lost city of Atlantis, and therefore the fatherfolk of all modern civilisations, which they had travelled the world sharing with the people they met. It didn't launch much in the way of major expeditions, preferring to dig prehistoric sites closer to home.
Ahnenerbe was much more interesting, and if anything even more batty. It was also horrific, being involved in quite a lot of human experimentation during its lifetime, in particular experiments in using nonsense ancient herbal remedies to try and cure deliberate gunshot wounds in prisoners. It was formed by Himmler and Dutch prehistorian Herman Wirth in 1935. He was convinced that the ancient runes that were being found around Germany predated all other known civilisations by thousands of years, and showed an early, long-lost Nordic civilisation. When conventional archeologists who knew about, you know, Egypt and Assyria started mocking him, Wirth spun a tale that the German people had started out in a far northern arctic enclave, long since lost to the sea, which was in fact the mythical city of Atlantis. And because he had the support of the Nazi party, that line pretty much became Government policy. So much so that Ahnenerbe was eventually absorbed into the SS So how do you go about proving it? Well, with expeditions to prove your point.
In 1935/36, Himmler paid for an expedition into the wastelands of northern Finland to try and find the origins of the lost nordic civilisation and trace their roots back to Atlantis. The group recorded ancient Finnish songs and folklore, rock carvings, and even interviewed and filmed witches and shamens who had apparently foreseen their arrival. For no obvious reason, they also did quite a lot of investigations and reporting into Finnish saunas.
In 1937, the group discovered a load of runic petroglyphs in Italy, which convinced them that, yes, the Germans had founded the city of Rome and therefore the Romans were, in fact, Nordic. Now, I don't know if you've ever met an Italian, Tom. They are not Scandinavian. At all. Nevertheless, oh look! Here's an excuse to claim the entire lands of the Roman empire as German, including the middle east with all its oil fields and access to the Indian Ocean. Ace.
As a direct result, in 1938 the group paid for a Middle Eastern expedition – with funding personally matched by Goring, to trace the conflict between the Semites and the Roman/Germans. The explorers were kicked out of Syria by the French, but did have some luck courting the Government in Iraq, who gave them a thorough tour and let them dig on the borders of the old Roman empire.
At the same time, the group were involved in a secret expedition to map, explore and possibly colonise an area of the coast of Antarctica claimed by Norway, but nothing really ever came of it.
This is a particularly mad one: In 1938/39, the organisation launched an expedition to Tibet, led by German zoologist and SS officer and spy Ernst Schäfer, to try and prove a bonkers theory by the German racialist author Hans Gunther, also known as the Race Pope, that the Germans had invaded China and Tibet in around 2000 BC.
They also wanted to try and prove Himmler's even madder sub-theory that Hitler was a direct descendant of Buddah himself, and that the two's teachings directly correlated. Hmm, fanatical militarism combined with Buddhism? Burma and Sri Lanka would like a word.
Officially, the expedition was there to map magnetic fields and for bird spotting, but in reality, they spent most of their time making plaster casts of local people and measuring their heads to compare to the folk back home, eventually deciding that modern Tibetans were half-German, half Mongol, and therefore the superior race of Asia.
Oh, and of course, Schäfer made lots of scientific doodles of the sexual habits of the Tibetan people, particularly masturbation and homosexuality, where, for obvious scientific reasons, he made detailed drawings of every known homosexual sexual position practised by the Tibetans. To do this, he posed as a travelling faith healer and watched their acts in order to, supposedly, cure them of STIs. Och Jah!
But the strangest expedition was probably to Bolivia, headed by a guy named Edmund Kiss, a German author highly respected by the nazis, in 1928. He visited temples in the Andes and discovered, somewhat unsurprisingly, that they looked an awful lot like traditional German houses. Therefore they simply must have been built by Nordic travellers, wait for it, A MILLION YEARS AGO. That, for reference, is not long after the time the first human species began to appear, and 750,000 years before modern humans. He claimed that the temples were built as part of an Atlantan colony or diplomatic mission, and featured futuristic technology and advanced celestial calendars. He even claimed to have found statues of Germans there, though it was never seen again after he apparently spirited it away. Unfortunately, we'll never know the truth of the Andean temples, because a new expedition planned by Kiss for 1939 was cancelled due to the outbreak of the war. Which is a shame because as far as Ahnenerbe was concerned...
You can only be German
To discover the words
In the form of old runes
Around the world
When finding out which ancient race
The Volk's compatible with
He just needed extra time did Herr... Kiss
So there we go, Tom. The slightly odd expeditions of the mad, racist and not especially academic German academic archaeology society, Ahnenerbe. Ironically, a lot of the group's activities haven't ever really been investigated, since its members melted back into academia after the war – those who weren't tried for war crimes, that is. Which has kind of stifled most investigation into what they were really up to.
Tom's notes: Till Eulenspiegel – Travellers Week
Now Sam, I met an old friend this week when out walking around the village. And yep, they are also very famous.
· You’ll never guess who it was
· Let me give you a clue: “aye up, Pamela, put some sun-cream on me arse will yer!”
· That’s right! It’s David Hosselhaf
· We first met in Berlin, ’91.
· Anyway, David, as it turns out, is a big fan of the show and as it turns out, he wrote a song for us inspired by our episode on Wagner, the scatological composer.
Some people won’t grab the bog brush
Afraid to stand up to the shite
Some people need to unblock the crapper
When the water in the toilet gets high
Don’t you worry
It’s going to be alright
Cause I’m always ready
I won’t let it flood the room with shite
I’ll be ready (I’ll be ready)
Never your fear (no don’t your fear)
I’ll be ready, forever and always
I’m always here.
David, or Davey-boy as he’s known to his friends, recommended an awesomely scatological source from medieval Germany.
· That source is Till Eulenspiegel; which translates as Owl-Mirror, or possible arse-wipe according to experts in Middle German.
· As we have discovered in this podcast on innumerable occasions, history is full of spoil-sports. Like the UN, and the WHO, UNICEF, Amnesty International; wankers!
· Well, unfortunately for us, the original document detailing the adventures of mischief-maker and prankster extrodinaire, Till Eulenspiegel, have been bowlderised since the early 16th century.
o Bowlderising is the act of making something rude into something less rude, because you’re a boring twat.
· I’m fluent in many medieval languages, it’s just casual hobby of mine, but I’ve not quite mastered Early New High German yet, so the original documents were tantalisingly out of reach.
o Modern bowlderised versions of the stories are easily available in English. There is also a translation from 1972 that I just couldn’t find online, and I was willing to pay for this one!
o However, through exhaustive research, I have discovered some translations of some of the original rude stories. Hooray!
So let me tell you all more about Till Eulenspiegel.
· The stories of Till originate in the 16th Century, or at least this is where are oldest sources come from, but as we have learnt in older episodes, these stories are often old than their first printed versions.
· Till is born in 1300 and travels around the Holy Roman Empire being a toe-rag and general pranker wanker until his death at the hands of the Black Death in 1350.
o All my contributions to the last 3-4 episodes are nicely linked aren’t they?
· The stories from of Till are fairly well known, in their bowlderised form.
o For example, famous British children’s author Michael Rosen has written a version of the stories.
o Richard Strauss wrote a tone-poem at the end of the 19th century about Till. I’m not quite sure how a tone-poem differs to a standard piece of orchestral music; certainly not an area of expertise!
o It’s also been made into numerous films and televisions series
o There are museums devoted to him in Germany, he has the odd statue and a fountain named after him.
§ I even found online some old fine porcelain from a Copenhagen artist depicting Till
o There’s even a French word, espiègle/ espièglerie, thought to be derived from Til Eulandspiegel. The French word means impish, mischevious
o Lastly, there was a club founded in 1971 in New York called TES; The Eulanspeigel Society.
§ It was the USA’s first BDSM club apparently
· Anyway, let’s enjoy some of the original stories that I found translated into English
o The following 2 are from D. L. Ashliman, a retired Professor from the University of Pitsburgh (these translations are from the University’s website.
o How Till Eulenspiegel Became a Furrier's Apprentice
It was mid winter when Till Eulenspiegel arrived at Ascherleben. Times were hard, but finally he found a furrier who was willing to take on an apprentice, and he was put to work sewing pelts. Not being accustomed to the smell of the curing hides, he said, "Pew! Pew! You are as white as chalk, but stink like dung!"
The furrier said, "If you don't like the smell, then why are you a furrier's apprentice? It's a natural smell. It's only wool."
Eulenspiegel said nothing, but thought, "One bad thing can drive another bad thing away." Then he let such a sour fart that the furrier and his wife had to stop working.
The furrier said, "If you have to fart like that, then go out into the courtyard. There you can fart as much as you like."
Eulenspiegel answered, "A fart is more natural and healthier than the stench of your sheep pelts."
The furrier said, "Healthy or not, if you want to fart, then go outside."
Eulenspiegel said, "Master, it would do no good, because farts don't like the cold. They are used to being in a warm place. That's why if you let a fart it always rushes for your nose. It goes from one warm place to another."
The furrier said nothing, for he could see that Eulenspiegel knew nothing of the furrier trade and was a rogue at that. And he sent him on his way.
o Till Eulenspiegel and the Innkeeper at Cologne
Eulenspiegel journeyed to Cologne, where he stayed at an inn for two or three days without letting anyone know who he was. During this time he noticed that the innkeeper was a rogue, and he thought, "The guests will not be well off where the innkeeper is a rogue. You should find another place to stay."
That evening he told the innkeeper that he would be looking for another place to stay. The latter showed the other guests to their beds, but not Eulenspiegel, who then said, "Sir, I paid just as much for my lodging as the others did, but you showed them to their beds. Am I supposed to sleep here on this bench?"
The innkeeper said, "Look! Here is a pair of sheets!" and he let a fart. Then he let another one and said, "Look! This is your pillow!" Then for a third time he let one, until it stank, and he said, "Look! Now you have an entire bed! Use them until morning, and then lay them in a pile for me, so I can find everything together!"
Eulenspiegel said nothing, but thought, "Look! Take note that one rogue deserves another rogue." And that night he slept on the bench.
Now the innkeeper had a nice folding table. Eulenspiegel opened up the leaves, shit a large pile on the table, and then closed it up again. He got up early in the morning, went to the innkeeper's room and said, "Sir, I thank you for the night's lodging." Then letting a large fart, he said, "Those are the feathers from your bed. I laid the pillow, the sheets, and the covers all together in a pile."
The innkeeper said, "Sir, that is good. I will look after them as soon as I get up."
Eulenspiegel said, "Do that! Just look around. You'll find them all right!" And with that he left the inn.
The innkeeper expected many guests for the noon meal, and he said that they should eat at the nice folding table. When he opened up the table, an evil stink flew up his nose. Seeing the dung, he said, "He gives what was earned. He paid for a fart with shit."
Then the innkeeper sent for Eulenspiegel, because he wanted to get to know him better. Eulenspiegel did indeed come back, and he and the innkeeper appreciated one another's tricks so much, that from this time forth Eulenspiegel got a good bed.
There’s another good one where Till is practicing tight rope walking outside his house as a child. His mother cuts the end of the rope and Till falls in a river, much to the amusement of the locals. The next day, Till returns to the same spot, reattaches the rope and performs some excellent tight-rope tricks. As a grand finale, he tells the large number of onlookers to help him by tying their left shoes to a long rope he has. They do so, Till takes the rope, climbs up on the tight rope out of reach and takes each shoe at a time and throws them randomly into the crowd. Cracking!
Here are some other chapter/story titles that will give you a good feel for Till’s storie
· How Eulenspeigel became a brewer’s assistant at Einbeck and how be boiled a dog called Hops instead of hops
· How the priest of Hoheneggelsen ate one of Eulenspiegel’s sausages –something which subsequently did not make him happy
· How Eulenspiegel cheated Jews at Frankfurt-on-the-main out of a thousand guilders, by selling them his excrement as prophet’s berries.