• Google Maps' Nazi problem

    Google Maps' reviewing system has provided a platform for Nazi sympathizers and antisemitic harassment for years. It's a quiet example of the trillion-dollar tech giant's disinterest in moderation—and a loud warning about how easy it is for the far right to appropriate online services.

    Most items in Google Maps are treated like businesses which can be owned and managed, reflecting a system fundamentally designed to monetized. While this makes sense for restaurateurs and shopkeepers, it makes less sense for other locations, such as genocide memorials.

    You don't have to go far on Google to find evidence of obvious moderation-at-scale issues. Reviews of Holocaust-related apps in the Google Play store, for example, are a miserable library of denialist rhetoric and misinformed debate.

    For Google Maps, though, the problem goes beyond user-provided comments and reviews. It's structurally bound to how their mapping system treats memorials.

    As memorials are structured like businesses and the registration process for a "business" involves a physical mailing, it makes it nearly impossible for memorials to be managed and moderated by responsible parties. Even with the most recent update to Maps, the "attractions" highlighted underscore a five-star rating rubric that's inappropriate for these venues.

    The crematorium at Buchenwald concentration camp is open to "business management", just one example of an entity that cannot be verified according to Google's process. Yet these ovens have earned 4.6 stars.

    This is compounded by the fact that Google Maps ignores most memorials. As a case in point, there are thousands of memorials to the victims of national socialism in Germany. Upwards of 80% of them are absent from digital mapping systems, and Google is not alone in this.

    In Apple Maps, for example, the Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism, a significant cultural venue in the heart of the city, is marked as a public toilet. 

    The most well-known memorials are listed, often the result of manual additions to Google Maps. Due to the design and its focus on businesses and amenities, though, there is little room for memorial culture to express itself in listings, comments or how information is presentated.

    Instead, Google Maps is put to use as a platform for Nazi veneration and Holocaust jokes.

    Near the museum in Munich are the ruins for the Nazi-era SS Honor Temples. These SS sites in the center of the city repeatedly appear in Google maps, but are (to the company's credit) taken down after requests are made. But the sites re-appear, and when they do, comments return that praise Nazis and deny the existence and the extent of the Holocaust.

    Another typical location is 3.9-star "Hitler Bunker" in Berlin: an informational sign indicating the location of the Reich Chancellery bunker where Hitler committed suicide.  

    This entry serves as a point for gawkers, tourists, and crude online jokes. Users of Google Maps are currently informed that services at the Führerbunker may differ due to COVID-19—be sure to call to verify opening hours in advance. The comments, the jokes and the lies all remain in perpetuity. 

    In contrast, only one block away is the T4 memorial, a large memorial structure commemorating the organized efforts to "euthanize"—to mass murder—those deemed physically unfit for society. It's an important memorial site in the center of a major city that was inexplicably absent from Google Maps up until a few weeks ago.  It was listed as GJS Communications, Tiergartenstrasse 4. 

    In a city like Berlin with hundreds upon hundreds of memorials to the victims of Nazism, it seems strange that so many remain forgotten in the digital world.

    If this isn't enough to encourage change in the mapping system, head on over to Ohio's 4.4-star "Hitler Pond" for a litany of antisemitic garbage.

    While these structural data problems regarding memorial sites and suggestive locations are not unique to Nazism, it seems like one important area where Google could put some effort into accuracy and moderation. I've conducted research on the topic of memorials and have a large database with the digital locations to back up my claims.

    Here are three ways Google Maps can improve:

    1: The ability to rate and review memorials should be removed as an option. Google has other ways to determine the visibility or popularity of memorial sites. 

    2: Google should create a new set of categories to handle official memorials in its mapping system. "Historical Landmark" and "Tourist Attraction" just isn't enough.

    3. Google should work to include all memorials to the victims of National Socialism in its mapping system. I'm happy to help and my research database with 5,000 memorial sites in Germany could provide a great start.

    Since the murder of George Floyd, some confederate memorials such as the Robert E. Lee Memorial in Richmond have been moderated to block new photo additions and comments. So it certainly has the technical capability to quickly enact these proposals.

    Sadly, I've made several attempts to reach out to Google and Apple about mapping memorial sites and have been turned away at each attempt.


  • Love Letters to Hitler

    The American poet Hannah Cushman Howes sent a letter to Adolf Hitler in the early part of 1933. It contained a poem she composed especially for him:


    Heed not those alien, rabble foes,
    That tear and rend our land,
    Our land was built by Patriots,
    Who by their country stand.

    And you, today, are your land's hope
    Its savior whom traitors fear;
    In you the glowing flame leaps high
    That once stirred Paul Revere.

    She also included a handwritten note to clarify her sentiments further.

    "…America's enemies, most of them Russians – I saw them. Jews from Russia, Poland, Italy, and Germany too. You may send this letter to him if it makes clear our feelings."

    Howes was active in the America First movement and was listed as one of the rally sponsors at Madison Square Gardens in October 1941, featuring speakers such as real estate developer and diplomat, John Cudahy, Senator Burton Wheeler from Montana, and famed pilot Charles Lindburgh.

    Howes' early letter of affection and affiliation and many other examples of correspondence were archived by Hitler's office and are maintained with other honorifics in the German federal archives at Berlin-Lichterfelde.

    The files include poems, drawings, handicrafts, and other expressions of unconditional obedience. Among the letters that Hitler's office retained were birthday telegrams, ranging from representatives of Daimler Benz to a "Louis Philippe" from Philadelphia.

    While these letters were private correspondence, nationwide, a larger public phenomenon had been brewing since mid-1932 in which German cities publicly offered fealty to Hitler. The "highest honor" a municipality can bestow upon an individual in Germany is honorary citizenship -Ehrenbürgerrecht.

    By 1933, over 1000 municipalities had extended offers of honorary citizenship to Hitler in rapid succession. A map of the cities that bestowed the honor is posted online.

    The enthusiasm and rush to honor Hitler serve as a bellwether of the Nazi party's rise to power. Towns also sought to personally deliver the certificate of honorary citizenship to Hitler and members of the city council proudly signed their names, a problematic discovery when municipalities uncover these documents in their archives today.

    The city of Berlin gushed in their proclamation:

    "Mr. Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler, the German man who, arisen from original German lineage, found his self-chosen fatherland early in the German Reich, for whose existence and honor he dedicated life and limb to the last, the far-sighted leader, as a volunteer of the World War, in whose soul burned since the darkest days of German history the desire to save his people from shame and disgrace, the passionate fighter who never bowed to ignorance, hatred or adverse fate, carried the great thoughts of the national, social, and protective ethnic community to the German people, above all to the youth, and did not rest until he had secured victory against everything that was un-German and fake, against disintegrating heresy, the destroyer of the community and the culture of the German people, for the architect of the new German Reich, who, at the side of the venerable President of the Reich von Hindenburg, supported by the trust and love of the people and in alliance with all the pure and willing forces of the nation of the Reich, took reconstruction into his young and strong hands, we confer honorary citizenship on our city."

    In the case of Hitler and with other notable despots, many individuals, towns, and organizations lined up early on to demonstrate their eager fealty and adoration via a slew of honorifics and other tokens of affection.

    File R 43-II/979-81 in the German federal archives outlines the "naming of streets, squares, bridges, bells, schools, trees, etc." after Hitler. It includes diverse offerings of fealty such as the Adolf Hitler Bad (Adolf Hitler Swimming Pool) in Munich, the renaming of flower varieties such as the Hitler Rose, the planting of Hitler Oaks across Germany, and repeated requests for Hitler to be the grand marshall for festivals.

    In some cases, these honorifics were turned down, as in the case of the Adolf Hitler Konditorei (Adolf Hitler Confectionery). Hitler did, however, gladly accept a mirror carp from the organization of German pond farmers. He sent a letter of gratitude in February of 1934.

    After 1933, the adoration had already served its purpose and was slowed purposefully by the government. The correspondence became obsessive. It even became a problem for the Reich Chancellery, because the drive to affiliate with Hitler through honors generated a bureaucratic burden on the office.

    The correspondence seems mundane, but it indicates the relationship that always exists between leaders that seek absolute obedience and a public all too willing to oblige.

  • Want to know why men fight—and why we like to watch?

    In another world, he might have been a great professor. Instead, he was given God's work: helping freshmen improve their written compositions.

    image001He does all the right things to rise above this. He publishes, presents at conferences, networks, and even makes friends with Deans. In fact, his last book went beyond the expectations set for academics: it sold well.

    This left him looking in the mirror, daily, at a failed professor. He hadn't yet earned the academy's golden ticket: a tenure-track job.

    Therefore, Jon decided to become an MMA fighter.

    A black eye and swollen lip would surely get him noticed at the monthly faculty meeting! His attempt at becoming a fighter was thwarted, first by films like Here Comes the Boom, which seemed to usurp his idea of the teacher turned brawler, and second by his innate drive towards scientific analysis.

    Thus was born his newest book, The Professor in the Cage. It starts off as a memoir of another "failed" professor in American higher education, and ends up an insightful look into humanity's long term fascination with watching two men beat the snot out of each other.

    It is less a story about war, bullying, and duels, and more a story about what is innate in the male version of our species, from an evolutionary perspective. Some have already said that it can be seen as a "guide to men."

    Men—intellectual men—who read this can nod along with the pages in subconscious agreement. They may try to explain "smear the queer" to their equally intellectual wife, and to themselves, while gaining a disdainful glance.


  • Hitler's bookbinder

    Handcrafted bookbinding is an art that continues to this day. Though mechanical presses took over most production more than a century ago, artists still train to craft singular works of art by hand. The fetishism surrounding hand-bound volumes was also a part of the Nazi search to redefine a cultural aesthetic, and the party commissioned works from a variety of artists. But it was one woman, Frieda Thiersch, who made some of the most revered volumes—and gained the favor of the highest members of the Nazi party.

    Her life and artistic output were full of tragic twists and exploitation, which culminated in her working in cooperation with the Nazis towards a new aesthetic surrounding paper ephemera and hand-bound volumes. And, unlike some Nazi artists, she died in poverty, alone, surrounded in mystery, with much of her work destroyed and her life forgotten.


  • Guestblogger signing off!

    diegodoppleganger.jpgI am signing off as a BB guest blogger. It has been a great deal of fun to post here occasionally and I was very happy to contribute to a site I have been reading for years. Thanks to all the BB editors who write articles provoking thoughts, laughter, and outrage. Particular thanks to Rob Beschizza for helping me craft my pieces and providing excellent layout work on a number of features.

    I will still be a not-so-mild-mannered professor and continue my work with CAPL to provide free, high quality, authentic images for the foreign language teaching community.

    Most of all, I would like to acknowledge to support of my family of three amazing kids and my smokin' hot wife Christy. She is also a foreign language professor and I have never met someone who is simultaneously so intelligent and kind hearted. Much of my work owes a great deal to her support and critical eye. Sláinte!

  • Welcome to Bierwelt, Bavaria's theme park based on beer

    I invite you to make the journey deep into the heart of Bavaria. Only 90km from Munich lies Abensberg in the Hallertau, the world's largest hop growing region. Abensberg is home to Kuchlbauer, a small brewery specializing in Hefeweizen style beers. This region is also home to the two oldest known licensed breweries in the world, Weihenstephan (1040) and Weltenburg (1050), and currently has about 600 operating breweries. Despite brewing traditions going back almost a thousand years, Hefeweizen is a fairly new phenomenon in beer. Traditionally, the malt in German beer is barley. The addition of wheat as a malted grain has become increasingly popular over the past sixty years. Kuchlabuer decided to specialize in Hefeweizen early in the twentieth century and has been operating a tour of its facility for about thirty years. (more…)

  • Art-mageddon: Artistic impulses in post-war Munich

    I am in Munich teaching a three week travel-course with some of my German majors. In preparation for this course, I have been digging through a number of items to use as examples of how the people of Munich dealt with the post war period from 1945-1949. I am particulary interested in the role that art played in the aftermath of war. One image I use is a small hand colored comic I acquired a few years back entitled "American Boys in Bavaria" by W.D. Zehetmair. It depicts a Jeep full of GIs driving through Munich. One of the GIs tosses a cigarette and four men appear to dive on it. It is reminiscent of the scene in Fassbinder's Marriage of Maria Braun (7:09) when Germans pounce upon a cigarette butt thrown by a soldier highlighting the value that cigarettes had as currency in post war Germany. (more…)

  • 1895 Viennese Archetype Images

    caplplate1.jpgI recently posted a collection of archetypal images from 1895 to the CAPL web site. These images were drawings by Ferdninand Wüst as 'figural compositions', or images that symbolically tell a story from "everyday life". These specific images were of the archetypal variety, meant to highlight easily recognizable universal ideals through the variety of different aspects in each drawing.

    They are images meant to awaken the instinctive understanding of the viewer. Since they come from 1895 Vienna, the instinctive ability of the modern viewer may be limited, or may allow for a peek into the mind of the past. The image of electricity is most compelling, although I personally don't recognize every aspect of that drawing. These images can be a puzzle, with many pieces combined to form a greater whole. The image marked 'empire' has a number of turn of the century themes combined to show the hope for a Western European Empire: medicine, industry, foreign goods, a connected postal system, etc. And then, there are the beer and wine images.

    All of the drawings are provided in high quality with a friendly CC 3.0 license. Prost!

  • CAPL, an open multilingual photo dictionary


    As a language teacher, I am always making my own materials. Good language teachers do this habitually. We don't only rely on content provided to us; we constantly tinker with materials, re-form them, borrow, adapt, and use anything we can get our hands on to make the language learning process more relevant and interesting to our students. We are essentially "makers" of curricular materials.

    Images do improve vocabulary acquisition and are essential for the instruction of culture. Simply put, access to good media is limited for teachers. Sure, we all have MS Clipart, but how do you explain a ticket cancelling machine in the unit on public transit with clipart? Or how do you convey what a Döner is? An image is a good place to start. Simply taking images from search engines doesn't always work. There can be too many and finding the right image is often hard when you want to convey a specific cultural idea in a different language.

    In 2003 I approached a colleague of mine at W&J College about a project idea I had. (more…)

  • Testing the TSA with Titanium Man


    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

    I have been covertly testing airport security since early 2002. I file no reports and the only notes I take are mental. I am the person that knows when the airport has security holes and still boards the plane. I am titanium man.

    OK, enough of the dramatic science fiction; the truth is stranger. I have a few replacement parts installed in my body. Both my right and left humerus are constructed of titanium pins and plates with a number of screws in each arm and my right tibia has a full titanium core with a number of screws to fix it to my ankle and up by my knee. The details of how they all got there would be book length. The short version is that in early 2002 I had to get around in a wheel chair for a while, learn to walk, write, dress myself, eat, cook, all over again. It was an odd rebirth with metal ersatz bones to keep me all together. Unable to use my arms for much at the time due to their reconstruction, I managed to get around by dragging my left foot against the ground to propel the wheelchair. It was much like skateboarding when you get enough momentum to get from place to place. (more…)

  • How (not) to exterminate a book.


    As a book freak (bibliophile is just too refined to describe my love for certain bound publications) I have been researching the case of a particular poetry volume for a few years now. Recently, Xeni posted on the U.S. government's purchase and destruction of upwards of 10,000 books that reminded me of the case I am researching and I found the parallels between the two instances eerie. I am going to request a suspension of Godwin's law for the time that you read this piece as the unintentional but unavoidable comparison to the Nazis cannot be hidden.

    Gottfried Benn: German poet, medical doctor, and Nazi sympathizer, published a collection of his poems in May 1936 entitled "Selected Poems – Ausgewählte Gedichte". Although authorized for publication under the Nazis, upon a closer reading of the poems the authorities quickly changed their minds. The Black Corps – Das Schwarze Korps, the official weekly propaganda newspaper of the SS, vilified the publication by calling Benn a Selbsterrreger (Self-agitator or Masturbator). Some of his early expressionist poems were deemed to be inappropriate for a Nazi audience and the newspaper advised him, "Give it up, poet Benn, the times for such disgusting things (Ferkeleien – literally 'acts of piglets') are permanently gone".

    This created such a furor over the poetry volume that the book was banned at the beginning of the summer of 1936. The copies in existence were systematically rounded up and destroyed by the government.

    Unlike previous instances of Nazi book burning that were largely symbolic but did not represent a complete extermination of a particular work, this instance of publication, review, recall, and destruction eliminated almost all of the original first editions printed.

    However, despite this swift and sharp reaction on behalf of the authorities, Benn's book was not simply erased from memory as one might expect, but replaced. As early as November, a new first edition with the same title appeared that subtracted five poems from the collection and added seven other poems. It was not Benn's poetry alone that was offensive, but merely a number of poems (Zipped PDF). They were: "D-Zug", "Mann und Frau gehen durch die Krebsbaracke", "O Nacht", "Synthese", and "Untergrundbahn".

    Gottfried Benn remained in Germany during WWII but was forbidden to publish on his own until after the war. For years, his Nazi sympathies have been juxtaposed with his poetic contributions. Despite that larger debate on the merits of his work, the case of his 'exterminated' book remains a truly interesting example of how Government control of publication is both horrifying and strange. Despite the desire of the Nazi government to exterminate the book and replace it with a revised version, a number of copies of the original 1st edition have of course survived. However, I would currently estimate the number to be under twenty. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer stated recently, "Someone buying 10,000 books to suppress a story in this digital age is ludicrous." Even without the digital age, it has always been ludicrous to believe that one can to control the flow of information.

  • My Man Anton Schutz: An Immigrant's View of the New York

    Anton Schutz in his studio

    When talking about immigration, it is either an often cited or often forgotten fact that most of us here in the USA are decendents of immigrants. What I think is more often forgotten is that it the immigrant who sees the positive side of a new life in the US and contributes to our culture in ways that current residents don't: with the eyes of the outsider. (more…)

  • Being Dead in Pittsburgh

    This spring on the Montour Trail I snapped a photo of a wild turkey carcass still suspended in a tree. It is a reminder that not only was Les Nessman right, Turkeys do indeed fly to get to their nightly roost, occasionally that roost is their final resting place. While most dead Pittsburgh turkeys come hurtling down at night, the rare bird remains for us to see as we pass.

    There are many reasons why Pittsburgh is a unique and compelling city. Pittsburgh's dead also have unique and compelling stories to tell, as I found out conducting research on German immigrants to the area. Perhaps it is simply the geography that has the greatest influence on both the living and the dead.  The combination of ancient mountains towards the western lea of Pennsylvania, plenty of water provided by the numerous rivers, and the natural rock resources of the earth have given us coal, iron, steel, and today a hilly landscape that affords few tracts of flat earth. 

    return to top

    This lack of wide swaths of flat earth contributes to fewer highway lanes, fewer sprawling car dealerships, and fewer malls and big-box stores. 

    It also means that space it at a premium and we often build upon that which was here before, even when we build upon the dead. That makes sense in the downtown area. For example, the corner of 6th ave and Smithfield was formerly a cemetery, now it is a Brooks Brothers.

    Immigrants in the 19th century found that neighborhoods were often defined by geography. A hill or river strictly delineates a neighborhood and when it came to burying the dead, you often buried locally. While some cemeteries have been maintained, many cemeteries in the Pittsburgh area have simply been 'converted' into other uses or have been left to be discovered by construction equipment. It shouldn't be surprising then that in 1987 an expansion of route 28 uncovered 727 bodies from a defunct cemetery right on the north shore of the Allegheny river. In fact, there are numerous forgotten cemeteries in the Pittsburgh area.

    Often cemeteries that have been disinterred were converted into athletic facilities for some reason. The Cowley Athletic field of Troy hill is a good example of this. 

    Sometimes the woods simply take over. An older resident of Troy Hill told me that bodies were also buried at this wooded location

    Through property acquisition and expansion, these forgotten cemeteries find new purposes, perhaps to be discovered later. The University of Pittsburgh acquired the grounds to a cemetery years back.  Where are the bodies? Only the back-hoe knows. 

    If you live in Pittsburgh, it is interesting to look at these old maps to see where your neighborhood burial ground was or still may be. You will be surprised to find how common it is to have a forgotten cemetery in your back yard or that the graveyard has been repurposed. 
    Beyond starting your own neighborhood archeology project, a must for any resident or visitor of Pittsburgh seeking to bring out the dead is truly the best kept secret we have: St. Anthony's Chapel.  St. Anthony's Chapel houses the second largest collection of relics in the world behind the Vatican. There are 4,000-5,000 relics there, among them the complete remains of Saint Demetrius, the skull of Saint Theodore, and the tooth of Saint Anthony of Padua.

    I found most of these treasures in my own back yard by comparing old maps to current maps, a fairly traditional research practice. While I limited myself to the exploration of German immigrants, one could apply this method to any immigrant group in the city. I collected my locations online and share the research with others. Have fun bringing out the dead.

  • 1906: vintage color photos of Europe

    Vintage color photographs collected by Mike Shaughnessy












    Rothenburg ob der Tauber


    Madonna del Sasso

    Appian Way



    Images: Institute for Color Photography, Carl Weller, Berlin/Verlagsanstalt für Farbenfotographie, 1906.
    Scans: Mike Shaughnessy.

    Texture: devnureen

    Design: Rob Beschizza.

  • Seeing Languages Differently


    How we see the world impacts our use of language and our use of language impacts how we see the world. Cognitive scientists in the vein of Benjamin Whorf regularly investigate the connections to thought and language use, including how visual perception varies across languages. Since I use (authentic) visual media to assist in foreign language acquisition, my research does have a practical side to the normally impenetrable fields of visual cognition and psycholinguistics. I use photographs at the earliest stages of language learning to train the brain not only in the use of new words, but literally how to "see" in the new language. Seeing a language differently embeds that language into a visual cultural context for the learner and makes for more effective recall later.

    Let's look at two aspects of the visual world that provide good examples of how the visual impacts language and vary between languages and cultures: Color & Space. (more…)

  • How the military improved its language education


    We may ask why the US sends troops abroad, but the fact is that we do send large numbers into a region about which they have little knowledge and almost no cultural connection. We then ask them to interact safely and efficiently with military and civilian natives. These interactions require varying levels of linguistic, cultural, and interpersonal background. As a foreign language educator, I am fascinated by the evolution of the training materials given to US soldiers and how cultural visual knowledge plays and increasingly important role.

    Over the past seven years, the military has noticeably changed how it trains soldiers for these vital kinds of cross-cultural interactions. These "changes in visuality" allow an exemplary look at how visual & cultural literacy has seriously impacted language and cultural training. (more…)

  • Chramer, gip die varwe mir! Germans and Colors

    Chramer, gip die varwe mir (Shopkeeper, give me color!) is a line from a drinking song in the Carmina Burana, a medieval collection of songs and poems in Old Latin and Middle High German. The 'color' requested is rouge to redden the face of a young working woman in order to make her more appealing to the boys. This 'red' means life, vitality, strength, and in the Middle Ages being able to make it through the next winter was particularly attractive. Part of my research into Computer Assisted Language learning deals with the effects that colors have on people and how these difference among cultures can be used to assist in language learning. My own passion lies in the German speaking world and in reflection on my own language learning experiences, I started thinking about color difference in German. (more…)

  • Labeling the consumer: how mindless ID-scanning can hurt customers


    Photo: Hryck. / Todd

    Pennsylvania is sometimes referred to as "East Utah" in regards to its legendarily restrictive alcohol laws. Where else in the United States were you forced to buy a minimum of 24 beers from a 'Beer Distributor' if you wanted to take a drink home? Until recently, one could buy no beer from grocery stores or gas stations–just bars (and bar prices) or a box of two dozen from the nearest opaque-windowed distributor.

    As Pennsylvania loosens up on its laws, some grocery stores are getting into the act. Giant Eagle and Wegmans now sell beer at a couple of Pennsylvania stores, albeit in restrictive "pseudo-bars" housed within the big box. Shop-N-Save is not far behind. They are glad to tell you that they aren't a grocery store, but a bar that is within a grocery store. This semantic dance upsets the beer distributors.

    One of the main arguments against sales of beer and wine in a grocery store is that stores are supposedly notoriously lenient and give out alcohol to anyone. The other argument against opening up sales is that selling beer at gas stations promotes drunk driving. To counter the myth of 'leniency,' Giant Eagle and Wegmans have a 100 percent compliance policy that states all customers must scan their ID for every beer purchase. This is not a PA law, but a store policy designed to show due-diligence. But it's a solution that opens up a nasty can of worms in regards to personal privacy. (more…)