Daily archives: January 5, 2023

Trains (Mostly) Planes and Automobiles Part 5 128

It was 2.30am in Bochum before Niels finished setting up his security and self destruct mechanisms on my new laptop, as we sat in my gloomy little box of a room in the Mercure Hotel.

About a decade ago, chain hotels universally abandoned the idea of a central bright light to illuminate a bedroom, in favour of scattered little lights at bedsides, desk and in an odd corner, all of which require separate switches to be tracked down, and each of which struggles to reveal objects within a two foot distance. They mostly act to accentuate the overall murk.

At least it led my colour changing keyboard to feature sharply, brightening my mood. When Niels had locked within a passworded box, within a passworded box, on a passworded Wikileaks server, somewhere inside an Icelandic volcano, the ages long password to the last of my programmes he was protecting, he finally got up with a Nordic huffy noise and went off to his own bedroom.

I then spent until about 6am going through all my accounts for signs of intrusion and sending warning emails to key contacts. It felt like I had just put my head down on the pillow when the door was ruthlessly banged and the telephone simultaneously shrilled, to tell me it was 11am and I should have checked out.

Bochum railway station was not a very welcoming place that morning. It was about minus 5 degrees, the snow was whipping into my face and I was regretting still more keenly the loss of my gloves.

At least we had a very simple trip that day, to Münster. The itinerary for 3 December was 12.42 RE89719 Bochum to Hamm, 13.20 RE89978 Hamm to Münster arriving at 13.47. It was to be our first day riding on regional trains in Germany.

Since we had started the tour, new dates had been continually added and rest days been wiped off, so that it seemed likely the 15 travel days on my interrail pass would not be enough. You cannot extend the pass. I considered saving a day by buying a ticket for this short journey, but decided my brain was too frazzled by events of the past 24 hours for any extra complication.

Niels had a solution. It is fair to say that my determination to do the journey to the continent and the whole tour by rail, to help save the planet, was regarded by others involved as somewhat eccentric. From the start, Niels had been looking up hire cars and lovingly showing me pictures of BMW or Mercedes SUVs and describing their comfort levels.

Freezing in the driven snow on Bochum station and watching the board announce ever increasing delays, it was impossible not to have a certain sympathy for this view.

It is time to say something about German station clocks, as I was spending so much of my life staring at them. Germany has magnificent analogue clocks in its railway stations, but they have a most peculiar mechanism.

The minute hand does not glide smoothly and continually. The second hand goes round until it reaches the top of the dial, at which point the minute hand clicks forward one notch.

But there is a correction involved. The second hand evidently travels slightly fast, so when it reaches the top it pauses and there are a couple of seconds when no hand is moving, until the minute hand jerks its notch and the second hand starts its journey again.

I am almost, but not quite, certain there is another peculiarity. The second hand appears to glide smoothly rather than jerk, but in fact pauses momentarily at every second mark before gliding on to the next one.

At first I thought this was an optical illusion caused by the black tip of the second hand becoming hard to discern as it passes in front of the black second mark on the dial, but after acute observation from a variety of angles I think this momentary pause is really happening.

I am not sure what is the purpose of this observation, other than to illustrate that Germany’s horribly unpunctual train service can drive you nuts.

As we waited on the platform, we were approached twice by beggars. This happened on almost every station. Niels commented that they were much more aggressive than in the UK.

This is true, not in the sense of threatening physical violence, but in the sense of intruding forcefully into your personal space and being unapologetic in their demands. It really was not very comfortable.

Anyway, eventually we had one of those hurried last moment platform changes and caught what was supposedly an earlier train than the one we were booked on, which was running over an hour late, but with no change needed for Münster.

This particular privatised train service was run by the UK bus company National Express. It was a double decker train, clean and comfortable. We did not bother to go upstairs to first class.

I was not paranoid about a third laptop getting stolen on the train in the slightest…

The journey was uneventful save for an incident where the guard was arguing with a passenger over his ticket.  The thin young man, who was wearing jeans and a hoodie, was thrusting his ticket forward towards the short, bull-necked guard who was refusing to look at it, alternating between shaking his head and yelling ferociously.

It was very noisy and the levels of anger on both sides seemed wildly disproportionate to the subject. I could not understand anything said, but even assuming the passenger was indeed trying to cheat on his fare, the level of aggression from the guard, who was attempting to corral the passenger against a door, was extraordinary.

In the end the passenger pushed past the guard and moved to the back of the short train. The guard seemed to be looking around for support, while the other passengers were pretending nothing was happening. I do not know how this confrontation eventually played out.

Stella was joining us again in Münster, having been lobbying in Berlin and elsewhere in the interim. It had been very difficult and very expensive to book hotel rooms in Münster. In fact, Stella, Niels and I were all in different hotels, as we could not find rooms together.

I was in the Mauritzhof hotel, another building of stunning ugliness on the outside. It looks like a fortified police station in a particularly incendiary area of a troubled city.

In fact the hotel was very warm and pleasant inside, with a big open fire in a cocktail bar with a wide range of malt whiskies, and particularly friendly and helpful staff.

By contrast Niels was in one of those self-catering places where you get in through a combination for a key safe and discover nothing is clean, nothing works and there is nobody to talk to for assisatance.

Stella was in the impressive sounding Kaiserhof hotel, which somehow managed to be even more expensive than the Mauritzhof, but which was staffed by people who all appeared not only to be on their first day working in a hotel, but to be entirely unbriefed on what a hotel is.

Niels and I had a late lunch at the cinema with our hosts, who included the university branch of Amnesty International, several of whom were students of public international law.

I was able to discuss with them the international law aspects of Julian’s case, and particularly the judgment in Julian’s case affirming that the UK is not bound in law by international agreements or treaties not incorporated into UK domestic law.

In Julian’s case, political extradition is specifically forbidden by Article 4 of the 2007 UK/US Extradition Treaty. However the courts have ruled that the Treaty has no effect in UK law as it has not been incorporated in UK domestic legislation.

The British courts argue that the Treaty depends for its force on the 2003 Extradition Act, which does not exclude political extradition. But the 2003 Act is an enabling act on which subsequent treaties depend. It does not dictate the provisions of those treaties and it most assuredly does not say those treaties may not exclude political extradition.

The argument is extraordinary that the extradition is only taking place at all under the UK/US Extradition Treaty, but that Article 4 of the Treaty is not operative – but all the other articles are.

The rest of the Treaty is no more incorporated in UK domestic law than Article 4 is. It is a nonsensical argument, tying knots of legal sophistry to justify the extradition.

What interested the German students even more than the individual instance was the extraordinary general claim that the UK is not bound by provisions of international law in treaties it has ratified.

The accepted procedure in international law is that there is a two stage process, signature and ratification, for accession to international treaties.

A treaty is signed by the governmment of a state, as a statement of agreement and intent. Only when all necessary approvals have been obtained – which generally means when the Treaty has been through approval by the legislature – is the ratification stage then completed.

The UK, however, ratifies agreements on Crown prerogative without its legislature having passed them as domestic law. It then argues that because of the doctrine of the sovereignty of parliament, the ratification by the Crown does not bind the UK to abide by the provisions of the Treaty it has ratified.

This bizarre situation really is true. I am not making it up.

This is known by lawyers as a “dualist system” (“dishonest” being too straightforward a description) and is the subject of an immense academic literature – one of many possible starting points is here – and a large number of UK legal judgments.

That the UK government does not consider itself legally bound, not only by customary international law but even by treaties it has actually ratified, was astonishing to the German students.

I later received an email from one of them saying they had found it hard to believe, so had asked a lecturer who confirmed it for them.

The cinema seemed everything an independent cinema should be, with a really good slate of arthouse and documentary films and a quirky, very busy cafe bar full of interesting people. The next screenings were shown on an old railway departure board that clicked over noisily. In fact the cinema is part of a chain owning much more conventional multiplexes.

On the top shelf of the bar, high up amid some very obscure liqueurs, was a glass globe about twelve inches high with a glass looped valve on top, containing a startlingly clear liquid with an ultra violet tinge. We asked what it was, and the barman did not know, so we ordered two of those.

It was some kind of grappa, but extremely smooth, though highly potent as it burnt the back of your throat. It was immensely satisfying so we had another two. There was no label of any kind on the glass globe, which sat in an iron stand. Perhaps most strange of all was that the barman said he had been there two years and nobody had ever asked for it: it looked irresistible.

The large cinema was full for the screening, and Stella spoke passionately and well, particularly on the obscenity of sending Julian legally to a state which had tried to kidnap and assassinate him. It was a good, full audience and a lively discussion that left me feeling warm and useful. The gladhanding afterwards felt especially heartening all round.

We then went out into Münster and walked around the Christmas markets, which are particularly famous. We were told that a million visitors come to Münster for these markets, primarily from the Netherlands. This explains why a night in a hotel costs as much as a car.

While the fairy lights and wooden huts were again all very pretty, it still all boiled down to huts selling sausages and gluhwein. At every large church, crowds shuffled round the outside in a circuit, forming knots around the alcohol stalls which had long queues. We braved these a few times for gluhwein, which we all enjoyed.

St Lambert’s church tower is decorated with three cages, in which were hung the tortured corpses of the Anabaptist leaders after the revolution and siege of 1534/5.

When I was 14 years old I read with great relish Norman Cohn’s great book, The Pursuit of the Millennium. Cohn’s life work was to try to  understand the phenomenon of Nazism in the context of other historic movements that practised mass extermination in the name of ideology. His riveting account of the siege of Münster has stayed with me for half a century.

The great city walls of the siege were demolished and are now a promenade, the Church of St Lambert was substantially rebuilt in 1901 and again after World War II, and the dangling cages don’t look nearly old or crude enough, but still I was now there, on the spot I had visualised so clearly in my teens.

The Anabaptists preached equality of wealth as well as religious iconoclasm, and looked to divide the property of the very wealthy city of Münster with all who joined them. They practised ardent polygamy; sexual ecstasy was an important part of their revolution.

However they had no qualms about executing those who did not accept their adult baptism, and they did not care about the wild impracticability of most of their governance, as they believed the second coming of Christ to be literally imminent.

What is perhaps truly extraordinary is not just that the Anabaptists gained full control in Münster, but that they came close to doing so and held real influence in broad swathes of Northern Europe. It is important not to be seduced by their professed communism into overlooking the fact they were extremely violent, religious nutters.

The revolutionary millenarian wave that swept Europe in the early 1530s was the product of the usual famine and disease, but also fueled by the economic dislocation caused by emergent nationalisms disrupting the free trading of the Hanseatic network. I throw that in for you to draw your own modern parallels.

History is one long roll of ironies, one of which is that it was the genuine tolerance of Münster’s Catholic Prince Bishop Waldeck which had allowed Anabaptist doctrine to spread and made Münster an international haven for dissenters.  It was the same ex-tolerant Waldeck who later hung the Anabaptist leaders in those cages (or their originals) after their slow execution by red hot shears.

The whole is a fascinating story. I recommend Cohn’s book. I was told by the hotel that there was a German TV mini-series thirty years ago of the Münster uprising, starring a young Christoph Waltz.  I would love to see that. But for now it was good to walk through the holiday crowds in the snow and take in the town, imagining those events, in good company and with brandy-laced gluhwein.

The next day, Sunday 4 December, we left Münster for Dusseldorf on the 10.25 RE10212 which went direct. Again it was a two decker National Express local train and it was actually on time.

We went up to the very comfortable first class upper deck, where we were alone. The only incident of note occurred when a burly man came down the train, flicking something at each table with a metallic clang. Niels explained the man was opening the metal bin covers, on the lookout for discarded bottles which might have a deposit he could reclaim.

That seemed a lot of effort for little reward for a middle aged man. He made no attempt to disguise what he was doing, and presumably ought not have been in the first class carriage.  It led me to recalculate the odds of my laptops having been simply taken as opportunistic thefts on the train.

It is worth noting at this point that all the trains now had parties of men in vests marked “security”, patrolling up and down to ensure that everybody was wearing a face mask. Their general demeanour was not very friendly.

Stella would be leaving to fly back to London and her children, after the early evening screening in Dusseldorf. Niels and I were staying in the Stage 47 Hotel, which again was really delightful.

The hotel has been carved out of space from the adjoining theatre, and the reception is crammed into the narrow entrance corridor in a way that looks very unpromising indeed on first arrival. But the rooms are beautifully planned and all different, each one named after and containing a massive photographic portrait of, a star who has appeared in the theatre.

My room had the bed on a mezzanine level and loads of space, which was great but not designed for a man with bad eyesight likely to need to fumble his way down the tight spiral staircase from the mezzanine in the dark for a 3am pee, whilst not entirely sober.

The hotel was very much in a Turkish area. A Turkish travel agent was next door, a Turkish shop the other side, then a kebab shop, and there was a substantial looking Turkish restaurant just opposite. Leaving Stella’s suitcase in Niels’ room, we repaired to the Turkish restaurant for lunch.

They did not seem very pleased to see us. It was again very cold, and after some humming and hawing as to whether we could have a table at all, they seated us at the first empty one, right next to the front door.

We were constantly subjected to a vicious icy blast when the door opened, and a persistent very cold draught when it didn’t. Several times other tables emptied and we repeatedly asked if we might move, but were always waved back down.

The food was very good but the service terrible. I do not know whether this was because we seemed to be the only non-Turkish customers, but we all agreed we had the feeling of not being welcome. I have always found Turkish people extremely hospitable, so it seems strange.

I hurried back from lunch as at 2pm I was giving a Zoom talk from my hotel room to Alba International, on the subject of the way forward to Scottish Independence.

The background to this was the UK Supreme Court decision that the Scottish Parliament had no right to hold a referendum on Independence, which you may recall I had attended the Supreme Court to hear, the day before leaving on this European tour.

The discussion was also informed by the excellent work of Salvo, and of Sara Salyers in particular, in defining Scotland’s own historic constitution as an independent state and its continuing legal persistence.

I felt time and distance had given me a useful clarity in considering the Supreme Court decision and its consequences, and in brief, this is what I outlined.

The UK Supreme Court was quite right within the narrow confines of UK domestic law. Plainly the Union of England and Scotland is a reserved matter under the Scotland Act of 1998, and the Scottish Parliament could not hold a referendum on it in terms of that Act.

But UK domestic law is entirely irrelevant. The Kosovo Opinion of the International Court of Justice makes crystal clear that the domestic law of the state being seceded from, is not the determining factor as to whether a secession is illegal.

Whereas the reliance by the UK Supreme Court on the criteria of the Federal Court of Canada in the Quebec judgment, over fifty years old and superseded by the cold hard fact of over 23 non-colonial secessions since, is simply laughable.

But while the right of self-determination of peoples in international law is crucial in the case of Scotland, and while Scotland undoubtedly qualifies as a “people” because it is a long established historic nation with its own legal system, culture and institutions, there is one overwhelmingly important criterion for recognition grounded in pure realpolitik.

It was long accepted as the only criterion for recognition that a state had factual, practical control of its own territory. That position has become softened by more principled considerations since the second world war, but the actual control of the territory claimed remains the most important factor in gaining international recognition.

Why did Catalonia fail where Slovenia, Kosovo and the Baltic states succeeded?

Because realpolitik rules in practice, and the Slovenians, Balts and Kosovans had obtained actual control on the ground of the land they claimed. The Catalans had not.

Physical control is not a sufficient condition for recognition – see the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus – but in effect it is a necessary condition.

The UK Establishment will never agree to Scottish Independence. Scotland’s resources are far too valuable to them. Scotland has to declare Independence unilaterally, and take it.

It is no use doing this like Catalonia, where the Spanish civil guard and judiciary effectively wiped out the nascent state before it could breathe.

A Scottish government, whether arising from the Scottish Parliament or from another body, needs in declaring Independence to ensure it has practical control of Scotland.

That means that the organs of the state have to acknowledge the Scottish state. All taxes collected must go to Edinburgh, not to Westminster. The judiciary must apply Scottish laws and not Westminster ones, where they conflict, and specifically apply all new laws post the Declaration of Independence. The police must answer only to Scottish authorities. Ultimately so must the military stationed in Scotland.

At the time Independence is declared, immediate action must be taken to ensure all civil servants, judges, police and military take an oath of loyalty to the people of Scotland and its new government, and renounce any previous loyalty to Crown and to UK political institutions. Anybody refusing must be summarily dismissed from their positions.

We have the example of Catalonia before us. We also have the example of Egypt’s only ever democratically elected leader, President Morsi, who died horribly in jail after being overthrown by a CIA coup because he failed to take the elementary precaution of dismissing and imprisoning all the military regime’s corrupt judges. He should have learnt from Fritz Bauer.

Let us not make those mistakes.

Ultimately, it boils down to this.

1) Westminster will never agree to Scottish Independence.

2) Scotland therefore has no option but to declare Independence unilaterally.

3) Any independent state must be prepared to defend itself by physical force from foreign attack. So must a newly declared Independent Scotland.

4) All who refuse to serve an Independent Scotland must then be removed from all organs of the state.

5) Once an Independent Scotland has physical control of its territory and resources, international recognition will soon follow. Brexit has completely changed the political atmosphere with regard to the crucial attitude of the European Union to London’s government.

Not to mention that London’s government is an international laughing stock.

Interestingly enough, in the discussion that followed my talk, nobody fundamentally queried the radicalism of this approach. Most of the questions revolved around what I might call the determinism of Salvo’s approach.

To put this another way, no matter how many irregularities there might be in the 1689 Act of Settlement, no domestic or international court is going to annul it now. It is realpolitik again – no state exists whose form and institutions would survive re-examination of all their historic foundations under modern criteria.

I further clarified that while I support the notion of registering a Scottish liberation movement at the UN, it is going to take a lot of evidence of liberation struggle to achieve this. The notion which has somehow got abroad that it just needs 100,000 signatures, appears to me without foundation.

It was a really good 90 minutes discussion with excellent people, after which I had do dash to the cinema and turn my head back towards rescuing Julian.

The cinema had the interesting quirk that to get a big wide screen, the projector was separated from the hall by a number of corridors and offices, with glass windows that the picture passed through. This lent itself to a variety of interesting photos.

Stella was on excellent form.  In Dusseldorf she concentrated particularly on the extraterritorial jurisdiction the United States was claiming, in its effort to imprison an Australian journalist for acts of publishing, carried out entirely outside the United States.

Stella also expressed the relief we all felt that finally the Australian government was living up to its responsibilities and directly asking the United States to end the persecution of Julian Assange.

I was not on the best of form, and was perhaps a bit tired. But as usual there were inspiring activists on hand to give me a real boost afterwards. All over Germany, groups are out every weekend for Julian, demonstrating, manning stalls, collecting signatures and bearing witness to the truth.

After the meeting, Bibi gave us a lift back to the hotel, demonstrating in so doing that her definition of “a short walk to the car” was fundamentally different to my own. She then took Stella on to the airport.

I had a sudden and improbable rush of common sense, refusing Niels’ offer to go for a drink, in favour of an early night in my comfortable mezzanine bed.

The next day was a rest day, so we stayed again in Dusseldorf. Not only was it a day off, but the hotel did laundry – the first time since this adventure began!

In the morning I discovered that nobody sold gloves in a six block radius, except for a motorbike shop at astonishing cost, which I declined. I spent the rest of the day reading the Fritz Bauer biography.

About 4pm Niels called and we went out. The receptionist had recommended the winter market on Konigsallee, so we headed there.

We had walked a few metres when a great stream of fire engines and police vehicles came blaring past us. As we approached traffic lights, a number of ambulances came charging down from another direction and for a while there was a veritable traffic jam of emergency vehicles. The cacophony was awful.

New sirens continued to join in from all around us, apparently converging towards us. When we got to Konigsallee it was largely deserted. While the shops all remained open, all of the wooden Christmas market stalls were closed and the shoppers had disappeared.

We wandered around the empty stalls trying to work out what was happening, until policemen started yelling at us in a most threatening manner.

It appears there had been a phoned in terrorist threat of an attack on a Christmas stall, to which the police had overreacted by closing down all of the hundreds such stalls, placed on every shopping street and square in Dusseldorf, and calling out all the ambulances and fire appliances.

It was of course a hoax. It was also another example of my continually landing in unlikely drama on this trip. Niels, who had spent weeks photographing anything that moved, managed to capture almost nothing of the massive security presence closing down the Christmas market. He said he had previous experience that German police do not like cameras.

He did however manage to capture umpteen shots of me looking cold and miserable. My voluminous luggage was well prepared for the winter, except for a lack of boots. The streets were covered in ice and my leather-soled shoes felt distinctly insecure.

From Oxford Street to Princes Street, the UK’s flagship shopping streets have collapsed into tat and squalor, but Germany has maintained its high end shopping districts without apparent loss. So much so that the first shop I entered had no viable boots below 700 euros.

Round the corner I found a more practical shop and bought a pair of Skechers. This troubled me, as I recall my brother Stuart taunting my brother Neil that possessing Skechers was the first step on the road to adult diapers. They were however cheap, waterproof and had deep treads, so I got them and am now a convert.

While the shops had all stayed open, the restaurants appeared to have all been closed by the police alert and we went around for a while before we found a fancy burger restaurant, one of a franchise chain with a rustic, birch tree decor.

This seemed marginally better than starvation, so we ate a couple of burgers, which had a small nugget of meat drowned in various treatments of vegetable, from pickled, through mayonnaise-covered to caramelised, the whole shoved between vast mounds of bread.

The restaurant was very full indeed, being the only place open, and the excitement of the police closures gave the venue a vibrant buzz. We struck up a friendly chat with the manager, who was working the floor because it was unexpectedly busy.

We worked our way right through the cocktail menu and then had the Johnnie Walker Black Label brought down from a high top shelf. It was the worst fake Black Label I have tasted in decades, like cheap vodka with added Bovril, but  we drank it all anyway. We had a rollicking time. The drinks bill came to six times the food bill.

We both had horrible hangovers the next day, almost certainly from the fake Black Label. Fortunately we had the morning to recover, then it was up and off again, and our itinerary was 6 December ICE 714 Dusseldorf 13.33 to Bremen, arriving 16.15.

The train was comfortable and more or less on time, and I was able to write up some of the journey for my blog.

The large cinema was very full, I felt I spoke particularly well, and we had a good talk with activists afterwards. Bremen seemed a delightful city and the cinema was in a district surrounded by really good restaurants and bars.

Niels spoke particularly well. He outlined Julian’s vision of responsible, scientific journalism, where references would always be given with links to the original source material which should be made available to the public.

This of course had not happened, and even as mainstream media had been forced to move largely online, they had not taken the opportunity this offered to present the public with links to the actual source materials their journalists were discussing. This level of transparency was expected of bloggers but largely eschewed by the media, despite all their resources.

It was a good point and well put over. It is continually important to think of the work Julian can take forward on his release from jail, not only to think of him as a victim or a symbol.

This was one of the first meetings where the audience had required sequential translation into German. It is always very difficult, given the need to split up your argument into short cadences for translation. But it did not seem to spoil the evening or the enjoyment and interest of the large audience.

We had booked in Bremen into the Aparthotel Adagio. I was by now fairly sick of restaurant food, and wanted to be able to cook myself something very plain and simple. I called in to a local supermarket and was able to make myself a basic tomato and bacon sauce to eat with spaghetti and a baguette. It felt like a great relief.

One thing I liked about Germany was that the ambient soundtrack was much more to my taste than I generally heard in the UK. The taxi taking us to the cinema was playing Bachmann Turner Overdrive. The taxi taking us back was playing Fleetwood Mac. The supermarket where I bought the spaghetti was playing Supertramp. None of which was very German.

I had finally relented. The next day we were off to Halle, which was a complicated journey by rail but simple by road, so I had caved in and agreed Niels could finally get his hire car.

As I drifted off to sleep I was sure I could hear him making vroom! vroom! noises in the distance.



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