The news from North Rhine-Westphalia continues to be exciting, but I feel it is not well disseminated, because of public preoccupation with other things. Our TV experts seem to go for more spectacular items. You knew, of course, that in Paderborn the garbage cans have been decorated, making them objets d'art indeed, and that the great museums of Europe now offer nothing so fine as collection day in Paderborn. Paderborn has always been a favorite city for me, because of the weather vane.
Quite some years ago now, a wind vane in Paderborn was in need of repairs. I seem to recall it adorned the 11th-century Romanesque cathedral and was considered precious. Whoever had the restoration in hand decided the vane was beyond saving, and an artisan was commissioned to design, make, and install a new vane. This was done, but the artisan lost control of himself somewhere along the line and came up with an ultra-hoopla absurdity meant to be awayout art and consequently beyond the critiques of die Leute.m It was something like the weavers of invisible cloth. The wind vane went up on the spire, and everybody was expected to be impressed, whether they understood or not. This sort of thing happens all the time, and Paderborn made believe it understood the symbolism of this vane and presumed the artisan had talent. But there was one hitch. This new vane, while it doubtless encompassed great arts, was of no use at all when it came to telling the direction of the wind. There developed a rebellious attitude in Paderborn which held that a wind vane is primarily for indicating the wind. This grew until the artistic new vane was taken down and a simple, straightforward, realistic, utilitarian vane was put up. I hope somebody understands why this story took my wife and me many kilometers off our planned route to visit Paderborn and see the sane, plain vane.
Latest story out of Paderborn is about the bicycles. Paderborn is not a small, quaint, crossroads village -- it is an industrial city of going-on 40,000 . So the city had a number of administrative automobiles, to be used by officials on public errands. Somebody reasoned that the compact nature of the typical Rhineland city prevented an automobile from negotiating traffic in a practical way, and after a few tests it was found that on any trip of less than three kilometers a bicycle will arrive sooner than a car -- without consideration of the fuel saving. The official Paderborn bicycle has three gears.
Another nugget from North Rhine-Westphalia has to do with the right leg of Klaus Fischer, star center-forward for the Gelsenkirchen soccer club. It has been insured with Lloyd's of London for 700,000 marks -- for 200,000 by Fischer himself, and for 500,000 by his club. About a year ago some clumsy oaf on an opposition team missed the football and kicked Klaus, and his team went into a spin. There is a saving clause in the policy -- if Klaus doesn't get past the first 15 games of the season, Lloyd's pays only half. Left leg uninsured.
But from Monchengladbach, also in North Rhine-Westphalia, comes an item that should greatly excite Americans, who are now accustomed to wild, woolly, and weird decisions of a Supreme Court that will take on just about anything to get its name in the papers. That community, for reasons unspecified, recently enacted an ordinance making it a high crime and misdemeanor to feed pigeons. The constitution, or basic law, of West Germany guarantees freedom of action. A lady in Monchengladbach fed pigeons contrary to said ordinance, was hailed before the beak, and got herself a fine of 50 marks. She most naturally appealed this decision on grounds of constitutional privilege, and we now have the delightful jurisdictional situation where the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Germany is pondering the basic law about feeding birds.
(There should be a small pause here while the reader makes his guess as to how the court ruled. Is a feeder of birds lawful in West Germany? Now read on.)
No. The court held that freedom of action is not impaired when individuals are required to obey ordinances that are "overwhelmingly" in the interest of public good. Birds are a nuisance, saith the court. Pay up. Otherwise, things seem quiet in North Rhine-Westphalia at this hour.