Two centuries after his birth, people taking a close look at the controversial legacy of Karl Marx

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On May 5th, followers of Karl Marx celebrated his 200th birthday. He is a highly controversial figure based on the theories he proposed in the 19th century and the actions taken in his name in the 20th century and beyond.

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818, in the city of Trier, in what is now modern Germany but was then known as Prussia. His parents were Heinrich and Henrietta Marx. They both came from a long line of religious Jewish scholars. However, Heinrich converted to Christianity just before the birth of Karl, becoming Lutheran in a mostly Catholic region. Henrietta converted a few years later. Karl Marx was baptized at the age of six and attended Lutheran schools in his childhood. At some point in his early life, Marx became an atheist and grew to hate all religion.

One of Marx’s most famous slogans described religion as “the opium of the people.” This is somewhat ironic as one prominent economist would later refer to “Marxism as a religion itself and Marx is the prophet.” Studying philosophy in university, Marx joined a radical group of intellectuals. After graduating, Marx worked as a journalist and became active in radical politics. It was around this time, in 1848, that he collaborated with Friedrich Engels to publish The Communist Manifesto.

The essential philosophy of communism for Marx was that history itself was an ongoing process of staged changes in economic institutions. Therefore, in this view, capitalism was the second last stage of historical development. Communism was to be the final and victorious system. In this final stage of history, the lower classes of society would violently rise up and establish a communist utopia under a “dictatorship of the proletariat,” a society that would have no economic or social classes or inequalities.

History would thus come to an end, as it would have reached its highest form under communism. But this is the dilemma of Marx and communism. To establish an everlasting utopian society, Marx argued that violence would be necessary, even welcome. This laid the violent foundations for many of the movements that would later establish regimes based on The Communist Manifesto. Marx himself wrote The Communist Manifesto during turbulent times. A series of republican revolts had broken out against absolutist monarchies in Europe in 1848. Armed insurrections took place in Germany, France, Italy, and the Austrian Empire.

They all ended in failure and the backlash resulted in increased repression of dissent. Marx and other radical thinkers became increasingly disillusioned by these defeats. The first successful Marxist revolution would occur 34 years after the death of Marx, in Russia in 1917. After centuries of autocratic rule, the last Tsar of Russia had stepped down earlier in the year. Following a brief interlude, the fledgling republican provisional government was overthrown by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, a political group that followed the writings of Marx closely, although under their own interpretation of his work.

In China too, another dictatorial regime would be replaced by a communist one in 1947, under Mao Zedong. Countless other nations around the world would fall under the rule of communism or similar ideologies. Some countries still have governments in power that adhere to Marxist ideologies.

Estimates are that communist governments in the 20th century killed as many as 94 million people. Millions more were imprisoned. Karl Marx never explicitly called for genocide, but his writing encouraged the use of force to achieve communist goals. However, it was more than military violence that caused so many deaths. Widespread famines were sometimes facilitated by communist governments.

The largest examples were in China and Russia. Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” of agricultural reforms resulted in 45 million killed in China. Resisting attempts at agricultural peasant collectivization in the early 1930s, six to eight million people died in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, mostly from the Ukraine region.

But the legacy of Karl Marx was not only political and economic. Other academic disciplines incorporated Marx’s ideas. Among them are theories based in philosophy, psychology, sociology, and literature. All Marxist study was based on the effects on the distribution of wealth and power within societies. As an example, Marxists would look at a work of literature and base their criticism of the work on the socioeconomic status of the author, as well as the economic system in place when the work was written.

Karl Marx’s legacy is mixed. He was an important thinker of his time, who looked deeply at the plight of the poor and downtrodden, although Marx reportedly never walked into any of the industrial working factories that he wrote about.

His work also contributed ideas to a number of disciplines. But in the end, Marx’s writing resulted in some of the most repressive and murderous regimes in history

 Mark Shiffer

North of Munich, the oldest continuously operated brewery, founded by monks, is nearing its 1,000th birthday

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If you want to talk the history of beer over a pint, what better place than the world’s oldest continuously operating brewery? Forty miles due north of Munich, braumeisters at the Weihenstephan Abbey have been boiling hops for nearly 1,000 years.

And the seeds of beer history were planted even earlier. In the year 725, Saint Korbinian, along with 12 traveling companions, founded a Benedictine monastery on Nährberg Hill in Weihenstephan, in an area now called Freising. By the year 768, a hops garden was established on the grounds. Records show that farmers were obligated to pay a 10 percent tithe to the monastery for the privilege of growing hops on the land.

In the year 955, the Weihenstephan monastery was destroyed for the first but not the last time when Hungarians plundered the site, forcing the monks to reconstruct.

In 1040, brewing officially began when Abbott Arnold obtained a license from the city of Freising to brew and sell beer.

In its first 400 years, the Weihenstephan Monastery burned completely down four times, endured three plagues, and suffered the effects of one massively destructive earthquake. During that time, the monastery was destroyed and plundered time and again, by the Swedes, the French, and the Austrians. But still, the undaunted monks returned to rebuild—and to brew and sell beer.

In 1516, Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria issued the Bavarian Purity Law, or, in German, Reinheitsgebot. This mandated that only barley, hops, and water be used in the crafting of beer (yeast was later added to the list), thereby establishing the primacy of Bavarian and Weihenstephan beer. The law also set the price of beer, limited the profits innkeepers could collect, and made confiscation the penalty of impure brewing practices.

(Interestingly, Reinheitsgebot is still German law. Modern brewers have lobbied to modify the restrictions so that they can compete with flavored American craft beers. A revised version of the law passed in 1993 allows for a wider variety of malted grains in top-fermented beers.)

In 1803, the Wesihenstephan Monastery was secularized. With the stroke of a governmental pen, all of the land and structures became property of the Bavarian State. Nevertheless, the brewery persisted.

In the late 1800s, an agricultural school was established at Weihenstephan, and by 1919 it had been elevated to the University for Agriculture and Brewery, which was further affiliated with the Technical University in Munich in 1930. Today Weihenstephan shares its site with the University of Munich’s Faculty of Brewing, the most renowned in the industry. The most popular academic disciplines are brew master and brew engineer.

 Today you can take a tour of the nearly 1,000-year history of the brewery, guided by an aspiring beer master from the university. Though the building has been reconstructed many times, the physical footprint and layout haven’t changed much over the past hundreds of years. There are still vaulted ceilings and dark basements, where vast stainless steel vats have replaced the old oak barrels. Tours end with beer-tasting in a souvenir wheat-beer glass. Weihenstephan produces around 6 million gallons of beer a year. Its wheat beer makes up about 88 percent of the brewery’s total output, though 12 different types of beer are on offer, including a dark beer, a pilsner, a seasonal lager, and an alcohol-free version.

The Bavarian region is famously rife with breweries, some of which have challenged Weihenstephan’s claim to be the oldest. The nearby Hofbrauhaus in Freising has been in operation since the 1100s. Some 90 kilometers north, Weltenburg Abbey brewery is by some reckonings the oldest monastic brewery in the world, having been in operation since 1050.

Obviously, the only thing to do is to take a tour of all the breweries and decide for yourself not just which one is oldest but which is best. Perhaps in the year 2040, when Weihenstephan turns 1,000. Prost!

 E.L. Hamilton

How Martin Luther’s ideas lasted 500 years

Wittenberg is considered the cradle of the Reformation, and Luther its father

However, the doors that occupy the North Portal today are not the original wooden ones from Luther’s time, which were destroyed by a fire in 1760 during the Seven Years War. In their place stand sturdy bronze doors, embossed with the Latin words of Luther’s 95 Theses. The words are solid, fixed in place, unquestionable. But as Luther himself recognised, words have the ability to move. Just as he was moved by his reading of the Bible to question the established order, his words in turn travelled out of this small town, creating a new religious self-awareness that split the church and rocked Europe, rippling out into the world.

Perhaps that’s why I found the lofty, open space inside the church more evocative of Luther and the Reformation than those closed doors. Here, statues of Luther and his contemporaries line the nave, and it’s said that every evening after the visitors have left, the statues continue their theological discussions deep into the night. The tale reminds us that Luther was not the only figure of the Reformation; he was part of an ongoing conversation – one that continues to this day. But although other people had ideas about reforming the church, Wittenberg is still considered the cradle of the Reformation, and Luther its father.

Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the doors of Castle Church on 31 October 1517 (Credit: Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the doors of Castle Church on 31 October 1517 (Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

As I walked through Wittenberg, I wondered how such a small place could have had such a tremendous impact. The old town has not changed much since Luther’s time, especially since the Allies agreed not to bomb it because of its religious significance. The park that surrounds the old town starts at one end of Castle Church, and it only takes about 15 minutes to walk through the middle of town to Luther House, where the theologian lived for most of his life, beyond which the greenery starts again. However, it was partly because of Wittenberg’s size that Luther’s ideas were able to flourish. The high concentration of great minds in this small university town meant that people frequently bumped into each other and exchanged ideas. On my short walk, I passed the courtyard where Lucas Cranach the Elder, known as the painter of the Reformation, had his workshop and printing press, as well as the house of chief Reformation theologian Philip Melanchthon.

Moreover, Luther was able to utilise the new media tools of his time, such as woodcuts and the printing press, to spread his ideas beyond Wittenberg. John T McQuillen, assistant curator of printed books and bindings at New York’s Morgan Library & Museum explained that “Luther wrote his ideas in short, concise texts – pamphlets of eight or 16 pages – that could be quickly printed and easily distributed. Without the printing press, the Reformation would never have been the historical event that it was.”

Martin Luther essentially shaped the German language as we know it today

Often credited for creating the first media revolution, Luther quickly realised how to use language, music and images to spread his messages. He increasingly published his writings in German (rather than Latin), often with images, and his catchy, vernacular hymns helped the Reformation flourish. His musical contributions have even led to him being called the father of the protest song.

Not only did his use of everyday language help spread his ideas, but using it in religious matters was essential to Luther’s revolutionary idea that salvation could be reached through personal faith alone. Therefore, he wanted everyone to be able to read the Bible themselves. In 1534, Luther published his translation of the holy book, using vivid, simple language that would be understandable to all. To do this, he had to unite the many different German dialects to create one standardised German – essentially shaping the German language as we know it today.

Martin Luther was the father of the Reformation (Credit: Credit: Hans-Peter Merten/Getty Images)

Martin Luther was the father of the Reformation (Credit: Hans-Peter Merten/Getty Images)

This new emphasis on the vernacular also affected the development of other languages. Protestant missionaries from Europe and North America who went to Africa in the second half of the 19th Century believed, like Luther, that the Bible should be translated into vernacular languages. “This of course included making the language fit, ie inventing writing systems where none existed and finding terms they deemed suitable for God, devil, sin, salvation and so on,” Dr Jörg Haustein, senior lecturer in Religions in Africa at SOAS, University of London, explained.

However, although the missionaries wanted to convert the Africans in a way that relied on the power of personal belief, they were also convinced of their own faith’s superiority and opposed traditional beliefs and practices. This attitude encapsulates the paradox of Luther and the Reformation, which was democratising yet authoritarian. It is also demonstrated in Luther’s stance towards the Jews. After he realised that he would not be able to convert them to his version of Christianity, he unleashed a tirade of anti-Semitic writings, arguing that Jewish synagogues, schools and homes be set on fire, their assets confiscated and that they should be used as forced labour and expelled.

On the south-east facade of Wittenberg’s town church where Luther regularly preached is a Judensau (anti-Semitic sculpture) dating back to 1305. Above the relief is an inscription with the words ‘Rabini Shem Hamphoras’ (a disrespectful corruption of the ineffable name of god in Kabbalah), which was added later and refers to a derogatory comment from Luther’s writings. His texts, such as On the Jews and Their Lies, were used extensively by the Nazis, and historians have debated the Sonderweg theory, which traces a direct path from Luther to the Nazis.

The doors of Castle Church now bear Martin Luther's 95 Theses (Credit: Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

The doors of Castle Church now bear Martin Luther’s 95 Theses (Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

Luther’s aim was to unite everyone under one reformed church, but his ideas had implications that went beyond what he wanted or could have imagined.

“Luther unified the German language, but his religious ideas also created divisions that are still painfully felt today. The war of words was followed by religious war,” said Dr Alexander Weber from the department of Cultures and Languages at Birkbeck College in London, referring to the religion-induced conflicts that waged through Europe between 1524 to 1648. In the place of a single church, there were now competing claims to reform. Political alliances were often formed on the basis of confessional unity, and minorities were persecuted by all confessions. This resulted in waves of migration, such as French Protestants who fled to England, Scotland, Denmark and Sweden, as well as overseas, or the English Puritans who boarded the Mayflower to North America.

Luther’s effect has been so far-reaching that it has filtered into contemporary culture. For example, Luther’s conviction and his zeal to spread his words to convince others is a forerunner of evangelism today – be it tele-evangelism or radio shows such as The Lutheran Hour, the world’s longest-running Christian outreach radio program that began broadcasting in 1930 and has more than one million listeners. In 1966, Martin Luther King echoed the act performed in Wittenberg by the man he was named after when he posted a list of demands to the door of Chicago’s City Hall.

Legends say the statues inside the Church debate theology into the night (Credit: Credit: Madhavi Ramani)

Legends say the statues inside the Church debate theology into the night (Credit: Madhavi Ramani)

Parallels can even be drawn between Luther and American whistle-blower Edward Snowden, both of whom set their own consciences above all else and challenged the superpowers of their day by using the latest means of communication to denounce abuses of power.

The words and ideas that originated in Wittenberg spun out into the world, inspiring new words and ideas, such as those by Dostoyevsky, who explored ideas of Protestantism (which in his opinion destroyed community and was too weak to stand up to faiths such as Russian Orthodoxy) in A Writer’s Diary and The Brothers Karamazov. Nietzsche, similarly, was prompted to expand on the ideas of Luther, proclaiming, “After Goethe and Luther, there was a third step to take”. He took that third step by proclaiming the death of God, most famously associated with his work Thus Spoke Zarathustra. What started in Wittenberg has been seen to influence ideas of modern liberalism, capitalism, democracy, individualism, subjectivism, secularism and more.

In the park past Luther House, mirrored walkways have been installed to celebrate 500 years of the Reformation. As I walked along them, I saw multiple reflections of myself, as well as a fractured view of the trees and shrubs around me. This, I thought, was a good representation of Wittenberg’s impact on the world – one that recreated reality and stretched infinitely.

By Madhvi Ramani  24 October 2017

Alzheimer’s researchers win brain prize

Alzheimer's disease brain compared to normalImage copyright  SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Image captionAlzheimer’s disease brain (left) compared to normal (right)

Four dementia scientists have shared this year’s 1m Euro brain prize for pivotal work that has changed our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease.

Profs John Hardy, Bart De Strooper, Michel Goedert, based in the UK, and Prof Christian Haass, from Germany, unpicked key protein changes that lead to this most common type of dementia.

On getting the award, Prof Hardy said he hoped new treatments could be found.

He is donating some of his prize money to care for Alzheimer’s patients.

Much of the drug discovery research that’s done today builds on their pioneering work, looking for ways to stop the build-up of damaging proteins, such as amyloid and tau.

Alzheimer’s and other dementias affect 50 million people around the world, and none of the treatments currently available can stop the disease.

Path to beating Alzheimer’s

Prof Hardy’s work includes finding rare, faulty genes linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

These genetic errors implicated a build-up of amyloid as the event that kick-starts damage to nerve cells in Alzheimer’s.

Profs Hardy and De StrooperImage copyright  MICHELLE ROBERTS
Image captionProfs Hardy and De Strooper discussed how they would spend the prize money

This idea, known as the amyloid cascade hypothesis, has been central to Alzheimer’s research for nearly 30 years.

Together with Prof Haass, who is from the University of Munich, Prof Hardy, who’s now at University College London, then discovered how amyloid production changes in people with rare inherited forms of Alzheimer’s dementia.

How one woman and her family transformed Alzheimer’s research

Prof Goedert’s research at Cambridge University, meanwhile, revealed the importance of another damaging protein, called tau, while Prof De Stooper, who is the new director of the UK Dementia Research Institute at UCL, discovered how genetic errors that alter the activity of proteins called secretases can lead to Alzheimer’s processes.

Dr David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Our congratulations go to all four of these outstanding scientists whose vital contributions have transformed our understanding of the complex causes of Alzheimer’s disease.

“The fact that three of these researchers work in the UK reflects the country’s position as a global leader in dementia research.”

Prof Hardy said he would be donating around 5,000 euros of his share of the 1m euros from the Lundbeck Foundation to help campaigns to keep Britain in the EU, and called Brexit a “unmitigated disaster” for scientific research.

He also pledged his thanks to all the people with Alzheimer’s who, over the years, have volunteered to help with dementia research.

Tintin, the subject of 200 million comics sold, was likely based on a real 15-year-old …


In the overcrowded world of fictional characters, there are few faces as adorable as Tintin’s. Unlike Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman, Tintin, the young investigative reporter, is not a household name in America, but he is definitely one of the most beloved figures in Europe.

With no specific magic powers, he is the antithesis of a superhero, but that didn’t prevent him from being widely admired by both children and adults. Charles de Gaulle once declared that Tintin is his only international rival, saying that “nobody notices, because of my height. We are both little fellows who won’t be got at by big fellows.”

Tintin and his fox terrier, Snowy, appeared for the first time on January 10, 1929, in the children’s supplement of the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siecle. What started as the subject of a supplement went on to become a symbol of the 20th century, appearing in an inde­pen­dent comic book, on television, and even on the big screen in Steven Spiel­berg’s animated movie The Adven­tures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.

Tintin is one of the most beloved figures in the comic book world.Author: Joi/Flickr-CC By 2.0

Georges Prosper Remi, known by the pen name Hergé, is the man behind the creation of Tintin. With almost no formal training, Hergé began drawing the legendary comic-book character in 1929, but little did he know that by doing so he would give birth to an entire European comics publishing industry.

Tintin and his fox terrier Snowy appeared for the first time in 1929. Author: karrikas/Flickr CC By 2.0

Since 1929, Tintin comics have sold more than 200 million copies, and over the years, this beloved character served as an inspiration for many people and influenced the ways comic book readers perceive the world around them. But what actually inspired Hergé to create the iconic character?

Debate still exists on what exactly inspired Hergé to come up with the snub-nosed teenage reporter, but most people agree that it was a real life person known by the name Palle Huld. It is one of the most original of origin stories in the comic book world.

Less than a year before Tintin made his first appearance, in the children’s supplement of  Le Vingtième Siecle, a 15-year-old Danish Boy Scout named Palle Huld won a competition organized by a Danish newspaper to mark the centennial of Jules Verne.


Palle Huld, during his trip around the world in 1928, almost certainly influenced Hergé to create Tintin.

The winner of the competition would re-enact Phileas Fogg’s voyage from Verne’s famous novel Around the World in Eighty Days. Strangely enough, only teenage boys were allowed to take part in the competition, and the 15-year-old was the perfect match. There was another twist: The winner had to complete the journey within 46 days, without any company and without using planes.

Hundreds of Danish teenagers applied to participate in the competition, and Palle was lucky enough to be chosen. He started his journey on March 1, 1928, from Copenhagen and traveled by rail and steamship through England, Scotland, Canada, Japan, the Soviet Union, Poland, and Germany.

His journey made the headlines at the time and when he arrived in Denmark, he was already a celebrity. Over 20,000 admirers greeted their hero when he came back home.

The next thing he did was write a book about his journey, which was quite popular among his admirers, and published in several languages. That book also came into the hands of a Belgian cartoonist known by the name of Hergé and that same year, when Huld’s book was published, Tintin made his debut.

Huld himself suggested on several occasions that he was the inspiration for Tintin. However, others believe that the inspiration behind the character was actually the French travel photojournalist Robert Sexe, whose journeys were exactly in the same order as Tintin’s first three books.

With no specific superpowers, Tintin is the antithesis of a superhero. Author: Hicham Souilmi CC By 2.0

Nonetheless, true Tintin fans couldn’t care less. For them it is all about the character, a hero they all know and love, representing something that others don’t have: uncompromising vigilance and the need to succeed no matter what the cost.

Tintin proves that a hero doesn’t need to be big or strong, he or she just needs to be tenacious and stubborn enough to do what needs to be done.

By Goran Blazeski