Friday, December 30, 2011

Karl Buchholz, Brave Bookseller

Karl Buchholz on left. The other man is probably one of his sons. 

While reading about German immigration to Colombia, I discovered the remarkable story of Karl Buchholz, a German bookstore owner who became a minor legend in Bogotá.

The old Buchholz store on
Jimenez Ave. 
Before World War II, Bucholz was a success in Europe, where he opened bookstores in his native Germany, Romania and Portugal, as well as an art gallery in New York. Some of his bookstores also included art galleries, which attracted important artists.

But then fascism tightened its grip on Germany. Buchholz's political leanings aren't clear, but he certainly believed in freedom of thought. In the face of the Nazis' totalitarian laws dictating which books could be read and which paintings displayed, Buchholz continued secretly showing work by artists considered 'degenerate' by the Nazi authorities.

If he'd been caught, Buchholz quite possibly could have been sent to a concentration camp and even murdered.

The Buchholz building today.
(Background, in center.)
I don't know how Buchholz lived out the war, or if he even stayed in Germany, or why exactly he decided to leave Europe. In one interview shortly before his death, carried out in his book-filled home in north Bogotá, Buchholz said he had feared that communism, which also repressed art and literature, would take over Europe.

After the war, Buchholz emigrated to Bogotá, where he opened a bookstore on Jimenez Ave. and Carrera 8. Eventually, Buchholz and his sons Alberto and Godula opened several stores around the city. His flagship store on Jimenez, which occupied about five stores of the building, also included an art gallery. So, besides courage, give the man credit for persistance and believing in himself.

The area continues to be Bogotá's central bookselling district. Neighboring booksellers remember Buchholz's as being the best bookstore in Bogotá. Today, its building is occupied by a lottery store with offices above it, perhaps a sad commentary on cultural trends.
Bogotá's central book district today.
School texts predominate over literature. 

Beginning in 1960, Buchholz also published the arts magazine Eco, which lasted 24 years.

But with Buchholz's death in 1992 at age 91 and his son Alberto's death in an auto accident six years later, the stores closed, ending an important literary chapter in Bogotá.

See also: Buchholz's passion for literature.

The Buchholz Bookstore-Gallery of Bogotá.

Did a Great Colombian Hide a Nazi Past?

Shoa Remembrance in Bogotá

German Immigrants in Colombia

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, December 29, 2011

German Immigrants in Colombia

Today, for the first time, during a bike tour we were able to enter Bogotá's Cementerio Alemán, the German Cemetery.

Cemetery administrator Gonzalo.
The German Cemetery is located on the south side of Calle 16, just west of Parque Renacimiento (once the Children's Cemetery) and two blocks west of the Central Cemetery and the British Cemetery.

Gonzalo, who administers the German Cemetery, told us that it opened in 1912 and is still active. It contains about 500 tombs and has capacity for another 500.

'Rest in Peace'
Asian and European immigrants did not flood into Colombia as they did into more southern South American nations with more temperate climates. But immigrants, including German ones, have contributed a lot to Colombia's history and economy.

German immigrants played important roles in exploration, aviation, jewelry, manufacturing and business, amongst other areas, administrator Gonzalo said. In fact, Colombia's first airline - and one of the first in the world - was the Colombian-German Air Transport Society, founded in 1919. The company eventually evolved into Avianca, today Colombia's largest airline.

Leon de Greiff, poet
Germans also were prominent in Colombian science, the most famous of them being Alexander Von Humboldt, who traveled up the Magdalena River in 1800. Another was anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, who fled Hitler's fascism and did pioneering research on Colombia's indigenous peoples and founded the Department of Anthropology of the University of the Andes, the first such department in Colombia.

Antonio Navarro Wolff, ex-guerrilla, and now a
top official of Bogotá.
Other prominent Colombians of at least partially German descent include Leon de Greiff, a Colombian modernist poet of the early 1900s, as well as his son Boris, a chess champion, who died just two months ago. Antonio Navarro Wolff, a leader of the M-19 guerrillas is now governor of Nariño Department.

German immigrants have also played important roles in the fabrics, coffee and banking businesses.

Colombia's most famous German immigrant is probably Leo Siegfried Kopp, a German Jew who founded the Bavaria Beer Company and has become a popular saint in Bogotá's Central Cemetery.

But Carlos Lehder, an associate of Pablo Escobar in the Medellin Cartel, was also of German descent.

Asking for a favor
at the tomb of
Leo Kopp in the
Central Cemetery. 
Colombia was also affected by the dark side of German history - fascism and the Holocaust. Colombia backed the Allies during the Second World War, when some German nationals lost their properties and were either deported or sequestered in a hotel in the tropics. A small number of Jews fleeing Naziism settled in Colombia, and a few Nazi war criminals came here. But their numbers were tiny compared to those who emigrated to nations like Argentina, Chile and Brazil.
This headstone carries a cross,
but the name sounds Jewish.

Returning to the cemetery, like the British Cemetery, the German Cemetery is a peaceful, green oasis in the heart of the city. Not all those buried there are from Germany, or even of German descent. We saw headstones with Polish surnames and at least one apparently Jewish-German name. (On the other hand, the Central Cemetery contains many German surnames.) Perhaps those buried in the German cemetery are Protestants, since the tombs' style is much more plain and austere. Or, maybe those buried there simply felt more affinity for their German heritage.

Related posts: A Glimpse of Historical Tragedy , Shoah Remembrence in Bogotá, Colombia in World War II , Karl Buchholz, BooksellerDid a Great Colombia Hide a Nazi Past?, The Sinking of the Resolute

See also: Germans in Latin America (Spanish).

Enrique Biermann, a professor at Bogotá's National University, has written a book about Germans in Colombia: Distant and Distinct: German Immigrants in Colombia.
An angel on a tomb. 
Friede (Peace); The entrance to Bogotá's German Cemetery.
The pair of hammers mean the man was a geologist. 

A coat of arms on a headstone. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Ciclovía Trims Bogotá's Budget and its Waistline

Cyclovia riders on Bogotá's Seventh Ave. 
Bogotá's Sunday/holiday Ciclovía has gained worldwide fame and been imitated in cities across the Americas - altho never as ambitiously as in Bogotá.

But here at home La Ciclovia is sometimes criticized and even ridiculed as an expensive, frivolous event which - God forbid! - inconveniences car drivers.

Aerobics in the National Park. Part of La Ciclovía's
accompanying Recrovia program. 
But a study recently published in the Journal of Urban Health found that Ciclovia-type events are not only good for the health, but are good business, too.

The study looked at the 'Ciclovias' in Bogotá, Medellin, Guadalara, Mexico and San Francisco, California and compared the costs of the events to the savings in health care expenses they produced. All four events saved money, ranging from about a 20% return in the case of Guadalajara to a return of between 323 and 426 percent in the case of Bogotá.

And those payback numbers don't include things like economic productivity, since a healthy happy person is generally a more productive worker, who misses fewer days and has fewer health care expenses.

Kids on new Christmas bikes. 
Of course, economics isn't the best reason for holding Ciclovias. They're fun and improve quality of life, particularly for lower-income people, who could never afford a gym membership.

So, even tho economics should be secondary for such a wonderful activity, the fact that Bogotá's famous Ciclovia also makes good business sense provides yet another justification when the auto-addicts insist that 'frivolous activities' such as cycling, skating and walking should give way to important ones, which generally involve sedentarism, fossil fuel burning and pollution.

Comparative weekly costs of various physical activity programs.
Bogotá's Ciclovia, the least expensive, is on the far left. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Miss that Bad Ol' Pico y Placa Yet?

Drivers wait and wait on a street in La Candelaria. 
As they do every year, Bogotá authorities suspended the Pico y Placa rule during the holidays, when many thousands of Bogotanos leave the city. 

Which means that, even with a much-reduced population, we still suffer almost the same old traffic jams. I took these photos today in the city center.

This situation gives reason to reflect on incoming Mayor Gustavo Petro's plan to eliminate the Pico y Placa rule for good. Pico y Placa has obviously failed, as the huge traffic jams on a normal day in Bogotá attest. But the city needs an effective alternative, such as a London-style congestion charge. 

Otherwise, with thousands of additional cars flooding the city every week, Bogotá will suffocate in its own traffic.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Palace for the Arts

The Palacio San Francisco, on Jimenez Ave., is to become an arts center. 
Despite being a democracy, the Colombian capital contains several palaces, including the Palacio de Nariño - the Presidential Palace - and the Justice Palace.
The elaborate scuptures on the building's roof are
named 'Peace' and 'Work.'

Now, it is also to have an Arts Palace.

That very grand, very handsome and very empty building on Jimenez Ave. beside the San Francisco Church used to house the government of Cundinamarca, the province surrounding Bogotá.

The site's recorded history begins in 1557, when Franciscan priests built a church where the San Francisco Church - Bogotá's oldest - still stands, on the corner of Jimenez and Seventh avenues. (Back then, the San Francisco River, today buried in a pipe, flowed down what is today Jimenez.) Beside the church, the Franciscans also built a convent.

In 1861, however, Pres. Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera confisticated the Catholic Church's property and turned the convent into the provincial capital building. But a 1917 earthquake badly damaged the building. The next year, the government began construction of the existing building, which took 15 years to complete (making the current TransMilenio projects look speedy).  Then, the new building was heavily damaged in the 1948 Bogotazo riots, which followed the assassination of populist politician Jorge Eliecer Gaitan across the street.

With the construction of the new, futuristic, pyramid-shaped provincial government building on 26th St., in 1997 the building on Jimenez Ave. was handed over to the management of the nearby Universidad del Rosario.

If there's anything La Candelaria already has lots of, it's art. So, it's good that the new building will contain recording, music and dance studios for people to work in. It is also to contain documentation and exhibition about Cundinamarca's history, culture and environment.

A majestic window in neoclassical style. 
When the arts center is completed, hopefully within a few years, La Jimenez could be an artsy corridor. The basement of the demolished building across Jimenez has been turned into an arts space, as has the old Odeon Theatre a block up Ave. Septima, and the Spanish government keeps promising to build a Spanish-Colombian Cultural Center higher up the avenue. At the top end of the avenue, between Los Andes University and the Quinta de Bolivar, is the Warehouse Art Center. In the other direction, there are plans to convert the decrepid building beside the old train station into an arts academy.

 Find photos and other info on the building's website here.
TransMilenio buses roll past the San Francisco Palace. 

Evidently, The British Council once occupied the building. 

The elaborate crown of one of the building's columns.
Restoration is going on, as this temporary roofing attests. 

On the building's side, a plaque from a beekeepers organization honors poet enrique Alvarez Henao, autho of the poem 'The Bee.' The only connection I can find is that the Franciscan priests were known for beekeeping. 

The Franciscans' coat of arms, on the adjoining church, includes beekeeping
equipment (and a paintball stain). 

The palace got graffitied recently by student protesters. 

Statue of Pres. Carlos Lleras Restrepo. 

A street vendor at work on the sidewalk. 

Windows ironwork. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Caracho's Surprising Decision

ERPAC fighters turn themselves in in Villavicencio.
Hundreds of fighters of one of Colombia's violent drug-trafficking gangs have turned themselves in to the military near Villavicencio over the past several days.

But, unlike demobilizations vicious by paramilitary groups a few years ago under the controversial 'Peace and Justice Law,' these guys weren't promised soft punishments for their many crimes. The ERPAC, whose name means Anti-Subversive Revolutionary Army, are inheritors of the old paramilitaries, who committed horrendous crimes in fighting Colombia's leftist guerrillas. But the ERPAC groups have focused instead on drug trafficking than fighting communists. Their demobilization looks like a dream come true for those who want to end Colombia's conflict while also punishing offenders.

Jose Lopez Montero, or Caracho:
Why'd he do it?
The mystery, tho, is why Caracho, whose real name is Jose Lopez Montero, decided to turn himself and his men in. He had said that he was tired of fighting. But perhaps a stronger clue is the fact that his predecessor, who used as his nom de guerre Cuchillo, or knife, died while fleeing the military last year. Lopez's band was also under siege by rival drug gangs. Still, I wonder why Lopez didn't just sneak across the border to Brazil or Venezuela, where he could likely have lived secretly and comfortably with his criminal wealth.

Today, Lopez and five of his group's commanders, who use the nicknames 'Caribe',  'Chorrillano', 'Vacafiada', 'Pájaro' y 'Puntocom' (yes, that does mean dotcom) are in Bogota's La Picota prison, facing criminal charges.

The fates of Lopez's foot soldiers is less clear. Of the almost 300 fighters who turned themselves in, all but about 20 had been released as of today. Perhaps authorities decided they deserved to spend Christmas with their families. But many of these fighters have committed serious crimes. They deserve punishment, and pose a threat to Colombian society.

Three hundred fewer armed fighters trafficking drugs is good news for Christmas by any measure. But, the key is to understand why Lopez and his commanders made such as radical decision - and motivate other criminal bands to do the same.

I look forward to hearing the ERPAC leaders' explanations.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas at La Casa del Colibris

New soccer balls make happy boys! (And a happy mother.)

La Casa del Colibries, on Carrera 3 between Calles 10 and 11 in La Candelaria, supports some of the
True love!

many poor families who live in central Bogotá - in particular families who were displaced when the old Cartucho neighborhood was bulldozed to create the Tercer Milenio Park.

La Casa del Colibries, or 'House of the Hummingbird,' provides activities, education, meals and support for the children of these poor families, who live in neighborhoods including Belen, Los Martires, Santa Fe and La Candelaria.

The house survives on a shoestring and welcomes donations and volunteers.

Poor families wait outside the foundation's door for gifts.

Happiness is a new doll. 

Children with a laptop computer donated by Pam, a client of Bogotá Bike Tours, (which has also supported the foundation).
Celebrating the novena, a Colombian Christmas tradition.
Director Marcela on the right during the novena.

Families wait across the street for their chance at a gift. 

Children waiting outside for treats.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours