Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Production notes: Filming a festival

If you haven’t seen it yet, I urge you (for no other reason than that it’s mainly what this post is about) to watch my video on last weekend’s Straw Bale Festival in my home village. It condenses a four-hour festival (well, the four-hour climax to a day-and-a-half-long festival) into about ten and a half minutes.

I’m often told that making videos is really easy; and it’s true that many very excellent videos are pretty easy to make (simple vlogs, for example, if you happen to be naturally funny or engaging). But for an idea of how “easy” this video was, take a look at the arranger:


Just to make this clear: this is amateur level. People with more skills, resources, time and money than I have routinely make much more complex videos. But I found this one a fair challenge.

The six tracks you can see there are:
  1. Video (from the camera).
  2. Sound (also from the camera).
  3. Titles (including the open captions where people are speaking German).
  4. Visual images that will appear superimposed over the video in track 1.
  5. Music (the green lines show where the music fades up and down).
  6. Commentary.
In itself, that's quite simple. But there’s some complexity hidden there. For example, when the gentleman talks about his “straw bale garden” (he is, by the way, the local “straw professor” Alfred Leistenschläger), the scene cuts away from him to views of the straw bale garden... but his voice keeps going. Basically, I’ve taken the footage of him speaking, and at strategic points removed the video (but not the sound) and replaced it with different video.

This is one way to save a little time, by the way, as well as make it a bit more interesting. Instead of seeing him drone on, and then later showing the garden, we instantly see what he’s talking about.

But condensing a four-hour show into ten minutes is no mean feat. I came away with perhaps an hour and a half or more of material, in 355 takes. Most of that, of course, never made the cut; but you have to film more than you need (much more, if possible) and then decide what to do with it. And because some shots will later turn out to be unusable, you should never shy away from filming the same thing several times.

I spent a lot of time essentially pointing my camera in the direction of people having fun: eating, drinking, chatting, that sort of thing. I also took as many shots as I could of people seemingly watching, applauding, pointing cameras: this can be useful later to disguise edits or bad camera work. For example, if I were to slip on something as the Straw Bale Queen was making a speech, I could at that point (in the edit) cut away to people watching with rapt attention — just as long as I pick a shot that doesn’t have the Straw Bale Queen in it. (This didn’t happen, but you’ll notice a couple of those shots in the video all the same.)

There were many other things I filmed, and then didn’t use, mostly speeches. The outgoing Queen made a fairly long speech during which her voice cracked with emotion, but it was mostly a list of her engagements over the past year: not exactly riveting for my viewers. Some of the speakers attempted to tell jokes. A great deal of fuss was made over the fact that this was the first year Alfred Leistenschläger was not involved in organising the event. They forgot to give the runners-up their bottle of wine. There was also a long, and pretty awful, piece of doggerel read out by one of the guests of honour in a faultering voice and with great shuffling of pieces of paper.

All that had to go for various reasons. Most of all, though, when you have to condense something of this magnitude to something YouTube-ready, you have to decide on what story you really want to tell — and then to tell that story, and ruthlessly cut out everything else. I set out to tell the story of the election of the new Straw Bale Queen, and apart from the sequences of “people having fun”, everything is there to tell that story. The only extra thing I kept in was the pro-celebrity threshing, but even that explains what the hell that contraption is that the Queen was wheeled in on (it’s a winnowing machine).

You will, therefore, never find out how a knowledge of apple cultivars might win you a hot-air balloon ride, why a six-pack of beer suddenly appeared on the new Queen’s throne, or who that young lady in the pink ballgown is.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Miltenberg: Extra notes

It may seem obvious, but I’ve come to realize that one of the things this blog should be used for is to give extra information about the places I film for my Destination series. For those who like the video and perhaps feel that one day they should visit. So here are my extra notes to accompany my video of Miltenberg. And what a beautiful place it is, too.

Miltenberg: the classic view.

This, of course, despite the fact that it started raining while I was there — not much, but some of the rain is visible in the video. But at least the light was nice and even: no deep shadows, and no wishing I could afford a new camera with useful things like dynamic range stretch. (I’m still looking, by the way, for somebody foolish enough to pay me to make videos.)

In the video, I mention that the historic centre is in the shape of a narrow wedge. Basically, the river Main flows head on towards the Odenwald, and when it reaches it, makes a sharp right turn; and that’s where Miltenberg is built. Here’s what it looks like if you take a map of the town and draw a line around the historic centre:

What’s long, thin and about 700 years old?

It’s a long way from one end to the other (although you don’t have to go all the way to the Mainz Gate at the extreme western end unless you really want to). It is, though, for the most part, flat, except for the path up to the castle (which is seriously not wheelchair-accessible).

For those reliant on public transportation, Miltenberg is best reached from Aschaffenburg (which is itself easy to get to from Frankfurt), with slow RB trains departing every hour and faster RE trains every two hours.


It’s a fair distance from any autobahn, but there are good roads from the A3 near Aschaffenburg.

The Lilli Chapeau Theatre really is the smallest in the world, at least according to the Guinness Book of Records (and they should know). The story behind it is quite sweet: Lilli Chapeau was a member of a company of street performers which once stopped at Miltenberg. She fell in love with, and later married, a local, but found it hard to settle down and lead a conventional life. So he basically converted a room into a tiny theatre and founded a theatre company with one actor (Chapeau), and one other person (himself) doing all the rest. The theatre is only open from October to April: during the summer months, Chapeau performs at their new project, an open-air theatre in nearby Kleinheubach (with twice the number of seats) where she shares the bill with a string of horses.

Finally, afficionados of German post-war comedy films may recognize Miltenberg as one of the locations used for filming the 1958 classic The Spessart Inn (original title Das Wirtshaus im Spessart).

Monday, June 27, 2016

A very long list

The country of my birth, the country I grew up in and which educated me, the country which still contains most of my family, is going to pieces. The economy is shrinking faster than a deflating balloon, the government is in complete disarray, the opposition has completely collapsed, and a sense of near anarchy reigns with people walking around shouting racist abuse at random foreign-looking types.

It’s natural to want to pin the blame for all this on somebody or some thing, whether it’s “the Tories” or “xenophobia”, but I think pretty much the entire nation is probably responsible in some form. I can probably nearly excuse myself from most of it, having been living in Germany for over 20 years and been ineligible to vote: in the past few weeks I have been cast in the role of helpless bystander. Probably not entirely, though, since I do have a voice (thanks to YouTube, and social media generally), so I have to ask myself whether I could have used by voice more effectively.

But still, I am extremely angry at the moment with a large number of people, and so I have decided to write a very long list of some of my grievences. It will probably be therapeutic for me, but it’s likely to include you somewhere in it, so be warned. Of course, there’s a chance just writing this will make me even more angry, but I’m honestly past caring.

All right, so let me begin with some of the usual suspects and work my way through the UK’s population.

David Cameron

The way it looks from here, Dave, is that you had these loony eurosceptics on your back and wanted to shut them up. So you devised this wonderful plan: promise them a referendum. If you then lost the election, no problem. If you won the election, you could have the referendum, which you would win easily, and the eurosceptics would stop bugging you for the next five or ten years at least. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, now we know what could possibly go wrong, because it went wrong, didn’t it? And you didn’t plan for this. At no point, it seems, did you stop to think, “But what happens if I don’t win the referendum?” You just steamed right ahead, thinking you could tell people that in the event you lost you would immediately trigger Article 50, safe in the mistaken knowledge that you would never have to do it. And so here we are, and you had to renege on that promise because you were completely unprepared for it.

You used the future of an entire nation to quell the voices of a few irritating loons. You don’t do that unless you are prepared to lose. You don’t ever bet more than you can afford.

Boris Johnson

Looking at you, Boris, when you delivered your victory speech, you really didn’t want to win at all. Which raises the very important question: Why the hell did you campaign for Leave? What in heaven’s name possessed you? Was this really all about setting yourself up as the next Prime Minister? And how could you do this to your old chum Dave? Did you think this was a game of Monopoly?

And to do this, you ran a campaign full of deliberate lies. That whole £350 million a week for the NHS thing was a total fabrication, which you knew at the time. Well, the public bought that and other lies, and now they expect you deliver on promises you never intended to have to keep.

Michael Gove

Most of what I said about Boris applies to you, although at least you are known to have been an actual eurosceptic — so at least you had a smidgeon of integrity, although it’s damned difficult to find.

But that comment about everybody being fed up with experts will go down in history as the most imbecilic statement ever. Right there, in that one sentence, is the encapsulation of everything that’s wrong: this pandering to the idea that people with no knowledge are somehow more knowledgeable than those with expertise. And the result of that is that your wife went on Facebook to ask for people to come forward with helpful suggestions on what to do next: if you don’t see why that should be a problem, you have no business in any job that requires you to make decisions.

Nigel Farage

Well, I suppose at least you truly believe in what you’re doing, but sincerity will only take you so far. Hospitals are full of people who sincerely believed they could cross the road. Your tactic of appealing to the basest forms of xenophobia, as exemplified by your “Breaking Point” poster, is not just odious, it is reckless.

Jeremy Corbyn

What the actual hell? This is the “kinder, gentler politics” you wanted to usher in? You were being kind and gentle to whom, exactly? You showed such a total lack of leadership that your own Labour voters didn’t know which way you wanted them to vote. And so when one of your most respected front-bench colleagues confronted you, you fired him, triggering a series of resignations — so many, in fact, that you’re now having problems assembling a shadow cabinet. And you obstinately won’t resign, claiming, against all the evidence, that you somehow command the overwhelming support of the grass roots. Britain now has no functioning official opposition. If a snap election is called, how on earth do you think you’re going to win it?

Corbynistas

Yes, you: those who still think that Jeremy Corbyn is the Greatest Thing Ever and Can Do No Wrong. I’ll bet most of you wanted Remain to win. Maybe you should know that Jeremy Corbyn is a eurosceptic: his view on the EU is that it is a corrupt capitalist organisation that puts the needs of big business ahead of the needs of ordinary workers. You may dismiss as “mainstream media bias” stories that he didn’t do all he could to campaign for Remain, but he really didn’t. Unable to decide between supporting the fat-cat capitalists in the City and the swivel-eyed racists and Islamophobes everywhere else, he dithered and left the working-class Labour heartlands to vote according to gut instinct. You want proof? He refuses to confirm that he voted Remain. “His own private business,” you may say, but you’re making excuses for him: somebody supposedly part of the Remain campaign shouldn’t feel he’s giving anything away by saying which way he voted, unless he voted Leave.

Barack Obama

Yes, Mr President, you. It was very nice of you to come over and help Dave’s campaign, and full points for using the word “queue”. Unfortunately, just about everything else you said seemed deliberately scripted to irritate the British. At one time you said that Brexit would leave Britain unable to enjoy the full benefits of TTIP. I suppose you believe in it yourself, but the threat of TTIP is the one thing that would make even the most committed europhile stop and think. Here in Europe, we tend to believe that businesses should obey the law, not the other way around.

The tabloid press

For decades now some of you have been feeding your readers exaggerations, misinformation and outright lies about the EU. You make up stories that aren’t true, whip up racial hatred when it suits you, and don’t even seem quite clear yourself just how the EU works or what it does. And by the way, just to clear this one up once and for all: The European Court of Human Rights has nothing whatever to do with the EU.

And so you told your readers that by voting Leave, they would usher in an instant and golden future in which Britain can in some unspecified way get back its sovereignty and freedom which will be really good for some reason. Now you’re having to explain to your readers why the economy is going down the pan, why the country is still in the EU, and why the immigrants haven’t gone home.

The “You Can’t Say That” brigade

Look, racism (and other -isms) are obnoxious and have no place in our society. But if your response to it is to constantly tell people who express it that they are bigots and intellectually-challenged thugs, if your response is to ridicule and publicly humliate them, to pillory them and hound them, you are not solving the problem. You may think you are, but that’s only because people become cautious about saying things.

And so the venom remains, seething below the surface, where resentfulness and suspicion lurk — until something happens to release the pressure, and then all hell, as we have just seen, is let loose.

People aren’t racist just because they have this sort of evil racist gene. They become racist because they are worried about their jobs, their security, their livelihoods. It’s not that hard to understand: when in difficult circumstances, they look for ways to explain their predicament, and immigrants are a natural target. Tell these people to shut up because you think they’re stupid, and they will simply feel marginalised, magnifying their hatred and making it worse.

Instead of pouring your energy into well-meaning but ultimately counter-productive vigilantism, work on trying to understand why people feel the way they do, and then doing something constructive about it.

#Bregret

You thought this referendum was about giving the Establishment a kicking? (In which case, why did you then take Boris Johnson’s side?) You thought your vote wouldn’t count? You didn’t think to find out what exactly you were voting for?

Well, at least you now realise what you did. Let’s hope you’ve learned your lesson.

Young people

So the older generations have ruined your future. Yes, that’s horrendous — but you’re partly to blame for that.

Well, not those of you who bothered to vote; but the problem is, that’s not many. Of all those of you in the 18-24 demographic, a whopping 64% didn’t vote. Where the hell were you?

It’s no good moaning that the government should have given 16-year-olds the vote. It probably wouldn’t have made that much difference: at 18, you’re likely to be thinking of studying, possibly abroad; at 16 — and I know this, because, although I don’t often admit it, I was once a 16-year-old — those considerations are much less pressing.

No, the fact is: You should have voted.

But oh, the whining, which started as soon as the referendum date was set: you complained that it clashed with Glastonbury, and so the PM had to explain the concept of a postal vote without sounding patronising. Vast numbers of you didn’t even register to vote, and some of you even complained that three months’ notice wasn’t enough.

It’s no good now stamping your feet and saying it’s not fair: you had your chance, and you blew it, and in doing so you left the country to take that “leap in the dark” the Remain camp warned us about and we all thought it was scaremongering but it turns out it wasn’t.

Maybe at the next elections we’ll see a better turnout among you lot. Maybe you’ll stop listening to Russell Brand.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Now the party’s over

When the British electorate went to the polls to vote on whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union or leave it, a lot of people looked at the arguments that had been presented (such as they were), decided to vote Leave. And that’s absolutely fine: I would have voted Remain if I’d been eligible, but I recognize that this is a complex issue nobody really understands, and it may yet prove that leaving the EU is the right thing to do. I doubt it, but I understand that’s how a lot of people see it. So I have no issue with these people, who exercised their democratic right in a responsible way.

My issue is with those people who said they voted Leave and now regret doing so; with those people who googled “What is the EU?” after the results had been announced; and with those people who are busy phoning election officials asking if they can change their vote.

What did they think this was? Britain’s Got Talent?

The whole thing was a terrible advert for democracy. First, the capaigning on both sides was short on facts, long on hysteria. Then, it seems that significant proportions of the electorate saw this referendum as a way to give “the political elite” a good kicking, without actually realising that this was going to have consequences. As a result, there’s a very real chance that two years from now, if Brexit negotiations go ahead and end in stalemate, my passport will be about as useful to me in Germany as a piece of cardboard torn from a cornflakes packet.

What am I supposed to do with this?

I think it’s true that the EU has serious problems it refuses to address: in particular, although it’s a lot more democratic than most people realize, the system of government is so complicated that nobody has a snowball’s chance in hell of working out how it operates and what the point of EU elections is. Yes, it can be overly bureaucratic, and is only now realizing that it should perhaps make a little more effort when it comes to listening to and dealing with the concerns of its citizens. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to get drunk on mindless jingoism, punch Brussels in the face and then wake up the following morning with a splitting headache to find Brussels standing over you, divorce papers in hand and asking for a signature.

The level of “What have I done?” is staggering. More value was wiped off the British economy in just a few minutes than Britain would ever have saved in not paying EU contributions. Cornwall, which voted overwhelmingly to leave, now wants the UK to ask the EU to continue paying subsidies after Brexit, which is literally not going to happen. Yorkshire, which also voted to leave, thinks the British government can now just take over paying these subsidies. Scotland is considering another independence referendum, but if it thinks it can then just get EU membership on its own terms, that is something else that simply will not happen — you don’t get things just because you wish very hard for them. There’s even now a movement calling for London to declare independence from England (London voted Remain), which is totally boneheaded: the logical extreme of this attitude (if the rest of the country disagrees with you, declare independence) is that every constituency will eventually declare independence. My mother would have to get a visa just to visit my sister. Meanwhile, in the event of Brexit, Northern Ireland (which did vote Remain) is going to have to choose between staying in the UK and needing a visa to visit the Irish Republic, and reuniting with the Irish Republic and needing a visa to visit the UK.

In British politics, the traditional way to punish whichever party is in power is in local council elections — voting for people in charge of things like garbage collection and public toilets. If putting a cross in a box helps you feel you’ve given the Prime Minister a bloody nose, be my guest; but not in any election or referendum that is going to have a major effect on the political and economic future of the entire country.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A matter of scale

It never ceases to amaze me just what we consider important enough to spend our lives arguing about. Never mind about how to solve the Middle East, end poverty or cure cancer: what really exercises our minds is whether Fahrenheit is better than Celsius.

It’s been eight months since I uploaded a video explaining the two scales, and since then a thread has been steadily growing over which scale is “more accurate”, a thread which shows no signs of abating (so far I have twice posted to politely suggest that it may be time to move on, and been roundly ignored both times). Improbably, given the total lack of import, that thread has at times got so personal, I seriously considered disabling comments for a couple of months. At this point, I’m with the one who declared “°Réaumur for life!”

I’m reminded of this because Dana of Wanted Adventure recently uploaded a video explaining why she felt she had to unlist an earlier video on why she prefers Fahrenheit. The comments, apparently, were fine. But it was only the second time that one of her videos got more dislikes than likes.

Okay, we’re not (as I understand it) talking about death threats or trolling or any of that really nasty stuff that makes you think that evolution may have been a big mistake. We’re talking about the bizarrely inconsequential things we discuss as if they were about life-or-death.

There are videos you expect to generate a passionate response. I expected the worst when I uploaded a video about the refugee crisis, although it was actually not really awful. It was a bit awful, just not really awful. At least that one’s rational: every time I mention the trains I get a slew of rants about how unspeakably terrible German trains are, usually from people who almost never use the trains or who have rarely travelled abroad. But that’s predictable and expected, if baffling.

But temperature scales? I never saw that one coming. I get months of acrimonious argument. Dana gets several thousand people who think that the downvote button is a disagree button. What’s going on?

I wonder what else would make viewers explode with apoplectic rage. Kilos? Litres? Euros? Will people start spending six weeks arguing over whether metres are better than yards because they’re longer? If I branch out into astrophysics, will my videos get downvoted if I measure distances in light years instead of parsecs? If not, why not?

We live in odd times. I don't at all mind the fact that people pay close attention to the small stuff. But to pour so much energy into something that is actually quite trivial is something I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Shooting into the sun (not all that bad)

Some of you may already have seen my video about the city of Darmstadt. Just to make something clear before I start: I simply did not have time to see the Woog (if you live in Darmstadt, you’ll know what that is); the Rosenhöhe would have been, I would guess, not at its best at this time of year; and to the guy who said he could have fixed me up with a visit to the European Space Operations Center if only he’d known in advance I was to be in Darmstadt — many thanks, and the sentiment is more than appreciated (because that would have been seriously cool), but this is why I really want to find a way to be able to do this as my real job instead of squeezing it into my free time.

Still, since some of you seem to interested in the nuts and bolts of videomaking — a skill I’m still more or less learning by doing — I thought it would be good to start talking some behind-the-scenes stuff. Today: what happens when you have to shoot into the sun.

Here’s a still straight from the camera: it’s a shot of the main building of the Technical University.


It doesn’t look too good, does it? Here’s why: it was a gloriously sunny day, and this shot was taken almost directly into the sun. The entire façade is in fact in shadow; to try to compensate, I set the camera’s white balance to “cloudy”, which at least made the colours less blue. That didn’t help much beyond that: everything looks flat and washed out. You can also see that there is some dust on the camera lens, which I should have cleaned first, but there was nothing I could do about that post-production.

It took me the whole day to cover as much of Darmstadt as I could; returning later when the sun was in a different position wasn’t an option. So I had to tweak it in the video editor as best I could.

First of all, with the colours all washed out, I slightly increased the saturation. This makes the colours more vibrant, less grey, but if you overdo it, the result can look artificial and ugly. My video editor allows me to set the saturation anywhere between -100 (no colour at all) to +100 (LSD trip), and I took it to +36:


The difference is barely noticeable, but it is there. There’s slightly more colour now, but it still looks washed out: there aren’t enough dark tones. So I next increased the contrast, to 73 on a scale of 0 to 100:


This gives me much more contrast between shadows and highlights, but now the bright parts of the image are too bright. If I simply reduce the brightness, the image would go all murky; so instead, I reach for a useful tool called selective brightness. I can choose whether I want to adjust the highlights, the midtones or the shadows. My problem here is that the bright areas are too bright, so I select highlights and set them to -41 brightness. This darkens the bright areas of the image but leaves the rest untouched:


And there you have it. The sky still looks white instead of the bright blue it actually was — I can’t fix that — but I think the whole image looks much better now. At least it looks like it did to me when I was standing in front of it.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Was Hitler a Zionist?

Of all the questions you expect to have to deal with in the course of a lifetime, the question about whether Hitler was a Zionist is not one. Hitler and his cronies, as we all know, were responsible for the deaths of six million Jews, while countless others were forcibly deported or forced to flee. Surely Hitler is the very opposite of a Zionist, committed as he was to the complete destruction of “the Jews”. Why, then, am I wasting time even addressing the question?

Because of British politics, that’s why. Honestly, the more I hear about what’s going on there, the more convinced I am that I left just in time.

Those of you who have been keeping an eye on British politics, or are living in Britain at the moment, will know the story I’m talking about. For the benefit of everyone else, here’s a brief recap.

For some time now, accusations have been growing that many members of the left-of-centre Labour Party, currently in opposition, have been making antisemitic statements, and that the party leadership has failed to do anything about it. Most of the alleged antisemitic statements have been coming from the left wing of the party, and this has caused a rift with the party’s own right wing.

The Labour left has responded to these allegations by pointing out that criticism of the state of Israel is not the same as antisemitism, and that playing the antisemitism card is just a way of silencing debate.

So this argument rages on for a bit, which is an unedifying spectacle and very unhelpful to the Labour Party as a whole, as it is distracting it from the very important job of opposing the Conservative government. A government which seems to be in the process of dismantling the UK and handing it over to Russian oligarchs, so now is really not the time to be squabbling about contentious political opinions about the Middle East.

During this row, it emerged that a few years ago, Labour Member of Parliament Naseem “Naz” Shah had shared on Facebook a post suggesting that the solution to the conflict in the Middle East was to deport Israeli Jews and relocate them to the US, something which to my mind goes beyond criticizing the policies of the government of Israel. After her rather unconvincing argument that she didn’t endorse the views in the post (which raises the question of why she shared it), she was suspended by a Labour Party increasingly under pressure to show they won’t tolerate antisemitism in their ranks.

There’s a valid debate to be had over what actually constitutes antisemitism; and it’s not easy, because there are very few nations in the world that so neatly correspond to adherence to a particular religion. It’s not always easy to tell the difference, but — and I offer this as a piece of advice to anyone intent on stepping into this particular minefield — if your statement includes the phrase “the Jews”, there’s a high chance it’s antisemitic.

All of this was bad enough, before veteran Labour politician and former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone waded into the debate with all the sensitivity of Godzilla and stated in a radio interview that:

...when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism — this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.

At the end of a madcap day that saw him hounded by the press, an irate colleague and a dog, Livingstone was also suspended from the party. But he continues to insist that everything he said was historically true citing Lenni Brenner’s book Zionism in the Age of Dictators in his defence.

So, what’s this all about? Hitler a Zionist?

On the 25th August 1933, Germany, now under Nazi rule, signed the Ha’avara Agreement with Zionist Jews, to facilitate the resettlement of Jews to Palestine. So, Brenner and Livingstone were right?

Not without an ulterior motive.

Not so fast. We’re talking about Germany under Hitler. Hitler also put his signature to a document promising Britain that he wasn’t going to start a war, later commenting that he simply thought he’d give the British Prime Minister his autograph. Anyone who thinks Hitler wanted at that point in history to be nice to “the Jews” clearly hasn’t heard of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s autobiography and propaganda tract written well before he came to power, in which he said:


...the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.

and:

The black-haired Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end, satanically glaring at and spying on the unsuspicious girl whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood and removing her from the bosom of her own people. The Jew uses every possible means to undermine the racial foundations of a subjugated people.

and, most famously:

Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: “by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

That was written years before 1933. Let there be no mistake: Hitler had no sympathy with the Zionist cause, or with the Jewish people. His regime had already started with its program of oppressing German Jews, who wanted out not because they had ideas about booting Muslims out of Palestine, but because the atmosphere in Germany was becoming more hostile.

This is the problem, incidentally, with ascribing certain views to Hitler. Put simply, Hitler is not a man whose word you can trust. This same “Zionist” Hitler is quoted as saying, “The peoples of Islam will always be closer to us than, for example, France,” although that quote is rather doubtful. But whatever he says or even does, you have to bear in mind the possibility that there is an ulterior motive at work.

So what could Hitler possibily have gained from the Ha’avara Agreement?

Well, first of all, and most importantly, he wanted Jews to leave Germany. That was basically it: he didn’t particularly care where they went or what happened to them, just so long as they weren’t in Germany any more. Hitler “supported” Zionism not because he agreed with its aims, but rather in the hope that it would solve one of his problems. The great advantage would be that by concentrating all the Jews in one small part of Palestine, it would be easier to control them and prevent them from becoming a threat.

The other problem he had was the Anti-Nazi boycott, in which several countries boycotted German goods in response to the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor, and Germans in response boycotted Jewish businesses. And the Ha’avara Agreement provided a way around that.

It worked like this: Jews who wanted to emigrate to Palestine would temporarily give up all their possessions, and pay £1000 (a lot of money in those days) to the Ha’avara Company. This money would then be used to buy German goods, which the emigrants would take with them to the Yishuv community in Palestine and then, basically, sell.

There’s a much more detailed discussion of the agreement, its aims and its effects, in this PDF document; but essentially, Hitler “supported Zionism” only insofar as it was a handy way to further his obsession with ridding Germany of “the Jewish problem” once and for all.

On a related subject, Livingstone also claimed that in 1935, the Nazi government passed a law banning the flying of any flag except the swastika and the Zionist flag. In fact, if you read German, the text of the Imperial Flag Act of 1935 is online and says nothing about the Zionist flag. It also says nothing about banning anything: it simply states that the “imperial colours” are black, white and red, and that the swastika was to be the official imperial, national and trade flag.