The Most Enchanting And Disgusting Thing About Rome

Look up in the sky. No wait, don't!

Starlings over Rome's Ponte Sant'Angelo
Starlings over Rome's Ponte Sant'Angelo
Julie Farrar

ROME — This is the time of year in the Eternal City when flocks of some of the four million migratory starlings darken the sky, circling the iconic monuments in often dazzling formations.

via YouTube expand=1]

Caught in the just the right light, the sight can be Rome at its most enchanting. That is, until, the birds release their bowels. Particularly near the Tiber river when dusk sets in, some have described it as a "hailstorm."

Photo by InternetAutoGuide

Every year along the Tiber, in public gardens and on tree-lined streets, says daily paper La Stampa, the city becomes smothered with layers of bird excrement and mud. The rains that arrive don't necessarily clean the poop, but rather make it slippery, and raise the risk for accidents.

via YouTube expand=1]

The starlings choose to roost in the plane trees that line the river en route to warmer climes in Africa. They also favor the city's street lighting, which is believed to make them feel more protected from predatory birds.

Photo by mikitazzi via Instagram

Video by ailian91 via Instagram

Until now Rome's city council had hired people to prune the trees, as well as walk under them as they play recordings of the screeching noises starlings make when the predatory falcons approach.

Over Ponte Sant'Angelo. Photo by RaSeLaSeD - Il Pinguino via Flickr

Piazza Venezia and monument to King Vittorio Emmanuele. Photo by thinkpipes via Flickr

As soon as dusk falls, the areas around the river are best to be avoided. Parked cars become targets, moped drivers and cyclists too.

Photo by @tuttacronaca1 via Twitter

Photo by francescococcofoto via Instagram

Earlier this year cuts had been announced to the 100,000 euro budget for mitigating the birds' impact. Corriere della Sera writes that this year residents and cyclists would have to take to the streets with pots and pans and make their own racket, as they did years ago, to scare the birds off.

Photo by @emimes via Twitter

This moped got off lightly. Photo by kmillard92 via Flickr

Photo by antmoose via Flickr

But last week it was announced that these funds have now been reinstated, according to La Repubblica, and the “distress call” system will be back up and running within a few days at dusk. But until then, say an extra little prayer anytime you look up.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!