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This week, the regional minister of the interior of North Rhine-Westphalia made public the statistics surrounding Cologne’s New Year’s Eve nightmare.

Nationality

An article from Le Monde on April 5, 2016, states the nationality and refugee status of the 153 ‘suspected of committing assault’ as follows:

  • 4 Germans
  • 103 Moroccans and Algerians
  • 47 nationality unknown (e.g. no papers)

Twenty-four suspects are still in ‘preventive custody’.

Of those arrested:

  • 68 are asylum seekers
  • 18 are illegal immigrants

On February 17, Le Monde published an article on the refugee status of the assailants wherein Ulrich Bremer, Cologne’s chief prosecutor, said:

The overwhelming majority arrived in 2015.

The foreign defendants, in a very, very great majority, arrived in Germany during 2015, whether they arrived illegally in this country or whether they are asylum seekers. It would not be accurate to say that we’re talking about people who have lived in Germany for a long time.

So, there you have it. Consider that quote emboldened in triplicate and highlighted in all the colours of the rainbow.

Number of reports

Police in Cologne:

  • Received 1,527 official complaints
  • Have a list of 1,218 victims
  • Recorded 626 sexual assaults

One Le Monde reader wrote on April 8 that Cologne police said 2,000 individuals were involved in assaults on New Year’s Eve. Interesting. What happened to the overwhelming majority of them?

Other unanswered questions remain. We still don’t know what happened to the defendants who are no longer in custody. Were they convicted of anything? Do they have pending court cases? Are they on the loose, perhaps even out of the country by now?

For now, at least we have some statistics.

Lyin’ media

It’s not nice to call people liars, but, in this case, the accusation fits.

Remember when the media suppressed this story? It only came to worldwide attention through independent sites such as Breitbart. Social media trended on it and the MSM had no choice but to report it. The MSM were hoping they would not have to publish the raw truth. Withholding the truth is as big a lie as a deliberate distortion of the facts.

Left-wing handwringers were worried that publicising it would cast aspersions on refugees. In fact, refugees cast aspersions on themselves through these heinous crimes against women from their host country.

Le Monde‘s readers react

When the April 5 article appeared, investigations were still going on into cases of sexual assault by French soldiers in Central Africa. Readers were careful to mention that.

Most comments concerned the Moroccans and Algerians. Four follow:

Having lived in Morocco for a year and having come to an appreciation of the kindness of the population, unfortunately, I have to mention the lack of consideration of their men towards women. The firm police stance and rigorous morals result in outbursts. Left in a tolerant European country where women don’t hide themselves, a minority [of men] behave like animals. Therefore, this is a problem of cultural inadaptation and has nothing to do with sociology, as intellectuals and do-gooders would have you believe.

It’s better to talk about refugees rather than state the facts!

Appalling. How can Moroccans and Algerians be refugees? Furthermore, 47 have no clear status. Finally, these 153 haven’t committed 1,200 sexual assaults, so we’re missing a number of non-identified [suspects]! Therefore, we cannot draw any definitive conclusions except to note that there is certainly a real problem … It was deliberately premeditated and poses a serious problem with regard to cultural differences.

The political and educational systems as well as society in Morocco and Algeria over the past 25-30 years have created two tiers of youths: those who do well in their studies, their work and the business world and those who are marginalised and excluded from the system who become either delinquents or radicals.

Since the events of New Year’s Eve, the German government has made it policy to return Moroccans and Algerians who have entered the country illegally back home. It is unclear how well that will work in practice.

Refugee situation in Europe

Onto the larger question of refugees, without papers, it is unclear who Germany is accommodating within its borders. Legitimate refugees have ways of applying for asylum via legitimate channels, aided by equally legitimate human rights organisations and procedures. Those people will not show up by boat or by a 1,000-mile land crossing. Germans and other Europeans need to think more logically and less emotionally about this problem.

It is unclear how the agreement with Turkey on refugee resettlement will work. On April 8, The Guardian stated that this was the second day of implementing the agreement:

The deal is designed to send back all migrants and refugees who enter Greece illegally, including Syrians, in return for the EU taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and rewarding it with more money, early visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.

Hmm. What happens once or if Turkey becomes part of the EU in a few years’ time? We will be back to square one.

In September 2015, Germany began taking in a regular stream of migrants, some of whom displaced native Germans from their homes by order of local or state councils.

Well intentioned families took in migrants for short stays until long-term housing was arranged.

Journalist Konstantin Richter, who writes for Die Welt and contributes to the European edition of Politico, was one of these kind-hearted people.

Recently, Richter wrote about his and his wife’s experience for The Guardian. Most of those who lodged with them were young men. They did not say much, if anything. They could not even manage a ‘thank you’. One refugee felt sorry for the Richters because they have no sons, only daughters. Another asked Richter if his wife was Jewish. This is out of bounds behaviour for a guest in someone’s home.

The Richters went on a ‘long trip abroad’ late last year. They returned to Germany to find a divided nation. One group of Germans points to New Year’s Eve in Cologne. Another side wants an open border policy. A group in the centre supports limited entry of refugees. The open border folks call anyone not supporting their position racist.

Richter has no regrets about taking in refugees. He explains that, at the time, he assumed Angela Merkel had a workable plan because everything in Germany runs like clockwork. If her Plan A did not work, then, surely, she had a Plan B. But, no. Furthermore, as of March 2016, Germany has 400,000 newcomers who have not yet applied for asylum:

Which means we have no idea who they are or where they are from. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that.

Another difficulty is the educational level of actual refugees. They’re not brain surgeons or rocket scientists, as we were told last year. Richter explains:

… the experiences of companies that hired refugees as trainees have been disheartening. Most people they took on lack even the basics of a high-school education.

He concludes:

What now? The EU’s borders are pretty much closed, at least for the time being. We don’t have people calling any more asking us to host refugees. And if we did get another call, I’m not sure I’d happily say, “OK then, why not?” That doesn’t mean we’ve turned into barbarians.

Getting the refugee thing right will be Germany’s biggest challenge in coming years, and we want to make a contribution. But the spirit of the Willkommenskultur – taking in people randomly, exuberantly, without getting to know them and establishing a meaningful relationship – doesn’t feel right any more.

Millions of us could have told the Germans this last September as we watched events unfold. The sexual assaults and mayhem in Cologne on New Year’s Eve were shocking but not surprising. Nor is it surprising that 400,000 notional refugees have not applied for asylum. Where are these men? What are they doing? How do they survive?

German voters expressed their discontent in regional elections a fortnight ago. However, that still does not solve the problem of 1 million newcomers in their country. A widespread integration into the general population and culture looks increasingly unlikely. Good intentions and all that …

ben carsonIt was disappointing that Dr Ben Carson, 64, had to drop out of the Republican (GOP) presidential race at the weekend.

(Photo credit: Blue Nation Review)

Carson’s campaign

In October, despite his being a Seventh Day Adventist (sect), I was hopeful for his campaign. Polls showed that only he had a chance of beating Hillary Clinton: early in December, he was ahead by one point and early in February 2016, she was ahead by just 1.3 points.

However, the endless focus on race in the West, particularly in the United States, makes it difficult for a black to declare himself (or herself) as a conservative. An offended Left — including the MSM — would have to take Carson down.

Before that happened, however, Carson revealed vulnerability in the GOP (Grand Old Party) debates, particularly on foreign policy.

Another thing people remember from his participation in the debates was his statement that the pyramids were grain silos. Before I go into that, however, leftists commenting online seized on it and called him all sorts of names, including ‘stupid’, ‘idiot’ and ‘fool’. They were frothing at the mouth. These comments continued until Carson dropped out of the race.

Early in November, Politico tried to make Carson out to be a liar. Mollie Hemingway, writing for The Federalist, explains the story and subsequent retraction. In short, Politico‘s Kyle Cheney accused Carson of fabricating receiving a West Point scholarship. Cheney had to retract this shortly afterwards.

Hemingway says:

Ben Carson’s campaign did not “admit” that a central point in his story “was fabricated.” Quite the opposite. The central point of the story is falsely described by Cheney/Politico as being that he applied and was accepted at West Point. Carson, in fact, has repeatedly claimed not to have applied. So any claim regarding the absence of West Point records of such an application would not debunk Carson’s point. And, again, Carson’s campaign never “conceded” the story was false at least in part because the story, as characterized by Politico, is not one he told. Further, Cheney is unable to substantiate his claim that Carson told this story. Nowhere in the article does he even explain, with facts, where he came up with the idea that Carson has ever made this claim.

What happened was that, in 1969, as a 17-year-old, Carson had the exceptional opportunity to meet General William Westmoreland, recently retired from service in Vietnam, for dinner. Westmoreland offered him a full scholarship to West Point, but Carson politely declined. Politico said there was no record of Carson’s application to West Point. Again, he never applied.

Politico changed the headline of their story to:

Exclusive: Carson claimed West Point ‘scholarship’ but never applied

Hardly an improvement.

Carson had been in the cadets in high school in Detroit. Furthermore, as one would expect of a future brain surgeon, his academic performance was excellent. It’s no wonder the general asked him to apply to West Point, offering a full scholarship.

By December 19, GOP polls had changed. Fox News reported:

Donald Trump, a candidate even Republicans once considered a side show, increases his lead yet again in the nomination race, according to the latest Fox News national poll. 

The poll also finds Ted Cruz ticking up, Marco Rubio slipping, and Ben Carson dropping.

At that point, he was in fourth place on

9 percent. He was at 18 percent last month and had a high of 23 percent support earlier this fall.

Yet, he still had more approval points than Jeb Bush, who had 3%!

On December 26, Real Clear Politics had a go at Carson about his paid speaking engagements and book tour during his candidacy. This ‘concern’ piece wondered if there was enough separation between his revenue generating interests and his campaign. Carson’s campaign spokesman Doug Watts said:

We segregate as much as feasible.

The Atlantic had similar ‘concerns’.

Most of this would have gone under the radar of Republican voters. However, as with the grain silos, Carson’s book tour became a running theme of online leftists. That also continued until he dropped out at the weekend.

Rafael ‘Ted’ Cruz’s cheating at the Iowa caucus — saying Carson had dropped out of the race — cost the good doctor dearly. Donald Trump still talks about it, and rightly so, because Cruz’s team’s intimidation of Carson voters created a win for the Christian constitutional expert from Texas, pushing Trump into second place — and leaving Carson in fourth with 9% of the vote.

Cruz and his team seized their opportunity when Carson said that he was going home to Florida the weekend before the Iowa caucus for a change of clothes. Cruz’s people said they got the information from CNN.

I feel badly for Carson. He assumed Cruz was a nice guy and that the media would play fair ball. At a press conference held after the Iowa caucus, Carson rightly took issue with both.

However, I wonder why Carson didn’t just say that he was going home to regroup before going to Washington DC for the annual National Prayer Breakfast, after which he would go on to campaign in New Hampshire. Donald Trump is always clear about where he is going next, probably to avoid similar speculation.

So, as much as the Left wanted Carson to fail because, in their eyes, blacks have no business being conservatives, the true kisses of death came from two of his fellow candidates — avowed Christians, let’s remember — and their people. In addition to Cruz’s was Marco Rubio’s team. The Politistick has the full story about a tweet from a Rubio supporter, since deleted, which said that Rubio’s campaign was spreading the narrative that Carson was dropping out of the race.

Whilst there were also internal issues in Carson’s campaign, such as spending, the Iowa rumours dogged him in New Hampshire. His party after the primary there was a damp squib, sadly.

In mid-February, he said he would be open to discussing running with Trump as the Vice Presidential nominee and would stay on through the South Carolina primary to help the billionaire. Having a lot of primary candidates is good; they help split the vote, thereby preventing an immediate overall dominant front-runner.

Super Tuesday — March 1 — was the decider. The next day, Fox News reported that it was ‘game over’ for Cruz, Rubio, Kasich  — and Carson. (Since then Cruz is proving to be Trump’s main rival.)

He suspended his campaign on March 4, which also made the news in France.

How Carson’s campaign came about

The Washington Post (WaPo) report was the only one I saw that actually explained how Carson came to run for president in the first place.

In 2013, he addressed the National Prayer Breakfast where:

he spoke about the dangers of political correctness, put forward the idea of a flat tax and criticized President Obama’s health-care law. What stood out was that he did so right beside a steely-faced Obama.

Brilliant!

The Wall St Journal thought so, too, and they carried an editorial to that effect days later, entitled:

“Ben Carson for President.” By August of that year, there was a “National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee.” Before he launched his presidential bid last May, the group had raised close to $16 million, gotten a half-million signatures encouraging Carson to run and had 30,000 active volunteers across the country, according to organizers.

WaPo‘s article goes on to say that, at age 33, Carson was the youngest major division director in the history of Johns Hopkins Hospital and:

he was the first pediatric neurosurgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head. He wrote a best-selling book, “Gifted Hands,” about his life, which later became a television movie.

He got a lot of flak for his blunt opposition to Obamacare, his comparison of the United States to Nazi Germany and his denunciation of same-sex marriage.

It was hard for him to not speak about morality in uncertain terms and, paradoxically, be more assertive against other GOP candidates, such as Trump. If he knew something to be immoral, he would say so. Yet, he did not want to be seen to go on the attack against a candidate just for a show of strength.

Of politics, WaPo quotes him as saying:

“Many people told me that this business is corrupt, that it’s evil, that it’s how it’ll always be,” Carson said in a phone interview Monday. “But I don’t believe that we have to accept that. We should rail against that, fight against it, and get something that’s decent and inspirational.”

I couldn’t agree more. This is one of the reasons I read a lot about politics. I continue to look for the ‘decent and inspirational’. Hmm. Like digging for gold.

One thing Dr Ben Carson can be proud of in his campaign: he outlasted Jeb!

Tomorrow: Ben Carson and the grain silo theory

Over the past five years or so, the hipster has been on the rise in Britain.

As we saw yesterday, hipster Anglican priests in London’s East End are embracing the trend of facial hair as an evangelism tool. Let us know, chaps, when your parish churches show a rise in attendance. I won’t hold my breath waiting.

I reread the comments that accompanied Christopher Howse’s ‘peak beard’ editorial for The Telegraph in 2014. The readers made a few socio-political and hygienic points related to beards.

Ian B wrote about the waxing and waning of Puritans versus Cavaliers since the 17th century. From the Puritans we inherited not only a certain strain of Christianity but along with that Cromwell and the English Civil War. Hairlessness, he rightly says, denotes Puritanism. Cromwell’s army were the Roundheads. The hairy, pleasure-loving monarchists were the Cavaliers.

Ian B explains that the later Victorian period

was the last valiant battle by men to be allowed some form of individualist display, when their clothes had been dowdied-down. It was eclipsed.

Another reader explains the reason why beards disappeared in the early 20th century, which I’ll come to shortly.

Back to Ian B, who says that the 1960s and 1970s popularised hirsute men, but that, too, disappeared and in more recent years gave way to the shaved or stubbled head. With more beards within the past few years

it may be a hopeful indication of a weakening of puritan hegemony and the first green shoots of another attempt to return to (our more natural, for England) liberal individualism.

However, George Williams gave us the reason why beards went out of fashion in the early 20th century (emphasis mine):

In World War 1 commanders learned the only way to control head lice in the trenches was to cut off all hair. Soldiers mustering home were regarded as heroes and their short-haired clean-shaven look remained the manly ideal until the rebellious ’60s.

That makes sense for both eras. Note the hygiene aspect with the Great War.

In reaction against the Vietnam War — and the establishment — facial hair made a big comeback as a statement decades later.

Although Christopher Howse, himself hirsute, predicted peak beard in 2014, by the end of 2015, it still hadn’t happened. However, The Sun reported several weeks ago that historian Alun Withey told sister paper The Times that

2016 would see the end of the beard trend.

One wonders. Last year, a study was widely reported around the world which said that beards harbour all manner of bacteria. It’s believable. Have you ever had occasion to examine paperwork closely with a bearded man hovering next to you? Some — some, not all — of these men smell unclean, as if they need a good wash with soap. I know of women who dislike bussing bearded acquaintances on the cheek or eating with them. In the latter situation, crumbs or soup drops, even when momentarily visible are off-putting. As for the bussing, one woman I know said:

He smells positively sebaceous.

Agreed. A bit like the aforementioned guy co-examining paperwork: too much information. I don’t want to smell it.

If you want a pleasing beard, you really do have to keep all of it well washed — especially the bit from lip to chin — down to the skin.

Yet, in 2016, the beard picture changed, perhaps to avoid offending the sensibilities of men of a certain religion who think they have to be hairy in order to demonstrate their piety. On January 20, 2016, Dr Adam Roberts, a microbiologist from University College London, claimed that good beard bacteria killed harmful beard bacteria. Roberts purports that clean shaven men have more facial bacteria. I doubt that very much. I would also like to see a photograph of Dr Roberts to see if he has any biases in the hirsute direction.

Bottom line — and this goes for women, too — a person of breeding (rich or poor) avoids touching his or her face during the day. Wash it, moisturise it and leave it alone apart from dabbing the lips at mealtime.

Furthermore, only a few months ago, The Sun reported that Britons ‘slam beards in workplace poll’, along with showing too much of the body, flip flops and high heels.

What The Sun doesn’t say is that workers object to beards which are ‘unkempt, long or full’. That objection is No. 15 in the list, far below the other three that I mentioned which come in at Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 13; No. 5 and No. 14.

In closing, there’s another growing male fashion craze involving hair — the man bun — yours for only £9.99.

As the illustrations show, it goes so nicely with a beard.

European politicians are increasingly worried about the migration crisis and how it ties in with the upcoming UK referendum on EU membership.

On January 25, 2016, The Guardian reported that former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta said it would be better if the UK delayed the referendum until 2017, when he thinks the migration crisis will have subsided.

The referendum might be held this summer, which worries Letta:

… the link between the two issues will be terrible.

On the contrary, it could even be worse by next year if we are forced to take in 90,000 migrants in 2016 and contemplate their eventual family reunification process in the meantime.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempts at renegotiating our membership prior to the referendum have also frightened his EU peers (emphases mine):

Letta was among a phalanx of senior European politicians, including two former prime ministers, who said the British renegotiation agenda was either completely impossible, self-defeating or, at points, crazy. In particular, Britain was warned that its plan to prevent non-UK citizens from receiving in-work benefits for four years could attack one of the key tenets of the union, since it threatened the principle of free movement of workers and would require a treaty change that other EU countries would not tolerate.

A bigger problem might be the automatic right for an EU citizen to claim benefits without being in work.

The Dutch, the Poles and the French are upset. France’s former Europe minister Noëlle Lenoir accused the UK of putting the immigration crisis in the forefront of Britons’ minds rather than the the principles of the free market.

Meanwhile, veteran Guardian columnist Michael White fears that the immigration crisis could create any number of Donald Trumps in Europe. However, even he grudgingly admitted that comparisons between the current situation and the Fall of the Roman Empire might have some merit.

He is old enough to remember DPs — displaced persons — coming to Western Europe, including the UK, after the Second World War. He says the continent was ‘full of’ such people, meaning that our present influx is very similar. I wonder, but I do not think so, otherwise everyone over the age of 70 would be claiming that. And they aren’t. Also, the DPs looked forward to practising their religion in peace and working hard for a living. I have never heard or read of any assimilation problems relating to them, probably because they were fellow Europeans.

The Anglican priest, the Revd Giles Fraser, worries that some in Britain are stigmatising our refugees. Whilst I agree with him that it is ill-advised for Middlesbrough’s refugee homes to have red doors (now being repainted) and for Welsh asylum seekers to wear red wristbands (since dropped) as a means of identification, to claim that we are in the run-up to a 21st century Holocaust seems wide of the mark.

Fraser then points a finger at the recent Charlie Hebdo cartoon which conflates the late little Aylan Kurdi with migrant adolescents who are teenage bum-gropers. In the process, Fraser mistranslates fesses, which is the word for ‘buttocks’, not ‘a*s’.

Actually, given recent events in Europe this month, that cartoon — whilst meant as a poke at racists — might be more prescient then the magazine had anticipated.

Guardian readers spent several days and a few hundred comments debating the cartoon and what it meant. One wrote:

I think it’s saying that you start off getting all dewy-eyed about a dead boy, and end up inviting a horde of bum-gropers into your country.

Adding:

Did the right in France cry at the sight to the dead boy? Did they change their policy towards migrants because of the picture and demand that all and sundry be accepted because we must think of the children?

Because if they didn’t, then the picture of A[y]lan doesn’t ‘satirise’ them, but the virtue-signallers who failed to see the risks.

But I agree that my interpretation is only one of many possible explanations.

And how is it that so many have entered? Yes, we know about the boat smugglers, but a fascinating, informative article from 2015 by Nicholas Farrell for The Spectator explains how Italy accommodated them over the years, to the point where Italy’s leftist government in 2013

took the extraordinary step of decriminalising illegal immigration, which means among other things that none of the boat people are arrested once on dry land. Instead, they are taken to ‘Centri di accoglienza’ (welcome centres) for identification and a decision on their destinies. In theory, only those who identify themselves and claim political asylum can remain in Italy until their application is refused — or, if it is accepted, indefinitely. And in theory, under the Dublin Accords, they can only claim political asylum in Italy — the country where they arrived in the EU. In practice, however, only a minority claim political asylum in Italy. Pretty well all of them remain there incognito, or else move on to other EU countries.

The numbers have been so overwhelming that police do not force registration, which includes consenting to a photograph and fingerprints. Many migrants just disappear. Those who do decide to go into the accommodation centres are given mobile phones and €3 a day pin money as well as lessons in ice-cream making or driving.

Farrell says that, in 2014, 64,000 asylum seekers submitted their applications to the Italian authorities. However, the government was able to only process half of those claims. Those whose claims were refused can still stay in the country indefinitely because of human rights laws. Italy deported only 6,944 people that year.

When the influx is particularly heavy, Italian police bus migrants in to larger towns and cities, leaving them in town centre squares or main railway stations.

Untreated health issues, including diseases Europeans thought were long gone, pose a real risk:

Scabies is rife (of 46,000 migrants tested this year, 4,700 were infested) and one in four migrants is said by doctors to have Hepatitis C.

And 2016 looks to be no different: 400,000 migrants could be headed for Italy in the next few weeks. With Schengen hanging in the balance, passport checks are back in place, meaning that those arriving in Italy may well have to stay there. Breitbart explains:

As a country of first arrival, Italy has more to lose from the breakdown of Schengen than any other European nation, perhaps with the exception of Greece. In 2015 alone more than 150,000 migrants reached Italian shores, but the vast majority continued north, with many heading to France, Germany or the countries of Scandinavia. Now that the Schengen Treaty is all but a dead letter, the Alps have once again become an insurmountable barrier.

In this dramatic panorama the bulk of the migrants are expected to come through the “Balkan route,” and according to experts, some 400 thousand immigrants will be arriving in the coming weeks. Sources at the Interior Ministry have also expressed fears that many migrants will begin to circumvent Greece and Croatia and come directly to the ports of Ancona and Bari in southern Italy.

Perhaps it is time for Italy or the EU to consult the Australians for advice.

Farrell says we have no moral obligation to take migrants in these circumstances:

All of us feel it to be our moral duty to save lives where we can. Yet it cannot be our moral duty to ferry such vast numbers across the Mediterranean into Italy and Europe for ever, unless they are genuine refugees. In fact, our moral duty is not to do so

The same applies to land crossings. This year, it will become incumbent on individual countries or the EU to come up with a comprehensive and sensible refugee migration policy.

One wonders whether the events in Cologne on the last evening of 2015 would have seen the light of day around the world had they not been reported on independent socio-political websites.

Although a Cologne newspaper and German media outlets covered the evening to some degree at the New Year, elsewhere, it took until January 4 or 5 for the story to emerge in mainstream media.

What happened?

The BBC’s coverage is dated January 5. It provides a good overview of what happened, although it does not explain why German men were unable to fight back or defend their women. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

The scale of the attacks on women at the city’s central railway station has shocked Germany. About 1,000 drunk and aggressive young men were involved.

City police chief Wolfgang Albers called it “a completely new dimension of crime”. The men were of Arab or North African appearance, he said.

Women were also targeted in Hamburg.

But the Cologne assaults – near the city’s iconic cathedral – were the most serious, German media report. At least one woman was raped, and many were groped.

Most of the crimes reported to police were robberies. A volunteer policewoman was among those sexually molested.

The page has a video where:

One woman described how a firecracker put in her hood has left her scarred for life.

Also:

One man described how his partner and 15-year-old daughter were surrounded by an enormous crowd outside the station and he was unable to help. “The attackers grabbed her and my partner’s breasts and groped them between their legs.”

A British woman visiting Cologne said fireworks had been thrown at her group by men who spoke neither German nor English. “They were trying to hug us, kiss us. One man stole my friend’s bag,” she told the BBC. “Another tried to get us into his ‘private taxi’. I’ve been in scary and even life-threatening situations and I’ve never experienced anything like that.”

What the report leaves out about the man unable to help is that some of these men were also set upon by groups of men who assaulted and robbed them.

To date, according to The Guardian, 838 people have filed criminal complaints. These include 497 of these being from women alleging sexual assault, however, some women jointly filed a complaint. This means that, in total:

the number of alleged crimes stands at 766, of which 381 are sexual offences, including three rapes.

As of January 18, only 21 suspects have been arrested. These include three Algerian asylum seekers. One of them is charged with sexual assault and the other two with robbery. Eighteen other people have been accused of committing crime on New Year’s Eve. Eight of them are currently in custody.

On Monday, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) agreed to declare Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia safe countries. This means that anyone from there would be very unlikely to be able to claim asylum. Finally.

More on the story

Russia Today has a very good 27-minute report on what took place in Cologne:

The British reporter interviewed a local bouncer — a martial arts champion — who was on duty at a 5-star hotel in the same square as the cathedral and the railway station. He figured it would be a quiet but festive night, as only people aged 40 and over could afford to spend a few hundred euros to attend the New Year’s Eve event at the hotel.

He tells the interviewer (approximately 2:00 into the video) that between 9 and 10 p.m., a stabbing took place in the square. Police and ambulances rushed to the scene. From that point, he said that things ‘escalated’ (subtitles from the video, caps below in the original):

these people that we welcomed just 3 months ago, with teddy bears and water bottles on the Munich main railway station, they started shooting at the dome [Cologne Cathedral], started shooting at the police, which then had to come equipped with helmets onto the dome platform, to brake that potential for violence.

Well, seasoned police officers then confessed to me, that they never saw [any]thing like this in their entire life. They called it quote ‘A CIVIL WAR LIKE SITUATION’.

He deplores the lack of thorough press coverage of the evening, especially as:

again and again female persons came to me and asked if they could just stand next to me, so I could look after them — still didn’t quite know what that was all about — and said, ‘We are being chased by these and [those] guys. Well, these guys that chased them, then really tried to attack me. I beat ’em all up, I have to tell you honestly … [B]ecause I never witnessed [any]thing like this, I always thought this stuff was some ‘right wing propaganda’ but this was all REAL.

Later that evening, more rampages happened. They beat the sh*t out of the head from a guy that was lying on the ground, they then jumped on his head, riot police came on site and we also started to react.

After that, the bouncer says, things were quieter for the next 90 minutes. The suspects were rounded up but, as all police transport vehicles were occupied, none came to take the men away. And, even if they had, Cologne’s jail cells were already full. As a result, police had to release these men they had arrested and detained. They, in turn, began yelling obscenities at the police and spat on the windscreens of the police cars. There was nothing the police could do in those circumstances.

The bouncer went on to say:

I never witnessed anything like this before and I’m sure it will escalate furtherby Carnival [pre-Lenten celebrations] at the latest in Cologne … It will really explode here!

And I hope, well, you do know that I’m no right wing person or something along those lines … I always stayed out of that stuff … No, folks, this was REAL!

They attacked the hotel guests, they sp[a]t at the hotel guests, they sp[a]t at the police

A number of assailants carried a small piece of paper with a list of several obscenities in German with Arabic translations. You can still see a large version of it here on a German media site.

Elsewhere in Germany

The Telegraph has a list of other German cities — and towns — where similar events took place that same night. Sexual or indecent assault was the common denominator in all cases. Near the town of Weil am Rhein on the Swiss-German border, two girls aged 14 and 15 were held captive for several hours and allegedly gang raped by a 21-year old man and two 14-year-old boys.

In the days that followed

The Telegraph reported that Bild and Der Spiegel leaked police reports of interviews with the unrepentant suspects allegedly saying there was nothing police could do to them:

… one of those involved told officers: “I am Syrian. You have to treat me kindly. Mrs Merkel invited me.”

Another tore up his residence permit before the eyes of police, and told them: “You can’t do anything to me, I can get a new one tomorrow.”

On January 8, Wolfgang Albers was removed as Cologne’s police chief. He is currently suspended from duty. The Telegraph told us:

Wolfang Albers was told he was being suspended from duty as allegations continue to mount of a police cover-up of asylum-seekers’ involvement in the attacks.

Ralf Jäger,the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, said his decision to suspend Mr Albers was “necessary to regain the public’s trust”.

“The Cologne police now have the vital task of investigating the events of New Year’s Eve. People rightly want to know what happened, who the perpetrators were and how such incidents can be prevents in the future,” Mr Jäger said.

The new mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, about whom I wrote in October 2015, was equally reprehensible in insinuating that the assaults were the fault of the women victims.

I’ll get to that in a moment.

However, prior to her election last October, she had been the head of Cologne’s social integration department for five years. Just days before the mayoral elections, a 44-year-old German said to have been opposed to further immigration stabbed her in the neck. He also lightly injured three other people with her at the time.

After New Year’s Eve, Reker advised women to adopt a new ‘code of conduct’ to keep themselves safe. This also involved ‘keeping men at arm’s length’. The Telegraph‘s Alison Pearson unpacks this for us:

It soon became impossible to ignore the gravity of what had happened. Even then, the authorities’ default position was denial. On Tuesday, Henriette Reker, the Mayor of Cologne, made a statement which I sincerely hope will haunt her till her dying day. Asked how women were supposed to cope with this menace, the mayor proposed a new “code of conduct” for young women and girls “so that such things do not happen to them”. In particular, she suggested that women maintain an arm’s length from strangers. This caused a storm of sarcasm on Twitter where the German for arm’s length – #einearmlange – was soon trending. The idea that a woman ambushed by a Moroccan gang should inform them, politely and Germanically, that she was staying at arm’s length to avoid sexual harassment would have been a joke, had the threat not been so real and frightening. Meanwhile, reports of similar attacks were coming in from Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Stuttgart.

She concludes:

if anyone needs a “code of conduct” it is not German women, but men from conservative societies who must learn sharpish what our values entail, or return from whence they came.

I hope that I am wrong, but I fear that the grotesque mass attack on women in Cologne was not an isolated incident, but the first of many battles in a clash of civilisations.

Taharrush gamea

A new term entered Western vocabulary which explains what happened on New Year’s Eve not only in Germany but also in a few other European countries, including Finland.

This Arabic term is taharrush gamea, or taharrush jamaʿi, which, is, as Wikipedia explains:

a type of sexual harassment and sexual assault of women by groups of men on the street that may involve rape, beating and name-calling, groping, sexual invitations[1] and robbery. The assault usually happens under the protective cover provided by large gatherings or crowds,[2][3] typically mass events, including protests, rallies, concerts, and public festivals.[4]

American reporter Lara Logan was the unfortunate victim of taharrush gamea in Egypt during Arab Spring. Whilst such brutality shocked Westerners, to a segment of Egyptian men, it was perfectly normal. In fact, Eid — a holy but joyful religious day for Muslims — is also a time for sexual assaults in Egypt, namely in 2006.

Wikipedia goes on to say:

Early on Egyptian security forces were blamed for using sexual harassment on female activists and participants of public demonstrations and rallies. The behavior then spread and was used by crowds of young men to harass women in public spaces. According to Farhana Mayer, senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, theology department, Taharrush is a symptom of misogynous ideology in which women are punished for being in public.[6]

What now?

Since the Paris attacks in November, those who were previously more or less indifferent to migrants — the vast majority of whom are young, healthy men — are now beginning to examine the situation more closely.

The events in Cologne have only added to this. Spiegel Online has an excellent analysis in English.

An article in The Week explains that several things could happen in 2016 that would see the European immigration ideal turned on its head. Hungary and Poland have moved towards more conservative politics, and Slovakian politicians have said that recent migrants are unlikely to be integrated into broader society.

Elsewhere, questions are now being asked about the wisdom of Angela Merkel’s policies.

In the UK, we should be having a referendum on our membership of the EU this year.

May wise leadership — and voting — prevail.

In September 2015, I wrote about the situation in the Calais ‘Jungle’ 20 years on.

At that time, a number of concerned Britons from charities and church congregations were putting together collections of clothes and food to send to the Jungle. A special episode of the BBC’s Christian programme, Songs of Praise, was filmed there at the makeshift Ethiopian Orthodox church.

Meanwhile, a number of charities and anarchist groups are there every day to ensure that this international group of illegal immigrants is fed, watered and agitated.

It is difficult to look at the Jungle and its enablers without bemusement or shock.

Where to begin? Every aspect of this camp is unbelievable.

First, there are the local charity workers. This French news film, with English subtitles, features Claudine and Michel who visited the Jungle daily with food or clothing. The small building where they and their fellow volunteers prepare the day’s donations is crammed, leaving a cramped space in which to cook fresh pasta dishes:

The 10-minute news report from 2014 shows migrants coming out from one part of the jungle to collect boxes of tinned fish. Claudine politely instructs them in English to take one box each, so that everyone can be fed. However, they ignore her and begin stockpiling boxes on the other side of the road. The reporter says that the most dominant members come to collect the boxes. They will then try to sell them on to the weakest residents of the Jungle. It is unclear where the money comes from.

Claudine says they will have to leave soon so that the rest of the boxes can be delivered elsewhere. But, as Michel, the driver, pulls away in the Salam charity’s white van, a small number of migrants open the back doors and grab the remaining boxes of food. Claudine concludes, ‘They are hungry. They are hungry.’ Yet, they seemed to have ample energy to run after a van and break into it.

The next segment shows Claudine delivering tinned goods donated by a local supermarket. The food is slightly past its expiry date, but, as the French (and others) know, manufacturers set conservative expiry dates in order to avoid lawsuits. The migrants in the Sudanese camp refuse the donation, saying they do not have gas stoves to heat the tins. Claudine explains that the charity’s funds do not run to providing gas stoves. Then, the men — it’s always men — look at the expiry dates and say they will be poisoned if they eat the contents. Claudine opens a tin of ravioli and eats some: ‘See? It’s good!’ The man takes the can and empties the ravioli on the ground. A shocked Claudine quickly walks back to the van. Michel is once again at the wheel and they drive off. One wonders if the two are still doing this day in and day out.

The next item, a South East (England) news report, features an Englishman who has taught a number of men in the Jungle how to repair bicycles. Bicycles feature heavily among items donated to the residents. The reporter explains they make getting to the motorway (and possibly to the port) much easier:

The Englishman says he is teaching the men skills that will help them once they reach the UK. He works on the assumption that we all share his support of illegal immigration.

A number of people probably share the opinions of this lorry driver from Eastern Europe who passes through Calais frequently. The video has English subtitles with very strong language. The driver describes — and the film shows — how groups of healthy, energetic young men of all races try to jump onto lorries to cross the border.

He says that they throw things at lorries to get them to pull over and stop. It is one of the most unsettling things I’ve ever seen, especially as it takes place in broad daylight. There is a police presence, but not nearly adequate enough to stop groups of youths running in front of traffic. One can only sympathise with lorry drivers who will be fined if illegals are in their trailers. What happens if an illegal is injured or mown down?

The Jungle also has a selection of agitators with anarchistic tendencies. In August 2015, The Telegraph reported that:

British far-left activists are “manipulating migrants” to stage mass intrusions into the Channel Tunnel and provoke violent clashes with security forces they depict as “savages”, French police have claimed.

The accusations came two days after a French officer was treated for face wounds after being struck by a rock apparently thrown by a Sudanese migrant in the first such incident inside the Eurotunnel site to date.

In November, the left-wing French news magazine L’Obs reported that No Borders has been active at Calais since 2009. Their self-declared enemies are ‘fortress Europe’ and Frontex, which protects the continent’s exterior borders. One of their slogans is

Human rights have no borders.

They sometimes try to settle Jungle residents into abandoned buildings, anything from hangars to small flats. Consequently, they have been upsetting Calais residents and European holiday makers who rent residential property nearby.

Even volunteers for local charities working at the Jungle, including the aforementioned Salam, say that No Borders is interrupting humanitarian work and inflaming relations between them and camp inhabitants.

In fact, after an inspection late last year, a UK charity decided in October to stop donating to the Jungle. Kassim Tokan, deputy chief executive of the Bradford-based Human Relief Foundation, was dismayed to find the charity’s donations of food and clothing ‘dumped and burnt’, according to the Daily Mail. The paper explained (emphases mine):

They found chaotic conditions with no organisation where aid was being distributed randomly and unwanted items later discarded in piles on the ground.

Interviewed by ITV’s Calendar News, Mr Tokan admitted he was surprised by what he found. Asked if his charity would withdraw support for the camp’s inhabitants, he said: ‘Most likely, yes.’

He said it would be better to help people in genuine need in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey rather than ‘healthy people here.’

The charity’s own ‘Path of Mercy’ project stated on its website that ‘most of the refugees in the camp are highly vulnerable people’ fleeing war. Adding: ‘Due to the conflict, many people have faced and continue to face injury, disability, torture, starvation, neglect and poor mental health.’

However, after inspecting conditions at the Calais camp and being shown around by an aid staff on site, Mr Tokan came to a very different conclusion.

Mr Tokan, who heads the international charity’s global orphan and family programmes, said many migrants in Calais had no ‘valid’ reason for going to the UK and should have stayed at home

An HRF spokesman said yesterday its presence at the camp would be maintained, but with an emphasis on ‘building communal kitchens and portable shower units for camp residents’ rather than continuing to provide food and clothing.

On January 13, 2016, Eurotunnel had the marshy area around their tunnel entrance flooded to create a moat that would make accessing the railway line difficult. The increased clashes between migrants and police since October has made this move necessary, officials say.

Around the same time, the French government began bulldozing part of the Jungle. This is, in part, to give police a better view of migrants attempting to access the highway.

It is estimated that the present tents and huts of 1,600 people — or a third of the Jungle’s population — will be destroyed.

Those affected would move into a series of containers with electricity and heat. Entry is controlled by fingerprint-recognition technology.

By Friday, January 15, 173 inhabitants had moved in. However, the remainder are fearful. Those reluctant to move say that it would be easy for the French authorities to load the containers onto lorries in the dead of night and drive them to a place from which they could be deported.

Aid agencies say that others fear that they might be forced to apply for asylum in France. The French government denies this.

It is only right that the government controls the Jungle, not the inhabitants. For far too long, the latter have had the upper hand in this situation, even to the extent where they can run their own makeshift shops, the funds and merchandise for which are wired from family members back home.

It beggars belief.

You can read and see more about the Jungle in a Telegraph feature from September 2015.

On Sunday, January 10, 2016, French politicians and the public gathered in Paris to remember the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks.

Last year, on Sunday, January 11, a huge gathering took place in Paris.

This year’s attendance was sparse by comparison. Whereas 1.5 million people marched peacefully last year in Paris, only a few thousand went to Place de la République on Sunday.

This is probably because so many went there for a commemoration of the victims of the November 2015 attacks.

Sunday’s gathering ended a week of smaller ceremonies to remember the attack on the satirical magazine’s staff on January 7 and on the kosher supermarket on January 9.

Earlier in the week, a stone plaque with the names of Charlie Hebdo‘s victims was unveiled at the building where they used to work. It was covered up soon afterward, because cartoonist Georges Wolinski’s name was misspelled. The City of Paris is rectifying the error with the stone mason.

Wolinski’s widow Maryse was further dismayed that the French government had invited 72-year-old pop star Johnny Hallyday — the French Elvis — to sing a special memorial song during Sunday’s ceremony. Hallyday was never a favourite of the magazine’s cartoonists, who often lampooned him. It shows a certain generosity of spirit that he agreed to write the lament then perform it.

Maryse Wolinski was not the only unhappy woman remembering last year’s massacre.

Police officer Franck Brinsolaro, who guarded the late editor Stéphane ‘Charb’ Charbonnier, was also gunned down that day. The Guardian reported that his widow has filed a legal complaint over security failings.

Mrs Brinsolaro said in an interview last week on French radio:

For me, Franck was sacrificed.

She explained:

He saw the dysfunction, he rued the lack of security at the offices, he said people could slip through.

Indeed, that is also what Le Canard Enchaîné — the French equivalent of England’s Private Eye — has revealed.

The paper reported on testimony to the police which states that, three months prior to the attack, a worker in the building which housed Charlie Hebdo‘s offices saw a stranger outside who told him that the magazine’s employees were being watched because they were ridiculing Islam’s prophet. The worker later identified the stranger as Chérif Kouachi, one of the January 7 killers. Although the information months before the attack was passed on to police, it is unclear whether it was acted upon. Apparently not.

January 7 did not go unobserved by Islamic extremists. Just as French president François Hollande was addressing police in Paris — one of the commemoration events — a man brandishing a meat cleaver and shouting ‘Allah Akhbar’ was demanding to be let into the police station in the 18th arrondissement district of Goutte d’Or (‘drop of gold’). Police warned the man, also wearing a fake suicide vest, to stop. When he repeatedly ignored their instructions, they opened fire and fatally wounded him.

These two events took place at 11:30 a.m., the exact time of the Charlie Hebdo massacre last year.

As I write, the Goutte d’Or extremist’s identity has not yet been established. He was carrying no ID papers, mandatory for everyone in France, however, he did have a piece of paper with the IS flag printed on it and a note written in Arabic taking responsibility for his acts.

Initially, he was thought to have been a homeless Moroccan who was convicted of theft in the south of France in 2013. At the weekend, however, The Telegraph reported that:

people presenting themselves as his relatives have come forward and have identified the man as a Tunisian called Tarek Belgacem. They denied that he was involved in terrorism.

The French authorities have not confirmed any name but interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said he was “undoubtedly” Tunisian. 

Not surprisingly, French police found a mobile phone on his person. Interestingly, it had a German SIM card.

Consequently, police have been working with their German counterparts to find out more about this man.

It transpires he had recently been living in a German refugee centre for three months before travelling to Paris.

The Telegraph article stated:

The man had stayed in refugee accommodation in Recklinghausen in the west of the country, and had reportedly painted a symbol associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) on a wall in shelter.

This case proves the difficulty in admitting ‘refugees’. The Telegraph reports (emphases mine):

The man had painted an Isil symbol on a wall in the refugee shelter in September, according to German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. It is not yet known when authorities became aware of the painting.

The news magazine Spiegel Online reported meanwhile that the man, understood as having been registered as an asylum seeker, had already been classed by German police as a possible suspect after he posed at the refugee centre with an Isil flag, but he disappeared in December.

The man had given different nationalities at each registration, once saying he was Syrian, another time saying he was Moroccan, and on yet another occasion, Georgian.

The link to a refugee shelter in Germany, and the apparent ease with which the man was able to register with the authorities, risks further inflaming a debate over the 1.1 million asylum-seekers that the country took in last year.

All this comes in the wake of New Year’s Eve assaults on women not only in several cities and towns in Germany, but also Austria, Switzerland and Finland.

Of the assaults in Cologne, which took place between the city’s cathedral and main railway station:

Heiko Maas, Germany’s justice minister, said on Sunday that he suspected that the attacks in Cologne that have left the country reeling were not the result of an opportunistic mob mentality but a planned attack.

No one can tell me that it wasn’t coordinated and prepared,” he told newspaper Bild am Sonntag. “My suspicion is that this specific date was picked, and a certain number of people expected. This would again add another dimension [to the crimes].”

Angela Merkel is once again under rightful criticism for bringing chaos to Germany and the rest of Europe.

Those who want to agree with her might wish to note the following information relating to New Year’s Eve arrests:

Police have detained for questioning a 22-year-old Tunisian, was registered at a refugee centre in a neighbouring state, while two Moroccans aged 18 and 23, were apparently in the country illegally, according to their lawyer.

Our clients are modern nomads,” Ingo Lindemann said. “They’re not war refugees but more like grown street children who move with the flow of refugees across Europe.”

These are hardly Emma Lazarus’s ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ who arrived at Ellis Island a century or so ago.

Embedded image permalinkAs a maître pâtissier, Christophe Felder is Alsace’s pastry king.

On Christmas Eve 2015, he was the special guest on RMC’s Les Grandes Gueules (Les GG), a three-hour radio news and current affairs talk show with a group of regulars from social workers to cheese makers to judges. The panellists change daily, yet, after a while, one feels as if one knows them well.

Felder is in the v-neck in the photo from Les GG‘s Twitter feed. Around him are panellists Père Patrice Gourrier, educator Etienne Liebig (holding Felder’s latest book Gâteaux [‘Cakes’]) and businesswoman Claire O’Petit. The hosts, Alain Marschall and Olivier Truchot, are not in frame.

Les GG are in the process of interviewing famous French chefs. On New Year’s Eve, Philippe Conticini appeared on the show. Like Conticini, Felder baked a cake. Or is that, ‘Felder baked a cake and Conticini did, too’? (I’m moving backward with the interviews.)

Felder wrote one of my favourite books, Patisserie: Mastering the Fundamentals of French Pastry. If anything approximates a ‘bible’ of desserts, with each step of every recipe accompanied by a colour photograph, this is it.

SpouseMouse bought our copy in 2013 from Amazon.co.uk, however, it appears now that only Amazon in the US has it. If you are living in Britain, you can sign on to Amazon UK, then go through to the US site and order it — provided the seller ships to Britain. If you are ordering it as a gift, have it sent directly to the recipient, otherwise, postage is going to cost a fortune. (Photo credit: Amazon.com)

I have tried several of the recipes and each one worked the very first time! You will be able to make all your favourite French cakes, tarts, biscuits, macarons and chocolates — including decorations and glazes — in no time. Recipes are grouped by category — types of pastry, cakes, macarons — and so on. Each category’s set of recipes is ranked from easy to difficult. You can comfortably work your way through each chapter and progress as you go. The book is very heavy and one should handle it with care, because the paper and cardboard binding is not the best.

It makes a perfect gift for a family member or friend who wants to be able to bake what they see in French pastry shop windows. The lucky recipient will never need another dessert cookbook.

Now on to the show! (Translations mine below.)

Rants galore

During the first segment the panellists ranted about all their pastry pet peeves. I got the impression the hosts were a bit embarrassed, but that’s the nature of the show.

That said, everything kicked off very early.

No sooner had they introduced Felder and the gloves were off, not against him but the French pastry situation in general.

Etienne Liebig was angry that so many small shops no longer make their own croissants and macarons but buy them from large companies that make these items on an industrial scale. He does not like paying ‘€1.30 for something that costs 30 cents’ and isn’t even made on the premises.

Felder countered that the same thing happens in a restaurant. How many buy cash-and-carry desserts? How many make their own ice cream? Much of it is bought elsewhere. This is why I ask for a cheese plate or, where available in the UK, a savoury.

Claire O’Petit said she is a competent cook when it comes to savoury dishes, which she can easily adjust for taste and texture, but when it comes to dessert, she feels frustrated, as if she has no chance of success. She later said that Felder’s recipes look achievable and that she wouldn’t need to ‘waste an hour of reading’ to understand them.

Père Gourrier announced that he is gluten intolerant:

So, what’s out there for me? Everything has flour in it. I can’t eat it.

Felder suggested a dacquoise, made with ground almonds and (left unsaid) meringue.

Gourrier was unimpressed:

I’m not about to start making meringues.

He then asked:

When is someone going to come out with a gluten-free croissant?

The break and the cake

Then there was a commercial break and everyone, except the priest, tucked into the cake.

By the time the next segment started, O’Petit was very quiet. One of the hosts remarked on it and asked if she was enjoying every mouthful.

Gourrier interjected:

I’m having a fine time just sitting here watching all of you tuck in.

Felder’s advice to young hopefuls

Like Conticini, Felder was accustomed to the food trade. Conticini’s parents ran a Michelin-starred restaurant. Felder’s father was a successful baker in Alsace.

Unlike Conticini, who believes that young people should pass their baccalauréat, Felder says that any adolescent who is serious about baking or pastry should become an apprentice at the age of 15.

He believes that is a good age because romantic attachments haven’t yet formed:

Later on, they’re reluctant to move 300 kilometres away for a career. They have a girlfriend and get too attached.

(Most pastry apprentices and chefs are men, hence the girlfriend reference.)

Felder had worked for his father by the age of 14 and, the following year, 1979, he was apprenticed to the Litzer-Vogel pâtissiers in Strasbourg, where the head pâtissier was very elderly yet went to work every day.

He told les GG that, unlike cookery school, this work — which includes training — doesn’t cost parents anything. Furthermore, as an added bonus, their children can bring earned money home.

Also:

By the age of 17, they’re quite good.

And so it proved in Felder’s case. At that tender age, he had won his first gold medal at the Foire européenne de Strasbourg.

Felder’s trajectory

Felder moved to Paris where he worked for Fauchon, makers of luxury breads and pastries near the church of La Madeleine in the 8th arrondissement. He then worked for Guy Savoy, who ran a Michelin-starred restaurant in the upmarket 16th arrondissement. (By 2002, Savoy had earned his third Michelin star, which he still retains today. He has since opened his own restaurants in Las Vegas and Singapore.)

In 1988, Felder began working at the prestigious Hotel Crillon as a pastry chef. He stayed there for 15 years.

Incidentally, when he first started, there was no air conditioning in the Crillon’s pastry kitchen. He described the near impossibility and frustration of making croissants with butter melting in front of him. (Butter needs to be firm for puff pastry, the stuff of which these delights are made.)

Return to Alsace

These days, Felder is based in Alsace.

He prefers it, especially for his young apprentices. He and his staff train and mentor them. Having families nearby makes it easier for everyone:

In Paris, you can feel a bit lost. You need money for rent, you don’t really know anyone and it can be a bit overwhelming.

In Alsace, our apprentices live nearby and can work more flexible hours. They can come in early and go home late.

It’s also helpful to get to know their parents. We have discussions with them. Some say, ‘My child is a bit excitable’. Such conversations help us to manage a situation and guide the apprentices.

Hard work

Felder spoke a lot about hard work in the pastry kitchen.

He cited a young apprentice of his who asked why Felder was ‘punishing’ him. Felder replied that there was no punishment — that was the nature of the job:

Sure, there are a great many shared moments, but there is also a lot of pressure every day.

And not everyone can handle that pressure.

Dessert evolution

The panel asked about the continuous change in French desserts.

Felder explained that, in the old days, sugar and fat were used as preservatives. These days, with near-universal refrigeration and modern cooking methods, we can buy products with much more fresh fruit as well as less fat and sugar.

In addition to owning his own business, Felder also works for a firm in Japan, which is interested in anticipating the next dessert trends. The Japanese are fascinated to find that French techniques remain classic yet move with the times. Felder helps this company determine how that is done and develop new recipes accordingly.

Conclusion

Most of us — younger or older — are not fit for a pastry kitchen.

As Felder says, you’re on your feet all day. The atmosphere is demanding. It requires a lot of stamina, self-discipline and patience.

Working in a pastry kitchen will be unsuitable for many, but most pastry chefs want — and feel obliged to — pass knowledge on to the next generation and to the general public.

Christophe Felder is one of them.

For that, many of us are grateful.

As my regular readers will know, in 2015, I wanted to learn more French techniques for cooking and baking.

During a two-week stay last June in France, I watched Christophe Michalak’s Dans la peau d’un chef (DPDC), which is an excellent programme featuring home cooks vying to see who can make the best dish assigned by either Michalak or one of his guest chefs. The winner receives €1,000 and can continue to compete the following day. These two posts feature short videos from DPDC:

Decorating fruit tarts — the French touch (Christophe Michalak)

Piping whipped cream — the French touch (Christophe Michalak)

One of the guest chefs on DPDC was Philippe Conticini, who owns Pâtisserie des Rêves (‘Pastry of Dreams’) in Paris. Since he began his career in the 1980s, he has won many awards from a Michelin star from his days as a restauranteur, following in his parents’ footsteps, to honours from the French government. He also appears as a guest judge on a number of cookery shows, including the French version of The Great British Bake Off — Le meilleur pâtissier. (Photo credit: Sortiraparis.com)

Married and father of a 14-year old daughter, Conticini is evolving his recipes to make the classics lighter and more flavoursome. Over the past several years, he has been experimenting successfully with his hot and cold technique which helps to produce spongier cakes with better rise. Dorie Greenspan’s Madeleine recipe is one example; Conticini taught her how to employ his hot and cold technique. Proust would have loved them!

Although he needs a walking stick, Conticini continues to work. He nearly died in 2010, afflicted with an illness that put him into a coma for 18 months. Since then, he has problems with his right hand and has had to learn to work with his left.

On New Year’s Eve, he gave an interview to RMC’s Les Grandes Gueules (‘The Big Mouths’), where he discussed his work and created a cake just for them. One of the panellists pronounced it ‘sublime’. What follows is a summary of what Conticini said.

Popularity of baking

Conticini says that television shows have done much to enhance the profile of baking, likening the phenomenon to sport. The more sport is televised, the more people are interested. It is the same with baking.

Wherever he goes, Conticini is met with all sorts of questions from the public about ingredients, measurements and quality of the end product. He thinks this is because people are engaging with cookery shows.

Advice to young people

Conticini is softly spoken and mild mannered. Yet, he had firm advice for would-be apprentices:

Absorb instruction like a sponge — and, even better, be quiet.

All renowned chefs expect — and want — to transmit their knowledge to the next generation. Conticini is no exception, and, like his peers, expects his apprentices to remain silent and listen to what he has to say — then follow through as told.

He said that many who interview are sure they know how to bake a croissant until the time comes and they cannot. Hence the need for on-the-job training — learning by doing.

Conticini said there is no substitute for a good apprenticeship. Cookery school can teach you only so much. You have to know what the actual working environment is like, whether it is a restaurant or a pastry kitchen. The main problem is that there are fewer bakeries in France to meet demand.

He says that young people should definitely finish secondary school and pass their baccalauréat, the equivalent of an American high school diploma. Then they can go on to decide what sort of restaurant/catering course to take and gain on-the-job experience at the same time.

Technical recipe development

Along with other great chefs, Conticini is focussing on reducing fats and sugars without compromising taste and textures.

This involves understanding the molecular structures of mousses and cakes. He gave a detailed description of how he has made his cream fillings lighter by replacing fat with air and gelatin, both of which, oddly, give a better structure and enhanced flavour.

One of RMC’s panellists said it was like listening to a NASA engineer. Conticini said that, in a sense, he is an engineer because there are many technical aspects to creating new methods in pastry making.

Another panellist countered, ‘Surely you are an artist, first and foremost’. He replied that he was not an artist at all. There are precise techniques and measurements to master. Whilst there is creativity, all of that comes from understanding the underlying basics and knowing how to employ them.

After the November 2015 attacks

Conticini said that sales took a hit after the Paris attacks last November.

Footfall is also down. Yet, online sales have increased. People are hesitant about going into Paris.

That said, Christmas was a busy time. Sixty employees started fulfilling orders at 10 p.m. on December 23. They worked through the night to have cakes and pastries ready for pick up on Christmas Eve.

His customers have been asking for the more classic pastries since November 13. He surmises that remembering one’s childhood through sweet favourites provides a measure of comfort.

The future

Although Conticini occasionally has overseas assignments, he has no plans to open shops in foreign countries. He wants to be near his wife — his childhood sweetheart — and daughter before she grows up and leaves home.

In September 2015, he opened a cookery school featuring short classes which teach the basics of understanding flavours and making pastries to the general public.

He is convinced that anyone can make good desserts provided they have the right instructions. He promised to send Les Grandes Gueules the recipe for the cake he brought them.

Ultimately, he wants to transmit his knowledge as broadly as possible.

Les Grandes Gueules have had other recent interviews with French chefs. More will follow here. You’ll find much of what they say is similar, with sharing knowledge and a generous spirit coming first and foremost.

I will have links to this series on my Recipes / Health / History page under ‘Great chefs’.

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