Six degrees of separation

Burg Katz und Burg Maus«Castles on the Rhine», 2011

What does Burg Katz, a castle overlooking the Rhine, have to do with WikiLeaks? When its looming shadow materialized on the opposite shore before dawn, the passengers of the train thought: nothing. Nothing at all, except when one falls into the rabbit hole of links. The hourglass sand falls, the fern’s shadow crawls. And two names that would never have coincided in real life are on the web interconnected.

Like the legendary Rhine castle of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) where the hero Siegfried meets his doom, Burg Katz was also set in flames, and must have been a formidable sight, a firebrand and its blazing reflection in the twilight. Its destroyer, Napoleon, was riding on a tide of victories in 1806, whose crest was Austerlitz. He bombarded what previous centuries of war between France and the German princes had hitherto spared. That was how the former abode of the Counts of Katzenelnbogen (the first cultivators of Germany's quintessential wine, the Riesling), became ruins until nearly a century later when it was rebuilt as the Burg Neukatzenelnbogen (the New Cat’s Elbow Castle). Decidedly a syllable too long, everyone hence called it Burg Katz, or Cat’s Castle.

But back to the rabbit hole. Burg Katz is the setting of one of comic book character Yoko Tsuno’s adventures, L’Orgue du Diable (The Devil’s Organ). The character is unusual in that she is the product of a Belgian writer’s imagination, who was inspired by a Parisian cabaret dancer and actress, Yoko Tani.

The Asian counterpart of Josephine Baker, Tani first drew the attention of international audiences for her role on the silver screen as a Vietnamese nightclub hostess in the American adaptation of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American.

Set in French Indochina, Greene’s novel foreshadows future American involvement and war in Vietnam. The eponymous American is the bright and idealistic but woefully ignorant Alden Pyle, who has had no real experience in Southeast Asia.

It has been observed that his character may have been based, at least in part, on US military counter-insurgency expert Edward Lansdale, who was stationed in Vietnam 1953-1957.

Lansdale happened to be the direct supervisor of Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who released the Pentagon Papers, during the latter’s two years of service in Vietnam. On June 17, 2010, Mr Ellsberg appeared on Democracy Now! in front of Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales to defend the alleged actions of Pfc. Bradley Manning, arrested and thrown into solitary confinement for leaking, among other documents, a classified video of a US military helicopter gunning down unarmed Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists, to (the final link) WikiLeaks.

So there you have it:

Burg Katz – Yoko Tsuno – Yoko Tani – The Quiet American – Edward Lansdale – Daniel Ellsberg – WikiLeaks

Six degrees of separation1

Burg Katz also happens to overlook the Lorelei rock (see previous post). Curiouser and curiouser, further north of the Rhine is its rival, Burg Maus (Mouse Castle), built in the 14th century to secure the Elector of Trier’s borders against the Counts of Katzenelnbogen.

1Thanks to Wikipedia

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