Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

So this film has had some buzz around it for a while. It was made on three-million dollars, earned forty-million at the box office, and apparently scared the likes of His Royal Scariness, Stephen King. Naturally, when it hit theaters back in February, I wanted to see it, but no theaters near me were playing it. When I found out last month that it was on DVD, I immediately went to my library’s website to reserve it…only for some punk to steal my copy when it came to me (a curse upon them, preferably involving witches!). But this week I got my copy, and I sat down over dinner to see what the big deal was.

The movie follows a family of 17th-century Puritans–parents William and Katherine, teenagers Thomasin and Caleb, and twins Mercy and Jonas–as they’re banished from their Puritan settlement because apparently Will’s interpretation of the Bible is too extreme for the community (not sure how that is, but maybe I’m too Jewish to notice). They settle in a field on the edge of a vast forest, unaware that there’s a witch living in the woods.

What surprised me most about The Witch is how it differs from other horror films. It’s not a traditional film, in the sense that there’s a central evil that’s pretty obvious and the majority of the horror comes from that villainous evil. In fact, the titular witch is pretty peripheral in the story, acting more as a catalyst for the horrors of the film. I actually struggled to find the terror in the film until I realized that it wasn’t the witch that was the source of the terror (though she is pretty powerful, visceral, and primordial), but the family itself. Once the witch interferes with this family, they start to slowly implode upon themselves. It’s a really dark, psychological descent into hatred, fear, and suspicion, with the occasional intervention of the witch and a lot of heavy Bible speak. And it is scary to watch what happens to this family.

I also really liked the attention to detail. The filmmakers went to great lengths to find a remote location for the setting, and from there hand-build the house and farm, as well as the clothes the actors wore, and just about everything else. They even had museums consulting on this project, which goes to show their dedication. The authenticity, coupled with sparse lighting and the dirty feel of the place, adds to a very creepy atmosphere. And the music, usually involving a fiddle or zither, invokes 2001: A Space Odyssey in its ability to place us in the story.

Despite how scary it was and the research that went into the film, The Witch did have its problems, though. There are some scenes that felt more like they belonged in a novel, rather than in a movie, quiet moments where characters are thinking and not speaking, and we can’t read their minds.It’s in these scenes that we have trouble connecting to the characters, which is bad when this film is so reliant on its characters to begin with.

There’s also an unresolved subplot involving Caleb and his relationship to his older sister Thomasin that’s never really resolved, and I would’ve liked to see where that could’ve gone.  And like I said, it took me a while to realize what sort of horror film this was, though maybe that’s just me going in with certain expectations and being confused that they’re not being met.

And the old-fashioned dialect, plus the heavy accents and sometimes raspy voices, can make it difficult to understand what they’re saying. I had to turn on the subtitles about ten minutes in just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.

Other than those points, though, The Witch is a terrifying descent into religious mania and terror in a dark situation, with supernatural twists and a lot of religious overtones worthy of discussion by theologians (which apparently has happened). I’m going to give this film a 3.8 out of 5, and recommend you watch this one with the lights on while you’re at it. A wonderful debut from writer and director Robert Eggers. I hope I get to see more of his work in the future.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Make sure to read about the giveaway and submit your questions and comments for the Q&A happening on August 2nd (details here). I’ll check in again very soon, believe me. In the meantime, a good night to all.

Hopefully free of supernatural beings, right?

It’s Friday again, so you know what that means. It’s #FirstLineFriday! And since today is Christmas, I wonder if I should a Christmas edition #FirstLineFriday or be a typical Jew and say, “Bah, humbug.” Hmm…okay, I’ll do a Christmas edition. Just as long as I still get visited by three ghosts.

Alright, for those of you who don’t know the rules of #FirstLineFriday, here they are:

  • You write a post on your own blog titled #FirstLineFriday, hashtag and all.
  • You explain the rules like I’m doing now.
  • You post the first one or two lines of a potential story, a story-in-progress, or a completed or published story.
  • You ask your readers for feedback.

Like I said, I’m doing a Christmas edition. Speaking of which, can you imagine a Christmas story from me? A Jewish horror writer? God, that story would probably not just be scary, it would probably make you rethink the holiday a little.

Well, I do have an idea for a Christmas-themed novelette written down somewhere, and here’s what the opening would probably be like. Enjoy:

Rob swore that if Chrissy didn’t calm down and shut up, he was going to smack her hard enough to knock her into the New Year. And he didn’t give a damn who saw him do it.

Thoughts? Errors? Let’s discuss.

Well, that’s all for now. For all my Christian readers, I wish you a Merry Christmas. For the rest of us…at least we get a really awesome Christmas Special from Doctor Who every year, right? And the movie theaters and Chinese restaurants are open (yeah, that’s a Jewish stereotype that’s actually true), so at least we’re not stuck in the house. Oh, and it’s still very pretty around this time of year, so that’s a plus. See? There’s always a silver lining.

Anyway, have a good weekend my Followers of Fear. I hope to have some good news out this Sunday, so be on the lookout for that. Also be on the lookout for Krampus, I hear he’s punishing bad kids this year.

Until next time!

pray for paris

This past weekend in Paris, a city I’ve visited and which I’ve often thought about returning to, was attacked by terrorists affiliated with ISIS. They attacked six different locations throughout the City of Light, including a concert hall, the Stade de France, and two restaurants. At last count, nearly a hundred and thirty people are dead, including seven of the terrorists, and over three-hundred and fifty wounded. The terror threat is apparently still high, and the search for the remaining perpetrators are still ongoing.

And in the midst of the death and horrors, people have come together from around the world for Paris. Through the power of globalization and connection, human beings have shouted out, in tweets and status updates, in blog posts and videos, through television broadcasts and press conferences, through offers of help and condemnations of the terrorists, to stand by France as she works to bring the rest of the terrorists to justice, to take on the sickness that is ISIS, and to heal her wounds after such a horrific series of events.

Still, there’s a dark underbelly to this show of solidarity. My mother and I were discussing this underbelly in the car after dinner last night. Barely two days after the attacks, some people have been condemning Muslims and the refugees from Syria and other parts of the Middle East for the attack (despite the fact that most of the terrorists appear to be European and only one is confirmed to be from Syria). People of all sorts, from members of France’s far-right political party the National Front, including its leader Marine La Pen and US representatives, to bloggers and common people from all over the world. In the need to blame someone for this attack, some are turning to two very large, and lately very popular, scapegoats: those who follow the teachings of Muhammad, and those who left their homes with very little, if anything, just to escape violence and fear.

RC cover

My mom then turned to me and said, “Kind of reminds me of Reborn City. There are people who see a woman with a hijab and feel afraid. Zahara gave that up and even dyed her hair blond to avoid that fear.” That surprised me, but then I realized she had a point. In a small way, the world is beginning to resemble the world of Reborn City.

If you’re not familiar with RC, Islamaphobia is a big theme in the novel. The war on terror devolved into a huge, worldwide conflict, so that by the time of the story most of the world is suspicious of Muslims. Zahara Bakur and her family take measures so that they will be at the very least tolerated by a population that is suspicious of them. Still, it doesn’t always work, and there is still a lot of discrimination in that world that goes unchecked.

While the real world is not at the level that the world of RC is, there are places that have made it difficult to be a Muslim. Angola and Tajikistan actively shut down mosques all the time, and certain European countries have banned burqas and hijabs. France’s Interior Minister has discussed the possibility of shutting down mosques perceived to be preaching dangerous interpretations of Islam. Here in the States,  Donald Trump has said that if elected President he may pursue that course of action.

And because many of the Syrian refugees are Muslim and one of the terrorists was from Syria, some are reacting against refugees. Poland has already said they will not be accepting new refugees, and several US states are now refusing to take in any. Some in the US now wish to screen refugees based on a religious test.

The refugees are not the people we should be lashing out against.

You can’t judge an entire group based on the actions of a few. I don’t judge all Christians based on the actions of Westboro Baptist Church, nor do I judge all football players because a few have been charged and sometimes convicted for violent crimes. But so many people insist on judging Muslims and the Syrian refugees that way. And based on my own experience with Muslims, that isn’t right. That’s nonsensical.

Zahara’s experiences in the book reflect that. Early on she becomes aware that people don’t like her because she’s a Muslim, that they’re afraid of her for things that occurred in her parents’ and grandparents’ generations. She takes steps to be accepted by society by changing her appearance and taking part in “normal” interests and hobbies, but no matter what she tires, people see her as different. They see her as dangerous without even getting to know her. And it’s how people see her that spurs Zahara throughout RC (and its sequel, Video Rage, and probably the final book too) to show people that she is not what people think of her. To show them that she can be kind, and brave. And even good.

In the wake of Paris, we all want to fight back against the evil that caused the attacks. But the evil isn’t the refugees, nor is it Islam and its adherents. No, the evil is ISIS, al-Qaida, Boko Haram and the other terrorist organizations, wearing Islam like a Halloween costume, scary but not the real thing. The real Muslims are standing up to these fakers, standing in solidarity with Paris and showing their disdain towards these inhuman monsters hijacking a respected religion. The last thing we want to do is turn our backs on them, punish them for being who they are.

Instead, we should be thanking them for being allies we can count on for support in hard times, like Zahara is for her friends in the Hydras. Because after all, if we show them the love they deserve, they may return the favor and, like Zahara does, surprise us in all the best ways.

Becket image

Some of you may remember my previous interview with author Becket, an indie novelist who likes vampires, was once a monk, and works for Anne Rice. Now he’s got a new book out, American Monk, a memoir about his years in a monastery growing closer to God and living in a brotherhood of similarly-minded men.

Welcome back to my blog, Becket. Happy to have you here. Now, your new book is American Monk, which chronicles your time as a monk in a Benedictine monastery. Why did you decide to write this memoir?

One day on my Facebook page I decided to make a post about my experience in the monastery. People responded well to it, so I made another one the following week. I kept up that have it for about half a year, at the end of which I decided to compile all my Facebook posts about the monastery into a memoir.

Why did you decide to become a monk in the first place? And why did you leave the monastery?

I wanted to be a monk because I want to deepen my relationship with God. The monastery was a wonderful place to do that because it was a house conducive to my personality type, an introvert and a scholar. I stayed in the monastery for five years, at the end of which time I was given the choice to make solemn vows, which is like the marriage commitment. It would’ve been for the rest of my life. The monastery was wonderful, but I also felt called elsewhere, although I did not know what that was at the time. So without any hard feelings, I left the monastery and began working for Anne Rice.

What’s a day in the life of a Benedictine monk like?

Monastic life is built around routine. We wake up early in the morning and begin our day with prayer. Our morning prayer lasts for about an hour and a half, and then we would go to breakfast. After that it was time for work. We worked most of the morning until the hour to celebrate the solemnity of the mass. After mass we had lunch. And after lunch we spent the afternoon committed to more work. Our day ended in the evening with prayer. After prayer we went to dinner, and after dinner we had a community time together, where the monks gathered together in one room and enjoyed one another’s company. Finally, we had night prayer and that it was bedtime.

American Monk

In memoirs like these, I’ve noticed that the vignettes within generally run the range from humorous to serious to tragic to inspirational and everything in between. Do you feel that this is true of yours? 

My memoir is meant to be inspirational. I hope that people read it and grow in their relationship with God, because the monastery was a place where a truly began to understand who I was in the divine plan. I am still learning the depth of my relationship with God. In many ways, the monk I was is still inside me, and perhaps he is a better monk than I used to be.

 Does Anne Rice make an appearance in American Monk at all?

She makes an appearance in the beginning and at the end, and in one chapter in between, but the memoir mostly deals with my experience with the brother monks.

What are you working on these days?

I just finished the first draft of my next music album as well as the first draft of a novel appropriately titled The Monk, about an African monk who suffers the stigmata and works as a miraculous channel of God’s love in the world.

When not writing or working with Anne Rice, what are you doing these days? And is there anything on your wish list you think you could be doing in the near future?

I spend time with God, my girlfriend, and my two cats. For the future, I have a few projects that I am working on and I am praying that God will give them success for His Glory.

Well thanks for joining us Becket. Glad to speak with you. And if you’e interested in reading American Monk and other works by Becket, you can check out his website, as well as find him on Facebook and Twitter.

And if you’d like to read more interviews with other authors and with some of my characters, you can head over to the Interviews page for those.

Hope you enjoyed reading this, my Followers of Fear. I certainly had fun putting it together.

*Warning: this post contains spoilers on a recent novel. Read with caution.*

I heard something very interesting yesterday that I, as a writer, a Jew, and a scholar on the Holocaust have to comment on. When you read that title and saw the words “Nazi Romance”, what popped through your mind? Probably nothing good if you haven’t heard yet, and probably a ton of controversy and maybe some simmering anger if you have heard yet. In case you’re among those who haven’t heard, let me explain:

The controversy centers around a Christian romance novel called For Such a Time by a woman named Kate Breslin that came out last year. The novel has received nods for awards and positive reviews in that time, including a few from the Romance Writers of America. However, a lot of people are taking offense at the subject matter: it’s a retelling of the Biblical story of the Book of Esther set in a Nazi concentration camp with a Jewish woman with Gentile looks and a Nazi commandant as the heroes. Long story short, the commandant thinks this blonde beauty can’t be Jewish and puts her to work in a supervisory role in the camp under a false name. Thus begins a strange, tension-filled romance that some have likened to sexual harassment coupled with Stockholm Syndrome (sounds a bit like my thesis Rose) that ends with the two heroes getting together despite all obstacles and, because this is a Christian romance novel, the heroine converts to Christianity (not like my thesis Rose at all).

Now I have not read the novel–I only found out about this yesterday, I’m not interested in reading a romance novel, let alone one trying to get me to look at Jesus in a new light, and even if I was by the time I finished it the Internet’s short attention span might have moved onto something else–but you can see why this sort of story might cause some upset feelings. The major criticism is that the novel co-opts one of the greatest tragedies in modern history, and the biggest tragedy in modern Jewish history, so as to advance a particular religious aim.

At the same time, some have come out in favor of the book. Anne Rice actually defended the novel, saying that writers should be able to experiment and that the almost extreme outcry rising on the Internet around this novel is akin to censorship and a lynch mob. The organization Romance Writers of America has said something very similar in response to For Such a Time getting two nods for major awards they hand out.

Now, I don’t like Internet confrontation. But like I said, I’m a writer, a Jew, and a scholar on the Holocaust, so I feel some need to weigh in on this subject. First off, I understand the point of view about experimentation vs. censorship. In several stories I’ve written over the years, including Rose, I’ve pushed boundaries of my own comfort zone and maybe the comfort zones of my readers in order to create a better story. Writers should be able to do just that, experiment and push boundaries in the name of creating a great story. To regulate what writers work on or threaten them if they write something someone finds offensive, which is made all too much easier by the anonymity of the Internet, does smell of censorship and makes me think of extremist vigilante justice using a new medium to intimidate people. Almost like a lynch mob, in fact.

Can you really make fiction–let alone romantic Christian fiction–out of a subject like this?

However, I do see why people are outraged over this book. Like I said, the Holocaust was a tragedy. Of the estimated 12 million victims of the Nazi genocide, around half were Jews. To take what was a horrific and defining moment for modern Jewry and use it as a backstory for a romance meant to draw readers close to Jesus is very insensitive to victims and survivors of the Holocaust who lost their lives because of their heritage, as well as those who carry that heritage today. The conversion to Christianity at the end is also very disturbing, because many Jews were forced to convert before, during, and after the war for survival and it sometimes caused trouble for them later in life. To portray it as an act of love…to say the least it seems unsettling.

Ultimately, I feel the best way to view For Such a Time by Kate Breslin is to view it as a teachable moment. While writers should be able to write and experiment as they wish, they should also be cognizant that writing about some subjects (like the Holocaust) requires more sensitivity and caution than others. When dealing with a subject such as this, it’s important not just to know your facts, but how people–particularly those affected directly by said subject–feel about it. That way when you write about it, you are writing it in a way that, while it may not please everyone, it will not cause the sort of outrage this novel has caused.

This was what I did with Reborn City when I wrote it. I’m as far away from the gangster lifestyle as possible, so I did my research to make sure I represented gangsters in a way that would do the lifestyle justice . So far, I haven’t had any complaints.

Thankfully Breslin has already issued an apology, saying she wrote it with the best of intentions and she’s very sorry for any offense or pain she caused to the Jewish people. And while others may not forgive her, I think I can. I think she’s learned form this experience. And when she puts out her next book, perhaps it’ll get the attention that every author wants their book to have, rather than the nasty kind her first received.

What’s your take on this subject? Is Ms. Breslin out of line or was she just trying to write a good story?

Should authors be more sensitive when experimenting with their stories? And is the uproar over this book overblown or justified?

Let’s discuss.

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You know, Frankfurt is very close to Wiesbaden. So close, in fact, that along with Mainz it’s considered almost like a tri-city sort of thing.Still, it feels very far away despite the map, so I was very glad to go on a USO sponsored tour of one of Germany’s most well known cities today*. and make a few friends along the way, one of whom I made sure to get an email from (will be sending you something soon, Jose).

Unlike last week, I got to the meeting point early, and I had actually a very good idea where it was thanks to the help of my supervisor at work (honestly, he’s such a helpful guy). The meeting place was the Wiesbaden main train station, which looked like something out of an old movie with a side of American commercialism (every fast food franchise imaginable was there, including KFC!). I bought a ticket and the group assembled for the tour. We boarded the train and were there within half an hour.

Well, let me say this. Wiesbaden’s nice, but Frankfurt has that feel of an old German town. The houses have that look and feel to them that you associate with old German towns, the white walls and wood beams and red tiled roofs. Some of them have been around for hundreds of years! Add in the narrow, winding cobbled roads, and you definitely feel like you’re not in Kansas anymore.

A view of Frankfurt and its vineyards.

A view of Frankfurt and its vineyards.

We spent the first part of the tour, finding out about the local history, how Frankfurt has plenty of vineyards and micro-breweries, and several different places to check out local beers and wines. Heck, there’s even a university there that’s sole purpose is to teach people how to professionally make beer and wine! I almost wanted to sign up for classes. We then visited a park where the artwork is all made out of concrete (it was actually quite nice), saw a very lovely mansion that looked like it was right out of a movie set, and then we visited the local cathedral, which was quite interesting. I’m always awed by all the effort put into cathedrals, and how the overall effect is quite beautiful and spiritual.

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After the cathedral we passed by a house where a charnel house, a place where skeletal remains are stored, used to be (sounds like my kind of digs) and broke for lunch. After waiting an hour for food (which I’ll get into in a moment), we were invited to join in the Linden festival, in honor of the Linden tree in the center of the neighborhood (yeah, apparently it’s pretty important). Before I did that though, I went to see the Rhine River. And while I was there, I reflected on the river.

Certain natural features can really help define a place. London has the Thames, Paris has the Seine, and Germany, including Frankfurt, has the Rhine, and it really helps define the country. Yet strangely, the river is never the same one second from the next. It’s constantly changing, the water molecules moving constantly, the tide going in and out, every passing boat or barge changing the river along with time and momentum. This and many other thoughts went through my head as I sat alongside the river, admiring all the history it had witnessed over the millennia and just enjoying the view. When I dipped my hand into the river, I felt like I was dipping into the history of the river itself.

The Rhine River and me.

The Rhine River and me.

After that I went back to the festival, which was amazing! Every local shop was selling its wares, tables were everywhere for people to eat and drink and talk. Even the most well-staffed restaurant was having trouble keeping up with the demand (which is why our lunches were so late). I met back up with the group and we talked over beers and wines about a variety of subjects. It was a good time.

After that I decided to head back early. Not that I wasn’t enjoying myself or that there wasn’t anything to do, but it was getting late and I wanted to be getting home. I got on the train and headed home. All in all, it was a great experience. I made a couple of new friends, saw a lovely new neighborhood and city, and had a great experience. I hope I get to visit again some time soon!

Enjoying the local drinks and my time in Frankfurt.

Enjoying the local drinks and my time in Frankfurt.

For now though, I’ve got a short story to finish and an evening to relax. Have a good night, my Followers of Fear. I know I am!

*Interesting thing I learned. In Europe, a city is not necessarily based on size or skyscrapers like in the States. Rather, a city is called as such because someone important–an emperor or a high-ranking clergyman or someone along those lines–gave a town that special designation, which came with certain privileges, including the right to mint their own money. This is why Frankfurt, which looks more like a provincial town out in the country, is called a city. Someone high-ranking gave it that title once upon a time. Pretty cool, right?

The Marktplatz farmer's market.

The Marktplatz farmer’s market.

This morning I got up a bit earlier than I normally would on a Saturday in order to go on a walking tour of my new home Wiesbaden. Unfortunately due to my own unfamiliarity with the city, the confusing directions from Google Maps, and the confusing language from the ad I got for the tour, I missed the tour. I did run into some folks from the base whom I’d seen around, and they were kind enough to help me look for the group before I concluded that it was too late and I’d missed them. And after talking with these people and parting ways, I decided to go on a walking tour of my own, visiting the locations I remembered mentioned in the ad. And you know what? It was a lot of fun.

Swear to you, this is an actual store.

Swear to you, this is an actual store.

I was in an area known as the Marktplatz which, as its name hints, is a market or shopping area with lots of different stores and even a farmer’s market going on. My first stop on the trip though was this really interesting shop whose front is a giant cuckoo clock. Inside were a number of English speakers who were very kind. We talked about me moving to the US Army base, about the American presidential elections, and about other stuff. I bought a couple of postcards and promised to come back sometime (and I intend to. That shop had curiosities that gave me an idea for a short story. You have to give them props for that). I then ended up taking a look around the Marktkirche, or Market Church, a huge cathedral of reddish bricks that apparently prides itself on its music and concerts, based on the CDs for sale and the fact that a concert let out just as I got to go in and see the place.

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You know, I may not be Christian, but that doesn’t keep me from having an appreciation for places like the Market Church. There’s a powerful history there, and you can feel it in the stones, like energy. It’s love and devotion to God, pure and simple. Sure, this church has probably seen its fair share of fiery sermons, but for the most part it’s love, and the architecture, lighting, art, and layout help to amplify all that. I spent quite a few minutes just sitting there and taking it all in. I also took a few minutes to figure out the identities of the five statues around the altar. I recognized Jesus, but it took me a little work to find out the other four were the Four Evangelists (did not know the Gospel writers had a special name). Then I got an idea for a short story, which made me happy. Two in a single day!

The Staattheater

The Staattheater

After that I grabbed a quick lunch and went to check out the Staattheater or State Theater, and got information on whom to contact to tour the theater (apparently it’s a really amazing interior, but they only do group tours on certain days). After that I checked out the Casino, which is not like your American casinos where anyone goes in to play a few games. Take a look at the photo: this casino was designed as a gathering place for the rich and noble to socialize and gamble. Even today there’s a dress code if you want to play at the roulette wheel, and they hold huge events there for big VIPs (the Dalai Lama is apparently in town tomorrow and speaking at the Casino. I’d go, but I don’t feel like getting up at the crack of dawn to get a good seat so his translator can speak to the crowd in German).

Yeah, the Casino looks like a roman temple or something.

Yeah, the Casino looks like a roman temple or something.

After losing my savings at the roulette wheel and slots (kidding!), I explored the park by the theater. And that was wonderful. In America, with TV and games and the Internet, we get so caught up on being inside and having fun inside and inside fake worlds. Rarely do we take the time to enjoy outside, and this park kind of reminded me of that, as well as wonder can be found in nature. The lake in the middle of the park with the fountain reminded me of Ohio State’s Mirror Lake, as well as the pigeons and giant ducks living around the lake having absolutely no fear of humans (seriously, one got within a few feet of me and didn’t flinch. I swear it wanted to either see what I was or challenge me to a fight). And there was this little creek right by the lake that looked so peaceful and pretty, like out of a fantasy story. It was really relaxing.

Like being back at school, in a way.

Like being back at school, in a way.

Well, after that I headed home. And while I didn’t visit all the places the tour group was going to go (I missed the Roman Wall, which I will have to find some time), I did get my own little tour and got familiar with the city I live in now. And when I get a chance, I’d like to go explore again and see what this city has to offer.

And next week, if I decide to do that tour of Frankfurt (and I think I will), I’ll make sure I have a much better idea of where it is before I go to it. Seriously, I’m not getting up early for a day trip not knowing where we’re meeting!

Anyway, I’m definitely enjoying being here in Germany, and I’m looking forward to doing and seeing more as time goes on. Heck, I’m thinking of taking some trips to Munich or Stuttgard one of these weekends. That should be exciting.

Well, until next time, my Followers of Fear. Guten Nacht!